Top destination in every traveler’s list, Machu Picchu is not commonly considered a destination for kids. But we managed to visit Machu Picchu with a toddler and had a great time there. Like anywhere else, a trip with kids is totally different than if you go there just by yourself. But it is definitely a destination where you can take your kids with no concerns. Actually, Machu Picchu was listed by National Geographic as one of the “100 places that will change your child’s life”!
Just to be clear, I’m not talking here about doing Inca Trail with kids! Actually, I don’t think I could do that myself. There are much easier and quicker ways to get there. You need to plan ahead very well and spend a few days in the area. It is not a budget friendly trip, but I think it is a once in a lifetime experience that is worth all the effort.
Altitude is viewed as one of the biggest issues when considering to visit Machu Picchu with kids. Actually, altitude is not an issue in Machu Picchu itself, but on the surrounding region.
Commonly, doctors recommend care for altitudes over 2,600m and to try to adapt slowly when going above this.
In the region, the altitudes are as shown below:
- Cusco (airport) – 3,500m
- Sacred Valley – 2,700-2,800m
- Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu village) – 2,000m
- Machu Picchu site – 2,400m
Most people face issues when they stay in Cusco as they arrive in the region from lower altitudes. But going from the airport straight to the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu Village will pose significantly less problems. Also, spending a few days in the area, on a relaxed schedule, helps to adapt easier.
How to organise
To avoid altitude problems, we went straight to the Sacred Valley as we arrived to Cusco airport, leaving 2 days to visit the former Inca capital at the end of the trip. We spent 3 days in the Sacred Valley, in Urubamba. This way we had enough time to get used with the altitude and explore the region without getting too tired. We have a whole article dedicated to our adventures in the Sacred Valley, you can check it for more tips and details.
From the Sacred Valley we took the noon train to Aguas Calientes. We spent the day here and went up to Machu Picchu early next morning.
The visit to Machu Picchu took us 3-4 hours. Since 2017 you are allowed to enter in two time slots: 6-12 and 12-17. Going earlier is better, as the site is not that crowded and you get great shots with the morning mist. With a kid, going in the morning is the best option as he will be rested and much more cooperating. Eric loved to be carried on all the stairs and to play hide and seek beneath the old walls. But the best attraction in Machu Picchu for him were the llamas, which we were desperately chasing across the whole site.
We read that since 2017 access to Machu Picchu is allowed with an authorized guide only. But, at the entrance, nobody mentioned anything about this, so we preferred to visit just by ourselves. For sure we missed some interesting details and local legends, but it would have been impossible to have a full guided tour with a young kid. There were lots of people not accompanied by a guide, so I’m not sure how much this new rule is reinforced.
After Machu Picchu we took back the train and spent the following days in Cusco. By this time, we faced no issues with the high altitude; maybe just getting tired more easily and some crankiness from Eric. But, in the end, these are on the daily menu for a toddler anyway!
Where to stay
Since we planned to visit Machu Picchu early morning, we spent the night in Aguas Calientes, the little village at the bottom of the mountain. This way we avoided being overtired and could enjoy Machu Picchu the whole morning. Everything in Aguas Calientes gravitates around Machu Picchu, full of tourists and ameneties for them.
We choose to stay a Casa Andina, very convenient located next to the train station and just minutes away from the bus departing point. We had a very comfortable time here, so we could wake up early morning, fresh and ready to go up to Machu Picchu. Casa Andina adapted very nicely to tourists schedule, offering breakfast starting 4 AM. And I’m not talking about an express breakfast with sandwiches and coffee. We had a delicious early meal, including fresh juices, pancakes and eggs made to the order. If you see a toddler passionately eating at 5:30 in the morning, you know it is the perfect breakfast spot!
Casa Andina is the largest hotel chain in Peru and they have several properties across the country. So we spent two more nights with them in Cusco too, at Casa Andina Standard Plaza. We were welcomed here with Coca tea, to help with altitude problems and with lots of suggestions on how to enjoy our time in Cusco. The location right in the heart of the city is very convenient if you want to explore the beautiful colonial old town. Staying at the same hotel chain made it easier for Eric to transition from one hotel to the other; it can be difficult for a young kids to spend each night in a different place.
Most of the people arrive in the region to Cusco, by air or bus from Lima. The flight tickets are really reasonably priced and there are several options in terms of air companies or originating airport.
From Cusco, the most popular option is to take a taxi or mini-bus. Beware if you choose train as your means of transport, as the rail station is not located in Cusco, but in Poroy, about 30 km away from the city. Taxies are very accessible in terms of costs, considering the distances and the long time required by the winding mountain road, not very well maintained in some areas.
To get to Aguas Calientes you have two options: walking (which I’m not gonna discus here) or getting the train. When I did my research before the trip Andrei argued a lot that he doesn’t believe you can’t go by car. But, during our train ride, he understood why driving is not possible. The train offers spectacular views, with steep mountains on one side and the valley right next to the tracks.
There are two companies which serve the route: Inca Rail and Peru Rail, with several options in terms of ticket type. The main stations where you can take the train from are Poroy-Cusco and Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley. You can take just a limited amount of luggage with you, but they keep the rest of the stuff in the station for free.
We chose Inca Rail, as the timing was more appropriate for our schedule. We enjoyed the trip, even though we think it is highly overpriced! Beware if you book the train tickets through the internet you need to arrive 30 minutes in advance to get your tickets and you need to show the credit card that was used for the online payment.
From Aguas Calientes you can hike to Machu Picchu (again, I can’t comment on that) or take the bus. The busses start running at 6 AM, but we were told that for the first departures the queue starts as early as 4 AM. We went for the bus around 7 AM and waited no more than 15 minutes, but it was October, shoulder season. Still, I would advise you to go early morning. At 11:30 when we returned there were 2-3 times more people waiting; not to mention that Machu Picchu site was much more crowded. You have to buy the bus tickets from the ticket office located 5-10 minutes away from the station. Since we spent the night in Aguas Calientes, we bought them the day before to save some time in the morning.
What you need
You will enjoy Machu Picchu no matter what. But to have the best experience there, I would advise to have the following with you:
- Waterproof hiking boots – common sport shoes work fine on nice weather, but if it rains (and it does a lot in there) the rocks get slippery so you’ll need a good grip
- Light clothing, in layers – the weather changes quickly in the mountains, so be prepared for (almost) everything
- Waterproof jacket – again, it often rains in the area; if you are caught unprepared there are rain coats for sale at every little shop for a few dollars
- Sun screen – high protection (50+) is recommended due to the altitude
- Mosquitos repellent – Andrei had a hard time due to some tiny mosquitos and I saw lots of people with very bad bites on the lower side of the legs. Luckily myself or Eric had no issues with this, as we were wearing long trousers, as legs are mostly affected. Better be prepared with Citronella essential oil or some other repellent.
If you visit Machu Picchu with young child, you will need a baby carrier. Strollers are not allowed inside, and would be of no use anyway. I also read they don’t allow for structured carriers, but I can’t say for sure. We had an Isara and it was of great use!
Just as an estimate, visiting Machu Picchu from Cusco costs around 500$ for two people, you can see below our details. We did not have to pay for Eric, since train and site access is not charged for young kids. We chose the budget option for the train, but the premium ones can be a few times more expensive. I did not detail accommodation and other costs, since they differ a lot depending on your travel style. Make sure you use the official site to buy the tickets for Machu Picchu, as we saw other sites with higher prices.
- Uber Cusco – Urubamba: 20$
- Taxi Urubamba – Ollantaytambo: 12$
- Train Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes: 2*65$
- Bus Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu: 2*12$
- Machu Picchu entrance: 2*48$
- Bus Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes: 2*12$
- Train Aguas Calientes – Ollantaytambo: 2*83$
- Taxi Ollantaytambo – Cusco: 24$
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Disclosure: We were the guests of Casa Andina during our stay in Cusco and Aguas Calientes. All the opinions expressed here are our own.