See the many faces of Ecuador on this 13-day journey from the Andean highlands to the Galápagos Islands. Starting in vibrant Quito, strike out through Cotopaxi National Park to reach the cities of Baños, Cuenca, and Guayaquil—taking in the sights of waterfalls, volcanoes, forests, and pre-Inca ruins along the way. Then it's time to leave the mainland behind as you hop over to the Galápagos for swimming, hiking, and wildlife spotting on the islands of San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz.


  • Spot wild horses in the grasslands of Cotopaxi National Park
  • Relax in the mineral-rich hot springs at Baños 
  • Explore the lagoon-filled Cajas National Park
  • Enjoy the lively city of Cuenca and see how Panama hats are made
  • Discover the Galápagos Islands' unique wildlife and spectacular landscapes

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito Quito
Day 2 Transfer to Baños via Cotopaxi National Park  Baños
Day 3 Soak in the Baños Hot Springs & Swing at the End of the World Baños
Day 4 Follow the Avenue of Waterfalls & Transfer to Guamote Guamote
Day 5 Transfer to Cuenca via the Pre-Inca Ruins of Ingapirca Cuenca
Day 6 Explore the Historic City of Cuenca Cuenca
Day 7 Transfer to Guayaquil via Cajas National Park Guayaquil
Day 8 Fly to the Galápagos Islands  Isla San Cristóbal 
Day 9 Take a Speed Boat Ride & Snorkeling Trip to Kicker Rock Isla San Cristóbal 
Day 10 Transfer to Isla Santa Cruz, Afternoon Bay Tour Isla Santa Cruz
Day 11 Day Trip to Uninhabited Islands of the Galápagos Isla Santa Cruz
Day 12 Garrapatero Beach & Santa Cruz Brewery Isla Santa Cruz
Day 13 Fly to Mainland Ecuador & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito

Views over Quito and Cotopaxi
Views over the sprawling Ecuadoran capital of Quito and snow-capped Cotopaxi

Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your accommodation in the city center. Situated between mountain peaks, the city of Quito stands at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 m), making it the second-highest capital city in the world. Get settled into your hotel and make sure to give yourself some time to rest after your flight and adjust to the altitude.

The afternoon is yours at leisure to explore. Visit the UNESCO-listed historic center to discover the splendor of its colonial churches like San Fransisco and La Compañia de Jesus. If you're feeling adventurous, ride a cable car up the slopes of nearby Volcán Pichincha (12,942 ft/3,944 m) for dazzling views over the city. Come evening, you can discover the city's vibrant nightlife and culinary scene—think picturesque plazas, local craftspeople, and bustling market stands—before heading back to your hotel for a good night's sleep. 

Day 2: Transfer to Baños via Cotopaxi National Park 

Look out for beautiful wild horses in the grasslands of Cotopaxi National Park

After breakfast, you'll join your driver for the drive south to Cotopaxi National Park, where you'll visit Lake Limpiopungo and the El Salitre Inca ruins in the park's highlands. In the shadow of the towering volcano of Cotopaxi, you'll be able to spot a variety of species of birds and occasionally even the wild horses who graze the park's páramo (Andean grasslands) landscapes.

A short walk around the lake will allow you to admire the Andean plant and animal life before getting back on the road, or you can take a longer hike up to a mountain refuge if you're feeling energetic. In the afternoon, you'll continue your journey to Baños, a gateway to the Amazon known for its waterfalls and adventure sports, where you will spend the night.

Day 3: Soak in the Baños Hot Springs & Swing at the End of the World

Visit the Baños Hot Springs & the Swing at the End of the World
See the Tungurahua volcano from the ''Swing at the End of the World''
A more relaxed day awaits, as your guide picks you up and takes you to the hot springs in Baños to enjoy the healthy mineral waters and relax. The hot springs are heated naturally by the nearby active volcano of Tungurahua, which sits around 5 miles (8 km) outside the city. After you've enjoyed the restorative powers of the healing waters, you'll visit the famous "Swing at the End of the World," a scenic tree swing hanging over a steep slope. It sits 8,530 feet (2,600 m) above sea level and makes for a brilliant photo opportunity. 

Day 4: Follow the Avenue of Waterfalls & Transfer to Guamote

Visit the thundering El Pailón del Diablo waterfall in Río Verde

Set out this morning for a scenic guided drive along the Avenue of Waterfalls. Heading south from Baños, you will follow the Río Pastaza through the valley, passing a number of spectacular cascades along the way. Then you'll reach the village of Río Verde, where you will stop to visit the well-known El Pailón del Diablo ("The Devil's Cauldron") waterfall.

You'll have some free time in the afternoon to head back to the hot springs in Baños for more time unwinding in its thermal pools or get your adrenaline pumping with a zipline ride over the area's steep canyons and mountainsides. Later on, your driver will be waiting to transfer you south to the small Andean town of Guamote for your overnight stay.

Day 5: Transfer to Cuenca via the Pre-Inca Ruins of Ingapirca

Guamote - Ingapirca - Cuenca
Explore the pre-Incan ruins of Ingapirca
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Early in the morning, you'll have the chance to visit the bustling local market of Guamote (depending on the day of the week) before continuing your journey south. Take a break en route at Ingapirca, one of the most significant ruins from pre-Inca times. Ingapirca means "Inca wall," and at the center of the ruins, you'll see The Temple of the Sun, a temple with well-preserved ancient stone walls that the Inca used both as an observatory and to track the seasons and times of day by the sun.
Later in the day, you'll arrive in Cuenca, which is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in South America and boasts a beautifully-preserved, UNESCO-listed historic center. Check in to your hotel in Cuenca for your overnight stay and prepare for a full day of sightseeing in the city tomorrow.

Day 6: Explore the Historic City of Cuenca

Welcome to Cuenca! The Athens of Ecuador - City Tour
Take a tour of Cuenca, a lively, historic city packed with culture
After a good night's rest, it's time to join a tour to get to know the city of Cuenca. Starting in the San Sebastián neighborhood on the western edge of the city center, you'll visit the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno ("Modern Art Museum") and its colorful gardens. Then it's on to Cuenca's famous cathedrals: the Iglesia El Sagrario, also known as the "Old Cathedral" and the Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción, aka the "New Cathedral." While the old cathedral is now a museum, the newer one, with its famous blue and white domes, is an operating Catholic church.

Later, visit Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla, the Panama hat museum. Yes, those famous hats are made here in Ecuador from toquilla straw. Learn how weavers create these hats and see the techniques that can turn one of these everyday hats into an expensive accessory. Next up, head to El Barranco, where you can walk along verdant riverbanks and admire terraced houses alongside the river. Finally, end the tour at the Mirador de Turi, an observation deck where you can enjoy stunning views of the whole city and nearby mountains and, more often than not, catch a beautiful sunset. 

Day 7: Transfer to Guayaquil via Cajas National Park

The Cajas National Park is home to over 200 high-altitude lagoons

Tuck into a hearty breakfast today, as you'll need plenty of energy for your first stop of the day, the beautiful Cajas National Park. This protected area comprises more than 200 interconnected high-altitude lagoons, and you'll have some time to enjoy the view from the lookout or to stretch your legs with a walk to one of the lagoons.

Afterward, continue your journey westward and stop at a local hacienda, where you can learn about the process of chocolate making and enjoy a delicious, local lunch. In the afternoon, the journey continues through lush vegetation until you reach Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil. This colorful port city is known as the ''gateway to the Galápagos Islands," and it will serve as just that as you settle in for the night before tomorrow's flight. 

Day 8: Fly to the Galápagos Islands

Look out for the colony of sea lions on the beach at La Lobería

The big day is here! Today you will catch your flight to the Galápagos Islands. After breakfast, check out of your hotel and private transportation will be waiting to take you to the airport. Your destination is San Cristóbal, the oldest and easternmost island in the archipelago. Check in at your hotel in the island's sleepy town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, then start your explorations right away with a visit to the Interpretation Center. Accompanied by your guide, with your guide, this excursion will give you an illuminating introduction to the history and biology of the Galápagos.

Afterward, take a short walk to Tijeretas Hill, where you'll have a spectacular view of the island and see where the distinctive red-throated frigatebirds nest. End the day with a stop at La Lobería, a beach home to a colony of sea lions, before returning to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for the evening.

Day 9: Take a Speed Boat Ride & Snorkeling Trip to Kicker Rock

See pristine beaches, tropical fish, sea turtles, and marine iguanas on today's snorkeling trip

This morning you'll head off on a day trip to Kicker Rock, one of the best-known landmarks in the Galápagos. Ride there on a comfortable speed boat that will navigate you along the coast of San Cristóbal as you spot rare birdlife and marine species en route. Created from volcanic ash, Kicker Rock rises almost 500 feet (152 m) up from the ocean floor and splits into two above-surface structures connected below the surface, with a channel running between. The rock is home to some of the archipelago's most famous endemic birds, including tropicbirds, frigatebirds, Nazca boobies, and blue-footed boobies. 

You'll have the chance to meet the wildlife under the water, too, on a snorkeling excursion. Look out for tropical fish, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and four species of rays. Tuck into lunch on the boat and head to a pristine beach (Puerto Grande, Cerro Brujo, or Manglecito depending on authorization from the national park) for some time to relax and bask in the sunshine. 

Day 10: Transfer to Isla Santa Cruz, Afternoon Bay Tour 

Visit Las Grietas, two large cliffs filled with freshwater and saltwater

Say goodbye to San Cristóbal and get your sea legs ready again as you catch a speedboat to the neighboring Isla Santa Cruz. After settling in and enjoying a leisurely lunch in the main town of Puerto Ayora,  you'll board another small boat for a tour of the beautiful Santa Cruz Bay. Arrive at the small islet of La Lobería, named for its great colony of sea lions, and drop anchor as you snorkel around sea lions and tropical fish displaying a dazzling show beneath the surface.

Afterward, it's on to Shark Channel, where you may spot harmless white-tip sharks and blue-footed boobies. You'll also come upon the Canal del Amor, where there are sea turtles and many different species of tropical fish. Stop for a short walk to see marine iguanas in their natural habitat, then visit Las Grietas, two large cliffs filled with fresh water at the surface and saltwater below. Return to port in the afternoon, where dinner and a quiet night await.

Day 11: Day Trip to the Uninhabited Islands of the Galápagos

On North Seymour, you can see endemic blue-footed boobies

It's an early start this morning as you set out on a memorable 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 Santa Fé, South Plaza, Bartolomé, or North Seymour. Disembark and follow trails, to discover the island's unique natural wonders. 

Santa Fé and South Plaza are home to endemic land iguanas, while Bartolomé is known for its lava fields. On North Seymour, look for frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies. In the afternoon, you'll explore the surrounding waters by boat. Enjoy a tasty lunch onboard and peer underwater in snorkeling masks. You'll return to Puerto Ayora in the evening for some free time.

Tonight, you have dinner reservations booked to enjoy a delicious meal in a restaurant by the sea. Over dinner, you can share the special memories you've created so far and relax with good company as you chat about your trip to the "enchanted islands." Afterward, you'll return to your hotel for a good night's sleep. 

Day 12: Garrapatero Beach & Santa Cruz Brewery

Garrapatero Beach
Swim in the clear waters of Garrapatero Beach 

Today, you will head into the highlands of Santa Cruz. Your first stop is at Cerro Mesa Reserve, where you can see a huge crater, a remnant of the time when Santa Cruz was still a volcanically active island. Afterward, continue to Garrapatero Beach, where you can relax, observe animals, and swim. 

For a change of pace, spend your afternoon at the Santa Cruz Brewery Production Plant. Private transportation will take you from your hotel to the brewery, where you will discover the first craft beer made in the Galápagos. The tour includes a short story telling the brewery's history. Then you'll learn about all the processes of beer making and participate in the production process by riding the coffee grinder that's actually a bike!

The next part of the tour includes beer tasting and a relaxing time where you can play board games or beer pong. After that, your driver will take you to the Santa Cruz Brewery Resto-Pub; here, you will enjoy some appetizers and beers (included in the tour). After a fun afternoon, your final evening in the Galápagos is at your leisure. 

Day 13: Fly to Mainland Ecuador & Depart 

Say goodbye to the wonders of the Galápagos as you start your journey home

Enjoy your final morning in the Galápagos doing some last-minute souvenir shopping or taking one last stroll through Puerto Ayora. At the designated time, your driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the Itabaca Channel, which you will cross on a ferry. Take the public shuttle bus to the airport terminal, where your program ends with your return flight to the mainland. You'll then connect with your departing flight home from Ecuador's mainland. Safe travels!

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Map of Explore Ecuador's Highlands & the Galápagos - 13 Days
Map of Explore Ecuador's Highlands & the Galápagos - 13 Days