Can you visit Machu Picchu with kids? Absolutely!
In fact, taking your kids to Machu Picchu can be an incredible experience for the whole family. Going with your kids may end up being a lot different than you imagine. Wonderfully fulfilling, the experience is likely not even remotely the same as if you were going to Machu Picchu alone.
Getting the most out of a visit to Machu Picchu with children requires good planning. Luckily, I’ve been to Machu Picchu with my family a whopping 5 times, so I’ve accumulated some really handy advice for the family traveller. It’s a long way to Machu Picchu, and for many a once-in-a-lifetime-experience, so make sure you do it right!
Here are my top tips for planning Machu Picchu holidays with your family.
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Machu Picchu Information for Kids
For most people, visiting Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one of those special places to tick off your bucket list. It’s a way to fulfill those childhood dreams of adventure, spurred on by Indiana Jones movies as he searched for lost cities (including in Peru!).
Before even planning your Machu Picchu family holiday, you’ll need to think about your entire trip to Peru! Start planning the perfect Peru family vacation with our Destination Guide to Peru with Kids.
Here’s a little Machu Picchu history for the kids. Machu Picchu itself is an Incan archaeological site perched on top of a mountain above the tiny town of Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo these days), located on the edge of the Andean jungle in Peru. Once an important religious and agricultural site for the Inca ruling class, it was abandoned around the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru. (We’ll have more Fun Machu Picchu Facts for you in a brand new blog…coming soon!)
Machu Picchu became a worldwide fascination thanks to Hiram Bingham, an American explorer who rediscovered the site in 1911 while searching for the Lost City of the Incas.
Its place among the world’s most cherished landmarks was solidified when it was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1993; in 2007, the world voted Machu Picchu one of the 7 New Wonders of the World – one of two Wonders in South America.
These days, it is visited by some 2500 tourists every single day. That’s a lot! Because of that, there are lots of rules and regulations that govern the site. Understanding the rules and knowing the best strategies for planning your trip are key when visiting Machu Picchu with kids!
Are There any Machu Picchu Age Restrictions?
No. Machu Picchu is open to kids of any age. We’ve travelled to Machu Picchu with a baby, and later, returned to Machu Picchu with a toddler and a 5 year old.
Even though there aren’t any official age restrictions, Machu Picchu was not really built with kids in mind. The ruins and the entire complex are built out of hand-carved stone. There are upper and lower levels that are accessed via stone steps, and let me tell you, these steps are HUGE. Especially for a 5-year-old’s little legs.
After an hour of climbing these HUGE steps, our Miss M was exceptionally tired. To be honest, I also was tired, too, carrying around 22-month-old Master L who weighed in at 14 kg. This is important to keep in mind when you’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu with kids.
Best Time to Go to Machu Picchu
Three things should be top of mind when you’re figuring out the best time to visit Machu Picchu with kids: weather, crowds & festivals.
Machu Picchu is located in the Andes near Cusco, meaning that it is affected by the Andean climate and the Cusco festival calendar. The Andes really have 2 seasons: dry season and rainy season. You might be thinking, “Easy! Obviously the dry season is the best time to go; who wants to get wet?”
Dry Season vs Wet Season in the Andes
Well, that’s true, BUT: dry season is also winter in the Andes. Running from about May through August, winter in the Andes is characterised by dry conditions with usually very little rain, but it can get very cold, especially at night. The lower altitude of Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes means it doesn’t get as cold there, but it will feel cold at night time in Cusco (it can even fall below freezing).
Rainy season is slightly warmer, but it can be rainy, wet, muddy and dreary – not great conditions for visiting Machu Picchu with kids. That said, one of the other downsides to dry season is that it is peak tourism season in the Andes, which means…CROWDS. Machu Picchu will be especially busy at this time of year.
If you don’t mind getting a little wet, then February can be a good month to visit Machu Picchu because that’s the month that the Inca Trail is closed – that’s at least a few hundred people less visiting the site. Plus, when it’s rainy, Machu Picchu becomes shrouded in mist which gives it this incredible mystical feel.
Our favourite time to visit Machu Picchu are the shoulder months: April and September. In April, the mountains are still green but the rains are starting to taper off. September typically has good weather too – a little warmer, a little less rain – and both are blessed with not so many tourists!
Planning Your Machu Picchu Holiday around the Cusco Festival Calendar
Peru has a really active festival calendar and it can be enormously satisfying – not to mention educational – to plan your Machu Picchu family vacation around particular festivals.
You could spend an entire year travelling from place to place in order to see them all! If you know you’re only coming for a week or two, it’s best to get out the calendar and plan your dates around the festivals happening at that time (here’s a link to a great Peruvian festival calendar!)
Take note that, as the bulk of Peruvian fiestas are linked to the Catholic Feast Days (e.g. Easter, Corpus Christi), they are movable dates, and can fall anywhere in a month-long period. So, double check the specific dates for the year in which you will be travelling.
How to Get to Machu Picchu with Kids
Did you know you can hike to Machu Picchu…with your kids?? The Inca Trail is the only trek in the region that actually lets you walk into Machu Picchu itself – no car ride or train ride required. The classic Inca Trail is 4 days, but a better option when you’re with children is to do the 2 day Inca Trail.
This is really a one day hike with an overnight in a hotel in Aguas Calientes before heading up to Machu Picchu the next day. We hiked the 2 day Inca Trail with a Baby, believe it or not, so it can be done (check out that post to see all our tips for how to do it).
If you’re a little wary – but intrigued – about taking your kids hiking, we have two great posts that will let you know if hiking is right for you and your family:
Machu Picchu Travel with Kids by Train
Machu Picchu is most easily accessed by train. We took the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu and it was definitely the highlight for the kiddos.
They both loved it, especially when a kind man gave up the front seats and we got amazing views of the tracks. Miss M was transfixed by the sight of the rails and mountains and we all loved the journey. It was an awesome experience, and we do highly recommend it.
There are other ways to travel to Machu Picchu but they require traveling on hairpin bend roads, etc. Adrenalin-filled (and cheap) but not family friendly!
How to Visit Machu Picchu with Kids: Where to Stay
Machu Picchu Hotel Options for Families
How you travel as a family depends on various elements. Factors such as the ages of your kids, how many they are, and how fond you are of co-sleeping. Peru has a relatively generous policy when it comes to sharing beds. So, if you have a child under 3-ish that co-sleeps, they won’t charge you for the child to occupy the room.
Other rooms that have multiple bed arrangements do exist but they book out very early, especially those in the mid-range budget option.
For more information on Machu Picchu hotels and where to stay take a look at Best Family Hotels in Machu Picchu. This post is filled with great information and reviews of accommodation options that have been tried and tested around Machu Picchu.
Consider a Kid-Friendly Splurge
We stayed at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, one of the best hotels in Machu Picchu for kids. Not only is this easily the most atmospheric hotel in all of Aguas Calientes, but it has a kids’ program and a small heated pool. The kids’ program is targeted to youngsters a little older than Miss M (5 years old) but includes a variety of activities, some of which she could participate in.
They also provide an eco-guide (nanny) service. We noticed that more than one family left their children in the care of the eco-guide doing activities around the hotel, while the parents went to Machu Picchu for a second day. Thus getting the best of both worlds: time as a family AND time as a couple.
While the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is considered the best hotel in Machu Picchu, we absolutely loved our stay at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel. You can read our full review here. Dates can fill up fast. Check current rates here.
How to Plan a Successful Machu Picchu Family Holiday
Plan Extra Time to Acclimatize
Altitude sickness is no fun, especially for children. It affects everyone differently and is impossible to predict. The best way to deal with the altitude is to make sure you schedule in time at the beginning of your trip to rest and acclimatize.
If you’re not planning on doing any serious hiking, then spending a day or two in the Sacred Valley (which is lower than Cusco) before going to Machu Picchu with your kids is a good idea. There are lots of great tours in the Sacred Valley geared to families that can help get your kids ready for their visit to Machu Picchu.
Read about Things to do in the Sacred Valley with Kids!
If you are thinking of hiking with your kids, you will need to plan even further ahead. Before you even leave for Peru, take your family out trekking for a full day. See if your kids are physically and mentally able to walk for 5 hours straight. If at first you don’t succeed, then try again!
Once you get to Cusco, plan on spending several days at altitude – 3 days is a good average for adults; 4 or 5 days (or more) is better for children. This will give you enough time to see how the altitude affects you, and to recover from any symptoms. Here are some more handy tips for acclimatizing to the altitude.
Plan to Spend Two Days at Machu Picchu and Take Your Time
If you are going to travel all the way to Peru to see Machu Picchu, don’t cut yourself short by allowing just one day to visit the famous lost city. As our number one tip for a successful Machu Picchu family tour we strongly recommend allowing two days.
Reasons to spend two days at Machu Picchu with your kids:
- Two chances for a great visit. If the weather is overcast or rainy on the first day, you will have a second chance to visit under better conditions.
- See the Machu Picchu ruins in different light. Especially if you or your kids are into photography, being able to see Machu Picchu in a range of different lights is a dream. The crisp, morning light hitting the iconic mountain backdrop, or the soft afternoon glow bathing the ruins – each time of day brings out something different in Machu Picchu.
- Escape (some of) the crowds. The afternoon is generally less busy than the morning, so a second tour might let you experience some of the ruins again with fewer people around.
- See everything Machu Picchu has to offer. In 2019, the government of Peru further tightened the rules for visiting Machu Picchu. Now, there are some parts of the ruins that you can only see in the morning, and others that you can only see in the afternoon. Planning two days at Machu Picchu means you can see it all.
- Visit the ruins in chunks. It can be a lot for a kid to spend 3 or 4 hours walking through ruins, even some as cool as Machu Picchu. If you break the visit up into more manageable chunks (even as little as an hour or two) over the course of two days, you can still see a lot, while keeping your kids happy.
Manage your kids’ (and your!) expectations
The clouds dramatically drifted apart, opening the sky to reveal the famous lost city of Machu Picchu. Filled with the wonder of this perfect moment, I turned to my 5-year-old daughter with an expectant smile on my face.
“So, this is Machu Picchu! What do you think?”
She frowned. “Where are the Incas? There are no Incas!” More petulance. “I thought that there would be people dressed up as Incas.”
(Mental note: Tell Peruvian government they should have people dressed up as Incas at Machu Picchu.)
Don’t set your own expectations too high, either, as far as how much history you’ll be able to soak up when visiting Machu Picchu with kids in tow. With a 5-year-old and 22-month-old, we enjoyed the ruins and the experience but truly didn’t get lots of the history. If this is important to you, consider taking turns caring for the kids with your partner! Experiencing Machu Picchu with kids is a totally different experience than visiting alone or as a couple.
The nature of visiting Machu Picchu can be overwhelming for younger or more demanding children, too. Our 22-month-old became frustrated by the constant stream of people looking at him, the many stone walls, and the painstaking slowness of the climb. Normally if he gets frustrated in the backpack I can divert him by jumping, playing and moving but this is not feasible at relatively crowded Machu Picchu.
3 Reasons to Book Early
We think booking any family trip early is a good idea. Here are three reasons to book Machu Picchu early in particular:
Reduce Your Stress
Booking early will give yourself some peace of mind. If you start planning months in advance, you can take your time to do your research, be choosy about where you stay, and avoid the pressure of booking deadlines.
Machu Picchu Tickets Can Sell Out in High Season
There are a lot of moving parts with Machu Picchu, and tickets for each of them: the train, the bus, tickets to Machu Picchu itself, and, if you’re into hiking, Huayna Picchu tickets and Inca Trail tickets.
Tickets for the Inca Trail – especially the four day trek – will sell out 6 to 8 months in advance, depending on the dates. Huayna Picchu tickets (more on what Huayna Picchu is below, and whether it’s right for you) are limited to just 200 per day and can sell out, too, though usually not as far in advance.
What happens with train tickets? If you wait too long to book your train, you may run out of options. There are only two trains a day between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, so if that’s your plan, you need to book this train really early.
Alternatively, you can take public or private transit to Ollantaytambo and take the train from there. This gives you a lot more options but the best timetables still sell out early. Even if you can still find seats available, the longer you wait to book, the more expensive the train ride will become.
Make Sure You Get a Family Room in Aguas Calientes
Getting the best family rooms is another reason to get your families Machu Picchu family holiday booked early. By a “family room” we mean rooms with three or four beds. These exist but get taken quickly.
Consider Booking through a Travel Agent
When booking your Machu Picchu tours with kids, consider asking a travel agent for help with some of the logistics. Apus Peru Adventure Travel Specialists have plenty of experience in offering treks and Machu Picchu tours with young people!
Get Travel Insurance
While Machu Picchu is visited by thousands of people each year, it is still quite remote. If you or one of your kids gets sick you want the peace of mind that you can get yourself to a doctor as quickly as possible, and that the cost does not matter. That’s why not only should you get travel insurance, you should make sure it includes medical treatment and evacuation as well as theft and trip cancellation. We love World Nomads’ Family Travel Insurance.
Machu Picchu Things to Do: Our Top Tips for Families
You Need a Guide
In the old days, you could wander around Machu Picchu on your own, but since 2017, it has been mandatory to tour Machu Picchu with a licensed guide.
Ideally, you will find a guide that is experienced in visiting Machu Picchu with kids. The easiest way to go with a reputable guide is if you book an all-inclusive tour in advance. During the booking process, you can specifically request a guide who is good with children and who knows how to tailor a tour of Machu Picchu for kids.
You can also find freelance guides near the entrance to Machu Picchu, but it’s hard to guarantee the quality of the tour you’ll get.
Once Inside: Find a Grassy Area to Rest
When traveling to Machu Picchu with children it is really important to take breaks so the kids can relax and burn off some energy.
There are a few grassy areas to run and play – but you have to look for them. We found that there were a number of grassy areas roped off, and more that had steep precipice falls on one side (not good for a 22-month-old eager to explore!). Finally we found a safe place, had some snacks, and soaked up the atmosphere. It was in a less-visited section of the ruins which made it a pleasant break.
Consider another splurge: The Tinkuy Restaurant at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge
Conveniently located right outside the Machu Picchu entrance, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge offers the utmost in luxury. It also features a buffet-style restaurant which, while not cheap, offers a fantastic range of food and drinks.
We really enjoyed this meal as there was so much variety. Also, the restaurant has bathrooms, a vital piece of info for families traveling with children!! There are no rest rooms inside Machu Picchu itself, which can be inconvenient when you have small kids.
After this break, we returned to the closer sector of the ruins, and were able to enjoy another hour at Machu Picchu. Nowadays, this requires a second Machu Picchu ticket. Today we would probably aim to have lunch here right after a morning visit, or right before an afternoon visit.
Llamas and Alpacas…oh my!
One of the coolest things about Machu Picchu for kids is that there are llamas and alpacas all over the place, grazing freely. Our kids really enjoyed them. For them, the llamas were the most exciting thing there!
Don’t be like some of those less well-informed visitors, though, poking a range of different foods and snacks at the llamas while trying to get selfies.
To Climb, or not to Climb: Huayna Picchu
One of the activities to do at Machu Picchu is to climb Huayna Picchu. Huayna Picchu is the conical shaped mountain that you see in all the classic Machu Picchu photos.
Although not a very long hike (it’s about 45 min to an hour to reach the top), Huayna Picchu is NOT suitable for small children. You should think twice about climbing Huayna Picchu even with older kids (10+) depending on their fitness, agility and ability to focus. The climb is very steep, and there are dizzyingly sheer drops on either side of the trail – enough to make any mother faint! It is not a good hike for anyone with a fear of heights.
A better alternative for those interested in hiking with kids is Machu Picchu Mountain. Although longer (3 hours round trip), the trail is more moderate with a less steep incline and no death-defying drop-offs. The hike takes you up in the direction of Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, and offers quiet, natural surroundings with lots of fresh air.
Both Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain require additional permits (beyond your Machu Picchu entry ticket) and the hikes are only available in the morning.
What to Take to Machu Picchu
You don’t need to take a lot to Machu Picchu; in fact, there’s a lot you can’t take (see below). Depending on how you plan your Machu Picchu tour, you will be walking around the site, going up and down steps, for at least a couple of hours. You should make sure that you and the kids are comfortably dressed and, since mountain weather is fickle, prepared for weather changes.
Here is our list of things to take to Machu Picchu:
- Sunscreen and hat – The Andean sun is very intense. If it is sunny, it can feel very hot and you are likely to burn easily. Sunscreen AND a hat are recommended.
- Insect repellent – Since Machu Picchu is in the “Andean jungle,” there are lots of bugs.
- Rain poncho – Just in case…especially if you are visiting during the rainy season or one of the shoulder months.
- Dress in layers – Remember that hot Andean sun? Well, if it goes behind a cloud, it can feel suddenly quite cold. A sweater, zip-up hoodie or fleece or windbreaker is helpful to have to throw on when it starts to feel cool.
- Machu Picchu tickets – Of course, they won’t let you in without them.
- An empty bladder – Sounds weird to say, but as I mentioned earlier, there are NO RESTROOMS INSIDE THE RUINS. If you have to leave the site to the use the washroom, they may not let you back in. Seriously! The rules are strict these days.
- Your passport! – Are you surprised? It’s not like you’re visiting another country, but they will use it as ID to make sure the name on your entry ticket matches. Bonus for the kids: when you are leaving Machu Picchu, you can get a cool Machu Picchu stamp in your passport! This is a really fun souvenir for kids to show their classmates when they return home.
What to Leave at Home
Whether you’re travelling with kids or not, the rules for visiting Machu Picchu are very strict and fairly rigorously enforced (though it always depends on who’s there). All of the rules have the long-term preservation of the ruins in mind. They are aimed at reducing waste and limiting things that could cause physical damage.
Here are the things you should NOT take to Machu Picchu:
- Metal-tipped walking sticks
- Food and water – It seems they are making an exception for refillable water bottles, but plastic water bottles are strictly prohibited. Also, you didn’t hear it from me, but I’d personally wrap some snacks up for the kids in a sweater at the bottom of my bag. Of course, as you are actually breaking the rules, be sensible. Don’t feed your kids in front of the guards and make sure you are scrupulous with your rubbish. Or, perhaps just set your kids on the guards so they too will agree that its best for everyone if they are fed!
- Big backpacks/rucksacks – Your backpack should not be bigger than 40 x 35 x 20 cm. If yours is bigger than that, you may be asked to store your bag at the checkpoint near the entrance to the Machu Picchu ruins.
- Other bulky equipment – Like tripods or large umbrellas. This also includes strollers or prams, though you will quickly realize they are impractical for Machu Picchu anyway, due to the narrow paths and steep stairs. The only way to carry a child around Machu Picchu is in a baby carrier or toddler carrier (despite the no-large-backpack rule, they seem to make an exception for these). We used the Deuter Kid Comfort 2 carrier for hiking Machu Picchu. It was a great carrier.
More Resources on Machu Picchu with Kids!
Getting excited about planning your family holidays to Machu Picchu now? Here are a few more resources we think you’ll want to check out!
- Tips for Taking the Best Photos at Machu Picchu
- The Best Kid-Friendly Places to Eat in Peru
- Best Peru Itineraries for Children
- How to Visit Cusco with Kids
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