It is said the Galápagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by the bishop of Panama, Tomás de Berlanga, whose ship had drifted off course while en route to Peru. Back then, he named the islands, Las Encantadas, meaning ‘the enchanted’, and marvelled at the thousands of giant Galápagos tortoises found there.
Renowned for its unusual wildlife, owing to its isolated terrain shelters, the archipelago’s endangered giant Galápagos tortoises are one of the most iconic creatures you can see while visiting the islands. Weighing up to 213 kg (470 lb), these reptiles have some of the longest life spans on earth and can live for well over a century – up to 150 years, and each species has a uniquely shaped shell.
Although previously hunted and eaten by pirates and whalers, recent breeding programmes have successfully boosted the number of giant Galápagos tortoises, and ongoing conservation efforts remain focused on securing their long-term survival on the islands.
Santa Cruz, the archipelago’s second largest island, offers some of the best sightings of giant Galápagos tortoises at the El Chanto Tortoise Reserve and Rancho Primicias. Often frequented by tour groups and rangers working to conserve the area, these reserves are one the few places where you can spot tortoises in their natural habitat.