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San Cristobal (formerly Chatham) Island is located south of the equator, on the eastern end of the Galapagos Islands. A 95-minute AeroGal flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador, brought us to San Cristobal airport (code SCY).

Galapagos National Park sign
Galapagos National Park sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of Galapagos, the airport is only a short distance from the dock where we boarded the Ecoventura ship, M/Y Letty, to cruise the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos National Park Interpretation Center

Although the population of San Cristobal is only 5,600, the island is known for its Interpretation Center (Centro Interpretación), which provides information about the Galapagos. Admission is free.

Visitors take self-guided tours through Galapagos National Park Interpretation Center pavilions with different themes—natural history and evolution, human history and conservation. Signs are in English and Spanish.

Galapagos map

A large topographical map of the Galapagos Islands depicts volcanos. Humorous maps show Galapagos attractions, including animals, birds and sea life.

We learned that Ecuador claimed Galapagos in 1832. A reconstructed hold of a ship showed how whalers stored Galapagos tortoises for food.

Whalers' logbooks indicated that North American whalers took a minimum of 100,000 tortoises from the Galapagos. Tortoise oil was also used for street lighting.

Natural laboratory display
Natural laboratory display
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Galapagos evolution

One display depicted the temperatures, locations and differences between the Cromwell, Humboldt and Panama ocean currents. Another explained why the availability of fresh water is key to life on Galapagos.

Posters described why the Galapagos Islands are a natural laboratory, and how invasive species affected endemic and native Galapagos wildlife.

As we strolled through Puerto Baquerizo with our Galapagos guides, we learned that San Cristobal is also the fishing capital of Galapagos and that the best oranges in the Galapagos come from Isla San Cristóbal.

Playa Ochoa

While walking along the pier to board pangas (hard-floored Zodiacs) to the M/Y Letty, we were so preoccupied getting acquainted with our fellow passengers that we nearly stepped on a snoozing sea lion blocking our path. It was our initiation to upcoming close encounters with wildlife on our Galapagos Islands cruise.

M/Y Letty passengers photograph sea lion.
M/Y Letty passengers photograph sea lion.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Our first stop, Playa Ochoa, located on the southwest coast of San Cristobal, was a sandy beach punctuated with black lava rocks. We put on wet suits (free rental to passengers on Ecoventura Galapagos ships) to snorkel off the beach.

Sleeping Galapagos sea lion
Sleeping Galapagos sea lion
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

As soon as we arrived, a Galapagos sea lion (scientific name: Zalophus californianus wollebacki) waddled up on the beach to check us out. Curiosity satisfied and unperturbed by our cameras, he flopped down on the sand and fell asleep.

Kicker Rock

M/Y Eric then cruised north along the west coast of San Cristobal to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido). "It is made from volcanic ash or tuff," explained Yvonne Mortola, one of two national park guides on our Galapagos ship.

"Kicker Rock was created by the explosion of a superheated volcano. The volcanic ash solidified to form sedentary rock."

Originally shaped like a small volcano, Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion) eventually cracked. Waves eroded the crack until Kicker Rock separated into two cones about 500 feet (153 meters) high.

Photographing Kicker Rock
Photographing Kicker Rock
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Ecoventura ship cruises beside Kicker Rock silhouette at sunset.
Ecoventura ship cruises beside Kicker Rock silhouette at sunset.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Galapagos birds

Kicker Rock is covered with guano from the many birds roosting on it — blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies and brown noddy terns. We used binoculars and telephoto lenses for close-up views.

"Brown noddy terns (scientific name: Anous stolidus) have white-grey marks on their foreheads," said Yvonne. "Because the marks are arrow-shaped, brown noddies look like they are frowning."

As the sun set, we gathered on the observation deck of M/Y Letty. Cruising past Kicker Rock was a picturesque ending to our tour of San Cristobal Island.


Ecoventura: www.ecoventura.com

Copa Airlines: www.copaair.com

Ecuador Ministry of Tourism: www.ecuador.travel

More things to see & do in the Galapagos Islands:

Espanola Island Galapagos Birdwatching - Waved Albatrosses

Genovesa Island Galapagos - Doves, Red-Footed Boobies and Short-Eared Owls

North Seymour Galapagos Trip - Land Iguanas and Magnificent Frigatebirds

Santa Cruz Galapagos Giant Tortoise Reserve - Rancho Primicias

Galapagos Travel - Incentive Programs and Corporate Meetings