Soak up a little culture in Ecuador's capital before heading to the Galápagos Islands and enjoying all the wild archipelago has to offer. Start in Quito, where you'll visit key colonial highlights; then, it's off to Isla Santa Cruz, where you'll mingle with and learn about giant tortoises. Explore uninhabited islands and rub shoulders with blue-footed boobies before hiking Sierra Negra volcano and snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking near Las Tintoreras and Garrapatero Beach.


  • Stroll down Quito's La Ronda, one of the oldest streets in the capital
  • Mingle with giant tortoises in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz
  • Snorkel through naturally-formed lava tunnels and swim with sea turtles
  • Discover uninhabited islands and endemic species such as blue-footed boobies
  • Swim, snorkel, kayak, or laze on secluded pristine beaches

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Quito City Tour Quito
Day 2 Visit the Middle of the World, Quito Cooking Class Quito
Day 3 Fly to Santa Cruz, Highlands & Charles Darwin Research Station Isla Santa Cruz
Day 4 Excursion to an Uninhabited Island Isla Santa Cruz
Day 5 Transfer to Isla Isabela, Snorkel at Los Túneles Isla Isabela
Day 6 Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano, Free Afternoon on Isla Isabela Isla Isabela
Day 7 Kayak & Snorkel at Las Tintoreras, Return to Isla Santa Cruz Isla Santa Cruz
Day 8 Kayak at Garrapatero Beach, Transfer to Isla Baltra & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Quito City Tour

Evening city views over Quito

Welcome to Quito! At 9,350 feet (2,850 m) above sea level, Ecuador's capital is one of the highest cities in the world, with picturesque plazas and historic landmarks organized among soaring Andean peaks.

Upon arrival at the airport, meet your driver for a ride to Quito's downtown and your hotel, then set out to discover the city on a guided tour. Start in the UNESCO-listed historic center to admire the Baroque church of La Compañía de Jesús and the touring 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 skyline views. If you're feeling adventurous, end the day with a cable car ride up the nearby Pichincha volcano for dazzling views over the city from 12,942 feet (3,944 m).

Day 2: Visit the Middle of the World, Quito Cooking Class

The Middle of the World monument
Savor Ecuadorian cuisine at a cooking workshop

Start this morning with a visit to 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, stop in at the Intiñan Museum to learn more about Ecuadorian culture.

This afternoon is your chance to learn about—and taste—Ecuador's traditional cooking with dishes such as locro de papa (potato stew), bolon de verde (plantain dumplings), and encocado de pescado (fish in coconut sauce). Meet a local Quito chef for a trip to a market to buy the ingredients needed for each dish. Learn about the recipes and then follow the steps to create a memorable meal.

Day 3: Fly to Santa Cruz, Highlands & Charles Darwin Research Station

Giant tortoise in the highlands of Santa Cruz
Learn all there is to know about the giant tortoises of the Santa Cruz highlands

Welcome to the Galápagos Islands! Upon arrival at 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 and your base for the next few days. On the way, you'll cross the Itabaca Channel to reach the island of Santa Cruz. Here, private transportation will take you on a journey to the highlands, where you can observe giant Galápagos tortoises in the wild. After lunch, continue to Puerto Ayora to check in to your hotel.

Nearby you'll find the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, where giant tortoises are raised in a secure environment before being released into the wild. This is the best place in the Galápagos to view various species and see how their tortoiseshell shapes have evolved differently to match the terrain and vegetation of the islands to which they are native.

Day 4: Excursion to an Uninhabited Island

Blue-footed boobies
Enjoy watching the blue-footed booby waddle
Plan your trip to Galapagos Islands
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Of the many islands in the Galápagos, 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 5: Transfer to Isla Isabela, Snorkel at Los Túneles

Watching out for wildlife while snorkeling
Watch out for wildlife while snorkeling

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, where you'll arrive at Puerto Villamil. Once checked in at your hotel, head 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.

Keep your eyes open for seahorses, colorful fish, rays, turtles, and whitetip reef sharks. You might also spot some penguins or blue-footed boobies sitting on the rocks. After the excursion, you'll return by boat to Puerto Villamil.

Day 6: Hike Sierra Negra Volcano, Free Afternoon on Isla Isabela

Sierra Negra crater
Marvel at the volcanic landscape of Sierra Negra

Another adventurous day awaits as you set off to hike the famous Sierra Negra volcano. As you explore the second-largest volcano crater on the planet, you'll walk through a remarkable geological landscape. The area is dotted with lava paths and local plant and animal life. Watch out for different bird species while hiking to the crater rim. Parts of the caldera provide evidence of its last eruption in 2018. 

Enjoy the views during one of the best hikes in the Galápagos before continuing the hike up to Chico volcano, a secondary crater, where you'll enjoy both the vistas and a boxed lunch. The walk is long in terms of distance but not very difficult at 10 miles (16 km). After descending, return to Puerto Villamil, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon in this laid-back town. Relax on the beautiful beaches, go snorkeling and swimming at the bay of Concha Perla, or visit the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center

Day 7: Kayak & Snorkel at Las Tintoreras, Return to Isla Santa Cruz

Kayaking around Las Tintoreras
Paddle around Las Tintoreras amid the unique wildlife
Today, you'll explore Las Tintoreras Islet by kayak. This area's small volcanic islets are thriving with wildlife. Look for penguins, marine iguanas, sea lions, and blue-footed boobies. If you're up for it, go snorkeling in the turquoise water, and explore more of its underwater world. You'll glide alongside colorful fish, sea turtles, rays, and penguins. Later you'll meet at Puerto Villamil Pier for the two-hour speedboat ride back to Isla Santa Cruz as you return to Puerto Ayora for the night.

Day 8: Kayak at Garrapatero Beach, Transfer to Isla Baltra & Depart

Santa Cruz Island
Farewell Galápagos!

You'll have your final morning of the trip free to enjoy your time at the beautiful Garrapatero Beach. Walk along the shore and explore the shallow waters and coves by kayak. Watch out for sea lions, iguanas, marine birds, and colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs.

Later in the day, your driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you back to the Itabaca Channel, where you'll cross by ferry to the airport on Isla Baltra and catch a flight to your final destination. 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 other ways to spend eight days in the Galápagos, and discover the best time to visit the Galápagos.


Map of Galápagos Islands in Darwin's Footsteps: Quito, Isla Santa Cruz & Isla Isabela - 8 Days
Map of Galápagos Islands in Darwin's Footsteps: Quito, Isla Santa Cruz & Isla Isabela - 8 Days