Retirement Bucket-list Journeys # 5 – Galapagos Islands

Take your retirement bucket-list journey to a whole other level when you experience the most spellbinding, wildlife-enriched islands on earth.

Anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to cruise the Galapagos islands will attest to their awe-inspiring magnificence. They would also all agree that even just a single day spent exploring these wildlife-brimming isles is better than no day here at all. We’ve certainly said it often enough at Chimu Adventures: if all you have time and funds for are 4 days, then so be it. Four days in the Galapagos are still better than 30 days almost anywhere else. Yet there’s something about having the luxury of more time and more travel funds that is truly priceless here – after all, this destination takes time and effort to reach and, given that every single one of the dozen islands offer unique highlights, both in terms of landscape and unique wildlife, it figures that the more time you spend, the more islands you can visit and the more rewarding your journey will be. That’s what makes the Galapagos one of the 3 best retirement bucket-list journey destinations of all, alongside Patagonia and Antarctica. The latter two require time because of their sheer size (the first) and sheer distance from the closest port (the second) yet the Galapagos are also deceptively sprawling and boast so many unique highlights in opposing corners, that visits get progressively more jaw-dropping the longer your visit. It isn’t the case everywhere – but it is on the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Tortoise, Island of Santa Cruz, The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock


When you choose to explore the Galapagos in the best way possible, you’ll inarguably be choosing a small expedition cruise ship jaunt. You’ll usually spend your mornings exploring the islands’ interior and coastline on foot and the afternoons swimming and snorkelling in the sea. Most of the sailing is done at night and, given the considerable distances between the 13 main islands in the archipelago, you’d need about 10-12 days to actually visit them all.


Why we think the Galapagos make for ideal retirement trips

Even the most ‘hectic’ Galapagos cruise itinerary is a pretty laid-back affair and much of this has to do with the distinct lack of traffic or human overcrowding. Galapagos is stillness at its most pristine, bar the loud cackling of the birds and seals. Moreover, luxury catamarans offer sublime cruising experiences, adding an extra touch of class and indulgence in an already stupendous experience, something more mature travellers enjoy rather than begrudge. Your daily routine will involve leisurely Zodiac outings, walks on land, swims, snorkels, perhaps a spot of kayaking or SCUBA diving, depending on what your specific cruise ship offers. Nothing will be too strenuous and that’s what makes these cruises ideal for more mature travellers.

Whilst there are a few ‘cheap and cheerful’ cruise ships operating here, they are quite basic and given the time and money spent on just reaching the place, many feel they simply don’t offer the best value for money. There are also options for island-based visits (whereby you stay in a lodge on one of the inhabited islands and take day-long boat trips from there) but, in our experienced opinion, we think they fall a little short of ‘The Real McCoy’ – firstly because you just won’t experience the real isolation of the remotest corners and, secondly, because you’ll be spending most of your day transferring from point A to point B. Cruising on a boat in the Galapagos is fun but it’s not, by far, the most awe-inspiring thing to do and that’s why liveaboard expeditions do most of their sailing at night.

We normally only recommend the absolute cheapest options to younger travellers who don’t mind roughing it for a few days in order to have this incredible experience – but if you’re on a retirement journey with more funds to spend, you’d do well to really treat yourself here. This is one of the world’s most special travel destinations, a place many people only see once in life, if even that.

The Galapagos are the treasures you spend your entire life working to visit. Do it right.

Land Iguana, South Plaza Island, Galapagos. Photo: Shutterstock


What makes the Galapagos so very special?

Given their distinctive features and remoteness, the Galapagos boast a whole ecosystem of unique creatures, most of which aren’t found anywhere else. If that’s not enough, most of the animals here have evolved unique traits due both to their isolation and the desirable living conditions. Some birds have lost their ability to fly (because they simply don’t need to), Giant Turtles can only mate with other turtles of their own island (their shells have developed unique shapes) and the famous Galapagos Iguana, the one who spits salt out of its nostrils, is the only one of its kind that’s actually learnt to swim and live off algae. Charles Drawn was astounded when he visited the islands in 1835, recognising the uniqueness of the area and basing his now-famous Theory of Evolution on all he discovered here. Naturalist guides accompany all boats and are a wealth of truly fascinating knowledge, making this one of the most enticing aspects for retirees on Galapagos cruises.

Now, you may already know that the Galapagos are traversed by the Equator line so you’re probably thinking the seas lapping the islands’ shores are sublimely warm. Ahem, sorry to disappoint, but the archipelago is also traversed by the frigid Humboldt Current which, although making the waters rather cold, also attracts a huge concentration of wildlife due to the nutrient enrichment of the seas. Luckily, Galapagos cruise ships supply wetsuits for snorkellers during the coldest current months but, regardless, we bet you won’t begrudge this little detail as you cast your eyes on a mind-boggling array of land and marine wildlife, not to mention the insane colonies of unique birds who migrate and breed here, all year long.

The islands also boast a very fascinating history and all cruise itineraries will also include stopovers in former pirate hideouts or visits to both abandoned and working villages, of which there’s just a handful. Considering the islands are a result of the meeting between three distinct tectonic plates (the Nazca, Cocos and Pacific) you’ll discover a paradise of volcanic extravagance. The Galapagos are a lot more dramatic-looking than many people envisage and all of this makes for an immense visual feast.

Yet when all is said and done, everyone comes here for the animals…and who could blame them?

Read our extensive Guide to Galapagos Wildlife

Galapagos Sea Lions at Gardner Bay, Espanola Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock


Where are the Galapagos & how does one reach them?

Comprising both a province and a protected national park, the Galapagos belong to Ecuador and are found about 1,000km off the country’s coast, at about the same latitude as the mainland capital, Quito. They’re only accessible by plane, with flights leaving either from Quito or the coastal town of Guayaquil. No matter where in your South America tour you find yourself, you must fly to the Ecuadorian mainland first before you catch a connecting flight to the islands. The Quito flights stopover in Guayaquil and, combined, make for about 3.5hr of flight-time. Do note that flights to the Galapagos are relatively expensive with a year-round average of just over USD 500. This, along with the need of an all-inclusive liveaboard cruise expense, is what has given the Galapagos their ‘exclusivity’ travel status for decades and this is why, primarily, cutting corners on spending just doesn’t make sense. The expense is not prohibitive if you’re travelling to South America but it can be considerable – may as well make the most of it!

Morning flights depart the mainland, landing either at Baltra or San Cristobal Airport, on two separate Galapagos islands. Your cruise itinerary will determine which one will be ideal for you, so it’s best to book the Galapagos tour first and then worry about flights. We’re always more than happy to book your flights along with your visit as it’ll give us the chance to oversee your entire trip, something that becomes pivotal if you’re travelling through South America and get stuck because of cancelled flights or whatever else.

You’ll obviously have to fly back to the Ecuadorian mainland (daily afternoon flights) to continue your travels but do keep in mind that Quito is an exceptionally beautiful and a gorgeous city in which to spend a few days – probably one of the most underrated South American capitals of all. Since you have the time (hopefully!) consider spending a few days here either before or after your Galapagos tour.

View of El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock


If you have any health issues, especially related to breathing/heart problems, you should chat to your doctor about possible altitude conundrums as Quito stands at just under 3,000 asl. Luckily, Guayaquil is at sea level so this is a wonderful option if medium-high altitude destinations are off the cards for you. The wilderness and wildlife of the Galapagos will undoubtedly be the main draw, anyhow, so any which way you can get there, you’ll be winning at this retirement travel thing!

Bartolome Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock


How to best explore the Galapagos Islands

Over 20 distinct islands and several smaller islets make up the archipelago and usually, when it comes to cruise itineraries, they’re divided into quadrants: northern, southern, western and eastern groups, with the main focus being on about a dozen islands. As each one boasts unique wildlife events, we urge potential visitors to get acquainted with them before deciding on an ideal itinerary for their specific travel time. The archipelago is a bonafide year-round destination yet there are special events (like mating, nesting or visits of particular wildlife) that only occur at a certain time of year, around specific islands. Our comprehensive Galapagos Island by Island Guide boasts an easy-reference map (with cute animal drawings) that makes everything simple and understandable.

Next, take a look at the Galapagos Cruise Itineraries we have on offer and, when you find a few that take your fancy, you can learn more about the boats, right here.  Keep in mind that it’s totally possible to combine cruises to create longer itineraries and, if they necessitate a day’s stopover in a gorgeous eco-lodge on one of the few inhabited islands, trust that it won’t be the end of the world. Not.At.All.

Finch Bay Hotel, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photo: Finch Bay Hotel


See our comprehensive collection of Galapagos Island Experiences before deciding which one would be best for you and feel free to contact us, at any time, if you’d like some help planning your bespoke adventures to this incredible part of the world,

Galapagos Island cruises are one of 7 Best Chimu Adventures for Retirement Bucket-List Journeys. Here are the other six:


Author: Laura Pattara

“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”


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