Galapagos Island Based Travel: San Cristobal Highlands

July 9, 2010 § 1 Comment

San Cristobal Tortoises

San Cristobal Tortoises at Cerro Colorado

Spending the day in the highlands of San Cristobal offers some unique opportunities, including the San Cristobal Giant Tortoise Reserve, El Junco lake, the vista point at Cerro Colorado as well as a visit to the first human settlement and coffee plantation at El Progresso.

The drive from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to Cerro Colorado is approximately 45 minutes.  Once here you can take a walk up to the top of the island’s highest lighthouse where you will be treated to a fantastic view of the island’s Eastern shore including Punta Pitt, Puerto Chino and El Pescador.

A few minutes drive takes you to the San Cristobal Giant Tortoise preserve.  San Cristobal originally had two populations of tortoises, one located in the Northeast consisting of approximately 1,400 tortoises some of which were transferred to the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Preserve.  The other group was located on the south of the island in an area adjacent to the current preserve however this group became extinct due to whalers in the past centuries.

The tortoise preserve was built in 2002 this 12 hectare preserve is located in a dry forest and was constructed to preserve the San Cristobal subspecies of tortoise (Geochelone chathensi).  The San Cristobal tortoises are seriously threatened by introduced animals (wild goats, rats and cats), which the park has been working to eradicate.  The tortoise preserve and captive breeding program was developed to insure the continuation of the subspecies.  In 2005 – 2006  the national park announced 11 new tortoises were hatched here.

The San Cristobal reserve is substantially different than the tortoise areas in the Galapagos Islands like Santa Cruz or Isabela.  This is a large walled preserve with boardwalks and gravel trails leading throughout the area.  There are ample opportunities to see giant tortoises as well as a selection of highland birds including flycatchers, yellow warblers, finches and the endemic Chatham Mockingbird.

Back on the road back heading towards Puerto Baquerizo at the summit of the island is the El Junco Lagoon located at 2,067 feet above sea level.  El Junco is the only permanent fresh water lake in the Galapagos Islands and holds some 9 million gallons of water.

The lake exists inside an extinct crater and was formed by the impermeability of the crater’s bottom, the accumulation of rainfall and the constant mists that cover the area.  During years of heavy rainfall the lake overflows forming a stream. In 1978 the stream produced 5400 gallons per hour.  During years with El Nino the run off floods much of the surrounding area.

El Junco is an excellent place to see a variety of endemic plants, giant ferns as well as seabirds like frigates that come here to bathe in the clean waters.

El Progreso farm was founded toward the end of the 19th century by Manuel J. Cobos, who encouraged the cultivation of sugar cane and even invented his own currency.

Today El Progresso is operated by the Gonzales family who produces a number of agricultural products and grow Galapagos Coffee.  Visitors are welcome by advance reservation to come and visit the hacienda and enjoy lunch.


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