🐒 Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve: Ultimate Guide

Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado tortoise reserve blog cover image.  Text overlaying a close up photo of a giant Galapagos tortoise in San Cristobal.

Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is a tortoise reserve, sanctuary, and breeding center in the highlands of San Cristobal island.

Established in 2002 by the Galapagos National Park Service, it is touted as one of the best places to see the endangered Galapagos giant tortoises in the world.

We visited the reserve in April 2023 and consider it one of the best things we did in our multiple trips to the Galapagos. On a visit, you’ll witness baby Galapagos tortoises in breeding enclosures, as well as adult tortoises roaming the grounds freely.

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know for visiting Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado. This includes information and options on how to get there, pricing, hours, what to expect, and more.

ℹ️ About La Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve

A close up image showing the face of a San Cristobal Galapagos tortoise with its mouth open at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.
LocationSan Cristobal Island, 30 minute drive from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
Entry FeeNone
Opening Times6am-6pm
WebsiteN/A
Main HighlightsAdult & baby Galapagos giant tortoises
How to Get ThereTaxi or tour from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
ServicesBathrooms (running water & soap but no toilet paper)
Other Names– David Rodriguez Breeding Center
– Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Terrestres
– Jacinto Gordillo

Just a 30-minute drive from the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado makes for the perfect half-day trip while on San Cristobal.

One of the most popular tourist destinations on the island, the reserve helps educate visitors on the natural history and conservation of the Galapagos giant tortoises.


Names & History

Sign at the entrance for Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado that reads "Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Terrestres David Rodriguez"

Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado was established by the Galapagos National Park Service in 2002. Since then, it has run a successful breeding program for the endemic Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis chathamensis) in San Cristobal.

The initial program was known as Jacinto Gordillo. Its official name was changed in 2016 to Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Terrestres “David Rodriguez” – this was done in recognition of a park ranger who gave 39 years of incredible service.

Despite these official names, the tortoise reserve is typically referred to as Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado or just Galapaguera for short, which translates to “tortoise hatchery” in English.


Environment

A small juvenile San Cristobal Galapagos tortoise with a larger juvenile tortoise behind it, at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.

The 30-acres that now constitute the tortoise reserve were carefully selected as the ideal location. This was due to the landscape, environment, and plant life, which most closely resembled the natural habitat of wild tortoises elsewhere on the island.

At the sanctuary, the resident tortoises are provided a semi-natural environment where they and their hatchlings are protected from predators.

Once the young tortoises are large enough to survive, they are re-introduced into the wild to help recover wild populations.


Hours & Fees

Entrance to the Galapaguera is free!

Visitors can see large adult tortoises roaming freely, as well as young tortoises in protected pens, all at no cost.

Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is open from 6am-6pm, 7 days a week.

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πŸ›» How to Get to Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve

A woman crouched on the path next to a giant Galapagos tortoise at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado in San Cristobal

There are two main ways to get to Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

The most popular and easiest way to visit is by booking a taxi for a highlands tour. This can be done through any tour operator in town, or often via your accommodation host/hotel staff. If your Spanish is good enough, you can also just speak to any taxi driver directly.

An alternative way to visit for the more energetic traveler is by bicycle. This is less expensive but requires substantially more effort.


San Cristobal Highlands Tour

White sand and turquoise water at Playa Puerto Chino on San Cristobal highlands tour.
Visit Playa Puerto Chino (Puerto Chino Beach) as part of a highlands tour.

While it is possible to book a full-day tour to the San Cristobal Highlands with an English-speaking guide, it is not necessary!

The easiest and most popular way to visit the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is by asking a local taxi driver to take you on a San Cristobal Highlands tour. This can be arranged directly with any taxi driver, or you can ask your accommodation to arrange it for you.

The half-day taxi tour will pick you up from your hotel and take you to three stops: Laguna El Junco, Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, and Puerto Chino Beach (one of the best beaches in Galapagos).

This type of half-day tour will typically last 4-5 hours and cost $60-$80.

However, don’t be misled by the word “tour”. You will not have, nor need, a naturalist guide for this trip. Rather, you will have a taxi driver take you around the well-established highland tour route and wait for you at each stop.

Ensure you agree on the amount of time and price with your driver prior to your trip.

Our tour was 4 hours (9am-1pm) and cost $60 for four of us in April 2023.

⭐️ Pro Tip: If you’re traveling to the Galapagos on a budget, try to find others to join you on this tour. Most taxis will take up to four people, reducing the per-person cost.


Bicycling to Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado

A juvenile tortoise surrounded by poison apples (manzanillos) at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado in San Cristobal

For the more adventurous and/or budget-conscious travelers, it is possible to rent a bike in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and cycle to Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado instead.

Bike rentals for a full day start around $15.

However, it is worth keeping in mind that the cycle route is considered moderate to difficult. It is 15 miles (24km) in each direction with a 2300ft (700m) elevation gain.

We strongly recommend that only experienced cyclists attempt this ride!

In addition to the physical challenges, there were many places where the roads were narrow and the cars drove much faster than the posted speed limits.

⭐️ Pro tip: Rain is common in the highlands so be prepared to get wet, even if it’s sunny as you start your ride!

🐒 What to See at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve

A close up image of the face of a giant Galapagos tortoise in San Cristobal galapaguera.

Of course, the main reason for any visit to Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is to see the most iconic animals in the Galapagos; the giant Galapagos tortoises.

The path through the tortoise reserve is set up as a loop so you can start your journey in either direction and see everything in between.

Adults roam freely around the grounds and can be spotted anywhere along the loop.

The baby tortoises are protected, however. They can be found in the breeding center, located approximately halfway around the loop in an unmissable fenced area.


Adult Galapagos Giant Tortoises at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado

A San Cristobal Galapagos tortoise in the sunshine in a mud pool at the tortoise reserve

There are approximately 140 adult giant Galapagos tortoises that roam freely at Cerro Colorado tortoise reserve.

You can spot them along the path, in the vegetation, or wallowing in the mud pools. Be sure to look carefully in the vegetation as, despite their size, they can often be camouflaged well amongst the shrubbery and rocks!

Although walled, the tortoises have free range over the 30-acre reserve which provides a semi-natural environment and a vast quantity of native vegetation for them to graze on.


Galapagos Tortoise Population

A San Cristobal giant Galapagos tortoise resting in the shade beneath a tree at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.

The Galapagos giant tortoises were once so abundant that Spanish explorers in 1535 named the islands after them (galΓ‘pago meaning tortoise in Spanish). Unfortunately, they reached near extinction in the 19th century due to excessive hunting and introduced species.

The population of San CristΓ³bal tortoises was estimated to have dropped as low as 500-700 individuals in the 1970s and was believed to be around 24,000 prior to human contact.

A census in 2016 found that the population is making a rapid recovery. San Cristobal has an estimated 6,700 tortoises, with around 2,950 mature adults and 3,750 juveniles and hatchlings.

Despite the increasing population, San Cristobal tortoises are still considered endangered.


Galapagos Tortoise Age & Size

Several large adult Galapagos tortoises wallowing in water in a pool at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado San Cristobal Island.

These impressive reptiles are the world’s largest tortoises. They have been known to exceed 5 feet in length and weigh over 500lbs (225kg).

The Galapagos tortoises are also the longest-lived of all land vertebrates, averaging over 100 years old, with the oldest tortoise on record reaching an impressive 175 years.

Notably, every island in the Galapagos archipelago is (or was once) home to a unique subspecies of tortoise. One of the main identifying features for each subspecies is the shape of the tortoises shell.

The San Cristobal tortoise is moderately saddlebacked. This is quite different from the dome-shaped tortoises found on Santa Cruz. Their unique adaptation allows them to extend their necks higher to reach tall bushes and cacti.

Adult males on San Cristobal are typically more saddlebacked, whereas females and young males are wider in the middle with a more domed shape.

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Baby Galapagos Tortoises at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado

Two small juvenile tortoises in the foreground and a slightly larger juvenile tortoise in the background at the tortoise reserve in San Cristobal.

One of the absolute highlights of a visit to the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado tortoise reserve is seeing the adorable baby tortoises.

All of the hatchlings you’ll see here are the endangered San CristΓ³bal tortoises (Chelonoidis chathamensis), which are endemic to the island.

The San Cristobal tortoise breeding center has proved successful with the first hatchling, GΓ©nesis, born on April 11th, 2005. Since then, hundreds more tortoises have been born and released back into the wild on San Cristobal.

A baby tortoise at the hatchery in San Cristobal Galapagos.

San Cristobal tortoises reach sexual maturity at around 20-25 years old and mate only once per year. Each clutch will contain 12-16 eggs which are collected by park rangers and incubated at the hatchery. Once hatched, the hatchlings are transferred to covered pens to protect them from predators.

Once they are large enough and their shells are strong enough, at around 2 years old, they are moved into uncovered, walled enclosures. They remain here until they are eventually large enough to survive on their own and be released into the wild in San Cristobal, typically around 5 years old.

A group of juvenile Galapagos tortoises in a walled enclosure at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado surrounded by manzanillos (poison apples).

You will naturally encounter the breeding center on your walk around the Galapaguera. As you enter, you’ll see various pens and enclosures containing baby tortoises, grouped by age and marked with numbers on their shell.

It is fascinating to see the baby tortoises in different stages of development!


Other Wildlife at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve

A San Cristobal Mockingbird on the ground at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.
San Cristobal Mockingbird at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.

While the giant Galapagos tortoises are certainly the star attractions of Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, there are a number of other native species you may encounter. Some of these include:

  • Galapagos Lava Lizard
  • Galapagos Marine Iguana
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Small Tree Finch
  • Galapagos Rail
  • Galapagos Dove
  • San Cristobal Mockingbird
  • Galapagos Flycatcher
  • Galapagos Red Bat
a lava lizard clings to a stone wall in San Cristobal island Galapagos.
Galapagos Lava Lizard

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⭐️ Our Experience at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve

A large adult male tortoise attempts to climb on top of the side of a smaller female tortoise in a muddy pool at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, San Cristobal.

We visited Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado as part of a highlands taxi tour in April 2023.

The entirety of the tour, but especially Galapaguera, quickly became one of our favorite things to do on San Cristobal.

We were picked up at our hotel at 9am and arrived at the tortoise reserve by 10:30am, stopping first at Laguna El Junco on the way.

Our driver let us know we had one hour at the Galapaguera before we would need to leave to reach Puerto Chino Beach. This was enough time to walk the whole loop, stopping for plenty of photos on the way!

A saddleback Galapagos giant tortoise in San Cristobal island.

Upon arrival at the Galapaguera in San Cristobal, we were immediately greeted by a large adult enjoying a morning snack of manzanillo (poison apple) by the entrance.

The looped path is around 0.6 miles (1km) in length and is very easy to follow. However, it is mostly dirt and loose gravel with a few lava rocks scattered about. Therefore, we’d recommend wearing closed-toe shoes.

It seems possible for anyone to walk the trail, but it may be slightly challenging for those with extreme mobility issues.

A man standing in front of a muddy pool where 6 giant Galapagos tortoises are bathing in Galapagurera de Cerro Colorado tortoise reserve

Along the way, you will pass by a few different pools where the tortoises often like to congregate and cool off.

When we visited in the morning, the tortoises were still fairly active. In addition to playing (slowly) amongst themselves, we even had a few walk across the path in front of us (even more slowly).

A San Cristobal giant tortoise waking across a path at the tortoise reserve. Galapaguera de Cerro Coloado

We were fortunate to enjoy watching 6 tortoises wallowing in the water at the first pool and a similar number at the next one. We also saw a number of tortoises along the way, either on the path or in the bushes. By the end, we had lost count of how many we had seen!

About halfway around the loop, you will come to a fenced-in area, this is the breeding center. Here you can see various baby tortoises at different stages of development.

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🧐 Is It Worth Visiting Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve?

An adult saddleback Galapagos tortoise resting in a pool of muddy water in the sun at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado in San Cristobal.

Our visit to the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado was one of the highlights of our time in San Cristobal.

With that said, we found our visit to El Chato Ranch on Santa Cruz even more enjoyable and would recommend that one more highly to travelers spending time on both islands. At El Chato, the adult tortoises are wild and free to come and go.

We visited El Chato as part of a tour with Inspiring Ecuador and highly recommend them to anyone who would rather have their visit to Galapagos pre-arranged. They take care of all the details so you can just relax and enjoy a wild vacation!

Of the three tortoise breeding centers in Galapagos, we much preferred the Galapaguera in San Cristobal. While Centro de Crianza in Isabela and the Charles Darwin Research Center in Santa Cruz provide more information about the tortoises and conservation efforts, the only adult tortoises are all in small enclosures at these locations.

It is worth noting that visiting multiple tortoise sanctuaries will allow you to observe the completely different look of each sub-species. For example, the tortoises at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado are saddlebacks, whereas those on Santa Cruz are dome-shaped.

It is fascinating to see and reflect on how uniquely each species has evolved to thrive on each individual island in the Galapagos.

🌦️ Tips for Visting Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve

Juvenile tortoises at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado surrounded by fallen manzanillos (poison apples).
Juvenile tortoises surrounded by manzanillos (poison apples).

We are sure that a visit to Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado will be a highlight on your Galapagos itinerary, but hope these helpful tips can further enhance your time there.

  • Do not touch the manzanillos (poison apples)!
    These small green fruits are a favorite food for tortoises, but are toxic to humans and can cause blisters.
  • Ensure you pack plenty of water; we didn’t see anywhere to refill bottles.
  • The weather in the highlands is unpredictable. Be sure to bring both sun protection and rain gear!
  • Mosquitoes can be a problem so bring insect repellent!
  • Pack some toilet paper! The bathrooms have running water and soap but no toilet paper.
  • Maintain a distance of 6ft (2m) from the tortoises at all times.
  • Plan for at least 1 hour at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.
  • Plan your visit to include Laguna El Junco and Puerto Chino Beach for maximum efficiency.
  • Bring plenty of snacks for your day, but leave them in the car.

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πŸ™‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ FAQs About Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado

Close up face of a Galapagos tortoise in San Cristobal.
Do you need to book in advance to visit Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado?

It is not necessary to book in advance to visit Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado. Admission is free and the tortoise reserve is open from 6am to 6pm daily.

Where can I see tortoises in San Cristobal?

The best place to see tortoises in San Cristobal is at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado. Here, you can see adult Galapagos giant tortoises roaming freely in a semi-natural habitat, as well as baby tortoises at various stages of development in the nursery.

Why are eggs kept in the breeding center for the tortoises on the island?

In the Galapagos, there are three breeding centers that collect and incubate tortoise eggs. After hatching, the new hatchlings are kept in protected pens for the first few years of their lives to protect them from introduced threats such as pigs, rats, and dogs.

Where can I meet a GalΓ‘pagos tortoise?

Santa Cruz is the most popular island for meeting Galapagos tortoises. Here, you can see wild tortoises in the highlands, as well as visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to see young tortoises in the breeding program.

It is also possible to see giant tortoises in a semi-natural habitat at La Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado in San Cristobal and at Centro de Crianza breeding center in Isabela.

Although Isabela Island has the largest number of wild tortoises, these exist mostly in remote locations that are not accessible to tourists.

What hotels are near Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado?

There are no hotels near Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado. Instead, the best place to find accommodation is in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno located 30-minutes away by taxi.

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πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts

Giant Galapagos Tortoise at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado San Cristobal

We truly hope you have found this ultimate guide on Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado useful as you plan your visit to this beloved tortoise sanctuary.

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Or perhaps this was the best guide on the internet and answered every question you had?!

Help us to help future readers by sharing your thoughts and feedback in the comments below!

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Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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