Day-by-day activities

This page has some general information about Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.  Below that, you’ll find our day-by-day itinerary.  (The 2009 trip itinerary is complete; the 2013 trip itinerary is a work in progress!)  If you want to skip the background info, you can just jump to the 2009 “eastern” itinerary by clicking here.  You can jump to the “western” itinerary of our 2013 trip here.

A brief introduction to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands

ecuador_mapafullmapBefore getting to the details of our trip, a brief summary of some facts about the area might be helpful.  Ecuador is on the western coast of South America, just south of Colombia and neighbored on the east and south by Peru.  Quito is about 165 miles from Guayaquil; the Galápagosecuador_map_provincias Islands are in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 600 miles off the western coast of Ecuador.  The maps here may help to orient you to the area.  (Click on either to see a larger, actually legible version; use your browser’s “back” button to return to this page.  Note that the distance shown to the Galápagos Islands is not to scale, nor are the islands drawn to scale.)

Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have 2 seasons that are governed by the strong  and cold Humboldt Current:  the cool-dry season (July – December) and the warm-wet season (January – June).  Coming up from the Antarctic and aided by strong southeast breezes, this nutrient-rich current predominates in the cool-dry season.  It cools the seas and prompts the garúa mists in the highlands—nearly perpetual mists caused when the air warmed by the sun meets the cool moist air of the sea.  In the warm-wet season, the winds drop and the warmer Panama Current from the north replaces the cold Humboldt Current; sea temperatures rise, the garúas dissipate, and more typical rain clouds form.  Since this current has lower levels of nutrients, the waters are clearer, making for better viewing while snorkeling or diving.  Interestingly, precipitation is actually more common during the cool-dry season; however, the continual garúa mists made it difficult for settlers to gather rainwater for drinking.  As a result, it is referred to as the “dry” season.

Ecuador is in the Eastern time zone; the Galápagos Islands, the Central time zone.  However, since they are right at the equator, the earth’s seasonal tilt doesn’t affect the area—they are never further from (shorter days) or nearer to (longer days) the sun.  With the sun directly overhead every day of the year, it’s light from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the year.  As a result, neither place uses Daylight Savings Time.  So when the U.S. is on Daylight Savings Time, Ecuador’s time is equivalent to Central Daylight Time; the Galápagos, to Mountain Daylight Time.

Our itinerary—2009

Our first trip, in Sept., 2009, began in Quito, where we explored the area around our hotel (the northern part of Quito), took a day trip to Bella Vista Cloud Forest, and finally toured Quito’s old town area.  We then flew to the Galápagos Islands, beginning and ending our adventure on the island of Baltra; we returned through Guayaquil, with a short tour of the city the last evening.

Quito, Day 1 (9/8/09)—Jardín Botánico de Quito and Fundación Guayasamín

Quito, Day 2 (9/09/09)—Bellavista Cloud Forest

(hummingbirds galore!)

Quito, Day 3, (9/10/09)—Tour of old town Quito

Off to the Galápagos!  This map shows the route of the Tip Top II, starting at Baltra.  This itinerary is often called the “eastern” itinerary.

(Click on the map for a larger version.)


Galápagos, Day 1 (9/11/09)—Heading to the Galápagos

Galápagos, Day 2 (9/12/09)—Rábida and Bartolomé

(red sand, penguins, and a volcano)

Galápagos, Day 3 (9/13/09)—Genovesa (Prince Philip’s Steps and Darwin Bay)

(boobies and frigates and gulls—Oh, my!)

Galápagos, Day 4 (9/14/09)—Santa Cruz highlands and Puerto Ayora

(tortoises and civilization)

Galápagos, Day 5 (9/15/09)—Plaza Sur (Plaza Isletas) and Santa Fé

(sea lions and land iguanas)

Galápagos, Day 6 (9/16/09)—Española (Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez)

(mockingbirds and albatrosses)

Galapagos, Day 7 (9/17/09)—Floreana (Post Office Bay and Punta Cormorán)

(post cards and flamingos)

Galápagos, Day 8 (9/18/09)—N. Seymour and the departure

(Magnificent Frigatebirds and good-byes)

Guayaquil (9/19/09)—heading home

One note about the photographs—unless otherwise noted, all were taken by my husband (with only a few exceptions where he was busy and I took some).  Flashes are not permitted when taking photos on the islands.  In fact, one of the most common comments we heard from our naturalist guide—especially in the early days, while folks were still a bit rusty about how to use their cameras—was a respectful, sotto voce (but nonetheless stern) “Kill the flash” if someone forgot.  So I have digitally adjusted the brightness/contrast of some of the photos, to make them easier to see.  Aside from occasional croppings, no other alterations have been made.

Our itinerary—2013

We made a return trip to the archipelago in May, 2013, on the “western” itinerary of the M/S Mary Anne.  As I get them written, I’ll follow the same format as above for describing the outings of this trip.  You can read and see photos of the Mary Anne here.  The map below gives you an overview of the islands we visited, starting from Baltra and working clockwise.


12 Responses to Day-by-day activities

  1. Tanima Lahiri says:

    Found your incredible blog & I’m interested to follow your itinerary for my trip to Galapagos in coming days of November. Can you please guide me regarding travel agencies who can conduct the same. I’m from India, so package should be made according to that. An early reply is highly appreciated.


    • Tina says:

      Hi, Tanima–

      I answered this on a different page too. But in case someone reading this page might find it helpful, here’s my repsonse.

      There are a number of good agencies that specialize in Galápagos travel. Three that get consistently good reviews are Happy Gringo, Columbus Travel, and CNH Tours. (We worked with Heather of CNH Tours for our return trip.) All 3 have Web sites and various ways to contact them. Any of these agencies can help you put together a trip that will meet your specific tastes and budgets.



  2. Mayra Roldan says:

    I am in agreement with Tina. 5 days is not enough! If that is the case and if that is all you have, I will go to San Cristobal for 2 days and you can take local boat for $50.00 dollars one way and you can go to Santa Cruz. Those will be my two choices for that. In the future if you want to spend more time in Galapagos and you have the time you should volunteer to work for galapago’s natural park. You can do that for 2 weeks or a month. It will cost you half the price and you will really be able to know the place better and you will do something good for the environment . Good luck , Mayra


  3. César says:


    I am planing a trip to Ecuador in May and I just found your incredible blog! Lot of info!!! I will stay 14 days in the country and of course I would like to go the Galapagos Islands. I was planing to spend 5 days visiting the islands but, now that I see your trips, I am not sure if it will be enough… or if it will be even worth it to go. I have read that the airplane lands before midday and the last day leaves in the morning so I would have 3 complete days. Could you recommend me an itinerary in order to get a good impression of the Galapagos (nature, animals, etc)??? Would you recommend me a cruise trip? or just some day excursions from Santa Cruz? I would like to see as much as possible (without spending a lot of money ;). Thanks!!!!


    • Tina says:

      Hola, César–

      Five days is a VERY short visit. You’re right in that you’d only have a half day on the first and last days, due to airplane schedules. The shortest naturalist cruise that I’ve seen is 3 days. But since the first and last days are only half days, that’s really only 1 full day at sea. To my mind, that’s not worth the money. If you did a land-based trip, you’d want just to stay in Santa Cruz, I think, because it takes 2-3 hours to take the speed boat to the other inhabited islands. Day trips from Santa Cruz go to nearby uninhabited islands–Bartolomé, Santa Fé, S. Plaza, N. Seymour, and Floreana. But those day trips (only 1 island per day) don’t go every day, so you’d just have to see what you could arrange within your very small window of opportunity. Could be tricky and perhaps disappointing.

      Another concern is the cost. It costs ~$600/person just to get to the archipelago, given airfare and National Park fees. Day trips can cost ~$150-$180/person as well. On the other hand, housing doesn’t cost much, nor does food, unless you really want to go upscale. But even this short trip is not very cheap.

      Personally, I’d suggest that you save your money for a trip that allows you to really experience the full extent of the wonders of the archipelago by taking a naturalist cruise, which goes to the most distant islands, which are the most fascinating in my opinion. You could easily spend those extra days on the mainland of Ecuador, which is a fascinating country with many varied habitats that wouldn’t cost you nearly as much. If you consider this, you might look into Isla de la Plata, which is just a short distance off the coast of Ecuador. Some call it “the poor man’s Galápagos.” I’ve only read about it, but it’d be quicker, cheaper, and easier to get to than the Galápagos.



  4. Stephanie says:

    I’m going to be constantly referring to your blog until I leave in 2 days! If possible, can you advise on day tours? We have 3 whole days to spend in Quito (2 before and 1 after the Galapagos). Which day tour would you say is a “must do” or difficult to do on our own without a guide? I was originally planning to do the Old Town tour on our own but not sure if that’s a good idea. Also, do you think we would be able to fill up our time in Quito those three days? We’re fairly efficient/productive travelers so tend not to linger in one spot/area too long.

    Thanks for the amazing blog again – so grateful I came across it. It’s truly a wealth of info and so helpful for future travelers!


    • Tina says:

      Hi, Stephanie–

      Two days–you must be so excited! You have such a wonderful adventure awaiting you.

      I’ve done 2 different tours of the Old Town area and have always done them with a guide. You probably could do them on your own if you took a taxi to the area (or if you’re staying in the area), although I’m not sure how much information is available for you at each site. I didn’t notice folks standing around at places such as the Basilica offering hourly tours, so I’m not sure how you’d learn about each site without a guide. (That doesn’t mean you can’t, though–I just don’t know.) I really enjoy hearing different local guides tell stories about the various sites, so I’m happy to pay for that expertise. I also appreciate someone else’s driving in Quito–it’s crazy and parking is dreadful in that area. I think on our last trip, Galapagos Experience provided us a guide for a half-day and transportation to El Panecillo, several cathedrals, the presidential palace, and a snack for about $45/person. Our guide spoke excellent English, clearly enjoyed introducing folks to his city, and even filled us in on some of the politics of the country. Money well spent, in my mind.

      If we hadn’t had the guide, we’d have stumbled around the Mariscal area under my guidance and using my kindergarten-level English. That would not have been nearly as much fun. Plus, my husband–who has a marvelous sense of direction–found himself totally lost with the streets around Mariscal. If we had done much walking, it would NOT have been a very fun time.

      We really liked the north area that we stayed in on our first trip–you can read about all we did on the blog. We enjoyed every single thing about that day, especially the Guayasamin museum. When we were in Quito in May, we learned that the entire collection is now located at the Capilla del Hombre at the top of the hill. The pre-Columbian collection is spectacular and, some of our guides have said, possibly the best in Quito. If you’re in that area, you might consider that too. We didn’t have a guide for those outings and did okay. But we also didn’t wander far from our hotel.

      For other day trip options, you might consider the cloud forest areas north of Quito. As you probably have read, we did a day trip to Bellavista. Mindo is another option for a similar habitat, although people are more likely to spend a day or 2 there since it has a lot of other things to do there (e.g., ziplines). I have never been in a habitat like the cloud forest in my life–very different.

      Volcan Cotopaxi is a national park and allegedly makes a nice day trip too. We went to a different area with similar ecozones–Pasochoa–but it was a hard hike and not quite what we all had in mind.

      Given your time, you probably don’t have time for a trip to Otavalo, where some lovely indigenous markets offer locally made crafts.

      For other ideas, you might check the Quito forum on TripAdvisor: . Especially look at the 3rd Top Question in the upper-right corner of the page (What is there to do/see in Quito).

      Keep in mind that I’m not a terribly adventurous traveler in a country in which I’m not terribly fluent in the language. Your experience may vary!

      Have a wonderful trip!



  5. Mayra Roldan says:

    hi, I am planning to take my daughter to Galapagos this summer 2012 (July). I am not the type of person who likes tours. I am fluent in those English and Spanish, therefore language would not be a problem. If I have to take a tour would land tour be better?

    Can you let me know if I can travel on my own and once I get to my destination, can I just get one day tour?



    Tina writes:

    You can do land-based touring from Santa Cruz to other islands close by. You can also take a speed boat to Isabela or San Cristóbal, where you can do tours within those islands (but not to other islands from there). However, I personally think that a cruise is a much better option. With day trips, you can only get to the islands that are closest to the inhabited areas (e.g., Bartolomé, Santa Fé, S. Plaza, N. Seymour, Floreana). I’ve visited those islands as well as other further-out islands and the wildlife live further away from the paths on the closer islands, in large part because of more human traffic from both cruise groups and day trips. You can’t make reservations more than a day ahead of time, so you have to go with whatever tours are available when you’re there—and the best ones tend to sell out quickly during high season. You’ll spend 2+ hours—one way—in a small speed boat, which can sometimes be a very rough ride (although not always). The landings are often at less desirable times—primarily mid-day, when the light is harsher for photography and the wildlife are less active due to higher temps. And you can only visit one island a day with day trips, just because getting there and back takes so long.

    On the other hand, with a naturalist cruise you can get to the least visited islands (my favorites are Fernandina, the western shore of Isabela, Genovesa, and Española—all only available on a naturalist cruise) with the most amazing scenery and the most unusual wildlife. You meander, at times literally eye-to-eye, very close to the wildlife on these islands. The boat travels during down times—e.g., lunch, overnight—so that each time the boat stops, the curtain rises immediately on your next adventure. You get the best landing times—early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the wildlife are most active. And you get 2 landings a day as well as 1 or 2 snorkeling opportunities most days.

    Unless you hire a private guide, you’ll most likely always be in a group, even on a day trip—especially in July, which is one of the busiest times. By park regulations, you have to be with a naturalist guide any time you’re on national park property—which is 97% of the archipelago. Regs require 1 guide for every 16 people, so your group would never be larger than that whether you’re on a day trip or a cruise. But you pretty much always will be with a group.

    You’ll save money by doing a land-based tour. But you won’t avoid traveling in groups. (Some of the cruise boats are as small as 12 or 14 passengers, so your group can be even smaller. But you probably want to stay away from larger boats, which go up to ~100 passengers. That would really be a group experience!) You’ll spend $630+ per person just to set foot in the archipelago (increased air fare, national park entrance fee, INGALA card). With that much money spent up front, I personally think you should do it up right with a cruise. People have a good time doing land-based trips; some feel that their appetites were merely whetted and wish they had taken a longer naturalist cruise. But I’ve never heard anyone who took a cruise wish that he or she had done a land-based tour instead.


  6. Ghionul says:

    I am looking at the following itinerary for my upcoming December 2012 Galapagos cruise on Galaxy. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you
    SAT Baltra, Santa Cruz highlands
    SUN Isabela: Tintoreras, wetlands, wall of tears, tortoise breeding centre, flamingo pool
    MON Isabela: Elizabeth Bay, Urbina Bay
    TUE Fernandina: Punta Espinosa, Isabela: Tagus Cove
    WED Santiago: Puerto Egas, Espumilla Beach, Bucaneer Cove
    THU Black turtle cove, Baltra
    THU Santiago: Sullivan Bay
    FRI Bartolome, Bachas Beach
    SAT North Seymour, Mosquera
    SUN Genovesa: Prince Phillip Steps, Darwin Bay
    MON San Cristobal: Cerro Brujo, Leon Dormido
    TUE San Cristobal: Interpretation centre, Airport

    Tina writes:
    Overall, this itinerary is a nice “northwestern” one. You don’t hit a lot of the landings on the marvelous western shore of Isabela, but you get to good ones. And you get to the main landing on Fernandina. As a bonus, you’ll visit the marvelous island of Genovesa, whose breeding colony of sea birds is a true wonder.

    It looks like this is piecing together 2 shorter trips, since Thurs. is spent at and near Baltra (one of the airports). If that’s the case, that just means you lose a bit of time waiting for and getting new travelers settled in and old travelers off the boat. In general, Thurs. thru Sat. are all very close to Santa Cruz and civilization. In my experience, the wildlife on those islands lived further from the paths, probably due to greater human traffic because of day trippers as well as cruisers.

    With this itinerary, you’ll see 3 of the 4 outstanding islands. (Española is the only one you’ll miss. But not many 12-day itineraries pack all 4 in. Most of the time, you have to commit to a 14-night cruise to visit all 4.) That’ll give you an experience that you’ll never forget.


  7. evelyn perez says:

    Ecuador is a beutifull place .I hope one day I could


  8. Kathy Clark says:

    I’ve been following this since you started it and mentioned it online. I am so excited to see your pictures and read more as to what you saw. I will not ever get to go but it is wonderful that you will share your experiences with others. Thank you!!



  9. Ruth Barrett says:

    Awesome start! I am looking forward to the finished version!
    Thank you! Ruth


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