Get ready to learn some interesting Machu Picchu facts for kids!
I’ve been to Machu Picchu many times. Eight times, to be precise. Sometimes with children, sometimes without. Machu Picchu is a fascinating place, one of those places where you find something new to appreciate each time you go!
Machu Picchu can be a great place to visit with kids, too. But whether you’re planning a Peru family holiday or just want to do a little educational armchair travel with your children, there is lots to learn about this fascinating site.
That’s why we have compiled a list of Machu Picchu kids facts. The list includes some information for kids about Machu Picchu that we think will be fun and interesting for them to learn.
Here are our Top 15 Fun Facts about Machu Picchu for kids.
Machu Picchu was built by the Incas
The Incas were a civilization in Peru that ruled from about 1400 AD to 1533 AD. They created a vast empire that stretched along most of western South America. Today, they are particularly remembered for their very fine woven textiles and their incredible stone buildings.
Machu Picchu is probably the most impressive, and certainly the most famous, of those stone buildings. It was first built around the year 1450 AD by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec.
The Incan city was built high on a mountaintop at an altitude of 2430m above sea level (7972 ft). It featured hundreds of buildings made of hand-carved stone with thatched rooves, terraced gardens and open fields.
Machu Picchu is REALLY big!
The site that we know as Machu Picchu consists of more than 150 buildings. This includes houses, baths, temples and sanctuaries.
There are also more than 100 individual flights of stairs! Amazingly, many of these staircases were carved from a single block of stone.
But that’s just what you can see on the surface. Archaeologists estimate that more than half of Machu Picchu’s true size is actually underground!
Due to being built on a steep mountaintop, the Incas needed to build a complex system of earthworks and drainage beneath the city.
Machu Picchu is one of the most famous sites in the world
Ask anyone what they think of when they think of Peru, and most will tell you – Machu Picchu! The ancient Inca city has become almost synonymous with Peru.
It’s no wonder it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and in 2007, it was also voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World! This is a pretty incredible honour. Machu Picchu was one of only 2 wonders chosen from South America.
The Name “Machu Picchu” has a meaning in the indigenous language of Peru
What does Machu Picchu mean? During the time of the Incas, Quechua was the language spoken throughout the empire. Many landmarks, buildings, and towns have Quechua names as a result, including Machu Picchu!
So what does Machu Picchu mean? It is a compound name made up of two Quechua words: machu and picchu. “Machu” means “old” in Quechua, and “picchu” means “peak”. So “Machu Picchu” means “old peak”!
Machu Picchu Fun Fact: Did you know? Quechua is still widely spoken today in the Andes! The words can be difficult to pronounce for non-native speakers, but for most people who understand Quechua it is a lovely, sweet language, and it can be really funny, too!
No one knows what Machu Picchu’s purpose was
We know that people lived at Machu Picchu, but we are not totally sure who, why or for how long.
Machu Picchu Fun fact: Did you know? The Inca people did not have a system of writing! As a result, there are no written records that historians can read to find out why Machu Picchu was built, or what it was used for.
Machu Picchu might have been a holy nunnery, housing Virgins of the Sun. It may have been a royal estate or retreat for the Inca nobility, or even an agricultural testing site.
Fun Machu Picchu Facts for Kids: It was never really lost
Here’s some Machu Picchu information for kids: Did you know? Machu Picchu came to be known as the “Lost City of the Incas” – but it was never really lost! How is this possible?
Local people always knew the city was there, even though it was overgrown with vegetation.
So why did we think it was lost? Well, sadly, many Incan cities were destroyed during the Spanish conquest, but Machu Picchu was spared because it was hidden.
Perched up on top of that mountain, Machu Picchu was invisible from below and not found by the Spanish. As a result, today Machu Picchu is one of the most well-preserved Inca cities.
Machu Picchu was made famous by Hiram Bingham III
In the early 1900s, an American professor named Hiram Bingham set out to find Vilcabamba, the so-called “Last Refuge of the Incas.” Vilcabamba is where the Incas were thought to have waged their final resistance against the Spanish.
During his exploration, one of his local guides told Professor Bingham that he knew of a city high up in the mountains, and offered to take him to see it. Since Professor Bingham was looking for Vilcabamba, specifically, at first he wasn’t too keen.
But eventually he agreed and lo-and-behold, what he saw amazed him. Even though it was completely overgrown, he recognized its potential and shared his discovery with Yale University, where he worked.
Over the next few decades, Machu Picchu was slowly excavated, studied and restored.
Fun Machu Picchu facts for kids: Almost by accident, Hiram Bingham ended up stumbling upon one of the world’s most amazing structures, and thanks to him it’s now one of the most famous, too!
Machu Picchu is an astronomical observatory
For a society that didn’t even have writing, it’s amazing how much the Incas knew about the heavens. As a civilization, they worshipped the sun and the moon, and seem to have dedicated a lot of time to understanding their movements and those of the stars.
Even without the precise scientific instruments we use today, the Incas managed to build structures at Machu Picchu that perfectly aligned with these movements.
For example, here are some fun facts about Machu Picchu:
- The four corners of part of the Intihuatana stone perfectly align with each of the 4 cardinal directions – East, South, North and West. How could they have known which way was North without a compass??
- The Temple of the Sun features a window that, on one day of the year – the solstice, June 21st – perfectly aligns with the sun, letting the sunbeams pour in through the window.
This seems to show just how important the natural world was for the Incan people. It was such an important part of their cosmology that they couldn’t help but incorporate these sacred elements into the building of Machu Picchu.
According to Johan Reinhard, “It’s an example of cosmology intertwining with sacred landscape that is virtually unique in the Andes.” You can read more about the sacred landscape of Machu Picchu in his book, Machu Picchu: Exploring an Ancient Sacred Center.
Machu Picchu Was a Feat of Ancient Engineering, not unlike the Egyptian Pyramids
The Incas were amazing stoneworkers. They used a technique called ashlar to build the stone structures at Machu Picchu. This is where the stones are cut to fit together without the need for mortar in between them to bind the stones together.
The ashlar technique requires expert skill and precision. The buildings at Machu Picchu are so well-built that not even a knife blade can fit between the stones!
Machu Picchu Fun Fact: Although the Incas had very advanced engineering skills, they actually did not develop the wheel as we know it. It seems they understood the concept – and probably employed it in some fashion to help transport the big, heavy stones up to Machu Picchu – but they did not create wheeled transport, like carts or wheelbarrows.
Instead, they may have used wheel-like cylindrical logs to roll big blocks of stone along the ground and up ramps to help transport them.
Machu Picchu was one part of a large network of Inca cities
Here’s an interesting fact about Machu Picchu that many people don’t know: During the course of their empire, the Incas built a vast network of roads called the Qhapaq Ñan, or Royal Path.
These “Inca Trails” connected the four corners of their territory, including parts of what are today Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and northern Argentina. All in all, they built somewhere between 23,000 and 45,000 km (14,292 to 27,961 miles) of road!
One of the most interesting features of the Qhapaq Ñan is how it connects many of what we consider today to be the major sites of the Inca civilization: Choquequirao, Llactapata, Vilcabamba and Machu Picchu, just to name a few.
So while the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most famous stretch of Inca roads, at 42km long it is really just a drop in the bucket! There are actually many more intact Inca trails that weave their way through the mountains around Cusco – and beyond!
Fun Machu Picchu facts for kids: Llamas and alpacas, oh my!
Who still lives at Machu Picchu? Llamas!
Llamas belong to the camelid family and are a common sight at Machu Picchu. They are one of 4 camelid species native to Peru and were used by the Incas mainly as pack animals.
Quick facts for kids: What are the other camelid species in Peru? In addition to llamas, there are also alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos. Guanacos and vicuñas are still wild, while alpacas, like llamas, are raised by people in the mountains, just like sheep. Learn more about the differences between llamas and alpacas.
You can see lots of llamas grazing at Machu Picchu. If you want to snap a llama selfie, this is the best place to do it!
Machu Picchu is the most-visited tourist attraction in Peru
These days, between 2000-2500 people visit Machu Picchu every single day. That’s a lot! Every year, more than a million people enter the gates of the Incan imperial city.
Of those 2000 people per day, about 200 enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate after hiking the famous Inca Trail.
You need a guide to visit Machu Picchu
Why do you need to visit Machu Picchu with a guide? One, because it’s the rules. You will not be permitted to enter Machu Picchu without a guide.
Two, because there are no signs or labels providing tourist information at Machu Picchu.
To address your curiosity, you can visit the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón. This museum lies just a few miles away from Machu Picchu, at the base of the path up to the site.
The Museo de Sitio provides all the information about the various buildings of Machu Picchu, and also contains artefacts as well. But it is no match for having a guide personally explain everything to you, step by step, along the way!
Machu Picchu Facts for Kids: Get Your Passport Stamped!
One of the most fun & unexpected things about visiting Machu Picchu – especially for kids – is that you are rewarded with a special stamp in your passport!
When you enter Machu Picchu, be sure to show your passport at the gate and you will receive a special stamp of Machu Picchu – proof that you visited this incredible site!
It’s an amazing souvenir to show all your friends.
Huayna Picchu is a must-climb!
Here’s a fun Machu Picchu fact for kids: while we use the term “Machu Picchu” to refer to archaeological complex itself, it’s also the name of the mountain on which the city sits!
And facing Machu Picchu is another mountain: that iconic, pointy mountain you’ve probably noticed in the background of every picture you’ve seen of Machu Picchu. What is this mountain called? Huayna Picchu!
Remember how we learned what Machu Picchu means? (Hint: it means “old peak”!) Well, Huayna Picchu means…”young peak”!
Did you know? You can actually climb to the top of Huayna Picchu!
It’s a pretty intimidating climb and not for the faint-hearted! With a steep climb upwards and death-defying drops on either side of the trail, this hike is not for small children or anyone with a fear of heights.
If you do venture up, the view from the top is a stunning panorama of the entire Machu Picchu site. Only 400 permits for Huayna Picchu are issued per day, so make sure you book early to ensure you get a spot!
Fun Machu Picchu Facts for Kids: So much to learn!
We hope you enjoyed our list of Machu Picchu facts for kids! There are tonnes of interesting things to learn about the Incas and more about Peru. Whether you planning on travelling to Peru with your kids, or just want to learn about this amazing country as a family, we have a whole host of helpful resources on Peru for kids:
- Our favourite Machu Picchu Books!
- 11 Fun Peru Facts for Kids
- Best Kid-Friendly Peru Itineraries
- Best Peru Books for Children