Not just for adults! Yes, you can hike the Inca Trail with kids. If you’re thinking of planning a family hike to Machu Picchu this year, you’ve come to the right place. After years of experience hiking in Peru with our kids, and helping others plan their kid-friendly hikes, we’ve got answers to all your burning questions. In this post, we’ll tell you the three things you need to keep in mind before planning an Inca Trail hike with your kids, as well as our top 5 tips for planning the best Inca Trail with kids experience.
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Why Should I Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with Kids?
You may be wondering, why would I even want to hike the Inca Trail with my kids, anyway? The Inca Trail is a world-famous, 4 day hike that is on many people’s bucket lists, and with good reason! Located in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, the trail winds through spectacular mountain scenery and visits some really jaw-dropping Incan ruins. Most people start their journey in Cusco, the one-time Inca capital, and make their way through the Sacred Valley to the trailhead at Km 82. From here, it’s three days of steep climbs, breath-taking (literally!) mountain passes, and trails that wind through the Andean jungle. Day 4 culminates in a visit to Machu Picchu itself!
Don’t want to hike? You can also visit Machu Picchu with kids by train!
One of the things that makes the 4 day Inca Trail great for kids is that it is steeped in history. The Inca Trail follows the reputed Royal Road of the Inca known as Qhapaq Nan. The Qhapaq Nan is an ornate Inca trail that was designated only for the Inca himself or those of royal birth. Hiking the Inca Trail means you are following in the steps of royalty! As a family, you can also pretend you’re adventurous explorers of the likes of Indiana Jones. Did you know? Machu Picchu was actually only rediscovered by modern explorer Hiram Binghan in 1911!
On the Inca Trail, you’ll have the chance to do some serious bird-watching and learn about native plants of Peru, too. Add in the fact that permits for the Inca Trail are very limited – only 500 per day, including permits for trail staff! – and it’s obvious this is a very special, once-in-a-lifetime family travel experience.
Can I hike the Inca Trail with Kids?
Yes! You don’t have to postpone your bucket list Inca Trail trek until after the kids move out. But – there are a number of things you need to consider before planning your Inca Trail hike with the kids.
3 Things to Consider Before Trekking The Inca Trail With Kids
Is there an Inca Trail age limit?
Some Inca Trail operators say the minimum age for the Inca trail with children is 8 years old. To us, that seems too young. We think that age 10 would be the absolute minimum age for the 4 day hike. Even the Short Inca Trail – a 2 day version of the trek which doesn’t involve camping – has really steep sections that would be difficult for little legs.
While an especially fit, outdoorsy and resilient 10 year old may be able to handle the rigours of the trek, we think the best age for kids hiking the Inca Trail is 13 and up.
Need help deciding if your child is ready to hike the Inca Trail? Check out our post Should I Take My Children Trekking In Peru? Ask yourself the 5 key questions we outline there, and if you answer “yes” to 3 or more, your child is probably a good fit to hike the Inca Trail!
In short, your children should be fit, resilient and love spending time outdoors. They should have long distance trekking experience, and be okay with camping in a tent. The Inca Trail is tough for most adults, too, so if in doubt, put your Inca Trail with kids plan off for a year or two.
Can my kids climb steep steps?
On the Inca Trail there are steps, steps and more steps. Not only is climbing an endless series of steps tiring, but these steps – hand-carved by the Inca – are tall. The steps can be as big as 30 cm (12 inches) high, and as you approach the Sun Gate climbing them gets even harder. Smaller children will find this difficult.
Are my kids up to the challenge?
In addition to the steep steps, there are other aspects of the Inca Trail that may be difficult for children to navigate. Sections of the Inca Trail are very narrow, and there are steep drops on either side of the trail. This can be dangerous for particularly rambunctious children or ones who don’t listen well, or too scary for those who have a fear of heights.
Other issues that could make hiking the Inca Trail with kids a challenge is the high altitude and elevation gain. The second day is arguably the hardest day on the trail, with a more than 1200m elevation gain as you hike to Dead Woman’s Pass. Also called Warmihuanusca (in Quechua), the pass is located at an astonishing 4215m above sea level.
Our Top 5 Tips for Planning the Best Inca Trail With Kids
Are you convinced? If you’ve decided to do the Inca trail with kids (whatever their age), follow these tips for planning your trip and you’ll be on your way to an unforgettable family adventure.
Look for a good quality trek operator
Sorry to disappoint you real adventurers out there, but you cannot hike the Inca Trail on your own. And especially if you’re taking the kids along, it’s imperative you go with a good, reputable trekking company who you can be sure will take care of you and your family the whole way. We recommend Apus Peru.
Here are 4 questions to ask when you are evaluating your options:
- Ask them about their evacuation procedures. What’s the plan if something goes wrong?
- Inquire if their guides are first aid trained, and confirm they receive regular updates to that training.
- Ask about their first aid kit. Do they bring oxygen on the trek?
- Ask about their treatment of the porters. Teach your kids about responsible trekking while you’re on the trail, and make sure who you trek with treats their staff right.
It is extremely difficult to evacuate from the Inca Trail, so if you do have a problem, you want to be sure you’re hiking with a quality operator. This is not a time to be economizing if that means compromising safety!
Hire an extra porter
Most reputable agencies include a limit of about 7kg (15lbs) of luggage per person that can be carried on the trek. This covers a basic change of clothes and your sleeping bag. It means that you need to carry a decent amount in your day pack as well. But, we all know kids come with a lot of “stuff”. Don’t give yourself any more planning headaches than you need to and hire another porter to carry all those “extras”. This way, the kids can hike the Inca Trail without a pack and you will save yourself some whining. Trust us, you’ll thank yourself for being so forward-thinking!
Consider doing a private trek
There is a cost consideration to this tip, but if you can swing it, we highly recommend choosing a private trek. This means that it is just you and your family on the trail. The guide will be able to adapt to your children’s pace. You will feel better because you know that your kids aren’t holding up the group, and they have free reign to be goofy at camp at the end of the day. You may also have some leeway with picking your guide if you go in a private group. Ask your trek operator for a kid friendly guide – someone who will be patient with the many questions kids have! And if a private trek is a no-go, then at least try to look for a small group tour.
Acclimatize extremely well
Altitude sickness is real and you want to do everything you can to prevent it! The standard recommendation for altitude acclimatization is 2 or 3 days, but with kids, we think spending 4 or 5 days at altitude before starting a trek is even better. Altitude affects everyone differently and it can take a few days to see and then get over any symptoms. You do NOT want cranky, headachy kids on the Inca Trail, or anyone with an upset tummy. You are much better off spending the extra time getting acclimatized!
Want more advice? Check out our Tips For Acclimating To Altitude With Kids.
Do not listen to trek operators who say 2 days are enough. Besides, Cusco and the Sacred Valley have a lot to offer for families. Take advantage and book yourself some fun family-friendly activities like chocolate making, learning about guinea pigs or visiting alpacas and llamas. For more ideas, see our Sacred Valley Peru With Kids post.
Get travel insurance.
We personally never travel without a comprehensive travel insurance policy. However if you are trekking the Inca Trail with kids it is ESPECIALLY important to have great travel insurance! Make sure that it covers adventure activities. If you need to get your child helicoptered out of the Inca trail, you will want to have travel insurance. Consider World Nomads Family Insurance for your adventure, but make sure the policy is right for you!
Not Sure the Inca Trail With Kids is Right for You? Don’t Worry!
Even if you decide your kids aren’t ready to tackle the Inca Trail, you can still go trekking in Peru with kids. In fact, there are lots of advantages for choosing an alternative hike to Machu Picchu!
- You can hire a mule or riding horse for the children to ride if they are tired. This has major benefits of adding a fun element for the kids, as well as resting tired legs.
- Some of the alternative Machu Picchu hikes have road access to various points, meaning that evacuation or simply finishing a trek early is much easier than on the Inca Trail.
- You don’t need to buy permits in advance, so there is greater flexibility in when you can go.
- Some of them offer much more interaction with the local people and animals which are likely to be more interesting to younger kids or tweens.
- There are no steps! Seriously, the steps on the Inca Trail are a killer.
What’s the Best Alternative Trek for Kids?
In our opinion, the Lares trek is a great family hike in Peru. All around the Lares region there are tiny villages where people live an age-old way of life. They wear traditional dress and still herd alpacas and llamas. Lares is crisscrossed by trails used by the local people in their everyday life. If you want more options for alternative trekking with kids options, a good travel agency should be able to suggest less challenging routes that offers plenty of local interaction.
On the other hand, what is not a good alternative trek for kids? Rainbow Mountain! This trek has become extremely popular in the recent years, but we think there are far better options for family hikes in Peru. Read our post Rainbow Mountain with Kids for all the reasons why.
More Information On Peru For Kids!
Travelling to Peru with kids offers lots of amazing opportunities for adventure, learning and fun. Check out some of our most popular Peru for kids blog posts below:
Want to get your kids excited about Peru – check out these books:
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