When we planned our trip to the Galapagos, I was somewhat worried about how strenuous the itinerary would be. Are the Galapagos truly all ages? How strenuous are organized tours? Is the Galapagos for seniors, adults, and children alike? Here’s my family’s experience and our tips:
About my family
My family is all grown up. I am 30-years old, my dad is 65, and my stepmother is a sprightly 56. My dad is a new grandfather, recently retired and in good shape. However he sometimes has pain in his hip and arthritis in his lower back, from having back surgery several years ago. When I am at home, we don’t go on walks longer than an hour. I took him on a half-day walking tour of the historic center of Cuenca, Ecuador. My dad decided that the Panama Hat museum was an excellent place for a nap. How will he do on an organized tour of the Galapagos?
Accommodations & itinerary – what to consider
We decided to share a room all 9 nights during our vacation. This is something I had never attempted before. Luckily, we were on a land-based tour and staying in a hotel, so if I felt a need for personal space, I went to the lounge or for a walk in town by myself.
It also gave us flexibility with regard to our different energy levels. When they wanted to go to sleep early, I went to go see the local nightlife in Puerto Ayora (the Bongo Bar). Another night, went to the Iguana Rock bar with my tour guide, then slipped in quietly late at night. I went SCUBA diving one day, and they took a walking trip to Tortuga bay. While we usually had two activities per day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon, we usually had enough time for a leisurely lunch and sometimes a short nap. Tip: Consider which accommodations will best suit your family and budget – shared or separate rooms. Land-tours will give you more personal space and flexibility.
Travel & transfers – very easy with help
The transfers to the hotel and between islands were handled for us by our hotel’s awesome logistics staff and we were extremely thankful for that. To get to our hotel in Puerto Ayora from Baltra, for example, the hotel staff lifted our luggage onto the shuttle bus, which took us to the dock on Baltra. Then they lifted our luggage onto the roof of the ferry at the dock. Once we arrived on Santa Cruz island, they carried the luggage off the ferry, onto our taxi, and delivered it to our room. They also handled our luggage through the transfers between Santa Cruz and Isabela. We merely left our suitcases outside our room at the appointed time, and they took care of the rest. I would highly recommend making sure transfers will be taken care of for you especially if you travel with older family members.
How strenuous are water activities?
The water activities included on our tour (the 6-day Darwin’s footprint tour at Red Mangrove), included snorkeling and kayaking. The snorkeling was extremely easy. We went snorkeling in several different places, but we were always in protected bays where the water was calm and there was no struggling with choppy water on the surface, waves crashing over our heads, or fighting against strong currents.
The kayaking was slightly harder, requiring some upper-body strength, but we went very slowly, as our tour guide frequently pointed out rays and white-tipped sharks swimming just under our kayaks and we stopped to take pictures.
I went SCUBA diving without my parents. The SCUBA diving was not much more physically demanding than snorkeling and kayaking. We went to sites suitable for beginners, and really the my most physically demanding effort was to pull on the 7-mm thick wetsuit. Of course, my SCUBA instructor carried all the heavy equipment (thanks Abraham!) My parents would have done fine with this activity as well, but they decided to stay on land and had a nice day exploring the Charles Darwin Research Center in greater depth. Overall the water activities were very relaxed.
How taxing are the land activities?
We did several activities on land on our tour
- Looking for giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz
- Exploring the lava tubes and seeing “Los Gemelos” craters on Santa Cruz
- Seeing the different species of tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station
- Lunch at a local farm on Isabela
- A tour of Tintoreras Bay
- Hiking Sierra Negra
The first 5 items on this list were pretty easy. We did not walk more far at all, and always slowly with a lot of time for pictures.
Hiking Sierra Negra was the most physically strenuous part of the organized tour, both on land or water. The hike itself is relatively flat, but to get to the famous view of the crater, we had to hike about 2 hours each way. Luckily there are several different options. You can arrive to the first lookout point for the crater, or you can continue on to where the newest lava flows are. To be honest, I thought it would have been neat to see the view at the end, but I was happy that we were able to make it to the first look-out point. We made frequent stops. We also were really lucky because we had a tiny tour group of only three people. So we went exactly at the speed we wanted without feeling rushed by a big group.
So, yes! The Galapagos is great for mature families, all-grown up. This was by far my favorite family vacation ever. The Galapagos is usually a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but my dad wants to come back again.