Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel in the Andes mountains northwest of Cusco, Peru. It was brought to worldwide fame by Hiram Bingham in 1911 who, upon setting eyes upon it, believed it to be the Lost City of the Incas. It has over 150 structures divided into farming areas, residences, royal sites, and sacred zones. The Sanctuary was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993 and in 2007 was voted 1 of the 7 new wonders of the world. We couldn’t wait for our next family adventure: a trip to Machu Picchu with kids.
So, you’re taking the kids to Machu Picchu?
Kevin and I have had “hiking the 4-day Inca Trail” on our bucket list for a long time. But as we started a family, our dream trip to Peru kept getting pushed back. Priorities changed and opportunities and other travel deals arose. This year, our fantasy became a reality when we saw flight tickets to Peru on sale. We love hiking with kids. So it’s no wonder then that the first question we received when we told family and friends about our plans to go to Machu Picchu with kids was whether we would be taking the boys on the 4-day Inca Trail.
As we did our research, we were surprised that there were actually many ways to get to Machu Picchu. In the end, we decided that any hike we did would prove to be either be too challenging for the boys or limit our ability to see other amazing parts of Peru. In fact, D would probably need to be carried for much of the way. An important part of instilling a love for travel in kids is to make it an enjoyable experience, and the long hard hike might spread over multiple days might hinder their love of the outdoors at this point. So, in order to make our family trip to Machu Picchu a pleasure for all of us, we opted to go to Machu Picchu via the Vistadome train which is known for its panoramic views.
How to get to Machu Picchu with Kids
The first part of any Machu Picchu family adventure travel is acclimatizing to the high altitudes in Peru. Altitude sickness can start at heights above 2438 m. Machu Picchu itself is not that high, sitting at just 2430 m. By comparison, the region’s capital of Cusco is at an altitude of 3399 m. Most visitors need to pass through Cusco on the way to Machu Picchu. We didn’t want to take any chances, especially as the kids may not have been able to fully convey any of their symptoms to us. To add to this, Kevin and the boys were recovering from a stomach illness that they caught in Lima, so they weren’t at full strength.
Acclimatizing to high altitudes is not just for kids
So, as soon as our plane from Lima landed in Cusco, we took the quick drive down to the Sacred Valley which averages about 2900 m. We spent a couple of days in the Valley exploring the Incan cities of Ollantaytambo and Pisac. Even at this altitude, the altitude could be felt, and what would normally be effortless jaunts had us huffing an puffing. We also visited the Incan sites of Maras and Moray. The kids’ favorite activity in the Sacred Valley though was the art workshop in Urubamba at Pablo Seminario’s art studio.
Taking the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu
We could have easily spent more time in the Sacred Valley. But excitedly, we took the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes to travel to Machu Picchu. We had seats on the right side of the train (opposite side from the river). But our guide, Edward, had a seat on the left side. He kindly offered his seat to Kevin, who immediately accepted, as it is considered to have the more desirable view. This would be the boys first scenic railway journey. And they were in awe at the large windows of the Vistadome train! After lots of oohing and ahhing and a quick snack of sandwiches and chocolate cake, we made it to the station and were ready for our Machu Picchu tour.
Our trip to Machu Picchu was organized by Kuoda Travel and they took care of all the arrangements for us. Much to my surprise, Kuoda suggested that we take the late morning train so we would be visiting Machu Picchu around lunch time. I had always envisioned my first view of Machu Picchu to be watching the sunrise from the top of the mountains. Kevin and I weighed the pros and cons and decided that at the boys’ age, this might prove too difficult this time and decided to heed their advice.
Taking the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
This turned out to be an excellent decision. After getting off at Machu Picchu station we made our way through Aguas Calientes town to the ticket booth for the bus up to Machu Picchu. As it was the middle of the day, there was no lineup! At the ticket booth, we had to present our passports to purchase the bus tickets. With our tickets in hand, we crossed the street and waited for the next bus (which arrived after only a couple of minutes).
The 20-minute bus ride offered great views of the town and mountains as we went winding up the tight switchbacks through the mountain.
Lunch at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge
Before heading into Machu Picchu Sanctuary we had one last stop. As it was lunch time we opted to fuel up at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. It is the only food option once you have gone up the mountain. We opted not to eat in Aguas Calientes town as I wanted to be as close as possible to the sanctuary after we ate so all we would have to do is leave the restaurant and basically walk to the entrance. Belmond Sanctuary Lodge also serves buffet so we knew there would not be any wait time to receive our food.
We were glad we decided to eat at the Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. The buffet ensured that the boys would not have an issue picking something to eat, especially when it came to dessert! More importantly, the food quality was great. With our stomachs full, we headed to the entrance.
Exploring Machu Picchu with kids
At the entry point, we had to show our tickets before we were allowed in the sanctuary. We walked excitedly on the paved pathway, stopping briefly at the set of plaques near the entrance as Edward told us the story of how Hiram Bingham re-discovered the Machu Picchu Sanctuary. He was guided up the mountain by the 10-year-old son of a local farmer. Edward was full of Machu Picchu facts for kids. C was enthralled to learn that a little boy was entrusted with the task of leading him to the site.
Tip: Right after the entrance, there is a bank of lockers where people can store any extra items they do not want to carry around.
After climbing the Machu Picchu cloud forest for about 20 minutes our efforts were finally rewarded. We had our first glimpse of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary. Seeing the llamas tending to the grass, I could just imagine how Hiram Bingham must have felt when he first laid eyes on the site and he saw the local families farming there.
Agricultural Sector of Machu Picchu Sanctuary
Edward explained to us how the site is divided into the agricultural and urban sectors. His voice drifted in and out of my consciousness. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized at this wonder of the world. After taking hundreds of pictures, we proceeded to explore the Agricultural section with a stop at the Guardian’s house. It is one of the few structures in Machu Picchu with a reconstructed roof. It also only had three walls (also known as a wayrana). We learned how it is thought to have an astronomical function.
Urban Sector of Machu Picchu Sanctuary
Before I knew it, we had reached the official end of the Inca Trail. We were at the famous Sun Gate. The boys had to be called back so we could take the obligatory family picture at the entrance of the Urban Sector. They just couldn’t wait to explore the playground in front of them.
It was fascinating learning about the features of the Temple of the Sun, discussing the Royal Tomb and exploring around Inka’s house. C also couldn’t get enough of The Temple of the Condor. The marriage between natural bedrock and Inca stonework here and at other Inca sites are just spectacular.
Also, the boys particularly enjoyed hiking around Machu Picchu and playing spot the wildlife.
The boys’ favorite spot, however, was the Quarry. They excitedly climbed the stones and pretended to build their own extension to the Inca city.
Should you bring kids to Machu Picchu?
Normally when we pick a destination we have the kids in mind first and foremost. However, for Peru, we were a little bit selfish. We decided on Peru as Kevin and I really wanted to see Machu Picchu before tighter regulations started coming into effect. (Note: Mandatory guides and timed entry are rumored to be starting as of July 2017). We knew it could get difficult and at some parts of the hike, Kevin had to carry D on his shoulders. But we don’t regret it at all. Where else can you learn about Inca history, aqueducts, 21 ways of cutting stone, astronomy, and earthquakes, all in one place? The things they learned that day and saw first hand most people will only ever read about in textbooks.
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Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.