If Racho El Chato is not in the top 3 things to do in Santa Cruz island, then add it. Right. Now. It is an unbelievable place where you can literally walk with giants. Located about 3.5kms walk from Santa Rosa will take you to the ranch of El Chato. This is a privately-owned farm land but also home to so many giant land tortoises roaming around in their natural habitat, not to mention 2 massive lava tunnels which are a really awesome add on to the tortoise visit.
We got the bus from our front door in the area called Ocidente and paid our $0.50c each to reach Santa Rosa to begin the walk to the Ranch. Most people get a taxi or private tour but as we are doing Galapagos on the cheap then walking would be the only way for us, and we like walking and exercise so win.win.
The walk there is well covered with lots of shady spots so even in the heat it was manageable. About 1 km from the entrance we saw our first tortoise just hanging about on the farm road to the ranch. By law you have to stay 6ft away from all animals in Galapagos, but we were still able to get some incredible shots – thanks Canon!
From there you make your way to the onsite café and pay $5USD pp entry fee which is totally reasonable considering this is private land and $5 is not breaking the bank in the slightest. From there you start the 1 hour walk through these massive lava tunnels carved out when the lava flowed through the ground back in the last eruptions. They range from 20m, 30m and 150m (the 150m is guided by small lamps inside but the other 2 are not so bring a head torch or phone light)
Upon leaving the tunnels that’s where the magic really started to happen as we were surrounded by giant tortoises – they look like large boulders nestled in the long grass until they start munching down on some lush green grass or making their journey to a different part of the farm. We were both overwhelmed – what a sight!! What an absolute humbling experience to be in the presence of such amazing creature, so close you could touch (obviously we didn’t)
It just re-iterates how completely magical this experience is being in Galapagos and being able to witness first hand the wildlife here – it is truly a once in a lifetime experience, even though I will be back with mum and dad after the accident last week.
After taking yet again far too many unbelievable photos we headed back to the café where there is free tea and coffee and if your feeling peckish a good restaurant on site. There are also tortoise shells in the main café from deceased tortoises that have been restored and you can actually climb into them and feel what it would be like to be a tortoise…I hoped in first and my god I struggled. It was not easy and very hot, so I was a sweaty mess. Leo, however put me to shame as he glided into the shell majestically and even managed to push up in it like he was walking about. ‘GO LEO’!
We then decided to splash out and get a taxi back (I say taxi, I mean in the boot of a guy’s Ute and we gave him $5USD for the journey to the bus stop) – it saved us and hours walk and we knew that we still had work to do in the farm when we got home so it was in everyone’s best interest. Overall, make sure Rancho El Chato is on your list of must do’s in Santa Cruz as it really is a special place!