The Secret Sea Lion Beach of San Cristóbal

I guess, technically, the beach wasn’t secret.

But it felt secret, and that’s what counts.

One of the main attractions on San Cristóbal Island is the Interpretation Center, a free information center that brings visitors up to speed on the history of the Galapagos Islands. It’s about ten minutes west of the port, free, and it’s very informative.

Beyond the Interpretation Center is a series of boardwalks. These paths are like a ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.’ Depending on which one you take, you could end up here, with Charles Darwin and his amazing shrunken head:

Charles Darwin, San Cristobal, Galapagos
His head is totally out of proportion. Way too small, right?

Or over there, near the lighthouse, where you can surf:

Surf beach, San Cristobal, Galapagos
There’s a single  surfable wave off the point, but it looks kind of dangerous to me.

Or here, which was our objective:

Tijeretas Point, San Cristobal, Galapagos
Tijeretas Point, allegedly good for snorkeling.

On a tip from TripAdvisor, we’d read that this spot was great for snorkeling. So we’d rented snorkel masks for $3 each and now, here we were, staring at the churning waves.

“I’m not snorkeling in there,” I said.

“Are you sure this is the place?” Jared said.

We decided to keep on going, over what was called Frigatebird Hill. Eventually, the path ended, and we reached this sign:

Playa Baquerizo, San Cristobal, Galapagos
The sign’s a misnomer, because we were still 2 km away from the beach.

We’d already walked 2 km, so what was another 2 km? In our flip flops, we set off along the path. The boardwalk disappeared, and we found ourselves trudging over pebbles, which quickly turned to treacherous volcanic rock. Dripping with sweat and self-doubt, we continued, our flip flops threatening to give out with every step.

At least three times we thought we were almost there, and three times we were wrong.

“I’m not even convinced this leads to a beach,” I said.

“It better be a good beach,” Jared said.

And then, almost an hour later, the path opened up to reveal a modest white-sand beach inhabited by sea lions. The blue sky opened up to the glowing sun, shining down on this little slice of perfection.

Playa Baquierzo, San Cristobal, Galapagos
Didn’t notice that smear on the lens until the end of the day, so all of our pictures are a little blurry.

We were the only people there.

For hours, we hung out at the beach, stiffening in awe every time a sea lion waddled past within inches of where we were sitting. A huge male patrolled the water, barking furiously to mark his territory. Mothers led their babies into the water for swimming lessons, while adolescent sea lions surfed.

Sea lion, Galapagos

Yes, they surfed. Reading the waves as well as any human ever has, these sea lions hung back until the last possible moment, then charged into the curling water, gliding in and out as they rode the waves to shore. Then they’d swim back out and do it all over again.

We witnessed a young male coming into the bay to challenge the dominant male; he chased the intruder back out to sea with powerful jumping dives and incessant barking.

We got up the nerve to snorkel with the sea lions, who approached inquisitively, but I lost my cool and hightailed it to shore every time the male got too close.

Galapagos Islands
Weighing up the odds of him trying to bite me.
Galapagos Islands
Jared dares to get closer.

Our stomachs started rumbling and we pretended that we could tell time by the sun’s position in the sky, figuring that it was a little past noon. Regretfully, we started back, stopping at the snorkeling bay on the way. This time, the water was calm so we jumped back in for another snorkel.

By the time we got back to town it was nearly three. THREE. And I hadn’t lost my shit in a hunger tantrum, or run out of steam, or wondered what we were going to do next.

That’s the magic of the secret beach, people.

Galapagos Islands
It’s also a lesson to wipe off your camera, lest all your secret beach pictures be smudged.

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  1. Secret beaches are the best! When we vacationed in Puerto Rico back in 2010, we found a whole slew of them (one even named ON OUR MAP “secret beach”!), but alas, none of them had sea lion snorkeling companions… what a thrill that must have been!

    1. It’s kind of a contradiction to call it a secret beach on the map, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting! Now the secret beaches of Puerto Rico are on my list. And as for our pretend-secret beach – yes, the sea lions really topped it off!

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