Above: Galápagos giant tortoises at Rancho El Chato

Giant Galápagos Tortoise Encounter

Most Galápagos itineraries include a visit to the famous Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. The station’s work, which includes breeding giant tortoises, is immensely important, and if you have ample time, by all means pay a visit and make a donation.

That said, visiting the station is rather like visiting a zoo, with the tortoises and iguanas located in enclosures. Those with limited time should forgo the station in favor of a place like Rancho El Chato. There we observed numerous tortoises lumbering through the grass and wallowing contentedly in muddy pools; they cross in and out of the adjacent national reserve unimpeded. As you can walk right up to the magnificent animals, the experience feels much more special.

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