On this nine-day adventure, you'll fly into Quito, tour the city, then head to Isla Santa Cruz for your first look at Galápagos giant tortoises. Hike to Tortuga Bay Beach for wildlife spotting and visit an interpretation center to learn more about Galápagos National Park, then fly to Isla Isabela. You'll tour natural rock formations, see spectacular marine life, visit a tortoise breeding center, and hike up Sierra Negra volcano before returning to Isla Santa Cruz for more exciting excursions.


  • Get to know Ecuador's buzzing capital, Quito, and its historic landmarks
  • Encounter giant tortoises on an exciting tour of Isla Santa Cruz
  • Hike up Sierra Negra volcano, the second largest of its kind in the world
  • See a diversity of marine wildlife on a tour of Puerto Ayora's bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Free Day Quito
Day 2 City Tour of Quito Quito
Day 3 Fly to Isla Santa Cruz, See Giant Galápagos Tortoises Isla Santa Cruz
Day 4 Hike to Tortuga Bay, Visit Fausto Llerena Breeding Center Isla Santa Cruz
Day 5 Fly to Isla Isabela, Las Tintoreras Tour Isla Isabela
Day 6 Sierra Negra Volcano Hike, Visit the Wetlands & Tortoise Breeding Center Isla Isabela
Day 7 Day Tour of Los Tuneles Isla Isabela
Day 8 Return to Isla Santa Cruz, Tour the Bay of Puerto Ayora Isla Santa Cruz
Day 9 Twin Craters Excursion, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Free Day

Cable car Teleferico
Ride Quito's TelefériQo cable car for an overview of how vast the capital is
Welcome to Ecuador! When your flight arrives at the international airport of Quito, your guide will welcome you and immediately organize your transfer to your hotel in the city center. While you enjoy a hot tea or coffee, your guide will give you a short briefing about the next day's activities. Afterward, get some rest after a long day of travel, or head out for your first look at the capital. 

Day 2: City Tour of Quito

Plaza Grande in Old Town Quito
Check out the Quito Metropolitan Cathedral in Plaza Grande in Old Town Quito
Plan your trip to Galapagos Islands
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Your tour of Quito's old town begins with a visit to Independence Square, where the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral, and El Sagrario Church are located. You'll also visit the church of La Compañía de Jesús (1605), considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in the Americas. Afterward, visit the church and monastery of San Francisco (1535). This is the oldest Ecuadorian church, and the main altar inside is a spectacular example of Baroque carving. Finally, drive up to the city's highest viewpoint, El Panecillo Hill, where you'll have a spectacular view of Quito.

Then, drive just 30 minutes outside Quito to see the equator at the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument. This is the site where, in 1736, an expedition directed by Charles-Marie de la Condamine made the measurements that marked the spot of the equator. Here, visitors have the rare opportunity to stand in two hemispheres simultaneously! A monument marks the site, and you can take an elevator to the top or visit the excellent ethnographic museum next door. Around the monument are buildings and restaurants designed to represent those of a typical colonial town. 

Day 3: Fly to Isla Santa Cruz, See Giant Galápagos Tortoises

Quito - Galapagos (Baltra Airport) & Visit to the Giant Galapagos Tortoise Farm
Visit a Galápagos tortoise reserve to admire the shy giants

Early in the morning, your guide will pick you up from your hotel lobby and transfer you to Quito Airport, where you'll board your three-hour domestic flight to the Galápagos Islands. Upon arrival at the Seymour Airport on Isla Baltra, your local Galápagos National Park-trained guide will welcome you and arrange your transfer to the city of Puerto Ayora, the largest on the Galápagos archipelago, located on Isla Santa Cruz. Using a local ferry, cross the beautiful Itabaca Channel, which separates the two islands.

Once on the other side of the channel, travel by private transfer to the highlands of Santa Cruz. Your first visit will be to a remote farm, where you can enjoy a hike while observing Galápagos giant tortoises in their natural state. These gentle animals are extremely sensitive, and will typically withdraw into their carapaces (shells) as soon as they see you coming close, so it's important not to bother, touch or feed them. In this area, you can also observe different species of birds, such as the Galápagos rail, the vegetarian finch, and the vermilion flycatcher.

Day 4: Hike to Tortuga Bay, Visit Fausto Llerena Breeding Center

Tortuga Bay & Interpretation Center
Explore the coral sands of Tortuga Bay and observe the abundant wildlife

Start your day with a hike to Tortuga Bay, home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galápagos. The soft coral sands and lovely scenery make this a truly unique spot. The first part of the beach has strong waves and is therefore not recommended for swimming, but an additional 10-minute walk to the west will take you to a calm and peaceful bay. Here, you can observe marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and marine birds, as well as mangroves, cacti forests, and other interesting coastal flora. Enjoy the beach, then return to town using a local boat.

In the afternoon, walk to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, where you'll learn about the Galápagos National Park's work and see tortoises of different species and sizes and some land iguanas. You'll also have the chance to enter a special air-conditioned chamber, where you can observe the embalmed body of the world-famous tortoise, Lonesome George. When the activity is finished, relax and enjoy some free time. 

Day 5: Fly to Isla Isabela, Las Tintoreras Tour

Las Tintoreras
Spot whitetip sharks in beautiful Las Tintoreras

At 6:45 am, head to the pier of Puerto Ayora to start sailing toward Puerto Villamil, the largest town on Isla Isabela. During the 2.5-hour journey, you'll have the chance to observe marine turtles, manta rays, several species of aquatic birds, dolphins, and perhaps even whales (from June to September). Upon arrival at the bay of Puerto Villamil, transfer to your hotel.

In the afternoon, return to Puerto Villamil's pier for a guided tour of Las Tintoreras Islet. You'll find colonies of marine iguanas and sea lions as you hike through this scenic area. Watch for whitetip sharks, known locally as tintoreras, which rest here in the channels formed by lava flows. You can also enjoy some snorkeling in the company of sea lions, penguins, and marine turtles.  

Day 6: Sierra Negra Volcano Hike, Visit the Wetlands & Tortoise Breeding Center

Sierra Negra Volcano
Hike to the Sierra Negra volcano's impressive crater, the second-largest in the world

A 30-minute transfer this morning takes you up to the highlands of Isla Isabela to reach the visitors' control area of the National Park. Start an easy 1.5-hour walk from here to reach the rim of the impressive crater of the Sierra Negra volcano, the second-largest in the world. Here, you'll find one of the most spectacular views in the Galápagos. After the hike, return to your hotel for lunch and a break. Then, ride a bike to Isla Isabela's Tortoise Breeding Center, where you can observe giant Galápagos tortoises of different species and sizes.

Continue your cycling along a well-maintained trail leading to the wetlands, where you'll be amazed by the impressive scenery, composed of lagoons surrounded by four species of mangroves and typical flora. In the lagoons, you can observe flamingoes and migratory birds, such as terns, swallow-tailed gulls, blue-winged teals, and more. The bike ride will finish on the main road, close to the beach, where you can relax and enjoy the company of marine iguanas. 

Day 7: Day Tour of Los Túneles

Day Tour Tunnels
Explore the biodiverse Los Túneles or "Cabo Rosa" with a snorkeling excursion

Embark on a day trip to one of the most biodiverse sites in the Galápagos. Los Túneles, or Cabo Rosa, is an uninhabited islet an hour from Puerto Villamil. The lava formations here look like tunnels and, over hundreds of years, have become a marine paradise inhabited by various species native to the Galápagos. This area is ideal for snorkeling due to its crystal-clear, shallow waters. It is home to sea turtles, albatrosses, flamingoes, iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, manta rays, penguins, lobsters, and sea snakes, among other species.

The first stop is Roca Unión, a small islet in the open sea, where you can catch sight of pelicans, blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and, occasionally, sea lions resting on the rocks. The snorkeling site of El Finado is the next stop. You can swim next to sea turtles, whitetip sharks, trumpetfish, and surgeon fish here. With some luck, you may also see eagle rays or golden rays. In the afternoon, return to Puerto Villamil and relax. 

Day 8: Return to Isla Santa Cruz, Tour the Bay of Puerto Ayora

Sea lion
Enjoy watching sea lions in action at La Loberia

Transfer to the pier of Puerto Villamil and board a speedboat for the 2.5-hour journey back to Puerto Ayora. The boat will pass by the cliffs of Isla Tortuga, also known as Brattle Island, where hundreds of species of birds can be found. In the afternoon, participate in a short tour of the bay of Puerto Ayora. First, visit Caamaño Islet and snorkel at La Lobería Beach, where you can see sea lions, turtles, and colorful fish. Then hike to the Channel of the Sharks, a viewpoint where you can spot blue sharks from a bird's-eye view if conditions allow. Along the way, you may see lava herons.

Continuing along the route, visit the stunning turquoise Channel of Love, full of Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies. Then stop at Playa de los Perros, where the largest marine iguanas on the island are found. Finally, visit Las Grietas, a rock formation created by lava fissures that form two giant walls. The water between the walls is clear and perfect for snorkeling. In the evening, return to your hotel and prepare to enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate your last night in the Galápagos.

Day 9: Twin Craters Excursion, Depart the Galápagos

Visit to Twin Craters
Visit the stunning Los Gemelos sinkholes on Isla Santa Cruz

A 30-minute transfer will take you to the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz, where you'll stop at the natural formation known as Los Gemelos (Twin Craters). Los Gemelos are not actual craters but rather sinkholes created when the volcanic roof of an empty magma chamber collapsed due to tectonic shifts and erosion. The surrounding area has quite a different climate from other parts of the island and is surrounded by Scalesia tree forests. It is home to bromeliads, orchids, mosses, lichens, and many birds, including the vermillion flycatcher, several species of Darwin's finches, and short-eared owls.

After your visit, it's time to say goodbye to the Galápagos. Continue your trip to the Itabaca Channel. Once you've crossed it, a bus will take you to the airport, where your guide will assist you with check-in. Enjoy your flight back to Quito or Guayaquil, where you'll catch your onward connection. ¡Buen viaje! 

More Great Galápagos Islands Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to the Galápagos? Check out these other Galápagos itineraries, explore other ways to spend nine days in the Galápagos, or learn about the best time to visit the Galápagos


Map of Highlights of Quito & the Galápagos Islands - 9 Days
Map of Highlights of Quito & the Galápagos Islands - 9 Days
Written by Joselyn Pilatasig, updated Apr 21, 2023