The Highlands of Santa Cruz

We might have seen a couple of giant Galapagos tortoises in the wild on our walk to Tortuga Bay… BUT we wanted more!!! The answer – a trip to the highlands area of Santa Cruz, where we had been told we would be able to see them en masse…

The reason you can see so many in the Highlands area of Santa Cruz is because there is a protected reserve which is part of the National Park – El Chato. This area has been protected in a conservation effort to safeguard the Santa Cruz giant tortoise. However, the tortoises don’t always stay in the reserve – they like to venture into private properties that back onto the reserve – and a number of these private properties (including El Chato Ranch) have opened their doors to tourists πŸ™‚

We decided against the conventional ‘Highlands Tour’ with a driver and car, as we had done in San CristΓ³bal… and rather opted to go it alone to El Chato Ranch – to see giant tortoises – and Los Gemelos (the twin craters…) – the other famous sight in the highlands of Santa Cruz.

At one stage we almost crumbled and said yes to the driver – it was just so hard to find out how to go it alone – the only way we knew we could was because others had said that they had on Tripadvisor!!! In the end, a friendly dude from a bicycle rental company told us that there was a local bus to a town called Santa Rosa – and from there it was either a quick bike ride, or a not so quick walk to El Chato Ranch!!! Why the dude in the Tourist Information office wasn’t as helpful as this – I will never know – he just seemed to think that we would get lost and never be seen again!?!

Anyway, catching the local bus was really easy, and the ride was REALLY scenic πŸ™‚ BUT it wasn’t just the scenery – we spotted our first wild Galapagos giant tortoises of the day through the bus window πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

It wasn’t long before we arrived in Santa Rosa – it wasn’t a big place and the friendly bus driver pointed us in the direction of El Chato Tortoise Reserve.

We were on our way!

The road out of Santa Rosa that leads to the tortoise reserve.

The walk from Santa Rosa to the tortoise reserve took us about an hour… but that was with way too many photo stops – we kept seeing tortoises along the way – in the farmers’ fields, by water holes, on the road… They were EVEYWHERE! AND they were VERY photogenic πŸ˜‰

The first tortoise we spotted on the walk!
The way to El Chato Ranch is well signposted πŸ™‚
Check out the tortoise crossing sign πŸ™‚
Just after seeing the sign we saw this tortoise… He was using the offical tortoise crossing!
More tortoises are hanging out in the fields on the side of the road.
The welcoming tortoise of El Chato Ranch – he was waiting for us in the car park!

We walked through the car park to the main area and paid our $5 USD to enter the reserve and walk the trails… El Chato Ranch is a private farm, with really well maintained trails, and heaps of Galapagos giant tortoises… The tortoises wander into the ranch as it backs on to the El Chato Reserve.

We really enjoyed walking the trails in El Chato Ranch, even if it was on occasion hard to stay on the trail as there was a GIANT tortoise asleep on the path! There were tortoises of all different ages hanging out on the ranch… and we got a good selection of pictures while we were there!

CC with a Santa Cruz giant tortoise… she’s not getting any closer as she’s following the rules! You have to keep a distance of 2 metres so you don’t disturb them πŸ™‚
No-one taught this tortoise not to eat with his mouth open!!!
Tortoise on the trail!
Who knew that tortoises like water?
Lunch time!
Check out how small the finch looks in comparison with the tortoise!
Cooling off in the water hole.
Tortoise on the path!
Dented shell tortoise.
Portrait shot!
PB and a Santa Cruz giant tortoise πŸ™‚
A tortoise hiding in the undergrowth.

After all the giant tortoise excitement it was coffee time! Another great thing about this ranch is that they have a big urn of freshly brewed Galapagos coffee on the go all the time πŸ™‚ AND for a ‘tip’ you can help yourself to as much as you like during your visit to the ranch πŸ™‚

After coffee and another quick walk along the trails – yep we couldn’t resist – it was time to leave and stroll back to Santa Rosa…

We met a tortoise on the road on the way back to Santa Rosa.
CC has arrived in Santa Rosa.

After a bit of chilling out time on the main square in Santa Rosa, it was time for stage two of our ‘Highlands Tour’… Next stop – Los Gemelos: Twin Craters.

It was about an hours walk to the craters along the main road which leads across the island… luckily for us, they had built a cycle/walk way alongside the main road, making it a tad easier for people like us!

The long straight road to Los Gemelos.
Scalesia Forest starts to appear by the side of the road.

In spite of the name in English – Twin Craters – Los Gemelos are in fact NOT collapsed volcanic craters! They were apparently formed by lava flows – the lava dome hardened on the outside, but later collapsed leaving two VERY BIG holes…

Regardless of how they were formed, they are pretty impressive – and the surrounding vegetation makes the area even more beautiful… This area is home to an impressive Scalesia Forest – a type of forest that is native to the Galapagos, and also lots of birds. We spotted a new endemic species – the Galapagos dove on our walk :-). The walk around the rims of the two holes (sounds a bit lame writing hole, but I don’t want to be technically incorrect and write crater!) and through the surrounding vegetation was really worth it πŸ™‚

The first twin!
A Galapagos dove by Los Gemelos.
The trail leads through lush forest.
Twin number 2!

After an enjoyable visit to Los Gemelos, it was time to start the 45 minute walk back to Santa Rosa…

CC heads towards Santa Rosa.

Back in Santa Rosa we waited – with BIG smiles on our faces – for the bus to take us back to Puerto Ayora… not sure if we were smiling because we were pondering how awesome the day had been, or because we were excited to be getting one last glimpse of the tortoises out of the bus window on the way home!

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