The Galapagos Islands were sought after by the United States since 1911, three years before the Panama Canal made the archipelago a refueling stop for ships from North America.
The Ecuadorian government declined to lease the islands, but the advent of WWII and Pearl Harbor brought a deal between the two nations after a visit from President Roosevelt.
In 1942, US military personal arrived from Panama, including the commanders and engineers who built the canal. The forces built their base on Balta, quadrupling the population of the small island by the end of the year. Food, water, fuel, and basic facilities had to be secured locally; giving the islands economy a much needed boost. Mail service and communications were also established, linking the islands to the outside world.
The base’s collection of 200 buildings housed over three thousand servicemen and workmen; providing entertainment with a movie theater, bowling alley and beer garden. Hangers, an airport, and three landing strips established a presence against the Japanese, a part of an aggressive plan to occupy strategic points on routes that the Japanese air force and navy could use to their advantage.
The U.S. soldiers called the base, ‘the Rock,’ because everywhere you looked were volcanic outcrops. Their Galapagos experience wasn’t a welcome one, the hot weather and the remote location limited military Galapagos tours to six months, to keep moral from falling.
The camp was split between the army and the marines, each free to explore their side of the island. Free time was spent deep-sea fishing, keeping goat and iguanas for pets, and taking college courses for credit back in the United States.
Outposts were set up on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and other neighboring islands. Today, during a safari holiday, you can find anti-aircraft cannons on San Cristobal, and the remnants of supply barges off the shores of Las bachas on Santa Cruz.
In 2010, fishermen unearthed a cache of 12 bombs on Bartolome Island. During their time in the islands, the air force used the area for training exercises, and helped to shape the iconic Pinnacle Rock, that is a highlight of Galapagos tours, by using it for target practice!
The Japanese threat never materialized during the final years of the war and the forces stationed at Balta never saw combat.
The official turnover of the Balta base took place in 1946, and the new population of Ecuadorian locals dismantled the buildings to build new settlements on the island. The airport from the base still remains today, remodeled in 2015 to become the first airport in the world to operate using solar power.
Our guests at the camp start and finish their Galapagos experience at the Balta airport. For more information about our Galapagos vacation tours, see our classic, family, and dive safari holidays