There are only a few places in the Archipelago where Galapagos tortoises can still be found in their natural environment. Among them is El Chato, a natural reserve that occupies thousands of square meters in Santa Cruz’s highlands. Walking through the forest trails is a unique opportunity to see the giant reptiles freely roaming around, grazing in the lush vegetation or taking mud baths to escape the heat.
Like many other tourist attractions on Santa Cruz Island, the reserve can be visited through various guided trips from Puerto Ayora. If you’d prefer to avoid being part of a large group of tourists, there is also the option to go on your own. Taxis are constantly making this route and drivers are eager to show you the surroundings. Some of them understand English, so they can even act as a guide and show you around.
Tips&Tricks: The cost of a taxi tour is 40$ and takes about 4 hours. However, you should always negotiate before getting in the car, because is hard to tell apart those drivers who work independently from the local taxi company.
Top Guided Tours and Activities (our favorite choices)
El Chato Reserve
El Chato Reserve is one of the most beautiful places in Santa Cruz, where you have the opportunity to walk among so many Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat. It’s incredible to see up close these unique animals on the verge of extinction, so even if you spend only a few days on the island, the reserve should definitely be on your itinerary.
With no stops on the way, the journey takes around 30 minutes from Puerto Ayora. The entrance fee is USD5, and includes a hot cup of tea or a coffee. A must in the highlands, where it’s raining all the time, rubber boots are provided to every visitor (so don’t forget your socks for this visit).
Mirador de los Tuneles
Santa Cruz is famous for its underground tunnels in which hot lava used to run when the volcanoes on the islands were still active. Under the El Chato Reserve, these spectacular galleries are more than 1 km in length. Known as Mirador de los Tuneles, they can be explored on a easy hike, just by following the marked trails in the forest.
Los Gemelos is a couple of minutes drive from El Chato. A short trail on both sides of the main road from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, lead to this huge volcanic sinkholes formed at the same time as the island. Now covered by endemic vegetation, the viewpoints offers one of the most stunning panoramic views on the island.
Tips&Tricks: Because Los Gemelos is close to El Chato, most taxi drivers will make a stop here on the way back to Puerto Ayora. To be sure though, don’t forget to check with your driver before agreeing on the price for the ride.