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Marchena, Pinta and Plazas Islands


MARCHENA ISLAND

Galapagos giant tortoise

Marchena Island is a near pristine island in the northern part of the archipelago; it has an area of 130 km2 and a maximum altitude of 343 meters. It is formed of a low shield volcano, and the last known eruption occurred in 1991. Only 25% of the total land area is covered in vegetation.

The many young flows and pyroclastic cones on Marchena testify to considerable volcanic activity in the recent geologic past. However, there is only one known historic eruption, which occurred in 1992.

Like many of the Galapagos volcanos, Marchena has a caldera. Marchena's caldera is roughly elliptical and measures 7 km by 6 km, within the range of caldera sizes of the large western volcanoes. Marchena's caldera is unusual, however, in that it has been almost completely filled with young lavas, some of which has spilled over and down the sides. The oldest lavas are 500,000 years old.

There aren't any visitor's sites on this island, although it is possible to dive in the waters around Marchena on organised tours. Marchena is rather desolate and has no fresh water and hence has never been settled, and its flora and fauna have not been disturbed by feral animals or introduced plants. Except for diving in the waters around it, it is off-limits to Galapagos Islands tourists and is therefore seldom visited. You dive at Punta Espejo. Underwater you might see cow-nosed rays, turtles, schooling hammerheads and schools of blue-striped snappers, grunts, surgeonfishes, spotted moray eels and scorpion fishes.

BALTRA ISLAND (SOUTH SEYMOUR)

Baltra is a small island (27 sq km) off the north coast of Santa Cruz. It is often the first island visitors to the Galapagos Archipelago put their foot on as it is home to main the main airport. The Baltra airport was originally constructed by the U.S. military during World War II as a base to protect the Panama Canal from enemy attack. There are no visitor sites or accommodations, public and private transportation on the island solely exists here for the purpose of transporting tourists to Puerto Ayora, which is an hour’s journey away by a combination of boat and bus. Most tour guides usually meet and greet visitors here.

PLAZAS ISLANDS

The twin islands are just off the east coast of Santa Cruz and can be visited on a day trip from Puerto Ayora. Only South Plaza is open to visitors and boasts a surprisingly diverse array of wildlife. Plaza remains off-limits due to scientific research (and the high rocky cliffs surrounding the island). The desert-like interior of South Plaza can be viewed from a rocky trail that winds its way around the sloping island, which was formed by uplifted sea coral from the ocean floor. A 1 km trail circuit leads visitors through sea lion colonies

South Plaza is one of the best islands from which to observe the famous Galapagos Land Iguana, distinguished from the marine iguana by their oranges-green hue and larger size. These endemic reptiles lurk beneath prickly pears cacti, the two shares a scintillating tale of evolutionary intrigue. Long ago, the reptilian culprits devoured low-growing flowers. The only cacti able to reproduce were the taller, tree-like plants with large trunks that the chubby iguanas. Today, the sky-scraping prickly pears prevail, and the diminutive dragons must wait for their succulent treats to fall to the ground. Marine iguanas cluster by the mist-soaked rocks near the ridge feeding on seaweed. From June to November, when vegetation is sparse and temperatures are cooler, you might see the scaly black reptiles feeding on dried sea lion drop-cooler of calcium that helps warm the marine iguanas, South Plaza is also the best place in the Galapagos to see hybrid Iguanas (the result of male marine iguanas and female land iguanas overcoming their habitat differences to get freaky).

A number of bird species also nest on South Plaza, swallow-tailed gulls, brown noddy birds, red-billed tropic birds, frigates, and the extremely rare lava gull, of which only about 400 pairs remain in the world, swoop down near the windy cliffs.

Snorkeling with the sea lions is a possibility, and out to sea, you may glimpse a manta ray flying.

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