Welcome to the greatest show on Earth: the Galápagos Islands' showcase of incredible biodiversity. On this 12-day tour, a mix of guided activities and time to explore independently will help you get the most from this life-changing destination. Snorkel with sea lions, come face-to-face with giant tortoises, and cycle among marine iguanas. There's time on the mainland, too, where you'll get to know the Ecuadorian capital of Quito and take a day trip into the cloud forests of Mindo.


  • Delve into urban life in Quito, Ecuador's spectacular Andes-backed capital 
  • Visit the cloud forest of Mindo, world-famous for its biodiversity and birding
  • See incredible Galápagos wildlife on the islands of San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz
  • Snorkel among playful sea lions in the Galápagos' marine life-rich waters 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito Quito
Day 2 Colonial City Tour, Cooking Class & Mitad del Mundo Quito
Day 3 Day Trip to the Mindo Cloud Forest Quito
Day 4 Fly to the Galápagos, Explore Isla San Cristóbal  Isla San Cristóbal
Day 5 Free Day on Isla San Cristóbal  Isla San Cristóbal
Day 6 Boat Trip to Kicker Rock, Snorkeling & Beach Time  Isla San Cristóbal
Day 7 Transfer to Isla Santa Cruz, Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station Isla Santa Cruz
Day 8 Explore Isla Santa Cruz by Bike Isla Santa Cruz
Day 9 Free Morning, Afternoon Boat & Snorkeling Tour Isla Santa Cruz
Day 10 Day Trip to an Uninhabited Island Isla Santa Cruz
Day 11 Transfer to Isla Baltra, Fly to Quito Quito
Day 12 Quito Sightseeing & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito

Views over Quito and Cotopaxi
Views over the Ecuadorian capital of Quito and the Cotopaxi volcano in the distance
Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your accommodation in the city center. Quito city stands at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 m), with an impressive setting between mountain peaks and active volcanoes. The capital welcomes visitors with its vibrant nightlife, impressive culinary scene, picturesque plazas, shamanic healers, craftspeople, and market stands.

After settling in, explore Quito at your own pace this afternoon. Visit the UNESCO-listed historic center to discover the colonial churches of San Francisco and La Compañia de Jesús, and orientate yourself around the Plaza de la Independencia (also known as Plaza Grande), the city's main square. If you're feeling adventurous, ride a cable car up the slopes of the nearby Pichincha volcano for dazzling views over the city from 12,942 feet (3,944 m) up.

Day 2: Colonial City Tour, Cooking Class & Mitad del Mundo

Stroll down La Ronda, the oldest street in Quito
A guide will pick you up this morning for a walking tour of Quito. You'll get to know the historic center in more detail, then take a stroll down the city's oldest street, La Ronda. This long, curving avenue has become one of Quito's most treasured attractions, with its bohemian roots evident in its many galleries, street performances, and Latin dance bars. After working up an appetite from all that walking, head to a traditional cooking class. Here you'll learn about the incredible gastronomy of this country and how to prepare it, then sit down after to enjoy a delicious lunch.

In the afternoon you'll pay a visit to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument just north of Quito, where there's a yellow line representing the equator (although the actual equator is around 800 ft/240 m away). Strike a pose with one foot in each hemisphere, then enjoy the nearby museums and exhibits, including the Planetarium, the Ethnographic Museum, and the Artisanal Beer Museum. There is also a small-scale model of Quito here, giving you a unique perspective on the city.

Day 3: Day Trip to the Mindo Cloud Forest

Spot colorful birds like the crimson-rumped toucanet on a day trip into the cloud forests of Mindo

Today you'll leave the city behind and set off on a day trip to the Mindo-Nambillo Ecological Reserve, to explore the cloud forest in the subtropical Mindo Valley at around 4,100 feet (1,250 m). Its position at the intersection of the Chocó lowlands and the tropical western side of the Andes has made Mindo a mild-weathered, rainy, and therefore incredibly biodiverse region. As you walk, look out for the reserve's over 400 avian species, including hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and the elusive Andean cock-of-the-rock. 

You could also drop in to meet the Michigan couple behind Mindo Chocolate Makers. The enterprise harnesses the region's perfect cocoa-growing conditions to create small-batch chocolate, using pure and ethically-sourced ingredients. They'll even give you a go at making your own! Another option is to visit a butterfly farm, where you can get up to 1,000 species of butterfly at all life cycle stages. Keen on some adrenaline? Up the pace with a tubing adventure down whitewater rapids, or soar from one tree to another on ziplines. After a full day spent among nature, you'll transfer back to Quito for a good night's sleep.

Day 4: Fly to the Galápagos, Explore Isla San Cristóbal 

Start your Galápagos adventure on the beaches of Isla San Cristóbal 

Welcome to the Galápagos Islands! You'll get here via a four-hour flight from Quito Airport, landing on Isla San Cristóbal (previously known by its English name, Chatham Island). After checking in to your hotel, head to the local Interpretation Center. Here, you'll have the chance to learn about wildlife and environmental conservation. A natural history room explains the origin of the islands, and a human history room describes humankind's presence since the discovery of the Galápagos.

Next, you'll visit Las Tijeretas Hill, which takes its name from the many tijeretas (frigatebirds) that inhabit and nest in this area. Stop at several viewpoints en route to observe the passage of whales, mainly between June and October. Finish the day at La Lobería, a beach home to a colony of sea lions. From afar, you can observe these adorable mammals interact with each other and play in the sand. You might also get to see colonies of swimming marine iguanas.

Day 5: Free Day on Isla San Cristóbal

Take an excursion to Point Pitt on San Cristóbal's northernmost point
Make the most of a free day on Isla San Cristóbal. This easternmost island of the Galápagos comprises four fused volcanoes, all extinct, with its only town located on the southwestern coast. Nearby is Naufragio (Wreck) Bay—this is where Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, landed in 1835 and compiled data that he later incorporated into his "On the Origin of Species" scientific report in 1859. 
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
If you want to relax, spend the day on the beach at Playa Carola or Playa Mann. Sunbathe beside friendly sea lions and paddle in the warm ocean. If you're looking for something more active, arrange an excursion to Pitt Point, where you'll take a boat to a remote shore and hike on a trail among tough shrubs that manage to survive in this barren volcanic landscape. The reward is the magnificent viewpoints overlooking the beach. 

Day 6: Boat Trip to Kicker Rock, Snorkeling & Beach Time 

Snorkeling at Kicker Rock
A boat trip takes you to the iconic Galápagos landmark of Kicker Rock

Head off on a day trip to Kicker Rock, one of the best-known spots in the Galápagos. Ride there on a comfortable speedboat that will navigate you along the coast of San Cristóbal. Created from volcanic ash, Kicker Rock towers almost 500 feet (152 m) up from the ocean floor and splits into two above-surface structures connected below the surface, with a channel running between them. The rock is home to endemic birds, including tropicbirds, frigatebirds, Nazca boobies, and blue-footed boobies. 

You'll also have the chance to meet the wildlife under the water on a snorkeling excursion. As well as schools of tropical fish, look out for sea turtles, marine iguanas, and four species of ray. You'll then eat lunch on the boat and head to a pristine beach (Puerto Grande, Cerro Brujo, or Manglecito depending on authorization given by the national park), for some time to relax and warm up in the sunshine. 

Day 7: Transfer to Isla Santa Cruz, Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station

See giant tortoises in the Santa Rosa highlands of Isla Santa Cruz

Wake up early to take the public speedboat to Isla Santa Cruz, roughly 2.5 hours away. When you arrive, meet your driver, who will bring you to a farm in the highlands of Santa Rosa, where you'll have the opportunity to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Then, continue to Puerto Ayora, a town on the island's southern shore, to check into your hotel. 

In the afternoon, visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here, scientists from all over the world meet to work together on environmental projects covering subjects like water analysis, animal protection, and the effects of tourism on nature. Nearby is the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, named after the Galápagos National Park ranger who cared for Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise. This is the best place in the Galápagos to compare various species of tortoise—see how the shapes of their shells have evolved differently to match the terrain and vegetation of their native islands. 

Day 8: Explore Isla Santa Cruz by Bike

Exploring Santa Cruz Island on a Bike
Explore Isla Santa Cruz by bike (where you might share the road with tortoises)
Today you're free to enjoy the island's beauty at your own pace, by bike. You'll have a bike reserved and waiting for you at your hotel so that you can set straight off on a two-wheel adventure. The island of Santa Cruz was created by a dormant volcano that last erupted over 1.5 million years ago. Evidence of this explosive past remains, with black and rust-colored volcanic rocks across the island, and lava tunnels you can cycle to and explore.
In the same area as the tunnels, pay a visit to Lava Java organic coffee farm for refreshments as you look out to the Pacific Ocean. Then, turn west toward the secluded El Garrapatero beach or continue into the highlands. Back in Puerto Ayora, visit the Fishing Pier, to cycle near the sea lions watching the fishermen reel in their catches, as well as pelicans and marine iguanas. There's very light traffic across the island, so you'll often have the roads to yourself. Once you're done, leave the bike at your hotel and enjoy a relaxing evening.

Day 9: Free Morning, Afternoon Boat & Snorkeling Tour

Snorkeling with a sea turtle
Snorkeling with a sea turtle off Isla Santa Cruz
The morning is free to spend as you wish. Your hotel's location of Puerto Ayora is the most developed town of the Galápagos, with plenty of characterful cafés where you can kick-start the day. You could visit the Samay Latin Art Gallery or the innovative Maprae Museum. This museum was the world's first of its kind, using augmented reality to showcase a permanent exhibition of 55 pre-Columbian artifacts. 

In the afternoon, get back on the water on a tour of the bay. Aboard a small boat, you'll visit the coves and beaches of Isla Santa Cruz. As you go, you'll learn about local wildlife from your guide. At La Loberia, you can swim near sea lions, at Punta Estrada, observe the fascinating blue-footed boobies, and at Playa de Los Perros, look out for penguins, flightless cormorants, and marine iguanas.

Day 10: Day Trip to an Uninhabited Island

Isla Bartolomé
A view of Pinnacle Rock on the uninhabited Isla Bartolomé
After a very early breakfast, take a day trip to one of the Galápagos' uninhabited islands. Humans have settled in four of the 19 islands here, not counting the islets, and this trip is a rare chance to connect with nature as it once was. Depending on the weather, scheduling, and permissions granted by the national park, you'll visit either Santa Fé, Plaza Sur, Bartolomé, or Seymour Norte. Disembark and follow trails, to discover the island's unique natural wonders. 

Santa Fé and Plaza Sur are home to endemic land iguanas, while Bartolomé is known for its lava fields. On Seymour Norte, look for frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies. In the afternoon, you'll explore the surrounding waters by boat. Enjoy a tasty lunch onboard the boat (included) and then peer underwater in snorkeling masks. In the evening, you'll return to Puerto Ayora for some free time.

Day 11: Transfer to Isla Baltra, Fly to Quito

Beautiful sunset in the Galapagos
A colorful sunset over the Galápagos

Today you'll bid the Galápagos Islands farewell. If there is enough free time before your transfer to the airport, you could do some last-minute shopping in Puerto Ayora. Pop into Chocolapagos, an artisan chocolate shop that uses 100% Ecuadorian Arriba cacao. At the Galeria Exotico Ecuador, you can shop for fair trade crafts, handmade by local artisans and communities from across Ecuador.

Then, you'll transfer to the airport of Isla Baltra. A bus ride takes you to the Itabaca Channel, where you'll cross via a local ferry and continue to the airport to catch your flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival in Quito, you'll be transferred to your hotel for an evening at your leisure.

Day 12: Quito Sightseeing & Depart

Spend your final morning strolling the peaceful courtyard of San Francisco

It's departure day, but before you leave, there might be time for one or two more self-guided activities. You could take a closer look at the impressive monastery of San Francisco—the oldest and most important religious site in Ecuador, forming a complex of 13 cloisters, three churches, and more than 3,500 works of religious art. Alternatively, climb up the small El Panecillo hill, for a close-up look at the Virgin of El Pacenillo sculpture. The madonna is a 147-foot (45 m) monument made of 7,000 pieces of aluminum.

Finally, it's time to say goodbye to Ecuador and continue to your next adventure. A driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the airport in Quito for your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Discover Mainland Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands - 12 Days
Map of Discover Mainland Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands - 12 Days