San Cristobal has a number of sea lion colonies littered around its pueblo (or township) that make for great nature watching. Their behaviour patterns change depending on the time of day and there is always a hulking great bull male to be found barking at great volume at the others. There are also some great spots to explore for free, to watch the other types of animals endemic to the islands and to learn about the colourful history of the Galapagos.
The first stop on any Galapagos visit should be to the interpretation centre of San Cristobal. If you’re interested in a full written historical timeline presented as a series of interesting stories, this place is very fascinating. From the 1st Spanish explorers to tyrannical leaders, to experimental colonies of prisoners extradited to farm the land and build infrastructure. Darwin arrived in between these fiascos and the period where all kinds of crops and livestock were introduced to make the place liveable, so his discoveries were based on somewhat unspoilt nature. Unfortunately the giant tortoises and sea lions copped the worst treatment, killed for their meat and oil to make lamps they were slaughtered in the 1000’s. The tortoises were particularly convenient due to their size, their speed and the fact they would survive for months in a ships hold without food or water and still male a fresh meal for a group of hungry sailors. There was even a period in the history of the Galapagos where Norwegian settlers caught wind of these “fertile lands” and arrived in the hundreds with prefabbed houses and equipment for tinning tuna. However they quickly discovered life was not as easy as they’d hoped and left. The centre also outlines life on the islands today, I found it interesting that our guide from Scuba Eden mentioned the entire Galapagos population is around 30,000. At the interpretation centre their figures are from 2010 and state only 20,000 permanent inhabitants. Its a big jump in 6 years, and one that is sure to have a very real impact on the future.
From the interpretation centre you can take a path to explore the nearby beach, a snorkelling cove and a beautiful lookout called Tijeretas. Tijeretas translates directly as scissor and is named such after the frigate birds that frequent the hill. The frigates have taken on this nickname due to their scissor-like tail. The lookout offers a spectacular view of a bright azure bay, where sea lions and snorkelers can be seen paddling around below. The cove is framed by the trademark black volcanic rocks which are frosted with white guano and make the perfect contrasting canvas for the foamy white waves who sweep and charge into them with great gusto. Its a peaceful spot to observe the frigate birds and to absorb a typical galapagos scene from above. There is 2km walking track which leads around the cliff face where the frigates nest in the skeleton trees.
Following the track it leads to another more secluded beach called Baquerizo. Because not many people can be bothered taking the hike we had the whole pristine cove to ourselves… Well aside from the very brave and curious sea lions who come up to investigate who is resting on their beach.
We also dipped into the cove which is below the lookout for a quick spot of snorkelling. But the water was so cold we only managed about 15 minutes before my ears started hurting and I was way too cold to carry on. We did see one sea lion dart past on the hunt, and also noticed a couple of rays on the bottom of the ocean floor, but i think it was too cold for turtles. The water is lovely and clear and the huge boulders on the sea floor make nice homes for colourful fish, so good for great snorkelling regardless of what bigger critters are about.
On your way back towards the Interpretation centre the track veers off to lead down towards Playa Punta Carola beach which is also known as love beach. This is a long stretch of white sand about 2kms long and is home to a large sea lion colony as well as a couple of marine iguanas and loads of turtles. This is where we watched the sunset on our 1st night but is also a great place to snorkel with the sea lion pups and majestic green sea turtles. Its shallow, rocky, and full of seaweed. So lots of food for the turtles and iguanas to munch on. This beach is also a perfect place just to chill and watch the sea lions interacting.
So those are three beautiful beaches or coves to enjoy the abundant animal life and to cool off when the days heat up. The best part is they are all accessible on foot and all absolutely free!