- Ride a cable to the top of Quito, one of the highest cities in the world
- Meander along cobblestone streets in Cuenca, the City of Four Rivers
- Snorkel and swim with sea turtles at León Dormido
- Hike and birdwatch on Galápagos' uninhabited islands
|Arrive in Quito & Cooking Class
|Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park & Riobamba
|Transfer to Cuenca
|Cuenca City Tour & Transfer to Vilcabamba
|Podocarpus National Park
|Transfer to Quito
|Flight to Isla San Cristóbal & Galápagos Introduction
|Isla San Cristóbal
|León Dormido Snorkeling
|Isla San Cristóbal
|Isla Española Day Trip
|Isla San Cristóbal
|Isla Santa Cruz Highlands & Charles Darwin Research Station
|Isla Santa Cruz
|Explore Galápagos' Uninhabited Islands
|Isla Santa Cruz
|Free Day on Isla Santa Cruz
|Isla Santa Cruz
|Tortuga Bay & Transfer to Mainland Ecuador
Day 1: Arrive in Quito & Cooking Class
Welcome to Ecuador! Meet your driver at Mariscal Sucre International Airport for a private transfer to your hotel in the city center. At 9,350 feet (2,850 m) above sea level, Quito is one of the highest cities in the world and has a distinctive skyline in the shadows of the Pichincha volcano.After a quick stop at your hotel, it's time to learn about—and taste—Ecuador's traditional cooking with dishes such as locro de papa (potato stew) and encocado de pescado (fish in coconut sauce). Depending on your schedule, meet a chef for a trip to a market to buy the ingredients needed for lunch or dinner. Learn about the recipes and then create a meal to share. As the sun sets on the first night of your trip, experience the city's nightlife in neighborhoods La Floresta or La Ronda.
Day 2: Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park & Riobamba
This morning, travel from Quito, 43 miles (70 km) south, to Cotopaxi National Park. Explore the area around the park's eponymous active volcano, which has a more than 19,347-foot (5,897 m) symmetrical snow-capped peak—the second-highest summit in Ecuador. Be sure to bring layers to prepare for a change in weather and altitude as you follow park trails to see birds, wild horses, and a mix of Andean plants and wildlife amid rugged scenery.
In the park, your guide will take you to Limpiopungo Lagoon and point out native species. Then, trek to the 5,748-foot (4,800 m) refuge, Jose Rivas, for the best Cotopaxi views of the day. In the afternoon, travel 149 km (92 miles) south to Riobamba, where you'll spend the night.
Day 3: Transfer to Cuenca & Explore the City of Four Rivers
Your Ecuador tour continues south today from Riobamba to Cuenca. Traveling 160 miles (259 km), there will be a stop to visit Ingapirca's pre-Colombian ruins. Learn about Cañari culture, known for its Inca resistance, and how the city's location at 10,498 feet (3,200 m) above sea level was strategic to control and secure it. As you climb through the former Cañari settlement, including the Sun Temple, look for llamas roaming freely.
From here, continue the drive with your guide to Cuenca, known as Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca, for its four rivers. Rest at your Cuenca hotel with time to explore the city tomorrow.
Day 4: Cuenca City Tour & Transfer to Vilcabamba
Cuenca's full name comes from the four rivers passing through it: Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui, and Machangara. With its high elevation of 8,400 feet (2,560 m), it's wise to prepare for various weather conditions as you get ready to follow your guide on cobblestone streets for a city tour.
During the tour, visit the main square, Calderón Park, blue-domed Catedral Nueva, and 16th-century Catedral Vieja. At Museo y Parque Arqueológico Pumapungo, examine artifacts from Tomebamba. Then, visit a local workshop to learn how to make Panama hats. After lunch, take a scenic drive from Cuenca to Vilcabamba with your guide, traveling 155 miles (250 km) south. Settle into your Vilcabamba hotel, where you'll spend the next two nights.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Podocarpus National Park
Podocarpus National Park in the south, between Loja and Zamora Chinchipe provinces, is a biodiverse ecosystem. It's home to approximately 3,500 plant species and over 800 bird species, along with pumas, deer, Andean foxes, and bears.
Travel north by car from Vilcabamba for about 30 minutes to reach the park. As you explore with your guide, hear the rush of La Poderosa waterfall and the Río Bombuscaro, and spot the colorful birds and other wildlife that live in the park. Outside of the park, eat lunch at a traditional hostería (hotel and restaurant). Return to your Vilcabamba hotel in the late afternoon to prepare for your flight to Quito tomorrow.
Day 6: Transfer to Quito
In the morning, meet your driver to travel 24 miles (40 km) north from Vilcabamba to Loja. From there, catch a one-hour flight farther north to Quito, where you'll have a private transfer to your hotel in the city center.
Spend the afternoon and evening exploring more of Quito. Visit colonial churches San Francisco and La Compañia, or head to the equator monument at the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo ("Middle of the World City"), commemorating the discovery of the globe's divide. Ride a cable car up Pichincha's volcanic slopes for views over Quito. As the sun sets, find a restaurant for dinner, and get your gear ready for the exciting next leg of your trip with a flight to the Galápagos Islands tomorrow morning.
Day 7: Flight to Isla San Cristóbal & Galápagos Introduction
Get ready for adventure because today you're going to the Galápagos Islands. Meet your driver at your Quito hotel for a ride to the airport. You'll have plenty of time to purchase the Transit Control Card (TCT) needed to enter the Galápagos Islands. Then, it's time to catch your flight, traveling about 3.5 hours west to arrive at San Cristóbal Airport, where you'll have a private transfer to your Puerto Baquerizo Moreno hotel.
After settling into your hotel, meet your guide for an excursion to learn about the islands and their conservation efforts by visiting an interpretation center. Walk around the center and see some of the archipelagoes' wildlife in their natural habitats. Start by hiking Las Tijeretas Hill, named for tijeretas (frigatebirds) that inhabit and nest in the area and are known for males with bright red features. Spend the rest of the afternoon snorkeling as you spot sea lions, turtles, and colorful fish. Return to your hotel to rest after a full day of traveling.
Day 8: León Dormido Snorkeling
Kicker Rock, also known as León Dormido ("sleeping lion"), is a 50-minute boat ride from Isla San Cristóbal and is considered one of the Galápagos most scenic snorkeling spots. It's known for its shape—similar to a sleeping lion—formed by a nearly 500-foot (152 m) pair of volcanic islands connected by an underground channel. While snorkeling around this iconic rock formation, swim among sea lions, rays, turtles, and fish. Dry off for a break on deck to eat lunch, then set sail for a beach for more swimming and snorkeling.
In the afternoon, return to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where you can walk along a promenade or watch the sunset at Playa Mann and end the day with dinner on the beach.
Day 9: Isla Española Day Trip
Española is one of the oldest Galápagos Islands, aged at approximately 4 million years old, and it's also one of the only natural habitats for waved albatross. In the morning, catch a boat from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for an approximately two-hour ride to Isla Española. Off the boat, follow a trail leading to the island's interior, where you'll be looking for a waved albatross colony. Among the largest birds in the Galápagos, the species is endemic to Isla Española, showing up between April and December for nesting and breeding. While following the trail, also keep an eye out for blue-footed and Nazca boobies.After enjoying lunch aboard your boat, swim and snorkel in a nearby bay, and rest on a sandy beach home to a sea lion colony. After a day of adventure and wildlife sightings, return to Isla San Cristóbal and your hotel.
Day 10: Isla Santa Cruz Highlands & Charles Darwin Research Station
Set sail for Isla Santa Cruz today, where you'll spend the next three nights of your trip. Start by taking a public speedboat from Isla San Cristobal to Isla Santa Cruz, traveling for 2 to 2.5 hours. After your cruise and arriving in Puerto Ayora, travel with your guide to the Santa Cruz highlands, where one of the highlights will be spotting giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Hike through lava tunnels and the Twin Craters—lava pits home to various bird species—to reach a farm welcoming you with a lunch of garden-grown local dishes.
After lunch and back in Puerto Ayora, spend some time exploring the Charles Darwin Foundation and its research station, where you can watch giant tortoises and iguanas on the prowl. Learn about conservation efforts on the island, including the repopulation of tortoise species. At the end of the day, return to your Puerto Ayora hotel.
Day 11: Explore Galápagos' Uninhabited Islands
Of the many islands in the Galápagos archipelago, only a few have permanent settlements. The others are home to endemic species, which make visits to these islands highly regulated and limited to small groups. Today, visit Bartolomé, Seymour Norte, Plazas Sur, or Santa Fé (depending on park permits and scheduling), traveling for 1.5 to 2.5 hours aboard a yacht with a group of about 15 other people.
During your boat tour, listen as your guide explains the characteristics of each island with unique landscapes, flora, and fauna, on Santa Fé, you may see Santa Fé iguanas. On Seymour Norte, colonies of sea lions, frigate birds, and blue-footed boobies. Arrive on one of the islands with plenty of time for hiking and then return to the boat for lunch. In the afternoon, snorkel at a nearby bay or beach. Return to Puerto Ayora around 4 or 5 pm and go out for the evening or have dinner at your hotel after a full day of adventure.
Day 12: Free Day on Isla Santa Cruz
It's your last full day on the islands, and your schedule is open to explore however you'd like. Walk about 45 minutes, or catch a private transfer for about 10 minutes from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay to spend more time with marine iguanas and Darwin's finches. Or, head to Las Grietas, a rock formation of two cliffs separated by clear ocean water, perfect for snorkeling. Another option is to sail to a remote island to see species you haven't yet encountered.
End the day watching the sunset on a Puerto Ayora beach and toasting your last night on the Galápagos Islands.
Day 13: Tortuga Bay & Return to Mainland Ecuador
With your bags ready for your departing flight, spend the morning breathing the fresh air of Isla Santa Cruz. Take another chance to visit Tortuga Bay, walking through an opuntia (prickly pear) cactus forest to reach a pristine beach for sunbathing, swimming, or snorkeling. Board a kayak to greet wildlife on the water and have a picnic lunch on the beach.
In the afternoon, return to your Puerto Ayora hotel for a transfer to a ferry to cross the Itabaca Channel to San Cristóbal. From there, board your flight to Quito to continue your Ecuador tour or travel to your next destination.