I’ve always dreamed of visiting the Galápagos Islands. Swimming with tortoises and sea lions, and being so close to wildlife and nature has always fascinated me. When we travelled through South America for 5 months, I knew I will never get that close again; this is my chance to go! In February, my dream became reality. On a sunny afternoon, we touched down on Baltra Island – around 1000 km (600 miles) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. We made our way to Puerto Ayora, the largest town of the Galápagos Islands, which was also our base to explore Santa Cruz and the surrounding islands for one week.
Santa Cruz Island is home of a lot of giant tortoises and I was super excited to see them for the first time. The most well-known tortoise of the Galápagos is lonesome George, a Pinta tortoise, who was relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Station in the 70’s. He was the last of his species and in his last years, he was one of the rarest creatures of the world. Unfortunately, he died in 2012, lonely without finding anyone of his kind.
Sad to hear his story at the Charles Darwin Research Station, I also learned about the Reserva El Chato, which is in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. The reserve is divided in two areas; La Caseta and Cerro Chatto, and is home of many free roaming giant tortoises.
We’ve heard that the best way to explore the highlands is by taxi. Although not cheap, we jumped into one and off we drove up the winding hills to the reserve. The weather quickly changed, it got cooler and cloudier, the vegetation turned lush. 30 minutes later, we’ve arrived at the El Chato tortoise reserve, and we had to pay $3 to enter the huge green space in front of us. We started wandering around passing ponds, trees and here they were… lots of giant tortoises.
Walking along these giant animals and watching them eat, graze, and sunbathe is an unbelievable experience. We’ve seen the tortoises in lots of different sizes and shapes (they can weigh up to 270 kg); all together in this massive preserve. I especially enjoyed the experience because the giant tortoises were roaming around free. You’re not supposed to touch them and get closer than 2 meters (~ 6 feet); you are a guest watching them in their natural habitat.
At the end, we had to take a picture in the tortoise shell that is located at the entrance. It was awkward to crawl inside with a dress, but who wouldn’t take the chance to be a tortoise for a few minutes?!
Have you had a close encounter with wild animals? Let me know in the comments below.
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Mario30. May 2017 at 3:19 pm
I’m just now on Santa Cruz leaving in less than 8 hours for Quito. We skipped El Chato since we headed straight to Isabella (which changed a lot till the last 7 years… not to the positive) and San Cristobal for scuba (well, we planned everything around the scuba dives.) and are kinda exhausted now from all the activities. Imho a nice way to see giant tortoises would be to visit el chato and the lava tunels on the first days and maybe skip darwin center instead (lonesome George got some sort of shrine which seemed weird to me). The Centro de Interpretation in San Cristobal is worth a visit though, since you can head on to 2 different beaches from there and snorkel with sea lions/turtles. Also: San Cristobal was my most favourite Island, though scuba diving in Santa Cruz is a bit more interesting.
Sina Meyer30. May 2017 at 5:29 pm
Thanks for sharing your experience, Mario! I agree, if you’re short on time, I would rather visit El Chato instead of the Darwin Reserve as it’s much more exciting to see them in their natural habitat.This was my first time on the Galapagos Islands and I was really impressed with all the wildlife and loved all the snorkelling I could do. I found Santa Cruz extremely touristy though, and wished I could have spend more time on the other islands. San Cristobal sounds great especially all the activities you can do. I did a day trip to Santa Fe where I did a lot of snorkelling and saw lots of sea lions and one lonely turtle too. I did another day trip to Isabella Island and found it very quiet – how has it changed since your last visit? After a week on the Galapagos, I was extremely exhausted too, so I know how you feel 🙂 Enjoy your last few hours on the Galapagos Islands!
Agness of aTukTuk28. May 2017 at 9:37 pm
I love turtles and I would really want to enjoy this place. I am adding it to my bucket list, Sina!
Sina Meyer30. May 2017 at 4:46 pm
I’m sure you’d love it – The Galapagos are great to see giant tortoises in their natural environment!
Finding Beyond15. May 2017 at 5:50 am
What a great experience. It’s always amazing when you get to go somewhere enough have always been dreaming off. We have always wanted to visit South Africa for our wild life adventure. Hopefully we will get there one day.
Sina Meyer15. May 2017 at 12:51 pm
Yes, it’s nice to have dreams that eventually become reality. South Africa sounds amazing too – hope you get a chance to go very soon!
stephanie13. May 2017 at 10:43 pm
wow these creatures looks so cool.
Carmen Baguio11. May 2017 at 1:36 am
I’ve always wanted to see these giant tortoises. I remember reading about them when I was a kid. It looks like a great sanctuary for these lovely beasts!
Sina Meyer11. May 2017 at 9:50 am
It’s amazing experience and it’s nice to see that they have such a peaceful home. Hope you can go one day!
treadtheglobe.com10. May 2017 at 6:49 am
thanks for the great post. This is somewhere we have always talked about going to. Cant wait to visit – we will make sure we visit this when we head to that part of the world
Sina Meyer10. May 2017 at 10:10 am
Yes, I would definitely go when you’re in that part of the world. It’s amazing to see all these wild animals in their natural habitat 🙂
Paul and Carole9. May 2017 at 5:05 pm
What an amazing experience we would love to do this. The Galapagos looks such an awesome destination we must get there one day! #feetdotravel
Sina Meyer10. May 2017 at 10:04 am
It’s a very unique place! If you’re travelling in South America, you should definitely go here 🙂
Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler)9. May 2017 at 3:27 pm
What an incredible experience to have visiting the tortoise reserve. I just love turtles and tortoises and the Galapagos are definitely on my bucket list. That is a sad tale about Lonesome George and that he was the last of his species. Incredible photos and thanks for sharing! #feetdotravel
Shona @ paraphernalia.co9. May 2017 at 2:53 pm
What an incredible experience. Being a guest in their habitat to observe their daily existence is a gift. How wonderful. I’m pinning in case I get the chance one day! 🙂
Sina Meyer10. May 2017 at 10:05 am
Thank you Shona, it is a unique experience!
tracy collins8. May 2017 at 8:13 pm
Would love to see those tortoises! What a privilege to visit them! Definitely something i would love to do!
Sina Meyer10. May 2017 at 10:03 am
It’s a very special experience – I hope you will get a chance to see them on the Galapagos Islands one day too!
Travel Lexx6. May 2017 at 6:53 pm
Amazing story and such a cool place to visit. I love animals and this would be a special experience – I have actually met the oldest Galapagos tortoise in the world (at the time anyway) who was apparently 175!! It was incredible – so cool that you got to see these amazing animals up close!
Sina Meyer7. May 2017 at 4:58 pm
Wow, I knew tortoises can get old but 175… that must have been an amazing experience! I was super happy to see them in their natural habitat for the first time. They are such gentle, laid-back animals – I totally loved it!
Angie (FeetDoTravel)6. May 2017 at 8:39 am
What a brilliant story, and you your visited a place where your dream became a reality! I definitely want to visit the Galapagos Islands, and will 100% visit this reserve so I can see these amazing tortoises. It’s great to hear that you cannot touch or get too close to them so these gentle giants can have their personal space – it’s only right 😀 Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us! Pinned for future reference #feetdotravel
Sina Meyer7. May 2017 at 4:52 pm
Thank you Angie! It was an unforgettable experience to see all these wild animals wandering around freely in their natural habitat and I’m glad they still get threaded with respect. Hope you get a chance to visit the islands one day 🙂
Jane @ Raincity Librarian6. May 2017 at 4:58 am
Oh dear, what a sad tale of a lonely tortoise! But what an incredible experience, to visit such a significant place, full of so much history. And those tortoises just make me smile – they seem to have life all figured out, and live a pretty laid-back life! 🙂
Sina Meyer7. May 2017 at 4:24 pm
Yes, I know – it was so sad to hear his story! But it was really an amazing experience watching them enjoying life in the wild 🙂
Uncover Travel5. May 2017 at 7:05 pm
Great post, which brought back some wonderful memories! We were lucky enough to visit in 2010 and saw Lonesome George – at that time he shared his pen with two young female tortoises and he would follow them around offering them leafy ‘gifts’, which he carried in his mouth.
Sina Meyer7. May 2017 at 4:22 pm
Thank you, glad you enjoyed the post! That must have been an amazing experience to see Lonesome George and it sounds like he was a very kind tortoise. Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂