SAN CRISTOBAL & EASTERN ISLANDS
San Cristóbal (Chatham) Island
The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the official capital, (Wreck Bay) is growing fast with a nearby airstrip and there is a useful Visitor Interpretation Centre.
Just a short walk from the town is a hill where both species of frigatebird live. The hill drops off to a steep cliff, and a good view of the bay below makes the climb worthwhile. The round trip is 2km but you can cool off at the beach on the way back.
On the extreme northeast of San Cristóbal is a worthwhile site for the chance to see all three species of booby. The landing is wet, on a green sand beach with the usual sea lion welcome. Then the trail climbs up the side of a steep cliff it is quite an energetic up and down trail but the views beckon you on. Frigates can be seen in the Palo Santo trees, whilst red-footed boobies prefer the smaller trees. Masked boobies and blue-foots stake claim on the ground.
This is the official capital of the archipelago, situated in Wreck Bay to the southeast of San Cristóbal. Once a sleepy fishing port, it is now a booming tourist town as many of the yachts have switched their operations to commence from here. There are a few shops, hotels and restaurants along the waterfront, but the absence of a beach makes it worth getting out of the hot atmosphere to the surrounding coves.
In the highlands of San Cristóbal lies the only freshwater lake in the archipelago, a rain-filled crater almost 300m across and 6m deep. The endemic variety of the Bahama or white-cheeked pintail ducks are at home here, together with common gallinules and resident migrants like the whimbrel and semi-palmated plover. Seven species of Darwin’s finches have been recorded, though spotting them is not easy. At this altitude the air is pleasantly fresh, and the vegetation dense with introduced plants.
A short way west of Punta Pitt is a little-visited site where giant tortoises can sometimes be seen in the wild. The trail gets overgrown; take care and follow the guide.
Some yachts embark here first in order to enjoy a subtle introduction to the Galápagos. There is a beautiful long, white, powder-sand beach, with pleasant swimming and snorkelling and good sea-kayaking opportunities. Sea-lions, boobies and pelicans are found, but do not breed in large numbers.
On SE San Cristobal, a 40 minute journey by road from the Port takes you to the Cerro Colorado visitors' centre. This includes a large tortoise corral, an interpretation centre, conference room, gift shop, food bar, etc. The captive breeding centre includes a herpetology lab and tortoise growing pens with interpretive trails.
A few km from the Galapaguera the road ends at a quarry, from here you walk a 1.5km to the coast. The area consists of ravines which have been deeply eroded by rains down to the shore. There is a rare succulent plant to be found in the vicinity, Galápagos rock-purslane Calandrinia galápagosa.This place is used as a recreational area by the local inhabitants of the island. The main fauna are lizards and finches.
Ochoa Beach lies west of San Cristobal Island, approximately half an hour by boat from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The visiting area is restricted to the beach where there are often sea lions, plus ghost and hermit crabs are common. Nearby is a lagoon visited by migrating birds and shorebirds plus the magnificent frigatebird and endemic lava gull.
Northeast of Wreck Bay, many tour boats pass close to these tall rocks, said by the Spanish to resemble a sleeping lion. In reality they are an eroded tuff cone, whose sheer-sided cliffs, cut through the middle, are frequented by boobies (blue-footed and masked), frigatebirds and red-billed tropicbirds.
On this small rocky islet, an hour’s sail from San Cristóbal, blue-footed boobies nest among saltbush and palo santo trees. There is no shortage of sea-lions (lobo is short for the Spanish name, ‘sea wolf’). The candelabra cactus (Jasminocereus) is common and the trail short (only 300m). The landing to this peaceful spot is wet.
A spectacular site with many nesting seabirds, dramatic cliff scenery and the famous 'blow-hole'. The cliffs on the southern side make an ideal take-off for the huge albatross (April to December). Large marine iguanas are more colourful than elsewhere with hues of red and green. The trail continues through colonies of masked boobies with the dancing blue-footed boobies keeping a watchful eye for a Galápagos hawk that will pick off any chicks left unguarded. Above are red-billed tropic birds. Lava lizards are bigger here than other islands; the mockingbirds also differ with longer bills.
A dazzling white coral sand beach, one of the longest in Galápagos which is home to sea lions or exhausted turtles having laid eggs. In the bushes behind you can spot Darwin's finches found here plus mockingbirds, the Galápagos Martin and playing along the surf small wading birds. Snorkelling off the islets in the bay is excellent with schools of yellow-tailed surgeon fish and the odd white-tipped reef shark.
Floreana (Charles) Island
From long extinct eruptions and parasitic cones comes an area now covered in forest. The first island to be inhabited and the many introduced species found have resulted in tortoises becoming extinct. The islets off the coast of Floreana like Champion and Enderby are the only places where the Charles Island Mockingbird exists as they have been wiped out on the main island.
The sand is unusually greenish due to the high amount of volcanic minerals. Beachcombing reveals sea urchins and shells along the strand. There are plants that are unique to this part of Floreana and a species of daisy tree Scalesia. The large brackish lagoon holds one of the biggest populations of flamingos that parade around like regimental soldiers.
Worth a dip for those with snorkelling experience. This sunken cone has been filled by the sea, corals abound with reef fishes such as parrot fish and larger fish school outside the crater.
This is a small bay a short sail west of Punta Cormorant. It is mainly of historical interest. The beach is a wet landing. In 1793, British navigators placed a large wooden barrel here, to leave messages and mail for homebound voyagers. A decade later it was used for espionage during the Anglo-American naval war.
The Mirador de la Baronesa is situated on the north coast of Floreana between the two more visited sites of Post Office Bay and Punta Cormorant. Apart from a beautiful stretch of coastline, which makes a great dinghy ride, this site is of historical significance being named after the flamboyant Baroness Eloisa Von Wagner Bosquet.
La Loberia means ‘place of sea lions’ though in Spanish they say ‘sea-wolf’. On other islands there are similarly named places. This site is quite close to the village of Velasco Ibarra, the only port on Floreana. The trail is just under a kilometre long over sand and rocks. The main point of interest is the colony of sea lions plus marine iguanas on the rocks and turtles can be seen in the shallow waters of the bays and inlets. This is also a good place to spot finches.
The Asilo de la Paz (Haven of Peace) is worth the 8km bumpy road journey above the agricultural highlands to a hill draped in native Scalesia pedunculata forest where it is pleasantly cool. The trail is quite a steep trek and can be muddy after the rainy season. You will pass by a large rock corral with giant tortoises brought over from San Cristobal.