On this 12-day Ecuadorian adventure, you'll start with a dose of culture in Quito and a glimpse of the Andean highlands in Otavalo, then jet off to the Galápagos for rare wildlife and stunning scenery. Sandy beaches and curious penguins await on Isla Santa Cruz, where you'll explore its coast by bike and discover remote, uninhabited islands by yacht. Speedboat off to Isla Isabela for snorkeling and kayaking, then return to Santa Cruz to mingle with giant tortoises and learn about their habitat.


  • Explore Ecuador's northern highlands and visit the towns of Otavalo and Peguche
  • Discover Galápagos beaches and coves by bike and kayak
  • Venture to untamed, uninhabited islands and taste the Galápagos' famed coffee
  • Snorkel in turquoise waters as you pose with flamingoes and playful sea lions

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Transfer to Otavalo & Visit Peguche Village Otavalo
Day 2 See Otavalo Market & Cuicocha Lagoon, Return to Quito  Quito
Day 3 Fly to the Galápagos, Santa Cruz Highlands & Puerto Ayora by Bike Isla Santa Cruz
Day 4 Visit an Organic Coffee Farm, Kayak at Garrapatero Beach Isla Santa Cruz
Day 5 Excursion to an Uninhabited Island Isla Santa Cruz
Day 6 Excursion to a Different Uninhabited Island Isla Santa Cruz
Day 7 Transfer to Isla Isabela, Kayak & Snorkel at Las Tintoreras Isla Isabela
Day 8 Explore Isla Isabela by Bike, Free Afternoon  Isla Isabela
Day 9 Snorkel at Los Túneles Isla Isabela
Day 10 Transfer to Isla Santa Cruz, Visit Charles Darwin Station & Tortuga Bay  Isla Santa Cruz
Day 11 Return to Quito, Afternoon City Tour Quito
Day 12 Depart Quito  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Transfer to Otavalo & Visit Peguche Village

Doña Luzmila preparing the wool
Take a stroll to Peguche's waterfall, a sacred place for the region's Indigenous people

Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador! Upon arrival at the airport, your private driver will pick you up at the airport and take you two hours northeast to Otavalo in Ecuador's northern highlands. This laid-back town is the proud homeland of the Indigenous Kichwa culture, and many residents still wear traditional clothing and maintain deep-rooted customs. Beyond the town, you'll find mountain peaks and alpine lakes, as well as smaller Indigenous villages which are known for their artisans. 

Once you've settled in at your hotel, meet your guide for a visit to the small town of Peguche, famous for its waterfall and handicraft shops and workshops. The waterfall is a sacred place for the Indigenous people of Peguche and is often a venue for spiritual or traditional events. Take time to stop by weavers, instrument makers, and other local artists as you get a behind-the-scenes look at the workshops in the village, known for its traditional weavers and flute makers. In the evening, listen to live bands, including local groups playing folkloric music, at one of Otavalo's many bars. 

Day 2: See Otavalo Market & Cuicocha Lagoon, Return to Quito 

Browse Indigenous wares and meet the locals at the Otavalo Market

This morning, take a stroll through the bustling traditional market of Otavalo. You can find everything here, such as traditional food, handmade jewelry, clothes, and more. Dive into the scents, the colors, and the sounds while walking through the narrow passageways. Next, head to Cuicocha Lagoon, which sits at the base of Cotacachi volcano. Follow a trail along the crater rim that leads to stunning viewpoints, or take a circular hike around the lake, which takes four to five hours. You can also opt for a boat trip to the lagoon's lush islands. After a day in the highlands, your driver will take you back to Quito.

If you have some free time in the afternoon, don't miss a visit to Quito's Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) to see the divide between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, 656 feet (200 m) north of the equator line. Take photos of the monument, see the various exhibition halls, and have fun jumping from one hemisphere to the other. Next door, visit the Intiñan Museum to learn about Ecuadorian culture.

Day 3: Fly to the Galápagos, Santa Cruz Highlands & Puerto Ayora by Bike

Giant tortoise in the highlands of Santa Cruz
Giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz

It's time to leave mainland Ecuador behind today as you catch a flight to the Galápagos Islands! Upon arrival at the Isla Baltra airport, your guide will be waiting to welcome you and help arrange your transfer from the airport to Puerto Ayora—the largest town in the Galápagos Archipelago and your base for the next few days. On the way, you'll cross the beautiful Itabaca Channel to reach the island of Santa Cruz. The first stop of today will lead you into the highlands of Santa Cruz, where you can observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat and explore the impressive lava tunnels that dot the area.

After lunch, your driver will take you across the island to Puerto Ayora along the southern coast. Once settled in at your hotel, hop on a bike to explore your surroundings. Pedal along the uphill ride to Los Gemelos, twin sinkholes surrounded by scalesia forest. After you've enjoyed the splendid views, zoom down the slopes of the highlands all the way back to Puerto Ayora.

Day 4: Visit an Organic Coffee Farm, Kayak at Garrapatero Beach

bird among the coffee beans
Keep your eyes peeled for Sally Lightfoot crabs

You can't leave the Galápagos without sampling the island's famed coffee, so today starts with a visit to a local coffee farm near Puerto Ayora. Upon arrival, you'll find much more than the average plantation, as this farm is part of a social responsibility program that grows coffee beans contributing to the conservation of plants and soil. You will meet Galápagos growers and learn the process of gathering, drying, and peeling coffee for sale. At the end of the tour, purchase your own bag for a fragrant souvenir of the islands.

Enjoy the rest of your afternoon at your leisure, perhaps heading to the island's beautiful Garrapatero Beach, where you can take a walk along the shore and explore the shallow waters and coves by kayak. Have your camera ready, as this area is known for its sea lions, iguanas, marine birds, and colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs.

Day 5: Excursion to an Uninhabited Island

Blue-footed boobies
See blue-footed boobies and other endemic wildlife on a visit to an uninhabited island
Plan your trip to Galapagos Islands
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Of the many islands in the Galápagos Archipelago, only four have permanent settlements. The others are wild, untouched, and prime habitats for their many endemic species, so visits are highly regulated by park authorities and limited to small groups. Santa Fé and Plaza Sur are home to endemic land iguanas, while Bartolomé is known for its beautiful lava flows. On Seymour Norte, distinctive frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies flourish. Each island is unique, offering spectacular scenery and opportunities to see rare wildlife.

Today's adventure takes you on a fantastic day trip to one of these uninhabited islands, traveling by yacht around the archipelago. When you reach the island, you'll drop anchor and follow trails on foot to discover its beauty and wildlife up close. After lunch on board the yacht, you'll have the opportunity to go snorkeling and explore the area further before sailing back to Santa Cruz.

Day 6: Excursion to a Different Uninhabited Island

Land iguana
Land iguanas basking on the shores of an uninhabited island

It's an early start today as you set out by yacht again to visit a different uninhabited island from yesterday. Get ready for new adventures among untamed wildlife and scenic landscapes, spotting iguanas, sea lions, turtles, seabirds, and much more. After another day on the water, return to Puerto Ayora in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day however you please.

Day 7: Transfer to Isla Isabela, Kayak & Snorkel at Las Tintoreras

Kayaking around Las Tintoreras
Kayaking alongside penguins at Las Tintoreras
Meet your guide in the morning for a ride to the dock in Puerto Ayora, and from there, take a two-hour speedboat to Isla Isabela, the archipelago's largest island. Once checked in at your hotel in the town of Puerto Villamil, you'll set off to explore the nearby islet of Las Tintoreras by kayak. This area's small volcanic islets teem with diverse wildlife. Be on the lookout for penguins, marine iguanas, sea lions, and blue-footed boobies. If you're up for it, go snorkeling in the turquoise water, and explore a pristine underwater world as you glide alongside colorful fish, sea turtles, rays, and penguins. 

Day 8: Explore Isla Isabela by Bike, Free Afternoon 

Biking on Isabela Island
Don't miss a stop at Flamingo Lagoon as you explore the island by bike

Today you can explore more of the island by bike as you cruise along Isabela's coastal roads. Along the way, stop at various viewpoints and beaches, such as Playa del Amor (Love Beach), home to a huge population of marine iguanas. Continue pedaling to reach the famous Muro de las Lagrimas (Wall of Tears), a historic landmark built by the prisoners of this former penal colony. Upon returning to Puerto Villamil, make a last stop to explore the diverse environment and colorful residents of Flamingo Lagoon.

The afternoon is free to explore, so take a stroll along the boardwalk through mangroves out to La Concha Perla. Bring snorkeling gear, as this small beach with brilliant turquoise waters is full of marine life. Or, visit the Tortoise Breeding Center for a closer look at one of the Galápagos' most iconic species. Later, watch the sunset over snacks and drinks at the Iguana Point Bar, with a terrace overlooking the beach. 

Day 9: Snorkel at Los Túneles

Watching out for wildlife while snorkeling
Dive into a dazzling underwater world at Los Túneles

Today will be a highlight of your Galápagos experience as you set out on an adventurous excursion to Los Túneles. Famous for its unique geological formations, like lava-formed arches below and above water, this area is excellent for swimming and snorkeling, as you'll encounter a wide variety of marine life in the shallow waters. You're likely to spot seahorses, colorful fish, rays, turtles, and white-tipped reef sharks below the waves, while it's common to sight penguins or blue-footed boobies sitting on the rocks above.

Day 10: Transfer to Isla Santa Cruz, Visit Charles Darwin Station & Tortuga Bay

Tortoise hatchling at the Breeding Station
Meet the tortoise hatchlings at the Charles Darwin Research and Breeding Station

Meet at Puerto Villamil Pier this morning for the two-hour speedboat ride back to Isla Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora. Once you've checked in at your hotel, you'll head to the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about the vital work that is being carried out to preserve the archipelago's ecosystems. Explore the home to turtles ranging from 3-inch (7 cm) hatchlings to 4-foot (1.2 m) adults as you hear about this significant breeding program for Galápagos tortoises. The hatchlings are kept until they are about four years old and strong enough to survive on their own.

Your afternoon is at leisure, and there is plenty more to explore on Isla Santa Cruz. Visit Las Grietas for some snorkeling, do some souvenir shopping, or rent bikes and explore the highlands on your own. For a relaxed end to your Galápagos adventure, head to Tortuga Bay said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago. It's a nice 45-minute walk (approx. 1.5 mi/2.5 km each way) through an opuntia cactus forest. Sunbathe, swim, or snorkel, and admire the area's plentiful marine iguanas and Darwin's finches. 

Day 11: Return to Quito, Afternoon City Tour

Blue skies over Quito's historic center and La Basílica del Voto 

It's time to bid the Galápagos farewell and catch your flight back to mainland Ecuador. Your driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you back to the Itabaca Channel, where you'll cross by ferry and continue to Baltra Airport. Upon arrival at Quito's airport, a private driver will greet you and transfer you to your hotel in the city center.

Spend your final afternoon in Ecuador exploring more of Quito on a private tour. Not only does it have geographical beauty, 17th-century colonial architecture, and distinct culture, but it's also one of the highest cities in the world at 9,350 feet (2,850 m) above sea level. Together with your guide, you'll visit the remarkable UNESCO-listed historic center, stopping to admire landmarks like the Baroque La Compañía de Jesús and the intricate, neo-Gothic La Basílica del Voto. You'll also take a walk down La Ronda, one of the oldest streets in the city, and then head to Panecillo Hill for skyline views.

Day 12: Depart Quito

Volcano views over Quito

It's time to say goodbye to Ecuador! Enjoy a leisurely morning in Quito before your driver transfers you to Quito Airport for your ongoing departure. Safe travels!

More Great Galápagos Islands Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to the Galápagos Islands? Check out these other Galápagos itineraries, explore different ways to spend 12 days in the Galápagos, and discover the best time to visit the Galápagos.


Map of Ecuador's Culture & Nature: Quito, Otavalo & the Galápagos - 12 Days
Map of Ecuador's Culture & Nature: Quito, Otavalo & the Galápagos - 12 Days