Like many days begin, it was overcast in the early morning but soon changed to sunny conditions. We landed on Puerto Ayora’s municipal dock, took buses a short distance, and walked onto National Park grounds where the giant tortoise rearing center is located along with installations of the Charles Darwin Research Station.

This was our opportunity to see tortoises from various islands being reared in captivity for later release on their home islands. Although we already had the good fortune of seeing giant tortoises from the volcano of Alcedo on the trail in Urbina Bay a couple days ago, this was our first look at the saddle-backed variety. This form of carapace is found exclusively on dry, arid islands where vegetation is hard to come by much of the year, so being able to stretch one’s neck up high can make the difference between life and death.

Later, we saw the large, dome-shaped carapaces in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. These giant tortoises have been coming and going and following the food supply from lowlands to highlands for millennia. Fortunately for us, this year and this season, many tortoises have chosen to hang out in the highlands where the food supply at their feet is abundant and lush. Spinning in a circle, we could see easily over 25 around us…and we knew many more were hidden by bushes just beyond. In addition, the restaurant where we had lunch borders the Giant Tortoise Reserve; as a serendipitous bonus to this fortuitous location, tortoises wandered just outside the dining area! Little effort was needed to be surrounded by over a dozen of these wonderful creatures, and everyone, especially our avid photographers, had time to bond with their favorite tortoise for photo shoots that lasted as long as we wanted; the tortoises were not going far, nor fast!

What a day!