The incredible diversity of Ecuador is highlighted on this 10-day trip around the country. Tour the colonial center of Quito and hike to Cotopaxi Volcano in the Andes before venturing into the Amazon to explore the rainforest's wildlife and indigenous culture. Then it's off to the Galapagos for a few days of island exploration, including snorkeling, hiking, and wildlife viewing. Spotting penguins and giant tortoises in their natural habitats is an unforgettable way to finish this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Highlights

  • Explore the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest
  • Visit an indigenous community and learn about local ways of life
  • Snorkel with playful sea lions in the Galapagos Islands
  • See endemic animals, such as marine iguanas, in the wild
  • Hike the impressive Cotopaxi volcano

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito & Sightsee Quito
Day 2 Explore Cotopaxi National Park & City Tour of Quito Quito
Day 3 Head into the Rainforest at Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 4 Adventure in the Amazon Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 5 Visit an Indigenous Community & Laguna Grande Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Day 6 Jungle Sunrise & Afternoon in Quito Quito
Day 7 Fly to Santa Cruz Island & Tour Charles Darwin Station Puerto Ayora
Day 8 Day Trip to an Uninhabited Island Puerto Ayora
Day 9 Free Day on Santa Cruz Island Puerto Ayora
Day 10 Transfer to Airport & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito & Sightsee

View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano
View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano

Welcome to Ecuador! The entire city of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Standing at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), it welcomes visitors with its picturesque plazas situated between mountain peaks. The city has an abundance of marketplaces, shamanistic healers, and fourth-generation hat makers, as well as a vibrant and sophisticated culinary and nightlife scene. Spend your first day in the country exploring the capital and sampling Ecuadorian cuisine, then get some rest.

Day 2: Explore Cotopaxi National Park & City Tour of Quito

Cotopaxi Volcano
The snowy cap of Cotopaxi Volcano

Start your day at the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. Visit Lake Limpiopungo, located in the highlands, offering a spectacular view of Cotopaxi Volcano's gigantic cone. Lake Limpiopungo is home to a variety of birds and some wild horses, too. Take a short walk around the lake to admire Andean plants and wildlife.

In the afternoon, you will head back to Quito. Your guide will take you on a walking tour through the colonial center of Quito, visiting the Plaza Grande and the beautiful churches La Compañía and La Basílica. Walk down the oldest street of Quito, La Ronda, and stop for dinner in a traditional restaurant.

Day 3: Head into the Rainforest at Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

Squirrel monkeys in the trees
Squirrel monkeys in the trees in Ecuador's rainforest

Transfer today to Lago Agrio, a small city in the Ecuadorian jungle. Travel onward to El Puente, the main entrance to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and the last symbol of human civilization before you head into the rainforest. You'll travel along the Cuyabeno River in a motorized canoe until you reach your lodgings for the night.

You may see some of the region's ten different species of monkeys and tropical birds along the way, as this part of the river is narrow enough to observe wildlife closely. Once you arrive at the wilderness lodge where you'll be staying, you can relax, enjoy a meal, and learn about the activities you'll be enjoying in the coming days.

Day 4: Have an Adventure in the Amazon

Parrot in the Amazon
A colorful parrot in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Start your exploration of the Amazon early today: the early hours of the day are the best time to observe nature in the tropical forest. Go for a walk in the rainforest with your guide, learning about the use of medicinal plants — this knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, and the traditions are still practiced by the local population. Keep an eye out for amphibians, butterflies, centipedes and millipedes, snakes, birds, monkeys and other mammals along the trail.

Later, you will return to the lodge for lunch. In the afternoon, go on an excursion along the Cuyabeno River to discover the animals that live in the dense forest on the banks of the river, notably monkeys, toucans, and sloths. This is also an opportunity to see river dolphins in the wild. After dark, you’ll head into the forest once more to look for insects, spiders, snakes, and colorful frogs, enjoying the nocturnal sounds of the jungle.

Day 5: Visit an Indigenous Community & Laguna Grande

Local rowing a traditional canoe
Rowing a traditional canoe in the Amazon

Enjoy an early morning walk through the forest to spy on monkeys and birds. Return to the lodge for breakfast, then continue by motorized canoe along the "Turtle Path" to visit the Seoqueya community, where several families of the indigenous Siona group live. One of the family members will demonstrate traditional cooking techniques, including preparing the typical yucca bread. You'll be able to try your hand at making bread under the family's instruction as your guide explains local traditions and cultures. 

In the afternoon, continue by motorized canoe along the Cuyabeno River to Laguna Grande to explore a unique rainforest ecosystem: a flooded forest with massive trees and lush greenery. After exploring the lagoon, cool off with a swim in the calm waters while taking in the sunset. Continue your adventure downriver to see more nocturnal wildlife, like caimans, before returning to the lodge.

Day 6: Jungle Sunrise & Afternoon in Quito

Plaza de San Francisco in Quito's historic center

This morning's activity is a short canoe trip to enjoy the sunrise in the jungle, where you will have a good opportunity to observe some different types of wild animals and enjoy another moment of peace in this wonderful natural paradise. After breakfast, navigate upriver to return to El Puente de Cuyabeno and, from there, to Quito. You'll have the afternoon and evening free to sightsee in the capital city and enjoy shopping for souvenirs and sampling Ecuadorian cuisine.

Day 7: Fly to Santa Cruz Island & Tour Charles Darwin Station

Giant Galapagos Tortoise
A giant Galapagos tortoise on Santa Cruz Island

In the morning you will be taken to the airport for your flight to the Galapagos Islands. You'll start the adventure on Santa Cruz Island. Enjoy lunch at a local farm in the highlands, followed by the observation of giant turtles in the wild, before continuing to the port in Puerto Ayora to check into your hotel.

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, analysis of the effects of tourism on nature, and other pressing issues. Visit the turtle rearing station to see where animals are raised before being released into the wild. Make sure to look around for the land iguanas who live around the station.

Day 8: Day Trip to an Uninhabited Island

Marine iguanas sunbathing on the shore
Marine iguanas sunbathing on the shore

Today, you'll travel by yacht to an uninhabited island near Santa Cruz. Depending on the weather, scheduling, and permissions granted by the national park, you'll visit one of the following islands: Santa Fé, South Plazas, Bartolomé, or North Seymour.

Each island is unique, offering spectacular scenery and opportunities to see rare wildlife. Santa Fé and South Plazas are home to endemic land iguanas, while Bartolomé is known for its beautiful lava flows. On North Seymour, look for frigate birds, land iguanas, and blue-footed boobies. In the evening, return to Puerto Ayora to enjoy some free time. 

Day 9: Free Day on Santa Cruz Island

Sea lions on a white sandy beach in the Galapagos

Today, the last full day of the trip, is yours to spend as you wish. Hike to Tortuga Bay, take a stroll in the peaceful town of Puerto Ayora, go on a guided boat tour to visit hidden beaches, or rent a bike to explore the highlands on your own.

Or go on an excursion to Los Tuneles, a perfect snorkeling spot on Isabela Island, accessible by speedboat from Santa Cruz. A series of lava flows have produced unique geological formations here, including arches and tunnels underneath and above the water. This makes the area a uniquely interesting place to swim around. In the shallow waters, you can see tropical fish, rays, turtles, seahorses, and white-tipped reef sharks. Keep your eyes open for penguins sitting on the rocks and be ready for the possibility of swimming alongside majestic sea turtles.

Day 10: Transfer to Airport & Depart 

Beautiful sunset in the Galapagos
A beautiful sunset in the Galapagos

Do some last-minute souvenir shopping in Puerto Ayora before transferring to the Itabaca Channel, which you will cross by ferry to make the connection to the airport terminal. Check in for your flight back to the mainland. Safe travels!

More Great Galapagos Islands Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to the Galapagos? Check out these other 10-day Galapagos Islands itineraries, with island-hopping cruises, land-based trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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