A journey to Machu Picchu with Kids
December 2020 marked a milestone for children younger than 12 in Peru. Finally, children are allowed to visit archaeological sites and museums! This announcement immediately made us recall the highlights of our trip to Machu Picchu with our son. We are an Austrian-Peruvian bilingual family who loves the outdoors and the mountains (both the Andes and the Alps). So, when our child turned six we thought it was time for him to visit Machu Picchu and Cusco.
We designed the trip in such a way that it included ‘wow moments’ while still allowing us parents to forget our daily routine and connect with the Andes and nature. Some travel agents ask if we recommend a trip to Machu Picchu with kids and based on this personal experience, we can only say ‘SI’!
What To Do in Cusco in 6 Days
Being parents who both work in the tourism industry we wanted to include Machu Picchu, but also some of the less touristy places in the Sacred Valley. To get there we took a flight from Lima to Cusco (about 70 min duration). Upon arrival at Cusco Airport, we were driven directly to the Sacred Valley. Our journey started in the Sacred Valley at a lower altitude than Cusco.
Our 6-day itinerary covered following:
- Birdwatching in the Sacred Valley
- Pisaq Market and Ruins
- Chicha (corn beer) tasting & and Pisco sour demo at Inkaterra
- Kayaking at Huaypo Lake and horse riding in the Sacred Valley
- Machu Picchu with a walk to Inti Punku (the last section of the Inca Trail)
- The ChocoMuseo in Cusco and Hatunrumiyoq Street (ft. the 12-angle Inca stone)
How To Avoid Altitude Sickness
One of the questions arising when it comes to planning a trip to Machu Picchu with kids is the issue with the altitude.
To better cope with the altitude, plan the first few nights in the Sacred Valley (at 2900m) compared to Cusco (at 3400m). The highest number of trains to Machu Picchu all depart from Ollanta. This town, which is home to the Ollantaytambo Fortress, also has a train station which is situated in the Sacred Valley too. Contrary to popular belief, Machu Picchu is actually only situated at an altitude of 2400m. The Inca citadel lies on the boundaries between the Andes and the Cloud Forest.
Our tip: drink plenty of water and eat as healthy as possible. If you are a fan of herbal and natural teas, you’ll be in heaven in Cusco. Almost every hotel offers a complimentary coca tea leave or the so-called ‘muña tea’ (an Andean mint leave) both natural remedies to acclimate better to the altitude.
Birding Tour in The Sacred Valley
Upon our arrival in Cusco, we head to Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba (about a 1.5-hour drive). We picked this property as it offers activities that appeal to both parents and kids. Inkaterra Urubamba, part of the National Geographic Collection of Unique Lodges, is perched on a slope, a privileged location that ensures stunning views over the valley.
We went for the birding activity in the lodge’s gardens. We could see hummingbirds, the Chiguanco Thrush and parrots. Our guide told us that these parrots come from the Cloud Forest. The last picture in the gallery below depicts an ‘Aratinga mitrata’ parrot. This rare species can be only found in Peru, Argentina and Bolivia.
A 45-minute drive from Inkaterra Urubamba will bring you to Pisaq. The market there has become so popular that is now held every day. Therefore, we decided to start first with the ruins and then drop by the market once we were done. This gave us a better chance to stroll through the stalls when the tourist buses left. We were also basically alone when walking through the Pisaq ruins. We could go at our own pace whilst taking pictures of its giant Inca terraces as a backdrop. We found the ruins in Pisaq more impressive than those at Ollantaytambo (and less crowded).
Pisaq market has become more and more touristy over the past few years. Though, it is still in our opinion a great experience for kids, especially if they come from a large city. You can see different varieties of potatoes, maize, local produce along with a wide selection of souvenirs. The market is a riot of colors waiting for (hobbyist) photographers.
Chicha Corn Beer Tasting At Inkaterra
Sticking to the topic of maize, Inkaterra Urubamba guests have the chance to get an insight into a tradition dating back to Inca times – the preparation of artisanal beer made of maize. For that purpose, the lodge has built a small house that emulates a typical ‘chicheria’. There, guests can enjoy a complimentary tasting of fresh chicha. It was just after the explanations from our guide that we became aware of not only the relevance of chicha for ‘Cusquenians’ but also the many rooted traditions that surround it. Since 2015 ‘chicherias’ have been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Peru. Watch the video!
Pisco Sour Demonstration at Inkaterra
We went back to the hotel to watch the sunset from a prime location. Touched by the memorable experience, we then proceeded to the bar. A hands-on demo on how to mix the perfect pisco sours (Peru’s most popular drink) was waiting. After an aperitif at the bar, you then get to enjoy more fresh, home-made cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant. A great part of the ingredients come from the organic hotel’s gardens.
Inkaterra’s cozy living room or the next room featuring a fireplace. This is the place to sip a ‘muna’ or camomile tea after dinner. Don’t forget to pack a good book for this special setting!
Our Day Tour to Machu Picchu – How To Get There
We planned to arrive in Machu Picchu at midday when the number of visitors drops. We told our son about the Inca Trail. Our plan for Machu Picchu was an ambitious one – we wanted to walk together to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku). This place is the last archaeological site of the Inca Trail before reaching Machu Picchu. It was a nice and gentle 1-hour walk along a generally wide path.
We left our hotel in the Sacred Valley and made our way to Ollanta train station after enjoying a leisurely breakfast. There are two train companies that offer train rides from the Ollanta to Aguas Calientes. We opted for PeruRail’s Expedition #31 which leaves at 09:15 hrs and arrives at 10:52 hrs. One tip: ask for seats facing the river and forward-facing.
At the time we were visiting a light snack and a hot beverage (tea or coffee) were served on board. Before Corona, there was a local dancer wearing the typical and colorful attire used to celebrate the ‘Saqra’ in Paucartambo. He is responsible to greet passengers and even posed for some memorable photos.
Our kid wasn’t afraid of him at all, he was rather intrigued by his brightly colored costume and magical backstory 😉
Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes town, you will need to wait for the shuttle bus that brings you up to Machu Picchu. The drive takes about 20 minutes.
The return train ride we booked with the Vistadome #84 (18:20/20:05). That frequency would give us enough time to visit Machu Picchu and then hike to the Sun Gate. The only difference we noticed between the Expedition and Vistadome class was the legroom. Both train categories from PeruRail feature panoramic windows.
A tip, don’t forget water and some snacks in your day-pack if you are visiting Machu Picchu with kids. Eating in the citadel is not allowed but it will come in handy especially during the high season when there can be a bit of a wait in the queue for the shuttle bus. Make sure you take your passport (it will be required at the entrance). On the way out you can get the fun Machu Picchu stamp on it!
What Can You Do in Machu Picchu With Kids?
We recommend hiring a guide that is experienced with kids of different ages to make the most of your visit. Every kid has different preferences and motivations. Ours was more interested in watching the grazing alpacas and looking for the Vizcachas hiding in the rocks :-). Our guide adjusted his speech to stress those ‘highlights’.
After a first introduction to the citadel, which normally takes 2 hours, we say goodbye to our guide. It was time to start our hike to Inti Punku (Sun Gate) on our own. The path is well-marked and there is no way you can get lost. It was a nice and gentle 1-hour walk along a generally wide path. But of course with some sites where you need to watch your step especially when you are with kids. But we made it!
Our Gastronomic Treat in Aguas Calientes
You will see that Aguas Calientes is not really a charming town. Nevertheless, there are some nice corners too. To celebrate the fact that we made it to Inti Punku Sun Gate and our wedding anniversary, we picked the Sumaq. This is the only 5* hotel in town and renowned for its haute cuisine.
We received a very special meal. For those with enough time to spend the night in Aguas Calientes, Sumaq offers a wonderful tasting menu. Another option for those interested in ancient traditions, Sumaq also offers the Pachamanca experience. This is a traditional Peruvian dish that includes different sorts of meat and is baked with the aid of hot stones.
Our Stay at the Sol y Luna Hotel
The next day we moved onto Sol y Luna Hotel to take advantage of its activities and facilities for families with kids. If you like luxury with heart then this property is the perfect place for you.
Its’ little houses or ‘casitas’ are surrounded by beautiful gardens (home to 35 bird species). Sol y Luna has three family bungalows. These have the capacity to accommodate up to 4 guests. Family bungalows are part of the 28 ‘superior casitas’. In 2010, ten ‘casitas deluxe’ and five ‘casitas premium’ were added. These are the ones we sell to travelers looking for the Relais Chateaux standard.
Every corner of the hotel reflects the personal touch of the hotel’s founder Marie-Helene ‘Petit’ Miribel, her love for the Andes and its people. She opened the hotel to fund the school of the same name for the local children, that Setours also sponsors.
Activities for Families at Sol y Luna Hotel
Outdoor activities on offer include kayaking, ATV, mountain biking, paragliding, and horseback riding (most of them are available for children over 6 years of age).
Indoor options include a pizza night using a typical Andean oven for kids. The Andean BBQ served at lunchtime includes an exhibition of Peruvian Paso horses. A great option for families with kids.
Petit’s efforts to support and diffuse arts in the Sacred Valley made it possible to put together two artistic performances – A theatrical performance focusing on the Andean deities and an acrobatic circus can be arranged for small groups (at additional cost).
A treat for families is definitely the cozy pool area with a lounge terrace bar.
Room Category for a Family of Three at Sol y Luna
Having only one child it was possible to accommodate us in a ‘casita premium’. Both a ‘casita deluxe’ and a ‘casita premium’ come with a private porch. But the premium features a separate living area (along with a Jacuzzi on the private porch).
Kayaking at Huaypo Lake with Sol y Luna
One of the signature excursions of Sol y Luna is kayaking on the secluded Huaypo Lake. The 4-hour experience also includes a delicious picnic. Despite the rainy season, we were lucky with the weather. Not only was the landscape mesmerizing but we got the chance to see scenes of Cusco’s countryside life. Spotting wildlife without any other travelers was a wonderful added ‘bonus’.
Peruvian Paso Horses at Sol y Luna
Sol y Luna is the only property in the Sacred Valley with an own stable of Peruvian Paso horses. This is a unique breed (declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation) that are known for their smooth gait. Guests can witness a short horse show that marks the beginning of the lunch in the gardens surrounding their Wayra restaurant. Experienced riders will discover a new way of riding on the Peruvian Paso horse. Sol y Luna provides a vast array of horseback riding options to suit a range of abilities and interests Our son, a beginner, enjoyed the horse’s comfortable gait ride.
Our Tips for Families in Cusco
After our adventure to Machu Picchu and through the Sacred Valley, we made our way back to Cusco where we visited a few of its highlights on foot, the Cathedral of Cusco and the Hatunrumiyoq Street featuring the 12-angle stone.
Following these informative and historic adventures, we made our way to the ChocoMuseo where we joined an exciting mini chocolate workshop in which our kid got to create his very own personalized chocolate bar, filled with his favorite local delights. Kids and candy always work so well together 🙂
As a new option for families, one which we had not been able to experience with our boy at the time of this visit, is the exciting hands-on visit the Pukara bull workshop where you get to design your very own Pukara bull, an experience which is detailed in our Pucara Bulls – Peru’s hidden cultural treasures story.
If you’re looking for more journeys or ideas for your next visit to Peru, take a look at the following sample journey we created with kids and teens in mind – Letting you explore while keeping the little ones entertained: