The Top 10 Free Activities On San Cristobal Island
San Cristobal is one of three main islands tourists visit in the Galapagos. Both San Cristobal and Santa Cruz have airports, so most people fly into San Cristobal first.
The free activities mentioned below can easily be spread over a 2-3 night stay on San Cristobal Island.
1. Galapagos Islands Interpretation Centre
The Interpretation Centre is a short walk from the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
The centre is an educational museum focusing on the geological and natural history of the Galapagos Islands and the efforts to protect its habitats and environment.
The exhibit provides a fascinating account of the islands such as past colonisation attempts, and the current economic and political situations facing the island. We recommend an hour here, depending on how much you want to read and absorb.
2. Mirador Cerro Tijeretas
The exit of the Interpretation Centre leads out on to a paved nature trail taking you through fields of cacti along the islands coast.
If you follow this path it will lead you to Mirador Cerro Tijeretas – a panoramic viewpoint looking out to sea.
From here you can grab your first sight of Kicker Rock far off in the distance – and if you’re lucky, your first sightings of some of the famous endemic species on the island. We came across several curious Lava Lizards, Darwin’s Finches and a Marine Iguana that was chilling in the middle of the path along the trail.
3. Snorkelling at Tijeretas Bay
You can see Tijeretas Bay from the viewpoint – a small, secluded bay perfect for snorkelling in.
The path becomes rocky when you reach the water, and there are concrete steps leading into the sea. You’ll find a few sea lions here and if you’re lucky you may get to swim with them. But don’t worry if not, most can be found on the beaches.
4. Playa Punta Carola
From Cerro Tijeretas you can follow the trail along the coast which will take you to Playa Punta Carola.
Punta Carola is a sandy beach full of sea lions and the odd marine iguana warming itself in the sun. You can park yourself down next to the sea lions and spend half a day catching some sun and enjoying the beautiful views across the bay. The sea entrance is blocked by lots of volcanic rock, so no swimming here unfortunately.
We planned it so that we arrived there just before sunset and suggest you do the same as the sun sets across the ocean directly in front of the beach – it’s the perfect way to end a day on the Galapagos Islands.
- Playa Punta Carola: Trip Advisor
You should aim to visit the centre, Cerro Tijeretas and Punta Carola Beach all in the same day as they are close to each other and all on the same path (see map above).
5. Playa Mann
Playa Mann is another excellent beach you can see on your left before you get to the Interpretation centre.
You can go snorkelling here, and there are lots of sea lions as well, so this may be your best bet for swimming with one. It’s smaller than Playa Punta Carola though and does get busy, so just make sure you get there early to grab a spot if you are spending the day.
The sunset from Playa Mann is just as good as Punta Carola as well.
- Playa Mann: Trip Advisor
6. Playa Loberia
Another sandy beach worth your time is Playa Loberia, found on San Cristobal Island’s southwest coast.
Loberia beach is a coral sand beach and another great place to spend the day watching sea lions. It is also an excellent place to snorkel as the water is calm and shallow.
- La Loberia: Trip Advisor
7. La Loberia Coastal Walk
At the end of Loberia beach you can find a marked trail that will take you along the coastline through fields of lava rocks and mangroves.
The trek should take about an hour (there and back) and along the way you can spot marine iguanas and lava lizards warming themselves in the sun.
Follow the trail to the end to find a great spot to look down on sea birds such as blue-footed boobies or frigate birds who nest in the cliffside. Try to go during low tide as parts of the trail will be in the ocean at high tide.
8. Galapaguera De Cerro Colorado (Giant Tortoise Habitat)
The Galapaguera is a semi-natural reserve built to help raise and care for the once endangered Galapagos giant tortoise.
The babies are kept in enclosures which you can visit and they are cared for by the staff until old enough to roam free. Once grown, they wander around the massive habitat and you can follow paths through the area to spot them sat around doing extraordinarily little.
How To Get There
The tortoise habitat and the two places mentioned below (El Junco Lagoon and Puerto Chino beach) are free to enter. However, the issue is that you need to find transportation to get to them as they are all on the other side of the island in the highlands.
It’s about a 22km 30-minute drive, and every taxi on the island charges $60 as they take you to all three and market it as a tour.
You can get a group of 4-6 people to bring this cost down, but we think renting a mountain bike is the better and cheaper option.
Renting a bike should cost between $10-15 for a full day and riding to the highlands should take about an hour. The best part about this is you can stop whenever you want to stay at each place as long as you want unlike the tour where you only get an hour at each place.
Check out Galakiwi for bike rentals:
9. El Junco Lagoon
El Junco Lagoon is a highland lake great for catching your first look at frigate birds which nest here.
Quick Tip – if the weather is terrible, then skip this part as well. We visited on a foggy day and could hardly see the lake, let alone any birds – save your money instead.
10. Puerto Chino Beach
Puerto Chino is another secluded beach great for seeing more sea lions, blue-footed boobies nesting on the rocks and generally wasting a few hours working on the tan.
- Puerto Chino: Trip Advisor
For more information on the sites on San Cristobal Island, check out the Galapagos Islands official website:
The Top 8 Free Activities On Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz is the more developed of the three main islands. The town has more tour operators, restaurants and bars to enjoy but there are still lots of free activities to enjoy as well.
1. Puerto Ayora Fish Market
The fish market is a popular place for tourists in town because Lupe the Sea Lion is there.
Lupe has been visiting the market every day for around the last 10 years. Apparently, she turned up one day, got fed and hasn’t stopped coming back since.
Aside from that, just looking at the lobsters and other fresh fish caught from around the islands is enough to make you want to find a seafood restaurant for lunch.
- Puerto Ayora Fish Market: Trip Advisor
2. The Darwin Research Centre
If you continue walking along the waterfront from the market, you will eventually reach the Darwin Research Centre.
The centre is an educational space that provides detailed information on the islands’ species, the problems they are facing, and the conservation efforts currently being undertaken by scientists to help them.
Along with all the information, you have another opportunity to see the Galapagos giant tortoises (although in full captivity this time) if you didn’t see them on San Cristobal, and to our surprise, a taxidermied Lonesome George. Yes, this is the final resting place of the infamous last Giant Pinta Tortoise.
The Darwin Centre is open between 7.30am – 12.30pm and 2pm – 5.30pm. We recommend 1-2 hours to fully explore.
3. Playa De La Estacion
From inside the Darwin Centre, you should see signs pointing towards Playa De La Estacion.
Follow the signs and a short path out of the centre will take you to a secluded beach. You can spend a few hours here either snorkelling, catching some sun or watching groups of marine iguanas huddling together on the rocks.
- Playa De La Estacion: Trip Advisor
4. Las Grietas
Las Grietas is a vast crevice that has formed between the volcanic rock of the island.
The crevice is now filled with ocean water and great for snorkelling in. The water is refreshingly cool and the high cliffs of the crevice give a lot of shade to escape the powerful equatorial sun – a great activity for a hot day.
How To Get There
To get to Las Grietas, make your way to the harbour in Puerto Ayora, hop on a water taxi and ask for ‘Las Grietas’ – a two-minute trip that costs $0.80.
You will be dropped off on a small boardwalk opposite the harbour and from here, follow the clearly labelled signs and path through lava rocks and cacti fields. You will see two large, jagged cliffs rising up on either side with a crystal clear channel of water running through the middle when you arrive.
5. Tortuga Bay
Tortuga Bay is a secluded beach surrounded by mangrove trees. It’s another excellent spot for snorkelling, catching some sun and marvelling at the unique Galapagos wildlife.
Along the beach, you can see marine iguanas crawling out of the sea and up onto the beach to warm up and if you go snorkelling, try looking for baby sharks, rays and turtles in the mangroves. You can also rent kayaks if you want to explore outside the bay further.
- Tortuga Bay: Trip Advisor
How To Get There
You have two options to get to Tortuga Bay: either head to the port and grab a water taxi which takes around 20 minutes and costs $5 return or head to the start of the Tortuga Bay path and walk instead.
The walk is approximately 2km along a paved path where you will see lots of vegetation, lava lizards and finches. It should take 30-45 minutes walking.
At the end of the path, you can see a huge stretch of beach. Take a right, follow the beach, and make your way a little further down to where you can see volcanic rocks and mangrove trees to find the entrance to the bay.
6. El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve
If you didn’t get to visit the reserve on San Cristobal, then you have a second chance to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat on Santa Cruz.
The entry fee is $5 here, but that’s still cheap compared to most of the day tours offered by agencies in town.
- El Chato: Trip Advisor
How To Get There
El Chato Reserve is 2km south of the small town of Santa Rosa.
The easiest way to get to El Chato is to take a taxi. The drive should take 20 minutes, and taxi drivers will include waiting time into their fare if you ask them to take you back.
Another cheaper alternative is to rent a bike – most agencies on the main drag in Puerto Ayora offer this service. Leaving Puerto Ayora there is a lot of uphill and along the main road there can be traffic, but not much. Stop at OMG! Coffee along the way to break up the journey. Coming back will all be downhill so it will be worth it.
7. Lava Tunnels
If you decide to visit El Chato then the Lava Tunnels pair perfectly with this activity.
The Lava Tunnels are underground tunnels formed by ancient lava that once flowed across the islands. Most are privately owned for paid tours, but there are a couple you can enter and explore by just turning up. The tunnels are close to the town of Santa Rosa so you can visit these on the way back from El Chato.
- Lava Tunnels: Trip Advisor
8. Los Gemelos
The third and final place you can visit on your highland bike tour is the twin craters known as Los Gemelos.
They aren’t craters caused by a meteor impact, but rather massive sinkholes created when the volcanic roof of empty magma chambers collapsed. The highlands of the islands are a lot different from the volcanic rock beaches closer to the towns. You should be able to see more greenery along with several species of birds.
If you decide to do this via bike with the tortoise habitat and lava tunnels, it will be a full day activity. If you want to do it via taxi, it will cost around $40-50 and take 3-4 hours.
- Los Gemelos: Trip Advisor
To see how all these free activities fit into a 5-day itinerary on the Galapagos islands, check out our post below:
The Top 4 Free Activities On Isabela Island
1. Concha De Perla
Concha de Perla is a calm bay with crystal clear waters.
This is one of the most popular spots for snorkelling as you have excellent visibility. If you’re lucky, you may get to snorkel with turtles, watch penguins diving for food as well as swimming with all varieties and colours of tropical fish.
- Concha De Perla: Trip Advisor
2. Playa Amor
Playa Amor is a small but peaceful beach by the path going from Puerto Villamil to the Wall of Tears.
Like the rest of the islands, you will be able to see iguanas, sea lions and go snorkelling on this beach.
- Playa Amor: Trip Advisor
3. Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Centre
Another free tortoise refuge dedicated to breeding the endangered giant tortoises.
A boardwalk connects the town to the Breeding Centre, stretching across the wetlands making for a beautiful walk. At the centre, you will learn about the conservation efforts and be able to see new-borns in their small enclosures.
- Arnaldo Tupiza Center: Trip Advisor
4. Flamingo Lake
There’s a 5-kilometre route from the town where you can stop at different several interesting places along the way.
This route can be done on foot or by renting a bicycle. The price for the full day bike renting should be around $15 or $3 an hour.
The route starts at the Wall of Tears – a historical site dedicated to the prisoners held on the islands during the Second World War. Following the route to the west of Puerto Villamil, there are various salt lagoons home to an impressive variety of coastal and sea birds.
One of the lagoons will be Flamingo Lake and at the lookout, you can observe the highest concentration of flamingos in the islands.
- Flamingo Lake: Trip Advisor