Cruz Island reaches a maximum altitude of ~800 meters and the areas with a higher elevation are known as the Highlands. Due to the altitude, Santa Cruz Highlands provide a break from the sun, making this place a perfect habitat for the giant Galapagos tortoises, finches and other land animals and plants. We learnt from our guide that the Galapagos giant tortoises were nearly extinct in the 19th century due to the constant hunting and other predators like rats and rodents destroying the eggs and eating young turtle. Until today, massive conservation efforts are made with the purpose of saving the remaining tortoise population. You will be surrounded by the beautiful flora and fauna and the unique volcanic features of the Highlands. Most of the day tours cover the following places :-
- Cerro Mesa
- El Chat Reserve
- Lava Tunnels
- Garrapatero Beach
This is the first ecological reserve in the Galapagos province. It’s a scenic drive and only 30 minutes from Santa Cruz island by car. The largest crater on Santa Cruz is located on the property as well as the ‘cerro’ that has an extraordinary viewpoint where you can experience a 360 degree view of the island of Santa Cruz.
El Chato Reserve
A place where giant tortoises live and this is a famous destination where you can see the giant tortoises in the wild and quite close few meters along the pathway. This reserve is known as a roaming grounds for the Galapagos Giant tortoises, which cross the reserve on their permanent migrations from the coast to the highlands, making it one of the very few places to see these inexplicable animals in their natural habitat.
Majority of the female tortoises can be found in this location where they choose this location to lay the eggs. The reserve has thousands of square meters of high pastures and these green highlands are also populated by many bird species like Darwin finches.
There is an in-house restaurant inside El Chato reserve that has very good lunch options. It’s a nice place to sit and watch the tortoises in the wild as you have your lunch.
Did you know that Santa Cruz has several lava tunnels? This should not be a surprise as majority of the Galapagos Islands are volcanic. They exist from numerous years of eruptions from underwater volcanoes until the build up of hardened lava reached the ocean’s surface. When you visit El Chato Reserve, the lava tunnel can be accessed from this location and its a short 15 minute walk that runs ~1Km.
The property has maintained the tunnel well and you have small light bulbs across the pathway. The tunnel entrance is surrounded by thick vegetation and few steps to climb down the tunnel. This could be a quick visit as part of El Chato visit.
A 30-minute taxi ride from Puerto Ayora through the highlands brings you to Garrapatero beach. There is a 15 minute walk from the entrance to access the beach. When we visited in December, the beach was very calm and smooth compared to Tortuga bay. This is a well known spot for snorkeling and there is a lagoon that is visited by the flamingos in this beach. With the 2017 Tsunami, the landscape of the beach changed that is one of the reasons for the decrease in flamingos in the lagoon.