San Cristóbal Island is not only one of the oldest islands in the Galápagos, but also the first island visited by Charles Darwin, and for good reason. One of only four islands in the archipelago inhabited by humans, there is so much more to this island than its history.
When we arrived at San Cristóbal Island on the fourth morning of our Galápagos cruise, I had no idea of the borderline terrifying shark experience that I would have that day. We were scheduled to visit the striking rock formation known as Kicker Rock—which is notorious for hammerhead sharks—but before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning of the day.
Punta Pitt and sleeping sharks
We began our day with a demanding uphill hike at Punta Pitt. The trek was strenuous but worthwhile. Upon reaching the summit, our hard work was rewarded with lovely, sweeping views overlooking the ocean from the cliffs.
By the time we could catch our breath and take in our surroundings, we were face to face with the famous blue-footed boobies.
This was our first sighting of blue-footed boobies, and these birds certainly live up to their namesake with the most stunningly beautiful blue feet.
As we continued to hike around the area, we encountered more red-footed boobies, lava lizards, and iguanas.
We headed back to our boat, changed up, and almost immediately went for a snorkeling adventure. It began similar to our other snorkels with tons of varieties of beautiful fish.
Sea turtles and sea lions floated carelessly around us, a sight that will never get old for me. We then saw a lobster, an eel, and a stingray.
The more we swam, the more wildlife we saw. Before long, we discovered three whitetip reef sharks sleeping under a rock.
Of course, Nick had to get a closer look at them from a different angle than the rest of the group. I think he may have woken them up because two of the three sharks swam out from their nook and headed towards us.
Our guide had previously explained that the best thing to do when seeing a shark is to remain calm. So, knowing this, you would think my reaction would be to do just that. Nope.
Instead, I panicked inside and tried to frantically swim away from the shark I felt was coming towards me. I was so focused on my escape that I ended up ramming into another passenger on our boat!
In reality, the sharks wanted nothing to do with us. Good thing too. Because if it is true that they can smell fear, then that shark was coming for me!
Seeing the sharks swim near us was both exhilarating and scary at the same time. The way they glided through the water was actually quite beautiful. If I wasn’t afraid (and painfully slow compared to them in the water), I could watch them swim all day.
Hammerheads, reef sharks, and more at Kicker Rock
Our next excursion was at a snorkeling spot called Kicker Rock, or Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion). We had been anticipating this snorkel based on our research before the trip, and we were not disappointed.
We snorkeled around a massive rock that was covered in some of the most beautiful and colorful coral that I have ever seen.
Bright colors and unique formations blanketed the rock walls deep into the ocean’s abyss, creating the perfect installation of nature’s artwork.
There were countless sea turtles throughout the entire excursion. Once again, these sea turtles floated carelessly alongside us as if we belonged. We also saw several sea lions and many different types of fish.
But the “kicker” was sharks. As the first hammerhead shark glided past us, my heart began pounding in my ears. Soon, another hammerhead followed that hammerhead.
While both of the hammerheads were a decent distance away from us, they were close enough to clearly identify on a day where visibility was low under the water.
The hammerheads did not seem interested in us as they swam through the water in unity with sea turtles, sea lions, and other fish.
That said, if one of them decided to come after any of us, the only defense would be swimming faster than your neighbor. And I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I’m a slow swimmer!
As we continued our snorkel, we saw several more hammerhead sharks. And I cannot even imagine how many more sharks were right next to us but were just out of our line of sight due to the low visibility.
Each time I swam away from the rock wall and into the hazy abyss, a handful of additional sharks would suddenly come into sight, confirming my fear that there were many more sharks in the vicinity than I knew.
I’m honestly not sure whether I was more frightened by the hammerheads I could see with my eyes or by the thought of all of the hammerheads nearby that I couldn’t see.
I knew it was a big deal to see a hammerhead shark, but I did not appreciate how dangerous they can be to humans.
While they do not typically seek out humans, they are defensive and will attack under certain circumstances. Well, that was useful information to have after swimming with them!
We also swam with countless whitetip reef sharks. There we SO many sharks throughout the entire snorkel that it was almost unbelievable. It was the most thrilling and frightening feeling at the same time.
I never could have imagined swimming in water with so many sharks and enjoying it, but I would go back again in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.
It was yet another phenomenal day of snorkeling. Within only four days of touring the Galápagos Islands, we had already seen such a remarkable amount.
Learning about the Galápagos Tortoise
There is more to the Galápagos Islands than snorkeling adventures and beautiful hikes, believe it or not. The islands have a fascinating history and provide an excellent learning opportunity about evolution, the environment, wildlife, and so much more.
We got a taste of this on the fifth day of our cruise. We spent the day visiting sites on San Cristóbal Island to better understand that history and one of the most symbolic parts of the islands—the Galápagos Tortoise.
We began the day with a visit to Laguna El Junco (El Junco Lagoon). While this may sound like a lagoon, it is actually a lake in the middle of a volcanic crater located in the highlands of San Cristóbal Island. In fact, it is the largest freshwater lake in the archipelago.
Afterward, we took a trip to the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Breeding Center. What represents the Galápagos Islands more than the Giant Galápagos Tortoise? Visiting the breeding center is a worthwhile way to learn about this marvelous creature.
The breeding center was less natural than other sites we had previously visited but provided an engaging learning experience about the scientific work done to preserve the Galápagos Tortoise.
We were able to see tortoises of different species, ages and sizes, from very tiny, young tortoises to giant, older ones.
Watching these tortoises casually creep from one spot to the next and gnaw on fresh veggies was surprisingly entertaining, especially because it felt like everything was in slow motion!
Tortoises of different ages and species were kept in different containment areas. Each tortoise had a number painted on its shell to identify and track it. The younger tortoises were so small you could hold them in the palm of your hand.
Afterward, new guests came on board, and several of our new friends left. We visited the Interpretation Center of San Cristóbal with our new guide Fabian and a full boat of new guests.
The interpretation center was similar to a museum and provided some interesting history on Darwin and the Galápagos Islands.
After walking through the center, we took a 30-40 minute walk uphill to a spot called Frigate Bird Hill, which provided lovely views of a white sandy beach along the water and Kicker Rock in the distance.
We descended the hill and ended on the sandy beach we had been overlooking from the viewpoint. There were countless sea lions lounging along the shoreline, which was a welcome sight as always.
After enjoying a relaxing day, we were refreshed and ready for the next adventure with the new passengers and guide.
Continue reading about the epic wildlife and landscapes of Española Island that we experienced at our next stop.
If you missed it, go back and read about our experience snorkeling with a colony of sea lions at Santa Fe Island.