Ecuador is famous for many ecological and cultural highlights, and you'll get to visit two—Quito and the Galapagos Islands—on this 10-day itinerary. Start in Quito to tour the colonial city center, hike to volcanic lagoons, and explore the biodiversity of the Mindo Cloud Forest.  Continue the trip with a flight to the Galapagos, where you'll spend four days relaxing on sunny beaches, visiting uninhabited islands, and looking for rare and endemic animals. 

Highlights

  • Tour Quito's UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Explore the biodiversity of the cloud forest of Mindo
  • Spot giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island
  • Snorkel with playful sea lions in the Galapagos Islands
  • See endemic animals, such as the marine iguanas

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival to Quito & City Tour Quito
Day 2 Quito Historic Center, Panecillo Hill, & Middle of the World Tour Quito
Day 3 Cuicocha Lagoon Hike & Otavalo Market Quito
Day 4 Mindo Cloud Forest Quito
Day 5 Flight to Santa Cruz Island, Highlands, & Charles Darwin Station Puerto Ayora
Day 6 Speedboat to Isabela Island & Wildlife on Las Tintoreras Islet Isabela
Day 7 Sierra Negra Volcano Isabela
Day 8 Speedboat to Santa Cruz Island & Kayaking Tortuga Bay Puerto Ayora
Day 9 Transfer to Airport on Baltra Island & Fly to Quito Quito
Day 10 Sightseeing & Departure from Quito  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival to Quito & City Tour

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.

In the afternoon, go on a guided walking city tour of Quito's colonial center. Start in the old town and meander down romantic narrow streets to see the colonial Churches of San Fransisco, La Compañia, and other historical landmarks.

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: Cuicocha Lagoon Hike & Otavalo Market

Cuicocha Lagoon
Cuicocha Lagoon

In the morning, stretch your legs with a hike around the crater lagoon of Cuicocha. On the trail, your guide will explain to you the high altitude flora and fauna and the history of the once active volcano. Alternatively, enjoy a short walk and take some photos, or ride in a boat around the two islands. 

In the afternoon, head to Otavalo. The city is the home of the well-known indigenous market where artisans come to sell colorful textiles and other traditional goods. Snack on fruits and other snacks while you browse the stalls for paintings, carvings, handpainted bowls, and much more. 

Enjoy some street food (try the salted mango or fritada con mote—fried pork with cooked corn, then continue to the nearby town of Cotacachi for some free time and more shopping (the town is famous for its leather products).

Return to Quito in the evening. 

Day 4: Mindo Cloud Forest

Colibri in Mindo
Colibri in Mindo

Today you'll explore the lush green cloud forest of Mindo. Its location at the western slopes of the Andean highlands gives this region mild temperatures and lots of rainfall. Thanks to the favorable conditions, the Mindo forest has incredibly high biodiversity.

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You'll get the chance to see some of the countless birds, butterflies, and insect species that call the region home. Visit the butterfly garden, hike to beautiful waterfalls, or fly between the treetops on a zipline. After, learn to make chocolate and taste your creations. In the afternoon, return to Quito.

Day 5: 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 6: Speedboat to Isabela Island & Wildlife on Las Tintoreras Islet

Flamingo in the wetlands of Isabela Island
Flamingo in the wetlands of Isabela Island

Start your morning with a public speed boat trip to Isabela Island, a 2-hour trip. After arriving, make your way to the Flamingo Lagoon or the Giant Tortoise Breeding Station to learn about the local wildlife. 

After lunch, join a group tour for a visit to the Tintoreras Islet for a short hike and some snorkeling. See Humboldt penguins, marine iguanas, sea lions and sharks, which rest in the natural channels formed by lava flows.

Afterward, snorkel in the turquoise water and spot different fish, sea turtles, rays, and penguins. The evening is free, with an overnight stay on Isabela Island.

Day 7: Sierra Negra Volcano

Landscape of the Sierra Negra Volcano
Landscape of the Sierra Negra Volcano

Your agenda today includes hiking on the Sierra Negra, an impressive volcano that rises from the rocky island. Walk through the lava fields and enjoy views of the northern volcanoes of Isabela and Fernandina Islands. 

Explore the second-largest volcanic crater in the world and hike through different vegetation zones. After a full morning, eat a packed picnic lunch while taking in the sights. 

The rest of your day is free. Spend the afternoon on the beautiful beaches of Isabela Island or snorkeling at Concha Perla Beach. 

Stay the night on Isabela Island.

Day 8: Speedboat to Santa Cruz Island & Kayaking Tortuga Bay

Pristine beach of Tortuga Bay
Pristine beach of Tortuga Bay

Early this morning, take the speedboat to Santa Cruz Island. Spend the day exploring this area on foot and on water. Start with a 45-minute hike from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay, one of the Galapagos Archipelago's most beautiful beaches. Take a kayak out onto the water to see marine life up close and see the coastline from a different perspective. 

After kayaking, sunbathe on the beach or head back under the waves for some afternoon snorkeling. Stay the night in Puerto Ayora.

Day 9: 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 10: 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, Mindo Cloud Forest, & the Galapagos Islands - 10 Days
Map of Best of Ecuador: Quito, Mindo Cloud Forest, & the Galapagos Islands - 10 Days