See the highlights of Quito and the Galapagos Islands on this short itinerary. Start out in the city, touring the capital and its surrounding region to experience local history and culture. You'll see colonial architecture, visit an indigenous market, and try traditional cuisine. From here, catch a short flight to the Galapagos Islands. These famed islands provided Charles Darwin with the research and inspiration for his Theory of Evolution, and boast endemic species such as the blue-footed booby, marine iguanas, and giant tortoises.

Highlights

  • Go on a chocolate tasting tour in Quito
  • Shop at the famous Otavalo Indigenous Market Town
  • Snorkle around Kicker Rock in the Galapagos
  • See endemic Galapagos species (like the giant tortoise)

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival to Quito & Old Town Tour Quito
Day 2 Otavalo Day Tour Quito
Day 3 Arrival to the Galapagos San Cristobal Island
Day 4 Española Island Day Tour San Cristobal Island
Day 5 Kicker Rock & Cerro Brujo Day Tour San Cristobal Island
Day 6 Departure from San Cristobal  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival to Quito & Old Town Tour

Historic center of Quito
Historic center of Quito

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 chocolate and history tour of Quito's colonial center. Start at the Café Galería for your first chocolate tasting, then head to the Quito Cathedral and the Street of the 7 Crosses. Officially called Calle García Moreno, this street follows a former Inca path, and received its nickname from its seven stone crosses erected by the Spanish during colonial times. 

Continue the tour with more chocolate tastings at the new Chez Tiff craft pastry shop, then visit La Compañía and San Francisco churches. The tour ends on a high note with a stop at El Panecillo Hill, which provides one of the most spectacular panoramic views of Quito.

Day 2: Otavalo Day Trip From Quito

Textiles at the Otavalo Indigenous Market
Textiles at the Otavalo Indigenous Market

Today, you'll leave Quito behind as you drive north to the city of Cayambe to try its famous biscochos biscuits. Then, you'll continue to Otavalo, whose famous indigenous market is considered one of the biggest and most colorful in South America. Sharpen your bargaining skills and shop for local crafts.

Your next destination is the beautiful Cuicocha Lake and the nearby town of Cotacachi, which is renowned for its quality leather goods. Finally, you'll visit the village of Peguche, where you will meet members of the Otavalo indigenous people and learn about the local culture.

Enjoy a free evening back in Quito.

Day 3: Flight to the Galapagos

Sea lion underwater
Sea lion underwater

Get an early start today to catch your flight to San Cristobal Island on the Galapagos Islands.

Upon arrival, your guide will transfer you to your hotel for a quick rest before lunch at a local spot. Your adventure will then begin with an afternoon tour to the Galapaguera. This giant turtle breeding center allows you to observe giant tortoises (endemic to San Cristobal) in their natural habitat and learn about their breeding process. You'll then visit El Junco Lagoon, a freshwater lagoon where frigate birds clean their wings from sea salt. It's the only source of fresh water on the island, so it receives special protection to keep the water clean.

Return to the hotel and enjoy a free evening.

Day 4: Española Island Day Tour

Giant marine iguana
Giant marine iguana

Today, you'll explore Española Island. The island is home to several endemic species, such as the Galapagos turtles, lava lizards, and marine iguanas. Given its location, Española maintains a high percentage of endemic fauna, which makes it quite popular with tourists as well as research scientists.

The island boasts a significant albatross colony of about 15,000 pairs. Many nest close to tourist trails, so it is quite easy to see the birds bothering them. You'll likely see other ocean-going birds, including blue-footed boobies and masked boobies. The scenery in Española is unique, with rocky formations rising from the deep waters of the Pacific and sea geysers that spray water high into the air. Explore the island on a series of protected wildlife trails, spending the day spotting wildlife and taking in the views.

After a full day spent on the island, return to San Cristobal.

Day 5: Kicker Rock & Cerro Brujo Day Tour

Kicker Rock
Kicker Rock

Today you'll visit the famous Kicker Rock (also known as Leon Dormido—the sleeping lion), a volcanic formation that protrudes from the ocean waves. Here, you can snorkel with sea lions, colorful fish, rays, and turtles. If you're lucky, you may also see hammerhead sharks. 

Currents at Kicker Rock are strong and usually cold, but the marine wonders are worth it. After lunch on the boat, head to a Cerro Brujo for some more swimming and snorkeling. In the afternoon, return to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

 If you would rather spend the day on land, opt for a walking tour accompanied by a Galapagos naturalist guide. You'll visit Playa Mann to see sea lions, the Interpretation Center and learn about the islands' ecosystem and history, and the Charles Darwin Monument—a must since the islands inspired the scientific theory that made him famous! From here, walk to Cabo de Horno, an ideal place for snorkeling (in case you've changed your mind) and wildlife watching. The final spot of your walking tour is Cerro Tijeretas, a viewpoint overlooking the coast.

Day 6: Departure from San Cristobal

Lion seals in the sand
Sea lions in the sand

Enjoy breakfast before transferring to the airport for a connecting flight into mainland Ecuador. From here, you can continue onto your next adventure. 

Map

Map of Ecuador Highlights: Quito & the Galapagos - 6 Days
Map of Ecuador Highlights: Quito & the Galapagos - 6 Days