Holy Bucket List! We are in Machu Picchu. One of the wonders of the world, a marvel of Incan city planning, and probably the most famous attraction in Peru (if not all of South America). If you are travelling in Peru, then you are probably planning a trip to Machu Picchu. This guide will hopefully have something for everyone. Just because we did Machu Picchu with a four year old and a five month old, doesn’t mean that this guide only pertains to traveling parents.
Firstly – this guide is for those who are planning to visit Machu Picchu by land transport. This guide will not be detailing the Incan trail hike. The Inca trail is high on my personal bucket list, but it is not really feasible with a four year old and a baby. Even though I am quite confident to do multi day hikes with my little family, this one in particular has a reputation of being difficult.
Machu Picchu with Kids
So if this guide is really for everyone, then why do I mention kids in the title? Well firstly, we did the trip to Machu Picchu with kids. But secondly, when I was researching this trip I came across SO MUCH negativity about visiting Machu Picchu with kids in forums. I saw people giving advice to perspective family travellers telling them that it was dangerous, irresponsible, and even impossible to visit Machu Picchu with kids. That, my friends, is a massive load of rubbish. Visiting Machu Picchu with two kids (aged 4 years and 5 months) was EASY. In fact, it was one of the easiest trips we did with our kids in Peru. Don’t believe the naysayers – kids will love a family adventure in Machu Picchu. So let’s get into it.
Read more: The best things to do in Peru, how to build your itinerary
Before you go to Machu Picchu
Before you plan your Machu Picchu trip there are a few things you will want to consider. Do you want to do the trip with a tour company, or independently? If you are doing it independently, where will you base yourself prior? What form of transport will you use to get there? Should you buy your tickets in advance? Do you need a guide?
Do you want to do the trip with a tour company, or independently? We decided to do the trip independently. Travelling with kids was a factor in this decision. Doing the trip independently meant we could go at our own pace. It meant that if we needed to stop to change a nappy or breastfeed the baby that we would not be holding up a group. It also saved us some money as well. That being said, if you don’t feel like managing all the details that a trip to Machu Picchu with kids entails, then joining a tour company might be a great solution.
Where will you base yourself prior? There are several places where you can base yourself prior to your Machu Picchu adventure. Most people base themselves in the city of Cusco. This is where the airport and the main bus terminal for the region is located, so it’s no surprise that most people stay in Cusco. Cusco however, is the furthest away point where you can start your journey – which means more time commuting to and from the archeological site. Other options include the picturesque town of Ollantaytambo, which is located about halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu, or the town of Machu Picchu/ Agua Caliente which is at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located. There are pros and cons to each. We chose Ollantaytambo because it is at a lower elevation than Cusco which allowed us to acclimatize in preparation for visiting Cusco itself. Also Ollantaytambo is seriously beautiful. Many people choose Machu Picchu town as it is the closest you can get to the site, but the town is a bit of a tourist trap and seriously lacks in personality.
What form of transport will you use to get there? The most popular (but also the most expensive) way to get to Macchu Picchu is by train. There are two companies which operate the Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Macchu Picchu town route which are Peru rail and Inca rail. They have similar price structures and timings, but we found Peru Rail to have better schedules and slightly cheaper prices. The other option is go travel by road, which takes about twice as long, but is much cheaper. Or the third option is to hike there via the Inca trail. We travelled by train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu town. Once you get to the train station in Machu Picchu town, you need to take a bus to the actual archeological site. As far as I know, you can not buy tickets for the bus in advance. However they depart very frequently, so it’s not really an issue.
Should you buy your tickets in advance? This is difficult to answer. We decided not to buy our tickets in advance since we were unsure of how the weather would be, but this ended up costing us some time that we could have spent at the actual site. It is really important to remember that there are only TWO physical places where you can buy your tickets. One is in Cusco, and the other is in Machu Picchu town. YOU CAN NOT BUY MACHU PICCHU TICKETS AT THE MACHU PICCHU ENTRANCE. I know… it’s weird. Also, the ticket office (in Machu Picchu town at least) is cash only. Which was annoying for us since the tickets are so expensive as it is. There are several places you can buy tickets online, so if you know when you want to visit, and you want to pay by credit card, then I would recommend this option.
Do you need a guide? If you are not travelling with a tour, when you get to the entrance (or to the bus queue) you will be approached by one of many official guides offering their services. We were being cheapos on the day and did not hire a guide, and we regretted it afterwards. Machu Picchu is one of the wonders of the world, but despite that, there is absolutely NO signage anywhere in the site. If you want to get a deeper appreciation for the site, other than just seeing it, you should really hire a guide.
Read more about the rules of visiting Machu Picchu.
Things to pack for the day
There are several circuits throughout the site, meaning that anyone, young and old, should be able to appreciate the site to the best of their ability. However, if you plan to do any of the larger circuits; such as the Sun Gate, or Wayna Picchu, then you should really dress as if you are going hiking. Other than that, the following packing list should be sufficient:
- Comfortable walking shoes (or hiking shoes if you are doing any of the longer circuits)
- Sun protection and a sun hat
- We didn’t encounter any mosquitoes, but bug spray is probably a good idea to bring
- Layers. It is cold in the morning, but you will quickly heat up as you walk around
- A camera
- Snacks and water
- Cash – everything is cash only
- Your ticket – you can not buy tickets at the entrance
You will not be allowed to bring walking sticks into the site, so leave these at home. If you do happen to have them with you, there is a free coat check service at the entrance that you can utilize.
Getting to Machu Picchu
The most popular (but also the most expensive) way to get to Macchu Picchu is by train. There are two companies which operate the Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Macchu Picchu town route which are Peru rail and Inca rail. They have similar price structures and timings, but we found Peru Rail to have better schedules and slightly cheaper prices. The other option is go travel by road, which takes about twice as long, but is much cheaper. Or the third option is to hike there via the Inca trail. We travelled by train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu town. Once you get to the train station in Machu Picchu town, you need to take a bus to the actual archeological site. As far as I know, you can not buy tickets for the bus in advance. However they depart very frequently, so it’s not really an issue.
Read more: What to do in Cusco
Read more: What to do around Cusco
Exploring Machu Picchu
When you enter the site, there are a couple of different routes you can follow. Remember that you only have until your designated ticket time, so choose your route wisely. One option is to hike to the Sun gate. This is where those who have hiked the Inca Trail will enter the site. It’s actually a fairly steep and long walk, and we only went half way before abandoning it because of time considerations. Another option is hiking up Wayna Picchu. This is not included in your ticket, and you will need to have a supplementary ticket to visit this part of the site. And of course, there is the main Machu Picchu site. The route is mostly one way, so it is impossible to get lost. Take your time, and enjoy the place.
Special Considerations when traveling to Machu Picchu with Kids
Firstly, do not believe people who say it is impossible or irresponsible to travel with kids to Machu Picchu. It’s possible, and it’s easy. I saw one person comment on a forum that the paths around Machu Picchu are so uneven that it is dangerous to take children and that parents who do so are irresponsible. That person has obviously never been to Europe. The Incan roads around Machu Picchu were actually less uneven than some cobble stoned streets I have been down in large Western European cities. Wayna Picchu is probably not kid suitable – we decided not to do it since we read that some of the paths are very narrow and that ladders are involved at some portions – but the main site is completely kid friendly. I saw both toddlers and the elderly navigating Machu Picchu with ease.
One thing to consider (if you have younger kids) is what sort of child carrier to bring. We had Z in a front facing carrier and we had no issue. We did read that some people have not been allowed to enter with the backpack style carriers, but I can’t comment on whether that is true or not. One thing you can not bring though, is a stroller.
Lastly, and most importantly, please consider the altitude. The altitude of Machu Picchu itself is actually not that high, but the altitude of Cusco can be an issue if you are flying in from sea level. Children can be more easily affected by altitude sickness, so acclimatization is important. We would recommend staying in Machu Picchu town, or Ollantaytambo as an alternative to Cusco as they are both lower. Be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness, and if you are concerned, buy some oxygen which is available at all the local pharmacies. Also do not rush. The symptoms of minor altitude sickness are exaggerated by physical activity, and usually disappear in a few days, so the best thing you can do for yourself and your kids is to plan a rest day or two when you first arrive to the region and not tackle Machu Picchu straight away.
So go – have fun and explore!
Want more travel with kids advice? This post about travel with kids in Peru might be useful! Or what about traveling with kids in Chile?
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