Where to See Galapagos Tortoises
Seeing Galapagos tortoises is high on the list for just about any intrepid visitor to the Galapagos Islands. These endemic creatures have been intertwined with the islands' identity all the way back to the point of recorded human contact, even inspiring the name bestowed on the islands (galapago meaning "tortoise" in Spanish).
It is generally acknowledged that 15 different subspecies of giant tortoise roamed the remote islands freely at that point, though that number is down to 10 these days due to hunting and the adverse effects of feral animals in the 19th century.
With a reduced population and many restrictions on interacting with Galapagos tortoises, there are fewer and fewer places where you can see giant tortoises in the Galapagos today. Here's our list of where to see Galapagos tortoises, divided by island.
Santa Cruz Island
Isla Santa Cruz is home to the most visited locations in the Galapagos: the Charles Darwin Research Station. This popular stop is the perfect place to not only see the giant tortoises of the Galapagos, but to learn about their biological history and the efforts to conserve them.
Peek in on the incubators and marvel at the way biologists and conservationists are reversing the downward spiral that would have led to the majestic creatures' extinction. Those looking to glimpse Galapagos tortoises in the wild on Santa Cruz can head into the highlands between June and December and spot the tortoises mating and laying eggs near Santa Rosa.
San Cristobal Island
Before the whalers and pirates came to plunder San Cristobal's tortoise population, there were two different wild communities, one at the northeastern end and another at the southern end of the island. Now, only about 1400 wild tortoises exist at the northeastern area and it was from this population that the tortoise National Park's breeding station where the southern community used to thrive. Several cruise itineraries get to stop at the "Galapaguera Cerro Colorado", which is similar in some ways to the Charles Darwin Station but much less crowded with visitors.
The Galapagos's largest island, Isabela also has the largest diversity of giant tortoise subspecies. The lengthy distance between volcanoes and the diversity of landscapes and habitats have allowed for the distinct evolution of Galapagos tortoises into five different subspecies.
This truly is the best place to observe the theory of evolution in practice, with each unique location yielding a unique type of Galapagos tortoise. The Giant Tortoise Breeding Center allows you to get up-close to several different varieties of Galapagos tortoises. You can also observe the giant tortoises in virtually every stage of their life cycle, from eggs to hatchlings to adolescents to adults.
Although Isla Floreana is perhaps the island most impacted by human settlements, some Galapagos tortoises remain. While Floreana Tortoises were persecuted to the point of near extinction, with a little luck you can still find San Cristobal Tortoises that now call Floreana home.
The Wittmer family brought San Cristobal Tortoises over from San Cristobal to accessorize the grounds of their hotel in the 1930s. These tortoises are thought to have crossbred with the now eliminated Floreana tortoises to create a subspecies of Galapagos tortoise.
Although giant Galapagos tortoises have been subject to the detrimental effects of human contact over the course of known history, much has been done by the National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station in recent years to ensure that these creatures can survive and thrive for generations to come.
Whether you're looking to see Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat or in the intricate incubating process at a preserve, these islands will satisfy your desire for contact with and contemplation of these fantastic and integral species. Choose the location that fits best into your itinerary and don't hesitate to get in touch with us with any specific questions. Happy tortoise tracking!
Article by Troy Shaheen