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Hike & Bike to a Hidden Giant Tortoise Reserve in Parque Nacional Galápagos

Unnamed Road, Ecuador



1.5 miles

Route Type



Added by Brian Fulda

Down an unmarked dirt road, there's a secret lagoon where you can see the world's oldest vertebrate - the Galápagos Giant Tortoise - for free and in the wild, and you'll likely have the place all to yourself.

The Galapagos Tortoise can live to over 150 years old, grow up to 5 feet long, and can weigh up to 550 pounds. Seeing them in person in their natural habitat is an experience you won't ever forget. On the island of Santa Cruz in the Galápagos, there are quite a few places you can see giant tortoises. The two main privately owned reserves, El Chato and Rancho Primicias, offer tortoise sightings for a small fee, but they are held captive in a fenced in area and have become very comfortable around humans. Instead, go visit Parque Nacional Galápagos and see these amazing animals in the true wild.

Getting there is a little bit tricky. The dirt road to the national park can be tough to get to. It's not marked on Google Maps, so you'll need to follow these instructions carefully to find it.

1. Copy and paste the coordinates 0°39'18.7"S, 90°24'34.3"W into the maps app on your phone (ahead of time, while on wifi or with an offline map saved). This is the exact location of the start of the dirt road. I have also marked this clearly in a map, which you can find as the last picture in the photoset above.

2. You'll need to make your way to the town of Santa Rosa, which is the small village marked on the map above. The taxi cabs in the Galápagos are all 4x4 white pick-up trucks, and they can drive you from Puerto Ayora to Santa Rosa. It will probably cost you about $10-15. If you're choosing to ride bikes, you can put them in the bed of the truck. Go directly to the coordinates in step one to get to the dirt road.

3. From here, it is 3 miles downhill (southwest) to the trailhead. You can choose to have the taxi take you, or if you prefer, rent some mountain bikes ahead of time and have a blast riding down to the trailhead like we did. You'll ride for about 2.5 miles (4 km) down the hill past some farms before you come to a T intersection, which you'll want to make a right at. Follow that another half mile or so and you'll arrive at the trailhead, where there is a small dirt parking area. You'll know when you arrive because there will be a gazebo and national park sign in the middle of nowhere, as indicated in one of the photos. The coordinates for the trailhead are: 0°40'18.7"S 90°25'47.1"W

4. After arriving to the trailhead, it is about a 45-minute light hike (2 miles, 3.2 km) to the lagoon. The sign said 5 km, but I don't think that's correct as it took us a bit less than that. The trail itself is flourishing with tortoises, and we saw upwards of a hundred of them on our hike. Note: the tortoises will hiss at you as you walk by. It is part of their normal defense mechanism - nothing to worry about. Just keep your distance (at least 3 yards/meters away) to make sure you don't disturb them. The trail is very well marked with arrows everywhere so you won't get lost. The lagoon itself is pretty spectacular. When we arrived, it almost felt like a scene from Jurassic Park. The forest opened up, several Magnificent Frigatebirds were circling the lagoon, and roughly a dozen tortoises were hanging in the water, some of them the largest we had seen.

On your way back, you can choose to have coordinated with a taxi to pick you back up at a certain time, or ride bikes back like we did. The ride back up the hill to Santa Rosa is a workout, and I had to walk my bike a couple of times, but it was worth it. From Santa Rosa all the way to Puerto Ayora is all downhill about 11 miles (17.5 km), and there is a paved bike path the entire way. We chose to go this route, and had an amazing time biking down the mountain.

Bottom line to enjoy this hike is be prepared, coordinate ahead of time, and plan for about half a day to fully enjoy it.

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