El Chato Tortoise Reserve (Santa Cruz Island)#5 in Best Things To Do in Galapagos Islands
If you came to the Galápagos to stand face-to-face with a giant tortoise, then you can't pass up a trip to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. But tortoises aren't the only animals to look out for here: As you get acquainted with these immense, dome-shaped creatures, you may even hear the chirp of a Darwin finch or the hoot of a short-ear owl overhead.
Frequented by tour groups and rangers working to conserve the area, this reserve is one the few places where you can spot tortoises in their natural habitat. Today, rangers preserve the region by hunting predators and building fortified walls to prevent intruding animals from destroying the remaining tortoise population.
Visitors praise this wildlife sanctuary, adding that it's home to more tortoises than you might expect. The property also features multiple tunnels made of cooled, hardened lava, which travelers say are fun to explore. If you have time to grab a bite to eat, visitors highly recommend eating at the on-site restaurant.
El Chato Tortoise Reserve is situated on Santa Cruz Island next to another tortoise reserve, Rancho Primicias. You can bike to the property from the small Santa Cruz village of Santa Rosa by following an unpaved trail. Another option is to hail a taxi from central Puerto Ayora, which is approximately 13 miles southeast of the reserve. Admissions cost $3 per person and include a guided tour, a cup of coffee and access to the property's lava tunnels, restaurant, restrooms, gift shop and empty tortoise shells to climb into for photos. Visitors are permitted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
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#1 Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz Island)
Outdoorsy types don't flock to these two white sand beaches simply to bake in the warm equatorial sun. Travelers visit this isolated strip of Santa Cruz Island's southern coastline for some quality face time with the Galápagos' marine turtles. If you visit between January and February, you may even catch sight of the black turtles laying their eggs (hatchlings emerge and make their way to the sea between April and May). Even if you're not a turtle-lover, you can still get up close and personal with the other beach combers like marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
While most recent travelers describe their visits to Tortuga Bay as a highlight of their trips, some do caution that it can feel like quite a trek to get there from Puerto Ayora, especially in the hot sun. Also, remember that the beach closest to the bay's entrance (Playa Brava) has strong currents, so it's not suitable for swimming. If you want to swim, continue walking to the bay's other beach (Playa Mansa).
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