The giant tortoise is one of the most iconic Galapagos animals. No visit to the Galapagos islands would be complete without ticking them off of your bucket list, and El Chato tortoise reserve is one of the best places for that. El Chato is home to hundreds of these gentle giants – the perfect place to see them in their natural habitat. They wallow in mud pools, crunch on green shoots, and are free to wander around this huge reserve. Just how big are they? Galapagos giant tortoises grow up to 5 feet in length, and can weigh over 550 pounds (250 kilos). As you can imagine, that’s a pretty impressive tortoise!
Read on for everything you need to know to plan your visit to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. How to get there? When is the best time of year to go? What other wildlife can be seen at El Chato? Plus lots more information besides about Galapagos tortoises.
El Chato Galapagos is a protected place where Galapagos giant tortoises roam. The 12 hectare area is perfect tortoise habitat – lush green pasture and Scalesia forest combined with muddy pools where tortoises love to escape the hot midday sun. The El Chato Galapagos tortoises are perfectly happy in human company, providing wonderful photo opportunities for visitors.
El Chato is also an interesting place for Galapagos bird watching. Darwin Tree and Ground finches flit between the trees. Vermilion flycatchers and yellow warblers add a splash of color to the scene. Short-eared owls can sometimes be spotted by keen eyed tourists. White-cheeked pintails, Cattle egrets and Galapagos rails also call Santa Cruz highlands home.
Elsewhere on the reserve there are expansive lava tunnels (tubes) where visitors can explore below the ground in lit-up tunnels. Some of the larger tunnels require a descent by ladder but are well worth the trouble for their insight into the creation of the island.
El Chato is not the only tortoise reserve on Santa Cruz. Las Primicias is a neighboring ranch with similar facilities.
El Chato is a large private reserve up on the highlands of Santa Cruz island. A visit here is often included into Galapagos cruise or Land tour itineraries. Alternatively tourists can head to El Chato Reserve by themselves in a free half day from Puerto Ayora.
Where is El Chato?
El Chato Reserve is nestled in the rolling, lush hills of the Santa Cruz highlands, just 2km south of the small town of Santa Rosa.How to get there?
From Puerto Ayora the journey to El Chato tortoise reserve is aproximately 22km.
We recommend to take a guided trip to the highlands. Not only will a guide be able to locate the tortoises for you and prevent you from getting lost, but he/she will also bring the experience to life with lots of tortoise information.
If you prefer a solo visit without an organised tour, then the easiest way to get to El Chato is to jump in a taxi, it takes around 20 minutes. Taxi drivers will include waiting time into their fare if you ask. Another alternative is to rent a bike – most agencies on the main drag in Puerto Ayora offer this service. Start early to avoid cycling uphill under the strong sun, and enjoy coasting downhill on the ride home.
• El Chato tortoise reserve is divided into two parts: La Caseta and Cerro Chato. La Caseta trail leads to mud pools where tortoises relax and cool themselves off. Cerro Chato trail meanders to a scenic lookout over the island and ocean. It is a large reserve and the tortoises love to roam, so ask the staff where they have seen tortoises on the day of your visit. This will greatly increase your chances of finding them.
• The trails here are often overgrown, muddy and slippery. Wear a good pair of hiking or walking boots and watch your step! The reserve can provide boots if the mud is particularly bad.
• Stick to the trails because it is easy to get lost at the reserve. In recent years two people have lost their way, one ending with fatal consequences.
• Take plenty of drinking water along with you. There is also a small onsite cafe, shop and bathrooms.
• The weather in the highlands is unpredictable, so it’s best to prepare for everything. Take along both rain gear and sun protection.
• El Chato tortoise reserve opening hours are: 08:00 to 17.30 each day. Most visitors plan to spend a couple of hours here to explore the site and enjoy watching the tortoises. A small entry fee is charged on arrival.
• For a quirky and fun photo opportunity visitors can crawl into an empty tortoise shell on display at the ranch, and perform your best tortoise impression.
• Some tourists combine El Chato Reserve with a visit to Los Gemelos Twin Craters which is also located in Santa Cruz Highlands. Taxi drivers will be happy to give you a price including a wait at each site.
For more information about the Galapagos Giant Tortoise check out our post with 8 fun tortoise facts.
Contact us for a FREE TOUR QUOTE, or for more information to plan your Galapagos vacation. Let us know if you would like to visit El Chato Tortoise Reserve, and we will be happy to include it for you.
In conclusion, El Chato Tortoise Reserve is one of the very best sites to see giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat. It is a special place where these gentle giants are protected and cared for, while having freedom to roam around. Whether you visit solo or as part of a Galapagos tour, El Chato is a rewarding and recommended Santa Cruz destination. Given how popular and iconic the Giant Tortoise is at the Galapagos Islands, this is a visit not to be missed!