San Cristobal with its 557 km² (215 mil²) is the fifth largest and Easternmost island of the Galapagos. It is of volcanic origin, as all the islands of Galapagos, and is comprised of four fused extinct volcanos. Its first name was Chatham coming after William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham in the UK. The current name comes from the Patron Saint of Seafarers, “St. Christopher.”
San Cristobal was founded on the oldest permanent settlement of the archipelago. This is the island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835. In 1858, Manuel J. Cobos and José Monroy founded the “Orchillera Company” to harvest orchilla moss (a lichen), which was used at that time as a dye. Later, Cobos formed an agricultural center called “El Progreso” inland from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which produced leather from feral cattle, and fish and tortoise oil.
A penal colony, which was eventually run by Cobos, was built on San Cristóbal Island in 1880 for prisoners from mainland Ecuador. By 1891, sugar cane plantations were established, and a sugar factory was put into operation. Cobos ruled “El Progreso” with an iron fist, treating convicts as slaves which led later to the assassination of Cobos by a group of his workers in January, 1904 when the prisoners escaped.
Nowadays, the small city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital of the Galapagos province. It is home to many government offices, an Ecuadorian Navy facility, and an airport with daily flights to the mainland. There are approximately 6,000 residents, making it the second largest human population on Galapagos, after Santa Cruz Island. Most inhabitants make their living in government, tourism, and artisanal fishing. The GNPS Interpretation Center is located near town and provides an excellent source of information for the local community and visitors. It has several nice and very interesting visitor points which make it attractive for tourism.
San Cristobal Island: Full day tour starting from Pto. Ayora (Sta. Cruz Island)
The tour to San Cristobal starts at about 6:30 AM when our guide picks you up from your hotel. After a short walk, you are at the pier of Puerto Ayora, from where a local water taxi will take us to the Galapagos Element Wind Speed Yacht in order to sail to the city of Pto. Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. During our 2½ hour navigation, there are great chances to observe marine turtles, stingrays, several species of marine birds and perhaps whales. Upon arrival to Pto. Baquerizo Moreno, our guide will take us for a hike to San Cristobal’s Interpretation Center. Here, we can learn about Galapagos, its geography, the volcanology and the history of the local people.
Then, we will continue our hike following a well- marked path surrounded by typical vegetation of the area with giant opuntia cactus, native trees of Galapagos, acacias and with the possibility to observe different species of finch birds. This path will take us up to the summit of the hill known as “Cerro Tijeretas”. Once on the top, our effort will be rewarded with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean. On the border of the cliff, we will have the opportunity to observe 2 species of birds nesting in the same area. From here, we will also have a nice view of the city and far away we can observe the impressive “Kicker Rock) geological formation emerging from the ocean. After some pictures, we descend to the base of the hill where we find a beautiful cove where it is possible to snorkel. We will continue our walk to the place known as “Punta Carola, a sandy beach surrounded by local flora and where we will find a large colony of sea lions. There are great opportunities to take breath-taking photos here.
Then, we will follow another path which will take us back to the center of the town where we will have lunch in one of the local restaurants. Afterwards, a private transportation will take us up to the highlands of San Cristobal Island. The itinerary passes along the historical village of “El Progreso” continuing to the base of Cerro “El Junco” where we will hike up to its summit to observe the crater alike area with “El Junco Lagoon” known as the only place of San Cristobal with fresh water.After descending from El Junco, our transportation will take us to the Interpretation Center of “Cerro Colorado” where we can observe Giant Galapagos Turtles of different sizes and species. Transport back to town and after a short free time, we will board our Galapagos Element Wind Speed Yacht which will take us back to Puerto Ayora.
Note: San Cristobal is one of the inhabited islands with the most planned urban development, it has sewerage and potable water.