Spend time in Ecuador's capital city and explore the biodiverse Galapagos Islands from the comfort of a cruise ship on this 10-day itinerary. After touring colonial churches and hiking in Cotopaxi National Park, catch a flight across the water to Santa Cruz Island, your launching point for the cruise. You'll wake up at a new island every day, maximizing your opportunities for sightseeing and exploring.

Highlights

  • Snorkel with playful sea lions in the Galapagos Islands
  • Stroll through Quito, an UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Explore the biodiversity of the Galapagos
  • Spot giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island
  • See endemic animals, such as the marine iguanas

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival to Quito & City Tour Quito
Day 2 Hike in Cotopaxi National Park Riobamba
Day 3 Flight from Quito to Baltra Island & North Seymour Island Seymour Norte
Day 4 Genovesa Island: Prince Phillip Steps & Darwin Bay Genovesa
Day 5 Snorkeling on Bartolome Island & Lava Fields on Sullivan Bay Isla Santiago
Day 6 Santa Cruz Island, Highlands Tortoises & Charles Darwin Station Puerto Ayora
Day 7 Floreana Island: Cormorant Point & Post Office Bay Floreana
Day 8 Española Island: Gardner Bay & Suarez Point Española Island
Day 9 San Cristobal Island: Punta Pitt & Witch Hill San Cristobal Island
Day 10 Lobos Island, Transfer to San Cristobal Airport, & Flight to 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: Hike in Cotopaxi National Park

Limpiopungo Lagoon and Cotopaxi Volcano
Limpiopungo Lagoon and Cotopaxi Volcano

After breakfast, head south to Cotopaxi National Park. Stop at Limpiopungo Lagoon for a short hike to take in the panoramic mountain views. You'll also see the El Salitre Inca Ruins, located in the park highlands. Keep an eye out for wildlife—Lake Limpiopungo is home to a variety of birds and occasionally even wild horses. 

If time permits, hike up to the refuge above Limpiopungo to enjoy the view from above as well. In the afternoon, return to Quito,

Day 3: Flight from Quito to Baltra Island & North Seymour Island

Adult and juvenile frigate birds
Adult and juvenile frigate birds

In the morning, take a flight to Baltra Airport on the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival, you'll pass through an airport inspection point to make sure that no foreign plants or animals are being introduced to the fragile island ecosystem. A guide will meet you, help you collect your luggage, and escort you on a short bus ride to the harbor.

Spend the afternoon exploring nature on North Seymour Island. This island is popular with visitors, and for a good reason: it's full of wildlife, with plenty of opportunities for photographs and seeing sea birds up close. An easily-accessible walking path loops through the archipelago's most extensive colony of blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. If you're lucky enough to visit in the breeding season, you'll witness one of the animal kingdom's most distinctive breeding displays, when male frigatebirds blow up their vivid red, football-sized pouches to impress the females.

Day 4: Genovesa Island: Prince Phillip Steps & Darwin Bay

Underwater wildlife
Underwater wildlife

Start the day with a boat ride to Prince Philip Steps on Genovesa Island. The morning's wildlife hike starts with a steep climb up some stairs to reach a flat rocky plateau. Along your walk, you'll see large colonies of Nazca boobies, red-footed boobies, great frigate birds, and storm petrels. If you would rather stay on board the ship, keep sailing along the base of the cliffs for a different view of the nesting bird colonies.

In the afternoon, make your way to Darwin Bay, where you can spend the afternoon enjoying the ocean waves and discovering the underwater world. Following your dip, take an easy stroll to see hundreds more birds: mainly frigate birds, red-footed and Nazca boobies, gulls, herons, finches, and mockingbirds. There will also be other opportunities for snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming.

Day 5: Snorkeling on Bartolome Island & Lava Fields on Sullivan Bay

Pinnacle Rock
Pinnacle Rock

In the morning, make your way to Bartolome Island, a small island with beautiful white sandy beaches, lush green mangroves, and a colony of penguins. Spend the first half of the day swimming, snorkeling, enjoying the water on a panga (inflatable boat) ride. For one of the most breathtaking views in all the Galapagos, climb to the island's summit, and look for nearby Pinnacle Rock.

In the afternoon, continue to Sullivan Bay. It's located at the east end of Santiago Island and famous for its black lava field that twists and flows as though it just cooled off yesterday.


The lava from Sullivan Bay is known as Pahoehoe (Hawaiian for rope). This thin molten lava material cools down following an eruption, causing the surface materials to form into the shape of a rope. Pahoehoe lava is very common to the volcanoes of the Galapagos Islands. As you hike around the island, pay attention to the crystallized volcanic glass along the 1.2-mile (2 km trail) that winds around the bay, and look for volcanic cones that were once rocky islets.

Day 6: Santa Cruz Island, Highlands Tortoises & Charles Darwin Station

Giant Tortoise in the highlands of Santa Cruz
Giant Tortoise in the highlands of Santa Cruz

Get an early start this morning to take the public speedboat to Santa Cruz Island, roughly 2-2.5 hours away. Meet your guide at the dock, then head to the highlands to see giant tortoises in the wild. Enjoy lunch at a local farm, then continue to Puerto Ayora to check in to your hotel. The town is home to roughly 25,000 people and is a central hub for ecological research. 

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.

Day 7: Floreana Island: Cormorant Point & Post Office Bay

Green sea turtle
Green sea turtle

In the morning, arrive at Cormorant Point on Floreana Island, then take an inflatable boat to shore. On arriving, you'll notice that the beach has a subtle green hue: this is due to olivine, a volcanic crystal. Your walk takes you past endemic Scalesia plants to a shallow lagoon that's often inhabited by shockingly pink greater flamingoes.

Continue through a forest of palo santo trees to arrive at a white-sand beach, a local nesting area for green turtles. Step into the shallow water to spot diamond stingrays and white-tipped reef sharks. This coral-sand beach marks the end of the trailhead back to the olivine beach to swim or snorkel. Underwater, look for sea turtles, reef fish, sea lions and, on a good day, white-tipped reef sharks. A small colony of penguins calls Floreana home and can sometimes be spotted as well.


After lunch, a short walk from the beach brings you to the famous 18th-century Post Office Barrel, allegedly the oldest functioning "post office" in the Pacific. Whalers and fur sealers used the barrel to leave addressed letters in the barrel, to be picked up by homeward bound colleagues. In the spirit of maintaining tradition, visitors today often take letters and hand-deliver them in their home countries.

Day 8: Española Island: Gardner Bay & Suarez Point

Waved Albatross
Waved Albatross

Spend the day on Española Island. Your first stop is Gardner Bay to see wildlife. Although Gardner Bay is an important breeding site for Pacific green turtles, its main attraction is the Galapagos sea lion colony and nursery. Females stay year-round here, suckling their pups up to three years (even though the pups start to fish at five months). During the breeding and mating season, the colony grows in both size and volume. 

In the afternoon head to Suarez Point, where powerful ocean waves crash onto the southern basaltic cliffs. The ceaseless water forms a spectacular blowhole, spraying water high into the air. Spend some time here exploring the coast and taking in the views before returning to the ship.

Day 9: San Cristobal Island: Punta Pitt & Witch Hill

Red-footed booby
Red-footed booby

You'll spend the day on San Cristóbal. In the morning head to Pitt Point, characterized by two wind sculptured tuff cones that make up the extreme eastern end of San Cristóbal (as well as the archipelago). These cliffs were the first sight of land when Charles Darwin arrived here in 1835. A group of barking Galapagos sea lions marks your arrival to the green sand beach. This is a bachelor colony, where males separate from the females to relax and prepare themselves for fighting and mating.

Hike up a trail behind the saltbush and spiny shrubs to an area of tropical dry forest. Here, you'll find palo santo trees, yellow cordia shrubs, tiny prickly pear cacti, and carpetweed that turns red in the dry season. After a somewhat steep climb through a gully to the clifftop, wander around the only bird colony in Galapagos that is home to all three species of boobies: blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca booby. You'll also see both species of frigate bird (great and magnificent), famous for their scarlet balloon-sized pouches. Frigate birds are notorious for attacking boobies and thieving the day's catch rather than fishing for themselves.

In the afternoon, make your way to Witch Hill. The primary attraction of this site is the coral sand beach, which is an excellent place to swim and snorkel. The hill is the remains of a tuff cone and was one of the first sites visited by Charles Darwin. Both coastal and migratory birds, including pelicans, blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls, nest up here. Sea lions and marine iguanas are also common. During dry spells, the lagoon dries out, and deposits of salt remain on the bottom.

Day 10: Lobos Island, Transfer to San Cristobal Airport, & Flight to Quito

Sea lion puppies
Sea lion puppies

In the morning, visit Isla Lobos, meaning "Sea Lion Island." This appropriately named island is home to raucous sea lions, as well as other wildlife. Go snorkeling, hiking around the island, and birdwatching before returning to San Cristobal Island where you'll head to the airport for your return flight to mainland Ecuador.

Map

Map of Explore Ecuador: Quito & Galapagos Islands Cruise - 10 Days
Map of Explore Ecuador: Quito & Galapagos Islands Cruise - 10 Days