There is something so glorious about this ancient lost city amongst the clouds, it’s almost surreal. With spectacular views, picturesque ruins and plenty of spots to chill out and take it all, visiting Machu Picchu with kids is the highlight of any trip to Peru. For children or adults, this is a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experience. Here's how to make Machu Picchu your next family adventure holiday destination.
Machu Picchu is a wondrous abandoned city of Inca ruins perched impossibly high up in the mountains. As well as being a must-see on any self-respecting adult traveller’s bucket list, it holds a treasure trove of sights for the young imagination of nooks and crannies to explore, ledges to climb and legends to dream about.
It’s entirely up to you whether you choose to invest in a local guide to talk you through the amazing history and sociology of the space and its lost civilisation or if you prefer to just wander and soak it all up yourself.
For kids, the icing on the cake is that you arrive from Cusco (the main tourist town) via the Inca Rail that runs alongside some beautiful mountainscapes.
If you are particularly adventurous and fit, you can choose to get to Machu Picchu via the much raved about four day Inca Trail hike (plus its many different variations in terms of route and length) instead. There is no doubt this is highlight experience for those who like to trek (especially the arduous climb up Dead Woman’s Pass), but think very seriously about whether it is suitable for your family. Children must be experienced at walking long distances in all kinds of conditions, enjoy camping and have proven themselves to be able to cope at altitude.
Those who complete the Trail (and wake up super early to get to the gates for opening) are rewarded with being the first on site at Machu Picchu when it is shrouded in mist with barely a soul around. [For more travel tips on how to do the Inca Trail with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
If you are not hiking, get there as early as possible to try to emulate this experience and get the sense of how ancient humans must have felt living among the Gods.
Even if all you do is pack some snacks, get off the train and find a quiet space to lie on the grass next to the ambling alpacas and away from the tourist hoards, Machu Picchu is so stunning it’s absolutely worth the trip.
Since Machu Picchu sits at an elevation of 2430 metres, it is important that you acclimatise yourself and your children to the altitude first. This means most travellers typically spend three to four days in nearby Cusco hanging out, getting used to the local quinoa and embracing the Peruvian charm.
[If you are concerned about the potential side effects of altitude sickness and would prefer to avoid Cusco, you can opt to head straight to the Sacred Valley instead. For more travel tips on the Sacred Valley with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Cusco seems a disarmingly quaint town, with more panpipes and South American clichés than you can imagine, but it is also notorious for petty robbery at night. Book your accommodation in the old town area and don’t venture too far away from the hotel at night.
Cusco is a bus and train ride to the base of the mountain, before another 20-minute drive up to Machu Picchu. Since the UNESCO site can get pretty over-crowded, many tourists choose to spend the immediate night before a visit at the town of Aguas Calientes so they can be on the first bus in the morning and at the gate for opening.
The Inca Trail is not something recommended for most children. While theoretically there is no age restriction, the walks are long and hard, uphill and into some serious elevation. The conditions are primitive which means if there is any emergency (including altitude sickness) the only way back down is to be carried by someone else.
All the tourist services associated with Machu Picchu from the train to bookings for the Inca Trail must be made well in advance. You cannot simply show up and buy a ticket as spaces are sold out months ahead.
There have been several recent travel warnings of kidnapping risks against American citizens at Cusco and Machu Picchu that have been much hyped up in the media. Check your local government website or the very useful Smart Traveller to find out the latest status.
Because of the real risk of altitude sickness at this elevation, a trip to Machu Picchu is probably not recommended for kids under 10 years old.
It is not safe to drink water from the tap in Peru. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
A trip to Machu Picchu is often accompanied by an Amazonian jungle adventure. For ideas on ways to do the Amazon with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.