There’s never a time like the present to travel, especially when you enter retirement. So, whether you’re a fit retiree seeking adventure or you want a relaxing, low-impact vacation, these are the 20 destinations every retiree should put on their bucket list.
1: Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu sits over 8,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. It’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and it’s no “wonder.” The former Incan citadel offers breathtaking views of the ruins and surrounding mountains.
The three most popular ways to visit Machu Picchu include:
- 2-day Inca Trail trek
- 4-day Inca Trail trek
Active retirees should consider the approximately seven-mile 2-day Inca Trail trek, as it’ll allow you to arrive at Machu Picchu to watch the sunrise. Alternatively, if you want to give your thighs and lungs an extra good workout, the 26-mile-long 4-day Inca Trail hike is a rewarding challenge.
2: Great Barrier Reef, Australia
What better time than retirement to learn how to snorkel or dive? The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic destination in Australia, with millions of people per year flocking there.
Since the Great Barrier Reef clocks in at about 133,000 square miles, you’ll only be able to see a fraction of it during your stay. But one of the best ways to do so is by putting on a mask and snorkeling.
You can also scuba dive, giving you more up-close opportunities to see the reef. If you don’t already have your PADI Certification, you can take a PADI course in Australia.
3: Maeklong Railway Market, Thailand
If your career didn’t push you out of your comfort zone enough, a visit to the Maeklong Railway Market near Bangkok might. Every day locals set up their shops along more than 300 feet of an active railway.
Trains arrive multiple times per day, causing the vendors to have to move their products and tents out of the way. It’s a thrill as a tourist to ride into the Maeklong Railway Market on the train and then walk back along the tracks.
Just prepare to press yourself against the side of a building when a train passes!
The Maeklong Railway Market is one of the most off-the-beaten-path bucket list suggestions on this list. You’ll need to be steady on your feet, for it’s easy to trip on the stones when walking along the train tracks.
4: Lake District, Chile and Argentina
The Cruce Andino is a unique border crossing experience that transfers passengers between lake districts Puerto Varas, Chile, and Bariloche, Argentina, via a series of boats and buses.
Although the approximately 12-hour experience isn’t a rigorous activity, it requires getting on and off several modes of transportation throughout the day — something that’ll be easier to achieve while you’re limber. The scenery is stunning, so have your camera ready.
You can even book a helicopter tour during your lunch break, giving you even more stunning views over the lake district of Chile and Argentina. The Cruce Andino runs daily in both directions, offering excellent flexibility for people planning their South America itineraries.
5: Cappadocia, Turkey
Climbing into a hot air balloon and floating above the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia is a must-do on any Turkey itinerary. The hot air balloons operate every morning at sunrise and make for excellent pictures from above and on the ground.
Be sure to book your Cappadocia hot air balloon ride in advance, for they often sell out during the high tourist season. Traveling during the off-season will offer you more opportunities to barter down the expensive experience, though the chance of weather-related hot air balloon cancellations increases.
Aside from hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, there are also wonderful short and long hikes you can do in the area. Booking a stay at a hotel cave is a classic Cappadocia experience as well.
6: Sapa, Vietnam
Northern Vietnam teems with natural beauty. Hanoi makes an excellent base for a day or multi-night trip to Halong Bay, a destination made famous once it became a UNESCO site.
But while you’re at it, allot some time to take a bus or train north to Sapa, located on the Chinese border. From there, you can choose a full-day, 2-day, or 3-day trekking experience, which will take you through indigenous villages and give you stunning views over the Sapa rice fields.
Should you choose a multi-day trek, you’ll have the option to stay at a hotel or with a local host family, offering an even more immersive experience.
7: Yellow Stone National Park, Western United States
Yellowstone is one of the most famous National Parks in the United States. It covers almost 3,500 square meters of land, most of which is in Wyoming. If your passions include nature and hiking, Yellowstone is a great fit.
Hot springs, geysers, and canyons are some of the landscapes that make Yellowstone National Park so famous. You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for antelope, bison, elk, and more.
The best time of year to visit Yellowstone National Park is in the summer. Not only will you get to enjoy ideal weather, but the park rangers limit access to certain parts of Yellowstone at other times of the year.
8: Costa Rica (Yes, All of It)
Costa Rica is an ideal destination for active retirees, as there’s a range of excursions you can take, from jungle hikes to surfing to zip lining. It’s also an excellent place to take your grandchildren or invite friends and relatives to visit.
Although I’m normally an advocate of visiting capitals, I recommend spending minimal, if any, time in San Jose. Instead, head to greener and bluer pastures in Manuel Antonio, Arenal, Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, and more.
Wildlife abounds in Costa Rica. You can expect to encounter monkeys, sloths, lizards, and parrots in the wild. There are also rescue centers you can visit to learn more about the animals and support their rehabilitation and conservation efforts.
9: Patagonia, Chile and Argentina
If you’re planning on taking the Cruce Andino, adventurers would be remiss not to include a trip to Patagonia in their itinerary. Patagonia is the southernmost region in South America, covering both Argentina and Chile. Depending on who you ask, some people also consider Bariloche and Puerto Varas as part of Patagonia.
Some popular destinations in Patagonia include:
- Torres del Paine (Chile)
- Ushuaia (Argentina)
- Chiloe Island (Chile)
- El Calafate (Argentina)
El Calafate is a particular favorite among tourists, as you can opt to participate in a short or long glacier hike. Just be sure to book your hike in advance. I learned the hard way, with the long hike already sold out for my travel dates by the time I went to make a reservation.
10: The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China needs no introduction. So, if Asia is on your bucket list, including it is a no-brainer. But don’t expect to walk the whole thing—the 5,000+ mile-long wall would take up 18 months of your precious retirement time.
Instead, most people choose to visit the Great Wall of China over the course of one or two days.
April, May, and June are the ideal months to walk the Great Wall of China. The weather isn’t too hot or cold during that time, and you’ll have beautiful views of spring flowers blooming.
11: Europe by Car
Road trips are a great way to see major landmarks and small towns alike. But when it comes to Europe, “road trips” can encompass train travel too.
So, consider starting your trip in England. After seeing Stonehenge and sitting down for too many high tea times to count, hop on the Eurostar (for pedestrians) or Eurotunnel (if you’re driving) and head south to France or north to Belgium or the Netherlands.
From there, it’s up to you—follow a planned route or make up an itinerary as you go.
12: Highway 1, Western United States
Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) is a famous road trip route in the United States. The approximately 650-mile-long highway runs from Capistrano Beach in Orange County to Leggett in northern Mendocino, California.
You’ll want to allot at least one week for driving along the entire length of Highway 1. The scenery is stunning, but many turns and steep cliff drop-offs mean you’ll need to pull over frequently to be able to safely enjoy the views.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous in your retirement years, you can drive along the Pan-American Highway. The Pacific Coast Highway makes up a small portion of the Pan-American, with the Pan-American Highway expanding more than 18,400 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina.
There’s a small caveat: The Darién Gap in southern Panama is a dangerous place to cross into Colombia. For this reason, if you want to drive the entire length of the Pan-American Highway, you should take a ferry between Panama and Colombia.
13: African Safari Tour
African safari tours are a wonderful bucket list activity, allowing you to combine sightseeing and education with a relaxing, laid-back vacation. Please ensure you’re following responsible tourism practices by researching and booking with a safari operator that follows local laws around the animals’ welfare.
Once you’re on your tour, you’ll get to let someone else do the driving while your tour guide points out animals you’ve likely never seen in the wild. Cheetahs, lions, elephants, and hippos are some of the many types of animals you may spot.
The accommodation levels on all-inclusive African safari tours vary. So, you can choose an option that fits best with your comfort levels and retirement budget.
14: Northern Lights in Iceland
Harness the youth within you and plan for many late evenings when you travel to Iceland during retirement. They say the best chance of seeing the northern lights in Iceland is around midnight, though you stand the chance of seeing them whenever it’s dark and there are clear skies.
Don’t let “dark” fool you, though—since Iceland is located so far north, the sky during the summer months never gets dark enough to see the northern lights.
For this reason, you should aim to visit Iceland from October to April. If stargazing isn’t already one of your hobbies, experiencing the northern lights just might turn you into an astronomy fanatic.
15: Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is another national park in the U.S. that’s every bit worth the visit if you didn’t have time to see it during your years in the office. It’s about one mile deep, 277 miles long, and 18 miles wide.
Many people visit the Grand Canyon for hiking opportunities. But you don’t need to hike to appreciate stunning views over the canyon. You’ll encounter lookout areas with flat entrances near parking lots and restaurants that practically hang over the canyon’s ledge.
Don’t miss the sunrises and sunsets, which make for extra colorful photo opportunities.
Although locals offer the option to ride a donkey into the canyon, please think twice before arranging a ride. The animals often work in long, tiring conditions.
Retirement is a time to check off all the once-in-a-lifetime items on your bucket list, and a cruise to Antarctica is one that many people like to consider.
An Antarctica cruise can be as laid-back or active as you’d like, for your cruise will take you up close to icebergs, penguins, whales, and more without you ever needing to leave the comforts of the ship. But the wonderful part is that you’ll have the option to participate in the cruise’s activities according to your abilities.
The duration of Antarctica cruises varies. However, many last in the 10-day range.
Given that it takes anywhere from two to three days to cross the Drake Passage, the water between South America and Antarctica, you’ll need to allot enough days to enjoy Antarctica once you arrive.
17: Maharashtra, India
If an eight-day luxury train ride to see the beautiful scenery in India seems up your retirement alley, look no further than the Deccan Odyssey.
The Deccan Odyssey takes visitors through the Maharashtra region of India, which makes up a portion of the Indian Railways route. You can choose from six different journeys, each with its unique stops. But one thing remains the same regardless of which you choose: The attention to detail to ensure you have a memorable vacation.
Despite the hefty price, the Deccan Odyssey Train can sell out in advance. So, be sure to plan in advance if you want to include this experience in your retirement travel plans.
18: Amazon River, South America
If the thought of Antarctica chills you to the bone, let’s flip this bucket list to the other end of the travel spectrum: Taking a cruise in hot, tropical weather in the Amazon.
Most Amazon River cruises leave from Iquitos, Peru, and Manaus, Brazil. The cruises range from budget to luxury 5-star options. You’ll get to try delicious local meals and may even pick up a new hobby like fishing for piranha.
Although most tourists immediately think of the Amazon River when they hear the word “Amazon,” there are about 1,100 tributaries in the Amazon River Basin. So, you can opt to take a cruise along some of these tributaries rather than the main Amazon River.
The cruises leaving from Puerto Maldonado, Peru, are an excellent example of tributary cruises. You can read about the differences between visiting Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos in my guide on Iquitos vs Puerto Maldonado.
19: Japan in the Spring
Japan is notorious for having some of the highest longevity numbers in the world. So, why not head there during retirement and see what you can learn from them so that you can keep traveling for longer?
While you’re at it, time your Japan visit so that you’re there during the cherry blossom season.
The peak Japanese cherry blossom season is from around late March to early April. Because Japan has such a range of geography, though, you’ll likely see cherry blossoms a bit outside of that timeframe if you do your research so that you’re in the right destination at the right time.
20: Galapagos, Ecuador
Calling all nature lovers! The Galapagos Islands sit about 600 miles off mainland Ecuador. The archipelago is famous for being the place that inspired Charles Darwin’s discovery of natural selection and theory of evolution.
Since the Galapagos is a fragile ecosystem, the Ecuadoran government monitors how long visitors can stay on the islands. You have three options: An island-hopping cruise, a stay at a hotel on one of the islands, or a combination of a cruise and land package.
Less agile retirees are better off choosing a land-based package, for many cruise stops are “wet” landings. What does that mean? You’d need to jump off the ship and wade through water to reach the shore.
Volunteering Your Time
Volunteering is a rewarding activity to do overseas. You can put your years of specialized skills to good use, and countless organizations abroad will be happy to receive your help.
Whether you love teaching, caring for animals, working in medicine, or more, a quick Google search makes it easy to find volunteer opportunities abroad.
Just be sure to vet the company before you volunteer there. Part of responsible tourism is ensuring you don’t invest your time and money into an organization that puts on a show for tourists without genuinely helping the cause.
Travel More, But Wisely
Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Kevin M. Arquette from WealthPoint Financial Planning offers ideas for how to begin planning for your travel retirement bucket list.
“When creating a travel goal, start by deciding how much you want to spend each year and add it to your income budget.” He adds, “A well-crafted retirement plan should provide enough income to cover both basic needs and wants without running out of money during adverse market conditions.”
Every Penny Counts
Cecil Staton, the President & Wealth Advisor at Arch Financial Planning, says that retirees “can reduce their overall travel costs by subsidizing airfare or hotel spend by booking through credit card points. Opening cards that earn travel rewards can greatly subsidize a travel budget.”
Staton also advises retirees to be flexible with their trip plans. “Traveling in the middle of the week instead of on weekends can be one example of finding cheaper options.” He also points out how medical tourism can be a way to save money, as “your desired destination could lead you to a country with more affordable medical or dental procedures.”
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