Traveling to Machu Picchu with kids is not easy, but it is possible. Ironically, despite working in travel – creating custom itineraries for our clients each day – I found myself struggling a bit with my own travel plans. Partially due to the fact that my mind is saturated with possibilities, but also because there are shockingly few families traveling with young children to the Cusco area, so my usual grab-bag of solutions did not apply.
Here, I would like to share a short list of what may help when planning to take small children to Machu Picchu. Just for reference, my wife and I traveled with our 4-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.
Take your time in Cusco/ Sacred Valley:
In the age of jet travel, many are accustomed to zipping off to the latest hot-spot to take a selfie at some universally recognized landmark, then promptly scratch that destination from the “bucket-list.” The Cusco area is amongst the worst places I know of to do this, for a couple of reasons:
1. It’s high. Really high. You need a day or two to adjust to the altitude. When we first arrived in Cusco we went straight to the valley by car, and even had some oxygen in the van as a precaution. We spent the first four days in Ollantaytambo, a quaint village in the valley and near the train station.
2. There is enough to do in the valley to occupy a lifetime, but just visiting ruins such as those at Ollantaytambo or Pumamarca, going on short walks around the town, horseback riding, or just relaxing is a great way to adjust to the altitude and absorb the idyllic surroundings.
Schedule comfortable train departures from Aguas Calientes:
Currently, there are two ways to get from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu – by train or hiking. The thought of dragging my 4-year-old over the Andes in a backpack did not appeal, so we opted for the train. Having traveled with kids before, we know that our particular children don’t react well to sleepless nights. So, don’t try and cram the visit to Machu Picchu into 24 hours.
We decided to spend two nights in Aguas Calientes. This allowed us to take an easy midday train to the town, with time to visit the springs on arrival. The following day we hired a private guide for our excursion to Machu Picchu, which is highly recommended, and then returned to our hotel in the Sacred Valley on day three. This meant everybody was well-slept, we had ample time to visit the ruins with our guide, with some extra time to explore on our own.
Having a guide, aside from receiving juicy details about the relevance each stone, wall, or window, allowed us to plan a “visitation strategy” that kept us clear of crowds and any areas, such as narrow paths beside cliffs, which meant we could enjoy the site. Plus, the kids were able to enjoy the space and energy of the site, without worrying about interfering with another traveler’s epic photo opportunity.
As much as our kids are open-minded, there are only so many ruins we can visit before they begin to protest. In Cusco, where we were to spend most of our time, we discovered a small day care centre called Chiquity Club – it was brilliant! For 30 soles the kids could spend the entire morning playing in their surprisingly well-equipped facility that included a jungle gym, sand box, trampoline, disco dance room, dress-up room, and craft room. Every morning, they were so excited to go to Chiquity Club. My wife and I were able to visit museums, have lunch in beautiful restaurants, and do some shopping on our own.
One other option as a family activity in Cusco is to take the workshop at the Choco Museo. The kids really loved making their own chocolates, and the instructor was great at keeping their interest. People from all over the world were alongside us, mixing cocao beans and sprinkling red pepper into their chocolate molds. There are two workshops a day, and they are a few hours long. You have to return later to package your finished goods, which takes a little while also. So, give yourself the entire morning or afternoon for this activity, depending on which workshop you take.
Sol y Luna, Sacred Valley – A superb hotel in the Sacred Valley that was one of the highlights of our trip. A little utopia of a compound, with gorgeous grounds for the kids to play on, and a very accommodating staff made our time there pretty much perfect. After an exquisite dinner, there was a show put on by a few locals who used to perform with Cirque du Soleil. There is a beautiful ranch, with Paso horses that the kids are free to ride with a guide.
Hotel Quinoa, Cusco – a boutique property in San Blas, the artsy section of Cusco. It is located up a few flights of stairs, which were a bit tricky in the afternoon, but the accommodations were wonderful.
Each morning, breakfast was served in our apartment which meant no struggle to get dressed for the dining room, and the fireplace was a regular source of entertainment at night. The staff made sure the heaters were lit and fresh towels were abundant, during our week-long stay.
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