Getting to the Galapagos: Quito or Guayaquil?

Ecuador Side-trips, Planning Your Trip

A lot of friends ask me about getting to the Galapagos. They often want to know what airport they should fly into to get to the Islands.

International travelers from the USA and Europe will first need to fly into either Quito or Guayaquil (Ecuador’s main international airports), and then take a domestic flight to get to the islands.

quito ecuador toursMy recommendation is:

  • Fly into Quito if you have time to sightsee.
  • Fly into Guayaquil if you need to get directly to the Galapagos and back.

I hope this helps as you plan your Galapagos vacation.

Quito – A Historical Center

“La Ronda” street in Quito at night

Why to go:

  • The historical city center is full of well-preserved colonial architecture, impressive churches, and traditional cuisine.
  • Modern Quito has everything – modern malls, expansive green urban parks, top-notch cuisine, and raucous nightlife.
  • Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and was recently designated South America’s Leading Destination for 2014 by the World Travel Awards.
  • Quito is a convenient place if you also want to see many other tourist destination in Ecuador, like Otavalo (one of South America’s largest indigenous handicrafts markets), and the Amazonian rainforest.

My favorite things to do in Quito:

  • Take the “Teleferico” cable car half-way up, then climb the rest of the way up Volcano Pichincha (a strenuous but rewarding hike)
  • Play traditional Ecuadorian games in the narrow street “La Ronda” in downtown historical Quito, then drink a traditional Andean spiced hot liquor beverage “canelazo” in one of its many bars with live music
  • Visit “La Capilla del Hombre” – the former house and museum of one of Ecuador’s most famous painters Guayasmin.
  • Try the goat stew “seco de chivo” (you scoff until you taste it)

The bad:

  • The Quito airport is a long taxi ride or a shuttle ride away from downtown (45 minutes – 1 hr), making it inconvenient if you are just for stopping one night before leaving for the Galapagos.
  • Flights to the Galapagos from Quito actually land in Guayaquil first, then continue on to the Galapagos.
  • You may need to bring more clothes and luggage if going to Quito, because it is 9,350 feet (2,800 m) above sea level. The weather is significantly colder than the Galapagos Islands.

Seeing one of Quito’s historical plazas. Sound like fun? Getting to the Galapagos can be an exciting part of your vacation, just plan in advance and take advantage of your time on mainland Ecuador.

Guayaquil: Convenient Stopover When Getting to The Galapagos

Climbing the hill above Las Penas in Guayaquil

Why to go:

  • The airport is 5 minutes away from downtown by taxi – extremely convenient for a short stopover.
  • Guayaquil is a convenient landing port if you also want to visit Cuenca, a colonial city in the mountains. Cuenca is generally considered a smaller, more peaceful version of Quito.
  • You can also visit neighboring cacao and banana plantations, or go to one of the beaches a couple hours north of Guayaquil.

My favorite things to do in Guayaquil:

  • Walk up and down the boardwalk “Malecon 2000” at night –  you can see all the Ecuadorian families out walking with their kids.
  • Visit the art galleries in the “Las Penas” neighborhood.
  • Stare at the resident iguanas at “Parque Iguanas”
  • Eat delicious seafood soup “cazuela de mariscos” and cebiche.

An iguana just hanging out at the park

The bad:

  • Guayaquil is generally less touristy than Quito – there are not as many attractions or areas to walk around.
  • The Malecon 2000 is heavily patrolled by the police, but tourists need to be on their guard in other areas as pickpockets and purse snatching are common.

Have you decided which airport you will choose when getting to the Galapagos? There are exciting things to explore in both Quito and Guayaquil!

Have you been to Quito or Guayaquil? What were your favorite things to do? Let us know in comments!

Meet the Author

Lisa Cho is an expat living in Ecuador, originally from San Francisco, California. She writes about the Galapagos Islands on this site and about her mainland Ecuador adventures on CuencaCultureShock.com

1 comment… add one
  • Tom Campbell Apr 6, 2017, 11:10 am

    We’re hoping to go to the Galapagos in late 2017 or early 2018 and would like to visit Quito and Guayaquil coming or going to the islands.
    Would one extra day in Guayaquil and two extra days in Quito be enough to get a taste of the two cities? Is visiting the market in Otavalo worthwhile? What hotels in the two cities would you recommend?
    Thank you in advance.

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