In many cities and towns around the world public spaces are overrun with pigeons. In Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristóbal it’s sea lions. Swimming in the shallow waters by the port, basking in the sun on benches and snorting and grunting as they heave themselves onto land. Just a few kilometres out of the town, you can also swim with them, which was a hugely privileged experience.
San Cristóbal is east of Santa Cruz and another two hour boat ride away. The main town is a bit more developed than Puerto Villamil, but still quiet and relaxing and you can walk everywhere. It’s still hugely expensive, though, and there weren’t so many cheaper places to eat that I’d found elsewhere. There are several attractions close to the port itself, as well as boat trips further afield. Again, I had to make a choice of what to do according to my limited budget. I spent day 9 of my trip heading back to Santa Cruz and overnighting there before moving onto San Cristóbal on the afternoon ferry of day 10.
Day 11. A short walk out of town takes you to an Interpretation Centre which has some displays on the islands. Behind the centre I walked along the trails up to Cerro Tijeretas with wonderful views, then wandered down to the bay and watched sea lions swimming and pelicans fishing. The sea lions are incredibly tame and curious and one came right out of the water and onto the steps where I was sitting. In the late afternoon I walked in the opposite direction out of town to a dramatic beach, La Loberia, with huge breaking waves and a colony of sea lions. Cost = Free.
Day 12. I caught a taxi to take me up to the highlands in the interior. It was my first opportunity to see giant tortoises in the semi wild at La Galapaguera. On the way back I stopped at a lagoon, Laguna El Junco, which, due to its altitude was misty and refreshingly cool. There a short trail I took which goes all the way round. Cost = $40.
Day 13. My big splurge here was a boat trip to Leon Dormido, a huge rocky outcrop an hour away. Snorkelling was not easy here, as we were in the deep ocean which meant large swells and cold water. I’d recommend hiring a wet suit. It was worth it, however, because we saw Galápagos sharks and more turtles. Blue-footed boobies nest high up in the rocks. After lunch on the boat we had some free time on a beautiful beach, Cerro Brujo. Cost = $100.
Day 14. My last day in the Galápagos I returned to Cerro Tijeretas and La Loberia this time with a mask to snorkel with the sea lions. One sea lion played for ages with me and two others and when I dived down it also dived and spun around, a lot more gracefully than I could manage. Cost = Free, but mask hire was $3.
I’d spent a lot of my time during the trip wondering if it was worth the outrageous expense, and on the whole I think the Galápagos are overpriced for what you get. There are many places around the world where you can snorkel with exotic marine life and spot other types of wildlife. But swimming with these sea lions on my last day made me realise how special these islands are. Are they worth the money? No. Are they worth visiting anyway? Yes, absolutely.