No less than ten different subspecies of giant land tortoise are endemic to the Galápagos (meaning they’re found here and nowhere else). Up to five feet long and weighing more than 500 pounds, these primordial-looking, slow-moving creatures are the largest turtles on earth; with lifespans averaging 100 years, they’re also the world’s longest-lived vertebrates. So it’s quite something to be hiking the highlands of Santa Cruz Island and suddenly happen upon one of them, grazing in the sun and minding its own business.
Galápagos travelers who don’t get to spy giant tortoises in the wild can visit them at the Charles Darwin Research Center, on Santa Cruz. Most Galápagos itineraries run by Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic include a stop there and on every itinerary they see giant tortoises in the wild.