Our third and final island that we visited in the Galápagos was San Cristóbal Island, the most easterly island of the archipelago. Again we arrived by speedboat, which went from Isabella Island to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal. As promised, sea lions were everywhere! They lazily sprawled out on benches or slabs of cement in the small parking lot located next to the pier. They barked, honked, and farted for our arrival, and other tourists raced to take pictures of the attraction.
We walked to a hostel recommended by friends we made on the boat, but opted to look around town for a more affordable hostel. After walking the length of the malecon, and searching around town a bit, we stumbled across Hotel Northia, located only two blocks up from the boardwalk in the center of town. At this point the only thing we had left to check off our list was swimming with sea lions and we were told we would have amble opportunities to do so on this island.
In the morning we rented snorkelling gear and started walking towards the interpretation center on the northern edge of town. On the way to the interpretation center we passed by Playa Mann which was right across the street from the local university, which offered a program through Penn State. We made our way through the research center and followed signs for Cerro Las Tijeretas. We made it rather quickly to the top of the hill where there was a lookout, which allowed us to see many frigate birds or “Tijeretas”, as well as the beach below.
We decided to continue on towards Playa Ochoa, but getting there was not easy, especially in flip flops, as we were tasked to hike for what seemed like an hour on small volcanic rocks and seashells cooking underneath the intense heat of the sun. When we were rewarded in abundance once we arrived at the beach–we were elated to find that we were the only tourists there privileged enough to hang out with numerous playful sea lions and giant tortoises. We eagerly set our things down next to the mangroves and put on our flippers and goggles. A mix of emotions ran through us as we slowly made our way into the water. We were inches away from beautiful, wild animals without anyone telling us what to do.
As we descended into the water, we held hands and swam together because we were unprepared for the abundance of active wildlife under the ocean waters. We were both so intimidated by these incredible creatures enjoying their natural environment that we were somewhat hesitant at first, but after a few minutes we loosened up and soon found ourselves close enough to reach out and touch the turtles’ shells while sea lions circled our torsos allowing us to feel their fur.
The baby sea lions were so curious that they would swim right up against us and then do back flips and circles around us! There were also several large tortoises swimming nearby and our presence didn’t seem to bother them at all. We petted their shells while taking their lead and relaxing in the bobbing waves. On land we were able to take some amazing pictures and videos of two sea lion pups playing in the shallow water, as well as one baby drying his fur in the sun. There were several adult sea lions laying in the shade under the mangroves where we set our bags, who barked at us like old friends as we reapplied sunscreen and ate some snacks.
That night we got cleaned up and went to Punta Carola to drink some red wine and watch the sunset. Like most places on the island, this beach was also full of sea lions, both in the water and on land. We watched in the distance as surfers caught their last waves of the day, and waited for the sun to work its magic on the horizon. The shore was marked with a rustic old light house, which helped make the sunset as remarkable as our Galápagos experience.
Our last day on the island, we took a taxi to a nearby beach where there were again gangs of sea lions, turtles and marine iguanas. We went for a walk along the coastline, soaking up the pristine view and abundant animal life, before gathering our belonging to board a flight back to the mainland.