Charles Darwin Research Station

Puerto Ayora

Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Galapagos giant tortoise

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Just northeast of Puerto Ayora is this iconic national-park site, where over 200 scientists and volunteers are involved with research and conservation efforts, the most well known of which involves a captive breeding program for giant tortoises. Paths leading through arid-zone vegetation take you past tortoise enclosures, where you can look at these Galápagos giants. There's also a baby-tortoise house with incubators (when the tortoises weigh about 1.5kg or are about four years old, they’re repatriated to their home islands).

Several of the 11 remaining subspecies of tortoise can be seen here. Other attractions include a small enclosure containing several land iguanas, with explanations in Spanish and English concerning efforts to restore their populations on islands where they’ve been pushed to the brink of extinction. Follow paths through arid-zone vegetation such as saltbush, mangroves and prickly pear, and see a variety of land birds, including Darwin's finches. The research station is supported by contributions to the Galápagos Conservancy (