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Aptly nicknamed “The Gateway to the Galapagos Islands,” Baltra Island is an accidental marvel and the site of pivotal pieces of history. Thousands of eager travelers are first introduced to the Galapagos archipelago via the Baltra Island. This unassuming, flat and rocky island is at the center of the region and home to its main airport. There’s a hint of irony and geological happenstance to Baltra Island’s status as The Gateway to the Galapagos. While most of the islands are remnants of volcanoes, Baltra is an uplifted island. Baltra, which is also known as South Seymour, was once a patch of submerged land. It was raised above sea level after volcanic activity on neighboring Santa Cruz changed the region’s underwater geology.
This makes Baltra Island an ideal introduction to the Galapagos Islands. Like the wild, the evolution of the island and its characteristics differs from its counterparts due to its unique circumstances. Similarly, the gateway to the Galapagos exists because unique circumstances which contribute to differences in its terrain. Unlike the hilly terrain that is a hallmark of its neighbors, South Seymour is surprisingly flat. The only breaks in the flat surface are the island’s literal bumps in the road, known as “pillow lava.” Pillow lava is rounded volcanic rocks which can only be formed underwater.
But its creation and terrain aren’t the only fascinating things about Baltra Island. It’s also a key location in American history. Seymour Island’s position at the heart of the Galapagos Islands made it an ideal location for an air base. The United States established the base on Baltra Island in 1945 during World War II. The Allies used the base to protect the Panama Canal until the war’s conclusion.
While Baltra Island is not within the Galapagos National Park boundaries, it is still home to some remarkable wildlife. Specifically, the Galapagos Land Iguana. The Galapagos Land Iguana actually went extinct in 1954 on Baltra Island. But they’ve experienced a resurgence in recent years as Galapagos Land Iguanas were brought over from North Seymour Island. Over 400 iguanas call South Seymour island home today. And many of them can be seen as you explore the area.