History of San Cristobal: some historical facts you never knew about

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History of San Cristobal, the easternmost island

San Cristobal is one of the geologically oldest islands of the Galapagos archipelago as well as the easternmost. It is home to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos province. It is the second most populated of all four inhabited islands in the archipelago (following Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz). San Cristobal offers a perfect combination of wildlife sightings, beautiful landscapes and beaches, outdoor activities and some entertaining things to do in town. People who visit the town marvel at the kindness of its people and its beautiful beaches, yet very few know about the history of San Cristobal and its first inhabitants. Some of the facts presented below will make you see a whole new side of this amazing island!

The island with many names

Captain James Colnett baptized the island with its first name, Chatham, in honor William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. The island officially became part of the Ecuadorian territory in 1832, when it changed its name to Mercedes Island, in honor of Ecuadorian president Juan José Flores’ wife, Mercedes Jijon de Vivanco. In 1973, the island changed its name to San Cristobal, after the patron saint of seafarers which was also its administrative name.


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The history of the man who terrorized the island

Many who visit the island are not really aware of its human history. The island was first colonized in the year 1866. One of its first inhabitants was Manuel J. Cobos, who arrived at the island along with ten workers. He started several companies with his brother-in-law and later built a sugar mill, which he called “Hacienda El Progreso.” He built his hacienda on the elevated part of the island. There, the weather is a little cooler and less humid than on the coast. The company worked for 25 years. During this time it became the economic engine of the island, along with many other products produced by Cobos’ companies.

Manuel J. Cobos was not known to be a kind and fair employer, rather a despotic and abusive one. Most of his workforce over the years was composed of prisoners and inmates sent to Galapagos from the mainland as part of their sentence. Some of his workers started conspiring against him, tired of the punishments, the violence, and the harsh working conditions. Finally, one of his most trusted helpers ended up shooting him, ending his era of cruelty. Local inhabitants still remember the man as brutal and heartless and an aura of mystery surrounds the ruins of his once-mighty Galapagos empire.

A new era

Fish Market Galapagos Islands
Photo Credit: Michael Mc Cullough Via Flickr

This bitter part of the history of San Cristobal was soon left behind by its inhabitants. A new era began. One in which the natural habitat – which had been badly damaged due to how much it was used for the island’s commercial and agricultural needs – started to be seen as an asset. Many visits by world’s botanists, biologists, and scientists of many fields all agreed: San Cristobal, as well as the other islands, had to be protected.

A lot of progress has been made with residents in the educational and conservational fields. Still, for many years, the natural value of the islands went unseen by local and regional administrations. A lot of work has been required to protect the inhabited part of the island. The creation of the Galapagos National Park was key in this process. Now many natural spots can be enjoyed and appreciated by both locals and visitors. An enhanced sense of belonging is felt amongst locals who are, every day, more aware of the luxury of living in the Galapagos Islands. They know everyone’s success and progress depend on the recovery and protection of all its habitats.

Getting the message out

View From Puerto Ayora's Port, In Galapagos
View From Puerto Ayora’S Port.

We are proud to work with our local guides and staff. Every day they show our guests how passionate they are about the place they live in. Transmitting the love they have for their islands is our drive to become the best and most sustainable company in the archipelago. We cannot wait to share it with you on your next trip aboard a Galapagos Cruise – one of the best options for getting the most out of this magical place!

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You can visit San Cristobal during our Eastern and Northern Galapagos itineraries. You won’t want to miss it!

Updated:November 20, 2023

Published:March 28, 2017