Set in the Andes almost 8,000 feet above sea level, the 15th-century Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru is hailed as one of the world’s greatest architectural marvels. It’s a spectacularly rewarding terminus and boasts an arduous trek which lures visitors thousands of visitors, including families with kids. Is Machu Picchu the next destination to tick off your family’s bucket list? If yes, here’s a great guide on how to enjoy Machu Picchu with your kids to help plan your adventure.
Travel to: Peru
Top tips on how to enjoy Machu Picchu with your kids
There are many things to consider before you travel to Machu Picchu. It is, after all, one of the most famous sights in the world, nestled at high altitude in a not-so-easily accessible region, and preparations must be made.
Book your admission tickets in advance
While visitors are able to purchase the admission tickets to Machu Picchu in Cusco and Aguas Calientes, the government has limited the number of tickets available on a given day, which means that they might sell out during the peak season from June to September.
Buying yours in advance is wise, especially since there will be several people in your party. This gives you the advantages of securing your admission before you even get there as well as having the flexibility to purchase a few extra activities like zip lining and visiting other points of interest.
Find a great guide
As of 2017, having a tour guide when visiting Machu Picchu is mandatory for all visitors. It’s part of the efforts by the Peruvian government to increase safety and to preserve the ruins.
It means, however, that there may be an influx of tour guides trying to take advantage of the increased demand. Do yourself (and the kids) a favour and book a recommended guide who will not only escort your family to the ruins safely but also make the experience educational and fun for the kids.
Get acclimated to the high altitude first
Some travellers will adapt to high altitude better than others yet if you’re not careful, you or one of the kids might get altitude sickness. Before you start your trip to the ruins, it might be a good idea to get acclimated to the high altitude first especially if you’re planning on going on a hike.
Stay in Cusco for a couple of days to see how the family is faring first. If they’re well and strong enough to do the hike then feel free to carry on with the adventure.
Whether you’re doing a proper trek or taking the bus to the site, remember to pack light. Only small packs are allowed onsite, and food and drinks in plastic bottles are forbidden. Not having extra baggage will just make it easier for you, especially if hiking is part of your itinerary.
Machu Picchu might be a famous tourist destination, but that doesn’t mean it shares any similarity to Disneyland or similar where every safety precaution is in place to minimize incidents. Not only Machu Picchu at high altitude, it’s also in an area where it rains a lot, making the open paths and trails slippery and dangerous.
Ensure your family’s safety and invest in proper hiking shoes that offer great ankle support and excellent grip. They could mean the difference between a sprained ankle and normal muscle soreness or even life and death.
As it might rain even in the dry season (May through November), be sure to pack jackets that will keep you and the kids warm and dry just in case. Also, don’t forget to pack a mosquito or bug repellant. You will need it. During the hot months, bring plenty of sunblock, your sunglasses, and hats.
See Also: Everything You Need to Eat in Peru
Exploring Machu Picchu was amazing! But we never would have thought that our two boys would get as much out of it as they did. They were absolutely enamoured with the beauty of the mountains. And they could not get enough of the stories of the discovery of the Incan city by a man led by a small boy. We highly recommend exploring this world wonder with kids. Just remember to give yourself extra time so your children can wander through all the ruins before the 5 o’clock closing time! The park rangers do not take kindly to those who don’t leave on time. – Kevin and Christina, Wandering Wagars
Rethink the Inca Trail
If you’re travelling with kids, especially younger ones, you might want to rethink taking the Inca Trail. For many, it might be part of the Machu Picchu dream experience, however, trekking the sacred way may prove too taxing for the little ones.
Well… that is unless your kids are experienced backpackers. Just be sure to hire a guide that is able to understand and anticipate the kids’ needs during the trek.
Where to stay?
There are many family-friendly hotels in Cusco as well as a mountain lodge adjacent to the site. As with the entrance tickets, just be sure to book in advance.
How to get there
There are several ways to reach the ruins – though the hardest ones may just be the most unforgettable. Consider your kids’ physical endurance level and go from there. The younger ones, for example, might get fussy after an hours’ hike while tweens and teens might go for a multi-day trek.
- Easiest: By train and bus
If you’d rather avoid as much physical exertion as possible, taking a 3.5-hour train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes then a bus ride straight to Machu Picchu is your best bet. PeruRail offers three train services from Cusco: the Expedition for budget travellers; the Vistadome, which boasts gorgeous panoramas during the trip; and the very luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham, which offers an entirely different experience package. Once in Aguas Calientes, you can hop on an easy 15-minute bus ride that takes you from town to the site’s main entrance. Buses run all day from 5:30 am through 3:30 pm from the Aguas Calientes bus depot. Our suggestion would be to take the earliest one to avoid the crowds. You can ride the train into town the day before your Machu Picchu tour so that you can hop on the 5:30 am bus the next day. You might just be rewarded with a beautifully painted sky just after sunrise when you get there.
- Moderately challenging: By train then on foot
If you’d like to squeeze in a bit of hiking, an hour and a half on foot from Aguas Calientes to the ruins might just be the ticket. It’s a moderately difficult climb so you might have to take several stops to catch your breath. This will definitely extend your hike time. Good thing there is food and drinks vendors along the way.
- Most challenging: Multi-day treks
If the kids are up for roughing it, there are several multi-day guided treks you can arrange for a more adventurous experience that involves sleeping under the stars for three nights or more. There’s the Inca Trail, naturally; the Lares Trek; and the lesser-known Salkantay Trek, to name a few. Ask a reputable tour operator for the best options when you have kids in tow.
We are traveling with 3 kids who are all 5 years old and under (our daughter Rianne is 5 and ours sons Ryan and Renzo are 3 and 1). We were surprised at how family-friendly and kid-welcoming Machu Picchu is.
When we took the Peru Rail Train to Machu Picchu Town, the conductor immediately came over to our seats and gave our kids Coloring Books and Crayons as well as Juice and Cookies (which kid doesn’t love these things?). When we took the Morning Bus to the Archaeological Site for Sunrise, we got Priority Boarding and we were escorted to the very front of the line since we had young kids. We got the same treatment and VIP Boarding on the way back to Machu Picchu Town too. At the site itself, our Tour Guide was very accommodating even showing us the routes with less stairs to make it easier for our children. Overall, we would highly recommend visiting Machu Picchu with kids.
The highlight of our trip was seeing our kids witness the fulfillment of our dream to visit Machu Picchu (it has been on the top of my Bucket List and Vision Boards for years). Plus, I’m sure they will remember me being so overwhelmed with emotion that it lead me to tears!
My biggest piece of advice is to ask the Train Conductor for the Coloring Books and Crayons (in case they don’t give it to you already) to keep your kids busy during the Train Ride through the Sacred Valley as well as Priority Boarding for the Buses to and from Machu Picchu Town to Machu Picchu Archaeological Site (it will save you waiting in a super long line up for the hundreds of people who are also trying to get to Machu Picchu). – Ricky, Daddy Blogger
Things to do before and after Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu might be Peru’s most famous sights, but there are other fantastic things to do in the country. The Sacred Valley itself is teeming with places waiting to be explored. Check out the Ollantaytambo ruins, the citadel of Pisac, the salt pools of Maras, and the Moray Archaeological Site.
Try to carve out some time to dine at the Belmont Sanctuary Lodge’s Tampu Restaurant. While you’re there, maybe take part in the hotel’s Pachamama Tribute Ceremony.
While you’re in Cusco, it’ll be a good idea to do a bit of sightseeing there too. The stone fortress of Sacsayhuamán, Qorikancha Temple, Plaza de Armas, and La Catedral must be among your most essential stops.