Experience the best of Ecuador while getting to know its three main ecological regions: the Amazon rainforest, volcano highlands, and Galapagos Islands on this 14-day itinerary. Start the trip in Quito to see the UNESCO designated colonial city center, then head to the rainforest for three days at an ecolodge. Hike near volcanic lagoons and browse mountain markets, then catch a flight to Santa Cruz for three days of exploring uninhabited islands and spotting endemic wildlife.

Highlights

  • See rare wildlife, like pink river dolphins and giant tortoises
  • Swim with playful sea lions in the Galapagos Islands
  • Hike in Cotopaxi National Park
  • Explore the historic old towns of Quito and Cuenca
  • Visit the indigenous Seoqueya community

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival to Quito Quito
Day 2 Quito Historic Center, Panecillo Hill, & Middle of the World Tour Quito
Day 3 Quito to Cuyabeno Reserve & Canoe Trip to Jungle Lodge Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 4 Wildlife in the Amazon: Sloths, Dolphins, & More Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 5 Indigenous Community, Laguna Grande, & Igapó Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 6 Return to Quito Quito
Day 7 Hike in Cotopaxi National Park & Drive to Riobamba Riobamba
Day 8 Devil's Nose Train, Ingapirca Ruins, & Cuenca Cuenca
Day 9 Cajas National Park & Guayaquil Guayaquil
Day 10 Flight to Santa Cruz Island, Highlands, & Charles Darwin Station Puerto Ayora
Day 11 Free Morning & Afternoon Boat Tour Puerto Ayora
Day 12 Day Trip to an Unpopulated Island Puerto Ayora
Day 13 Transfer to Airport on Baltra Island & Fly to Quito Quito
Day 14 Sightseeing & Departure from Quito  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival to Quito

View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano
View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano

Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador! Arrive at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), where your driver will meet you to transfer to your accommodation in the city center, a one-hour trip. Along the way, you'll get a short introduction into Quito´s history and a quick briefing on the next day's activities.

The entire city of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, standing at an altitude of 9,350ft (2,850m). It welcomes visitors with its picturesque plazas situated between mountain peaks. The city has an abundance of market stands, shamanistic healers, and fourth-generation hat makers, as well as a vibrant and sophisticated culinary and nightlife scene.

Day 2: Quito Historic Center, Panecillo Hill, & Middle of the World Tour

Quito: Governmental Palace
Quito: Governmental Palace

The human occupation of Quito dates back thousands of years. Prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadores, the main cultures in the area were the Quitus, as well as the Inca, whose empire spread across vast stretches of South America. The city was colonized by the Spanish and recognized as a city in the mid-16th century. In 1978, together with Kraków in Poland, the entire city became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

After breakfast at the hotel, visit the old town and meander down romantic narrow streets to see the colonial  Churches of San Fransisco, La Compañia, and other historical landmarks. 

This visit is followed by a short stop at the top of El Panecillo Hill where the impressive statue of the Virgin Mary is located. It's a great place for photos of panoramic city views. 

In the afternoon, visit the Equator Monument, which highlights the exact location of the equatorial line according to the Franco-Spanish mission that determined its approximate location. It's also the location of the Ethnographical Museum that showcases the indigenous culture and ethnography of Ecuador.

After a full day, return to your hotel.

Day 3: Quito to Cuyabeno Reserve & Canoe Trip to Jungle Lodge

Squirrel monkeys in the trees
Squirrel monkeys in the trees

In the morning, leave Quito behind as you travel to the rainforest. Your destination is the small city of Lago Agrio, which you will reach by 9:30 AM. From here, travel by bus for another 2.5 hours to El Puente, the main entrance to the Cuyabeno Reserve

Stop here for a box lunch, then continue on the Cuyabeno River by motorized canoe. The lodge is located three hours downriver, giving you plenty of time to take in the sights and look for wildlife on the narrow river banks 

Arrive at the lodge and settle in, then take a tour of the property. After dinner, meet with your guide to discuss the upcoming itinerary, then fall asleep to the sounds of the nighttime frogs and rainforest insects.

Day 4: Wildlife in the Amazon: Sloths, Dolphins, & More

Parrot in the Amazon
Parrot in the Amazon

Get an early start this morning, since dawn is the best time to see many of the forest animals. After breakfast, head out for a walk with your naturalist guide. You'll learn and understand how so many species in the rainforest coexist in balance with each other. Your guide will also point out different medicinal plants, which have been used by indigenous communities for many generations and continue to be utilized by locals for health and healing. As you walk, look for frogs and snakes, butterflies, centipedes, millipedes, birds, monkeys, and other mammals along the trail. 

After your hike, return to the lodge for lunch. In the afternoon, explore the Cuyabeno River to see animals that live in the dense foliage alongside the riverbanks, especially monkeys, macaws, toucans, and sloths. You'll also get to see river dolphins, an incredibly unique and fascinating animal that's adapted to live inland. 

Before dinner, head back out to the dark forest to see a completely new cast of characters: insects, spiders, snakes, colorful frogs, and other species come out after the sun sets. Return to the lodge and have dinner, accompanied by the nocturnal sounds of the jungle.

Day 5: Indigenous Community, Laguna Grande, & Igapó

Local rowing a traditional canoe
Local rowing a traditional canoe

Enjoy an early morning walk through the forest to see wildlife, especially monkeys and birds. Return to the lodge for breakfast, then continue by motorized canoe along the "Turtle Path" to visit the Seoqueya community, where several families of the indigenous Siona group live. One of the family members will demonstrate traditional cooking techniques, including preparing the typical yucca bread, called casave.  Try your hand at making bread under instruction from the family as your guide explains local traditions and cultures. 

In the afternoon, continue by motorized canoe along the Cuyabeno River to Laguna Grande. Here, you'll get to explore a unique rainforest ecosystem: flooded forest (Igapo), which is characterized by massive trees and lush greenery. 

After exploring the lagoon, cool off with a swim in the calm waters while taking in the sunset. Continue your adventure downriver to see more nocturnal wildlife, especially caimans, before returning to the lodge.

Day 6: Return to Quito

Hoatzin bird
Hoatzin bird

Enjoy another early morning in the rainforest with a canoe trip on the river to see the sunrise and take in the peaceful atmosphere. 

After breakfast, gather your belongings for the return trip. Navigate back upriver to El Puente de Cuyabeno, then break for a box lunch. From here, take the bus back to Lago Agrio, then return to Quito.

Day 7: Hike in Cotopaxi National Park & Drive to Riobamba

Limpiopungo Lagoon and Cotopaxi Volcano
Limpiopungo Lagoon and Cotopaxi Volcano

After breakfast, head south to Cotopaxi National Park. Along the way, stop at Limpiopungo Lagoon for a short hike to take in the panoramic mountain views. You'll also see the El Salitre Inca Ruins, located in the park highlands. Keep an eye out for wildlife—Lake Limpiopungo is home to a variety of birds and occasionally even wild horses. 

If time permits, hike up to the refuge above Limpiopungo to enjoy the view from above as well. In the afternoon, continue your journey to Riobamba where you will spend the night.

Day 8: Devil's Nose Train, Ingapirca Ruins, & Cuenca

Devil's Nose train ride
Devil's Nose train ride

Depart early in the morning to the tiny train station of the equally small Andean town of Alausí. From here, take the well-known "Devil's Nose Train" to Sibambe. The tracks run through the nearby Devil's Nose, an incredibly steep and twisting section that rises 330 ft (100 m) to the valley. 

 
To ascend the nearly perpendicular mountain, the train must climb more than 1,640 ft (500 m) over 7.5 miles (12 km) in a series of zigzags. It's a remarkable piece of engineering and a must-see if you're in the area.
 
After returning to Alausí, continue your journey southwards, stopping along the way at Ingapirca, one of the most important ruins from Pre-Inca times. Finally, arrive in Cuenca, which is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in South America. 

Day 9: Cajas National Park & Guayaquil

Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park

After breakfast, depart from Cuenca and head westwards to Cajas National Park. This national park is one of the country's ecological treasures, comprising more than 200 interconnected high-altitude lagoons. The Cajas is not only the source of many rivers but even connects the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

After a hike around the biggest lagoon, continue to Guayaquil.

Day 10: Flight to Santa Cruz Island, Highlands, & Charles Darwin Station

Giant Galapagos Tortoise
Giant Galapagos Tortoise

In the morning, head to the airport for your flight to the Galapagos Islands. When you arrive at Baltra Airport, meet your guide, then continue to Santa Cruz Island.

Enjoy lunch at a local ranch in the highlands, then spend some time with giant tortoises in the wild. After, continue Puerto Ayora and check in to your hotel.

In the afternoon, visit the Charles Darwin Station, where scientists from all over the world meet and work together.  Environmental projects include water analysis, protection of endemic wildlife, effects of tourism on nature, and other pressing issues. Visit the turtle rearing station to see where animals are raised before being released into nature. Keep an eye out for land iguanas, who live around the station. 

Stay overnight in Puerto Ayora.

Day 11: Free Morning & Afternoon Boat Tour

Swimming with sea lions
Swimming with sea lions

Your morning today is free. Spend some time on the beach, go for a walk, or enjoy the sounds of nature as you find the perfect spot to sit and read. 

In the afternoon, head onto the water on a tour of the bay. Aboard a small boat, you'll visit the coves and beaches of Santa Cruz Island. Swim with playful sea lion cubs, go snorkeling to see the extraordinary diversity of sea life, or sunbathe on the beach. 

In the late afternoon, return to Puerto Ayora, where you will spend the night.

Day 12: Day Trip to an Unpopulated Island

Marine iguanas sunbathing on the shore
Marine iguanas sunbathing on the shore

Your adventure today includes a yacht tour to an unpopulated island. Depending on the weather, scheduling, and permissions by the National Park, you'll visit one of the following islands: Santa Fé, South Plazas, Bartolomé or North Seymour.

Each island is unique and offers spectacular scenery and an opportunity to see rare wildlife up close. Santa Fé and South Plazas are home to endemic land iguanas; while Bartolomé is known for beautiful lava sceneries. On North Seymour, look for frigate birds, land iguanas, and blue-footed boobies.

Today's adventure is a group tour, with a maximum group size of 20. In the evening, return to Puerto Ayora to enjoy some free time. 

Day 13: Transfer to Airport on Baltra Island & Fly to Quito

Beautiful sunset in the Galapagos
Beautiful sunset in the Galapagos

If there is enough free time before your transfer to the airport, do some last-minute souvenir shopping or take a last stroll through Puerto Ayora.

At the designated time, your driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the Itabaca Channel, which you will cross on a ferry. For the last part of your trip to the airport, take the public shuttle bus to the terminal, then fly to Quito.

Day 14: Sightseeing & Departure from Quito

Plaza Grande in Old Town Quito
Plaza Grande in Old Town Quito

Today you are free to explore Quito on your own before getting picked up for your transfer to the airport.  

 
  • Visit the impressive monastery St. Francis at the San Fransisco Square, and enjoy a drink on the square terrace—one of few in the historical center. It is the oldest and most important religious site in Ecuador, with a vast complex holding 13 cloisters, three churches, more than 3,500 works of religious art, and a library with thousands of books and historical documents. 
  • Enjoy a scenic view from El Panecillo hill, where the Virgin of El Pacenillo stands tall. The madonna is a 147-foot (45 m) tall monument, made up of 7,000 pieces of aluminum. 


At the designated time, meet with your driver at the hotel and head to the airport for your flight home.

Map

Map of Best of Ecuador: Quito, Amazon, Cotopaxi, & Galapagos  - 14 Days
Map of Best of Ecuador: Quito, Amazon, Cotopaxi, & Galapagos - 14 Days