Are you considering a family trip to Peru? For our family of four, it was an adventure that had been on our travel bucket list for many years. Our primary reason for putting it off for so long (other than financial), was the fact that we didn’t really want to visit Machu Picchu with a baby or toddler — we wanted our kids to be old enough to enjoy, appreciate, and later remember the adventure (they were 10 and 12 at the time of our trip). That said, there are a number of adventurous parents who do visit the great citadel of Machu Picchu with toddlers and babies each year — so it can be done. What I will try to offer in this post, however, are a bunch of trip planning tips and other helpful information for a visit to Machu Picchu with children of all ages.
Please Note: This post is not about hiking the Inca Trail with kids. Sadly, I am just not that person. The longest hike I have done in my whole life was 4 hours long (see post Norway – Hiking Pulpit Rock with Kids). My husband hiked the Inca trail in his 20s, and I would love if my kids were to do the same one day — but I am just simply not that outdoorsy. I also seriously doubt my ability to keep my children motivated when I would probably need motivating myself (and perhaps threatening).
Before I dive into the details, if you would like a little Machu Picchu family vacation inspiration, please feel free to take a quick peek at this 2 minute video on our Family Trip to Machu Picchu (which could also be titled We Took Our Kids to Machu Picchu and They Were Mostly Interested in the Llamas):
This is a really big post which includes our top tips for visiting Machu Picchu, ticket booking tips, an overview of the lovely family friendly hotel we stayed at in Machu Picchu Pueblo, and much more. To make the information easier to navigate, I offer you this menu so you can find what you are looking for more quickly.
- Machu Picchu, Peru for Kids
- How to Arrange a Trip to Machu Picchu
- Machu Picchu FAQs
- About The Town of Aguas Calientes
- Where to Stay in Aguas Calientes
- Further Reading
Machu Picchu, Peru for Kids
Experiencing the great Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is a spectacular adventure, but there are certainly a few things that you should know before you go, especially if you are planning a Machu Picchu family adventure.
Know Before You Go Tips
- For most people going to Machu Picchu (and not hiking the Inca Trail), the trip involves a flight to Cusco, a train ride to the town of Aguas Calientes (from either Cusco, or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley) and a short bus ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu. While it is possible to see Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco, it is much nicer if you have a few days to explore Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
- You are less likely to experience altitude sickness at Machu Picchu, which sits at just under 8000 feet (2430m), than in some other places on your Peru trip, such as in Cusco, which is at over 11,000 feet (3400m).
- Tickets for entry to Machu Picchu are limited to a little under 6000 a day (between all ticket types) and can sell out during the high season of May to September. If you are visiting during this window, you should buy your Machu Picchu tickets ahead of time online, through a ticket reseller, through your hotel, or from the ticket office in Cusco (more on this below).
- All foreigners, including children 8 and up, need to provide their passport information to purchase tickets for Machu Picchu, and the passports must be presented along with the tickets at the entrance (information must match). Although children under 8 do not need a ticket for Machu Picchu, their passports must still be presented at the entrance as proof of age. They can also get a passport stamp for Machu Picchu which is kind of fun.
- Regulation changes in 2017 now require you to choose a time slot within which to visit Machu Picchu — either 6am -12pm or 12pm – 5:30 pm. You also are now required to visit the site with an official Machu Picchu guide or a licensed tourist guide. If you have not pre-booked a guide as part of a ticket package, one can be hired at the entrance to the site (roughly $25 USD per person for 2.5 hours).
- Guided tours are hard for kids (so much talking, restrictions on where you can walk etc.). If possible, find a private guide that can offer a dynamic family tour of Machu Picchu, and consider a condensed visit.
- There are several optional add-on hikes offering beautiful views of Machu Picchu that can be purchased with the morning ticket. The Huayna Picchu hike is very steep and requires that children be a minimum age of 12 years (hike time 1.5 – 2 hours). The Machu Picchu Mountain hike takes longer, but is less steep and could potentially be done with a fit and active child (2.5 – 3 hours).
- Strollers are not permitted at Machu Picchu, but baby carriers are.
- There are bathrooms outside the gates at Machu Picchu, but none inside. Re-enty to the site is not permitted.
- You cannot bring food or drinks inside of the gates (water bottles are permitted), but there are snack and drinks available outside.
- Weather can be quite variable at Machu Picchu. You should be prepared for sun, wind or rain (dress in layers).
- The is very little shade at Machu Picchu so bring along a good hat and sunscreen.
- Umbrellas and sun shades are not permitted.
- Selfie sticks, tripods and drones are not allowed.
- Large bags are not permitted. Any bags over 40 x 35 x 20 cm / 15.7 x 13.7 x 7.9”) must be placed in the storage area near the entrance.
- Now this is an important one. Although you may fly half way around the world to share this spectacular site with your child/children, they might be most interested in the llamas of Machu Picchu.
Funny Machu Picchu Rules
- Musical instruments and speakers are prohibited.
- Paragliding is prohibited.
- Getting naked at Machu Picchu is prohibited (although baby diaper changes, seem to be allowed).
- Loud noises are prohibited. You are discouraged from clapping, screeching and probably crying (good luck with that one if you have a toddler).
- Only soft soled shoes are allowed — high heels are prohibited. One would think that would be obvious, but you know someone has tried to traipse around the citadel in kitten heels.
Naturally, there are a whole bunch more rules, but I think this has covered the most critical ones.
How to Arrange a Trip to Machu Picchu
Most people get to Machu Picchu by flying into the city of Cusco (1.5 hr flight from Lima) and then taking the train to Agua Calientes (also know as Machu Picchu Pueblo) — a small, walkable town below Machu Picchu. From there, it is only a 20 minute bus ride to the entrance of Machu Picchu (you can also hike up from town which takes about 1.5 hours). Those wishing to see Machu Picchu at first light, need to spend at least one night in Aguas Calientes, as the first train does not arrive into town until after the first buses have left.
Note: Cusco is actually at a much higher altitude than Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. To allow your body time to acclimatize to the altitude more slowly (and hopefully avoid altitude sickness altogether), it makes sense to leave Cusco upon arrival and visit the historic city after Machu Picchu. In our case, we left Cusco immediately after flying in and spent one night in the Sacred Valley before heading to Machu Picchu (visiting Cusco on our return and then flying to Lake Titicaca). The photo below offers a good visual depiction of the altitudes.
The Best Way to Book a Machu Picchu Trip – Get Help
While I will briefly explain things in more detail below, it should be noted that arranging your trip to Machu Picchu and securing tickets for the train, bus and entrance to the site (all which must be purchased separately), can be rather confusing. For example, the official Machu Picchu government website for online ticket purchases only accepts Visa cards, and the English version is only partially in English (with the balance in Spanish). Furthermore, tickets can sell out in advance, especially during the high (dry) season of May to September. If your hotel offers the option to make these arrangements for you, I would definitely take them up on it – even if you have to pay a premium. Alternatively, there are many ticket resellers around that offer all different types of Machu Picchu ticket packages (and can include your train, bus and entrance tickets).
Note: While in Peru, we stayed with several Inkaterra properties. We ended up booking a complete add-on package with them through their Inkaterra Experiences division, covering our time in Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. The package included our airport pick up and drop off, a car and driver, private guides, train tickets, Machu Picchu tickets, and much, much, more. I am typically a DIY kind of person, and initially I was reluctant to book the package, fearing that maybe we were paying too much. In the end, I did go ahead and book the package and could not have been happier. Everything went seamlessly, the guides were great, the communication was excellent, the vehicle was nice and our driver very careful. The package was worth every penny.
Booking The Train to Aguas Calientes
Both Peru Rail and Inca Rail run trains to Aguas Calientes from the Poroy station (25 minute drive outside of Cusco – 3 hour train ride) or from Ollantaytambo within the Sacred Valley (1.5 hour drive from Cusco – 1.5 hour train ride)*. Tickets can be purchased in advance online and do require you to enter your passport information. Kids 0-2 years ride for free. Kids 3-12 years ride for 50% of the adult fare.
*From Jan-Apr. (low season), no trains runs directly from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. You are instead bused from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, where you can then take the train.
Each passenger is allowed to bring one piece of luggage weighing no more than 5kg/11lbs. Obviously, this is not a lot and may require you to use bag storage facilities (available at Ollantaytambo station) or to leave a bag with a hotel in Cusco you will be returning to. We packed a large nylon bag in our luggage to throw extra items into and store for this portion of our trip.
Rather than take the train from Cusco, we chose to arrange a driver (through our hotel) to pick us up at the Cusco airport and take us on a day tour of the Sacred Valley — spending the night at the lovely Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba. The following morning, the same driver picked us up from our hotel, took us on a guided tour of the Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo, before dropping us off at the train station to get on our way to Aguas Calientes.
We rode with Inca Rail on our way to Agua Calientes, enjoying a lovely lunch service offered in the first class car (some angel upgraded our tickets to this car). The train ride is a gorgeous one, and although the first class car is fantastic, you are sure to enjoy this ride no matter which class of service or company you choose.
On our return from Aguas Calientes, we rode with Peru Rail in one of their Vistadome rail cars – offering an even better view of the scenery. Now….here’s the thing — if you are the type of person who enjoys clapping along to music and watching a Peruvian fashion show in the aisles (show offered on the return trip from Machu Picchu only), then the Peru Rail Vistadome car is for you. My daughter was simply delighted by it. For me, getting selected to dance with a masked creature in the aisles in front of a crowd of captive passengers, is just not my ideal train ride. I will spare you the cringe-worthy video that my husband took of that one.
Buying Entrance Tickets for Machu Picchu
Entrance tickets for Machu Picchu can be purchased in advance online via the government website (http://machupicchu.gob.pe), through ticket resellers (which usually includes your hotel), or at offices in Cusco and Aguas Calientes. Tickets are limited, and sell out in the high season of May to September. As of the summer of 2017, visitors need to choose one of two windows for visiting the Machu Picchu site: 6am-12pm or 12pm-5:30pm. Foreigners need to enter their passport details when purchasing tickets and will also need to present that passport upon entry to Machu Picchu.
If you would like to book Machu Picchu tickets on your own online, be ready to sit down in front of your computer with an abundance of patience and your passport(s). You will also need a Visa card as this is the only payment form accepted,
Buying Machu Picchu Tickets for Kids
Here’s the real kicker. The online ticketing platform does not allow you to purchase the discounted Machu Picchu tickets for children of 8-17 years (kids up to 7 years are free and do not need a ticket)*. These tickets need to be purchased at a ticket office, through or ticket reseller or through your hotel. Optionally, you could buy your minor an adult ticket. This is where you may want to refer back to the section above on The Best Way to Book a Trip to Mach Picchu — Get Help.
*There is actually a work-around solution for buying tickets to Machu Picchu for kids online through the government website. It is time consuming and cumbersome (totally doesn’t seem worth the hassle or effort to me), but if you want to give it a try, I encourage you to read this thread on TripAdvisor.
Buying Bus Tickets to Machu Picchu
Tickets for the bus that take you from the center of Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu can be purchased at a ticket booth right by the bus stop in town, through ticket resellers (usually including your hotel), or at an office in Cusco. The first bus to Machu Pichu leaves at 5:30am and the last one goes up at 3:30 pm (last return bus from the top is at 5:30pm). If you would like to be on the first bus to Machu Picchu in the morning, you should buy your bus tickets ahead of time as the ticket booth does not open until 5am and people sometimes start lining up for the bus much earlier than this.
Note: Initially, I thought we might try to get our kids into Machu Picchu at opening until I realized that, being that it was high season (August), we would have to line up for the bus as early as 3:30am. That, I knew, would certainly be a recipe for disaster (cranky family = not worth it to me). We instead visited at about 10am, which was definitely peak time, and had to shuffle around the site waiting our turn for some key photo opps. To do it again with kids, I would book an afternoon ticket (12-5:30), hop on the bus from town at about 3pm, and enjoy a late afternoon visit. I spoke to some people who did this in peak August season, and they said it worked out very well for them.
Machu Picchu FAQs
When Is the Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu (Year) ?
If you can visit outside of the high (dry) season of May-Sept, you will have a much better chance of visiting Machu Picchu crowd-free. Wet season runs December to March. October or April would be ideal if you have the flexibility to travel to Peru at this time.
When is the Best Time to go to Machu Picchu (Day)?
It is less busy first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon (although you will start getting herded towards the exit after 5pm).
Will You Get Altitude Sickness at Machu Picchu?
As mentioned earlier in this post, Machu Picchu is at a much lower altitude than Cusco. The general consensus is that altitude sickness can happen at an elevation greater than 2500m or 8000 feet. Machu Picchu sits at 2430m, so in theory, you and your family should be fine. That is, unless you are already suffering the effects of altitude sickness from time spent in another higher elevation area (such as Cusco).
It is important to note, that people can have vastly different reactions to changes in altitude. In our family, we experienced some shortness of breath, nausea and headaches in both Cusco and Lake Titicaca, but nothing that stopped us from enjoying ourselves. We were fine at Machu Picchu.
For those planning a trip to Peru with a baby or toddler, I do encourage you to do your research and discuss the effects of altitude sickness on children with your family doctor beforehand. I think it is important to know what to look for and how you could help alleviate any discomfort. While my children were old enough to express how they were feeling, certainly wee ones cannot.
About The Town of Aguas Calientes
We had a pretty tight schedule on our Peru family tour (12 days), so we decided to spend 2 nights in Aguas Calientes as a little down time. The town itself is a bit touristy, as its very existence relies on the great draw of Machu Picchu. That said, it is not without charm. We enjoyed exploring the narrow streets, eating at some local restaurants, watching the trains come and go, and checking out the hot springs (for which the town is named). While we didn’t actually go in the hot springs, a local suggested visiting in the morning (after it has been cleaned). Towels can be rented at many shops along the pedestrian-only road heading to the hot springs …….as well as bathing suits. Okay, I’m just going to stay it — I don’t recommend the latter (that’s just gross).
Where to Stay in Aguas Calientes
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel – Family Friendly Luxury Hotel
Other than Machu Picchu (which is obviously difficult to compete with), the best part of our stay in Aguas Calientes was our hotel — the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo (a member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World). This 12 acre boutique hotel property has 83 luxurious rooms and villas nestled into a beautiful garden sanctuary full of beautiful birds, butterflies, orchids and other gorgeous flora. The hotel offers all kinds of great family activities and excursions including an excellent kids’ treasure hunt, a visit to their tea plantation to harvest and make your own tea, and an excursion to their Andean bear conservation project (home to several rescued spectacled bears). Within the grounds, there are 5km of beautiful walking trails, a lovely outdoor pool and hot tub, a sauna hut and the serene UNA Spa (where I enjoyed a relaxing post-Machu Picchu massage). Dining is also at treat at this lovely lodge, with both local and international gourmet fare presented in a pretty dining room overlooking the gardens and river.
Room tip: Inquire about a room with a wood burning fireplace (a cozy option on those cool nights).
See reviews from recent visitors for Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel on TripAdvisor.
Find rates and packages for the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel here.
Want a little peek? Please check out our short video of Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel.
Disclosure: We were offered a discounted media rate for our stay at Inkatterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. All opinions in this post are entirely my own, but as always on this site, I encourage you to also read reviews from other family travelers prior to making a booking.
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