Experience the best of Quito and the Galápagos Islands on this thrilling 12-day itinerary. Featured on ABC's Good Morning America, the trip starts and ends in Ecuador's vibrant capital city, where you'll enjoy two full days of sightseeing. The rest of the adventure happens in the Galápagos, where you'll explore several islands, spot rare birds in the wild, snorkel with penguins, and see giant tortoises up close.


  • Explore Ecuador's colorful capital city on a guided tour
  • Hike around the lava landscapes of the Sierra Negra volcano
  • Snorkel with reef sharks and rays at the famous Kicker Rock
  • Boat to Isla Español, one of the oldest islands in the Galápagos

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Explore the City Quito
Day 2 Fly to the Galápagos Islands Isla Santa Cruz 
Day 3 Explore an Uninhabited Island Isla Santa Cruz 
Day 4 Discover Isla Pinzón & La Fé Isla Santa Cruz 
Day 5 Boat to Isla Isabela, Wildlife Tour Isla Isabela 
Day 6 Kayak & Bike Around Isla Isabela Isla Isabela 
Day 7 Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano, Boat to Isla Santa Cruz Isla Santa Cruz 
Day 8 Boat to Isla San Cristóbal, Bird-Watching at Tijeretas Hill Isla San Cristóbal 
Day 9 Snorkel at Kicker Rock Isla San Cristóbal 
Day 10 Spot Wildlife on Isla Española  Isla San Cristóbal 
Day 11 Fly to Quito & Tour the City  Quito
Day 12 Depart Quito  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Explore the City

Views over Quito and Cotopaxi
High-altitude views over Quito and Cotopaxi

Welcome to Quito! You'll arrive at the airport and then head to your hotel in the city center. Standing at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 m), this is the world's second-highest capital, and it welcomes visitors with its picturesque plazas between mountain peaks. After taking some time to get settled in, get your bearings and stretch your legs with a walk around the city's UNESCO-listed historic center. 

Stroll through its narrow streets and visit some of the city's most important churches, such as the Baroque La Compañía de Jesús, with its incredible gold-covered interior, and the neo-Gothic La Basílica del Voto. Take a walk down La Ronda, one of the oldest streets in the city, then head to Panecillo Hill for incredible panoramic views.

Day 2: Fly to the Galápagos Islands

Find quiet beaches and diverse wildlife in the Galápagos

Head to the airport to catch your flight to the Galápagos Islands! After arriving on Isla Baltra, a local guide will pick you up, and you'll hop over to Isla Santa Cruz, the second-largest and most central island in the archipelago. Your destination is the main town of Puerto Ayora, but en route, you'll stop at a local farm in the highlands where dozens of giant tortoises live. Wander around on your own to appreciate these majestic creatures.

Enjoy lunch before continuing to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Witness firsthand the work of international scientists who come to the Galápagos to carry out environmental projects, then head to the nearby Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, dedicated to the protection of giant Galápagos tortoises. This is the best place on the islands to see different tortoise species and learn about each one.

Day 3: Explore an Uninhabited Island

Isla Bartolomé
Isla Bartolomé, an uninhabited island in the Galápagos

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 4: Discover Isla Pinzón & La Fé

Discover Pinzon Island & La Fé
Snorkel with colorful fish in Penguin Bay

After a delicious breakfast, embark on an adventure to Isla Pinzón and La Fé. You will arrive at the first snorkeling stop of the day after disembarking at Penguin Bay. These clear blue waters are home to a variety of marine life, including sea lions, turtles, rays, colorful fish, penguins, and reef sharks. There will be fishing onboard, too, and any fish caught will be served as fresh sashimi.

Another 30-minute ride will bring you to La Fé, a beautiful white-sand beach where you can swim and relax in the sun. Lunch will be served onboard during the journey. La Fé is also a snorkel site where you can see sea lions, turtles, fish, rays, and reef sharks. Your day will finish back in Puerto Ayora.

Day 5: Boat to Isla Isabela, Wildlife Tour

Humboldt Penguin
Spot Humboldt penguins as you explore more of the Galápagos

Start your morning by boarding a public speedboat to Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Galápagos. Spend the two-hour trip appreciating the watery scenery that surrounds you. After arriving on the island and getting settled into its small town of Puerto Villamil, head straight to the Flamingo Lagoon or the Giant Tortoise Breeding Station to learn about the island's diverse local wildlife.

After lunch, tour the nearby Tintoreras Islet for a short hike and fantastic snorkeling. Glimpse Humboldt penguins, marine iguanas, sea lions, and sharks in the natural channels formed by lava flows. Head back to Isla Isabela for the evening, where you can sit outside with a drink and listen to the nocturnal wildlife wake up as the sun sets.

Day 6: Kayak & Bike Around Isla Isabela 

Kayak in Puerto Villamil - Biking in Cave Sucre
Explore the shores of Isla Isabela by kayak
Your guide will pick you up early this morning and take you to the starting point for today's scenic kayaking excursion. Paddle along the coast of Isla Isabela, enjoying the spectacular landscape and keeping your eyes open for marine iguanas, sea lions, and Galápagos penguins. Return to your hotel for lunch and a rest, then head back out in the afternoon on a biking adventure. Cycle along quiet dirt roads to reach the volcanic cave of Cueva de Sucre, then continue to Campo Duro, where you'll be able to spy giant tortoises in their natural habitat.

Day 7: Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano, Boat to Isla Santa Cruz

Otherworldly lava landscapes near the Sierra Negra volcano
Plan your trip to Galapagos Islands
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Leave early from Puerto Villamil to reach the Sierra Negra volcano, located in the south of Isabela. At 3,687 feet (1,124 m), this is one of the largest active shield volcanoes in the world—and today, you'll get to hike it. Upon arrival at the trailhead, you'll embark on a six-hour roundtrip guided hike to the summit. Here, you'll be treated to incredible views of the expansive crater, nearly 6 miles (10 km) in diameter. At this altitude, you'll also be able to see out to volcanic peaks on adjacent Isla Fernandina.

After stopping for a picnic lunch, make your ascent and return to Puerto Villamil, where you'll pack up and catch a boat back to Isla Santa Cruz for the evening. 

Day 8: Boat to Isla San Cristóbal, Bird-Watching at Tijeretas Hill

Speedboat to San Cristobal Island - Interpretation Center - Tijeretas Hill
Look for incredible avian species like frigatebirds on Tijeretas Hill

It's time to explore another island today as you catch a speedboat from Santa Cruz to Isla San Cristóbal, the most easterly island in the Galápagos. Formed over two million years ago by the eruption of four ancient volcanoes, it's also home to the oldest human settlement in the archipelago. On arrival, you'll visit the local Interpretation Center with your guide for a fascinating look at the history and future of the Galápagos.

Afterward, take a short walk to Tijeretas Hill, where distinctive red-throated frigatebirds nest, and take in a sweeping view over the island. If you're visiting between June and October, scan the waves for whales, which can sometimes be spotted in these waters. 

Day 9: Snorkel at Kicker Rock

Snorkeling at Kicker Rock
Approaching the distinctive natural monument of Kicker Rock by boat
Today's day trip is to Kicker Rock, a 500-foot (152 m) pair of volcanic islands connected by an underground channel. Ride a speedboat along the coast to reach the island, keeping an eye out for frigatebirds and two types of boobies. After walking around on land, put on your snorkeling gear to see what's underwater. Spot tropical fish, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and four kinds of rays are just a few of the marine species frequently found in this prime snorkeling spot. Break for lunch on the boat, then head to a nearby beach for an afternoon of relaxation on the sands.

Day 10: Spot Wildlife on Isla Española 

Sea lions basking on the beaches of Española 

Today's destination is Isla Española, the archipelago's most southerly island and one of its most remote. Its isolated location has led to the evolution of many unique and rare species, and on today's tour, you'll get the chance to see some of these wonders of nature, including the waved albatross, the Española mockingbird, and the Española lava lizard. A two-hour boat ride takes you to the island, where you'll step ashore and set out on a two-hour hike.

Head back to the boat and get your snorkeling gear ready as you cast off for nearby Gardner Bay. This stunning stretch of white sand is the perfect setting for a swim, and you'll share the clear waters with sea lion pups, fish, and marine iguanas. Take a break for lunch on the boat before returning to San Cristóbal for a free afternoon.

Day 11: Fly to Quito, Explore 

Discover more of Quito on your final day in the capital
Your remarkable time in the Galápagos comes to a close today as you catch a flight back to mainland Ecuador. In the afternoon, set out on a guided tour for a chance to see more of Quito. Visit the artsy La Floresta neighborhood and Parque La Carolina, the largest urban park in the city, which features an artificial lake, bike trails, and a skate park. For more arts and culture, check out La Casa de La Cultura, MINDALAE Museum, or the Museum of Contemporary Art. Another option is to ride the TelefériQo cable car to the top of the Pichincha volcano for fabulous views over the city.

Day 12: Depart Quito

Transfer to Quito Airport for Departure
Taking off from Quito
It is time to say goodbye to Ecuador! When the time comes, you'll transfer to the airport in Quito to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

More Great Galápagos Itineraries

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


Map of Explore Quito & the Galápagos Islands - 12 Days
Map of Explore Quito & the Galápagos Islands - 12 Days