To get to the Galapagos Islands you must first travel to Ecuador, as flights to the Galapagos originate either from Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador. When looking into which city to fly into consider how much time you have.
If you are just laying over briefly the night before/after your Galapagos trip, then Guayaquil makes good sense. The airport is much closer to downtown (about 20- 30 min vs. 45 min to 1.5 hrs of Quito’s) with a slew of good hotels to choose from. Many that offer free airport shuttles. It’s also a shorter, direct flight from Guayaquil to the Galapagos. However, Guayaquil is a commercial, port city and not the most interesting city to explore as a tourist. This isn’t to say it isn’t worth spending a half day to wander around, grab some ceviche and check out the sights and sounds.
If you do end up routing through Guayaquil, check out the Malecon – the boardwalk lining the Guayas River is full of restaurants and shops. And you can get your shop on just 4 blocks off the Malecon at the Mercado Artisanal. From the Malecon, you can also walk through the colorful neighborhood of La Peñas to get a great view of the city, and stop for a drink or a bite to eat. Check our out Guayaquil hotel suggestions here – https://www.detourdestinations.com/extensions/ecuador-extensions/guayaquil-hotels
Note: New York offers a direct flight from JFK to Guayaquil and this tends to be relatively inexpensive.
Quito, the capital Ecuador, is a beautiful city flanked by volcanoes high in the Andes. It’s Old Town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best preserved historic center in all of Latin America. The city itself is worth spending a day walking about. The Old Town’s cobblestone streets and elaborate churches are a photographers dream, while the La Mariscal district (new town) has something for everyone – museums, parks, markets, cafes, restaurants, you name it!
The other perk of flying into Quito is how centrally located it is within the country. In just 1.5 hours you can be horseback riding in tundra like terrain surrounded by snowcapped volcanoes or spotting monkeys while rafting through smoky cloudforest. It’s also the jumping off city to fly into the Amazon. For these reasons, Quito is best for travelers who have a couple extra days (or weeks) to spend before or after visiting the Galapagos.
The Quito airport is a solid 45 minutes from the city center and can be close to 1.5 hours with traffic. For those with a quick layover en route to the islands, it’ll save you diesel fumes and the hassle to stay near the airport. There are a handful of lodges/hotels within 20 – 30 minutes of the airport. Check our out Quito hotel suggestions here – https://www.detourdestinations.com/extensions/ecuador-extensions/quito-hotels
Note: Quito sits just under 10,000 ft (9,350 ft / 2800 m). Those with sensitivity to altitude may consider flying into Guayaquil.
Check out our Guide to Traveling to the Galapagos for more detailed information on planning your trip.