San Cristóbal, a few free shore access spots and some of the best tours of the archipelago

Most of San Cristóbal Island is part of the Galápagos National Park, which means access is restricted to tours conducted by certified guides. However, a few spots located around Puerto Baquerizo Moreno are located outside its borders and can be accessed freely.

The most popular are Darwin Bay and Playa Punta Carola, located north of the city, next to the Interpretation Center. On waveless days it is also possible to snorkel off La Loberia beach, only a few minutes taxi ride from the city waterfront.

Snorkeling Darwin Bay, San Cristobal
The gorgeous Darwin Bay (left, seen from Cerro Tijeretas) is one of the only open access spots in San Cristóbal. Green turtles (right) are especially numerous there.

Snorkeling anywhere else around San Cristóbal requires crossing the National Park borders and booking a boat tour. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the starting point for tours to Kicker Rock (a sharp rock emerging a few kilometers off the island’s north coast, famous for shark spotting), Isla Lobos, or Ochoa Beach.

San Cristóbal is also the starting point for day excursions to Española Island: the southernmost island in the Galápagos is a fantastic place to swim with sea lions, especially around Gardner Island. Numerous archipelago cruise tours also make stops on Española Island and Kicker Rock.

Snorkeling with sea lions in Española Island
Kicker Rock cliffs, where sun coral settled in numbers (left), and Gardner Island, teeming with sea lions (right), are two must-sees for snorkelers in the San Cristóbal region.

Like anywhere else in the Galápagos islands, snorkeling around San Cristóbal guarantees encounters with unique in the world species. Galápagos sea lions, marine iguanas, but also green sea turtles and whitetip sharks can all be spotted easily, just like dozens of fish and invertebrate species (including king angelfish, octopus, Pacific seahorses, and starfish).

Don’t hope, however, for an encounter with a Galápagos penguin or a flightless cormorant, as neither of them breeds in the area. Your best chances for seeing them are on Isabela Island.

If you plan a trip to the Galápagos Islands, we recommend you bring with you the Wildlife of the Galápagos field guide, a compact and comprehensive identification guide to the unique wildlife you’ll encounter in the archipelago, both below and above the water.

Check this video made with a GoPro 👇👇👇 with the very best of our snorkeling time in the Galápagos Islands. Sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas, sea turtles, whitetip sharks… You never know what shows up!  There are very few places around the world where it’s possible to share such close proximity to wildlife without them turning fearful.

All footages were taken around San Cristóbal, Isabela, Santa Cruz, and Santiago islands. The name of the snorkeling spot where the images have been shot is mentioned in each sequence.



When to go snorkeling San Cristóbal Island

There are two different seasons in San Cristóbal, as there are on the whole Galápagos archipelago. The warm season (December-May) is a tropical one, with warm and wet weather (79 to 86°F/26 to 30°C). Water temperature (around 79°F/26°C) is then ideal for snorkeling, but rain showers often happen.

From June to November, the weather turns dryer, and temperatures lower down to an average of 73-79°F/23-26°C. During this season, consider snorkeling with a wetsuit: water temperature can get down to 64°F/18°C, often under an overcast sky. You can check out our selection of the best rashguards and wetsuits for snorkeling to make your choice.

Hot and humid
Cool and cloudy

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