Machu Picchu Treks

How To Hike Machu Picchu With Kids

How To Hike Machu Picchu With Kids
By Maureen Santucci

Foreign visits to Peru exceeded four million in 2015. Peruvians are happy to note a growing diversity in the tourism their country attracts, including the arrival of families with kids.

In fact, about 10% of visitors are traveling with families – a number that continues to grow. But looking at the typical photos of Machu Picchu, perched on a high rugged peak, travelers with children may be concerned about whether it is really a good destination for families.

Says Victoria Westmacott, a family travel blogger, “The wonderful thing with Incan sites is that they are all fun for children to explore.”

With Peru’s many mysterious chambers and short tunnels, there is no shortage of fuel for young imaginations. “It’s so hard to choose the best part or even best parts, as every sight, every meal and every experience was a highlight for us,” gushes Westmacott. “The circular terraces at Moray had my son spellbound and both children loved hugging the alpacas and llamas!”

Horse Riding to Rainbow Mountain Peru and back

Horse riding on the Inca Trail

Nowadays, it is possible to visit this world wonder and enjoy whatever level of comfort you prefer. And, with the right planning, children can enjoy this enigmatic site just as much as their parents. If you’ve been holding off visiting this ancient citadel of the Incas, concerned that it’s not child-friendly, now is the time to go. Although it is easier than ever to travel to Machu Picchu these days, there are some considerations that families should keep in mind.

There’s no reason the vast majority of younger travellers can’t enjoy a trekking trip in Peru, provided you follow some common sense preparation. All responsible operators have a minimum age policy which will depend on the hike or trek, usually between 8 and 12 years old.

Planning a Machu Picchu trip with kids

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Fitness and support

These are not short strolls and they require a good amount of stamina to complete. In most cases, you will be hiking in remote areas of the country without car service. Once committed, it will not be easy to turn around, nor will you be able to cut a day of hiking short if the kids are tired. Plenty of time to acclimatise before heading out is key.

Aside from the Inca Trail, there will usually be the possibility of using a horse for at least part of the way. Keep in mind the horse is an “emergency” horse in case of serious injury or accident, and shouldn’t be relied upon for completing the trek. It may be a good idea to request an additional horse when trekking with kids.

Play it safe with food

There is a large variety of restaurants to choose from in Cusco, and the list is growing all the time. That said, as you get into smaller areas, and even at Machu Picchu, there aren’t as many options. Water is also a concern as, although much of the water in Cusco is chlorinated, elsewhere there can be bacteria and parasites present.

If you eat in the better tourist-oriented restaurants, you will usually be okay. Only drink bottled water, use it to brush your teeth, and keep your mouth closed when showering. Most people do not need to follow these last two suggestions but it’s best to play it safe, especially with little stomachs.

With a good trekking outfitter, your porters and chefs will work miracles to provide three delicious meals per day–the food is often a highlight of the trip! You’ll also get plenty of snacks throughout the day. These aren’t provided as a luxury, they’re essential for maintaining energy levels. If you’ve got picky eaters you might want to bring your own snacks, and make any special food requests when you book (not just before your group sets off!)

Hiking with kids

Even in Cusco, and definitely everywhere else, strollers are more of a hindrance than a help. Sidewalks and roads are often made of stones. Within the archaeological sites, there are few smooth pathways. Instead, there are typically many (many!) stone steps, some of which can be a bit precarious.

It’s best to have backpack-style carriers for children who are too young to be able to handle the terrain on their own. You may also want to plan only half-day tours so that when the kids get tired, little legs can get a rest.

Child friendly accommodation

In Machu Picchu Town, Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel is hands-down the best choice for families. This beautiful five-star accommodation feels more like a jungle retreat than a hotel, and features a large expanse of nature trails that everyone will enjoy. Some are specifically geared toward children. However, as a luxury hotel, it is not in everyone’s budget. Another good choice is Casa Andina, which is one of the few that offers the option of adjoining rooms.

Seek out larger lodges in the Sacred Valley, which will be better equipped and have more distractions for the young ones.

Women selling chicha peru

Women selling chicha in Patacancha

Mix it up each day to keep kids interested

The reality is that small children don’t typically get as excited about historical venues as adults. Most Inca sites (and Machu Picchu is no exception) feature a lot of stone walls and buildings. While adults can marvel at the architectural engineering, kids may just see a bunch of rocks after a while. Impatience and “ruins fatigue” will set in.

Spend more than a day at the main site so that you don’t have to see it all at once. Take advantage of the many grassy areas to let the kids run around and play. Be sure to let any tour guides you are using know what is of interest to your family. It can be confusing and tricky when they have people of varying ages to speak to at the same time. If you let them know what your expectations are, you can help them direct their explanations better.

Activities for kids

The chocolate museum
As you will probably be spending some time in Cusco, you’ll want to visit the Choco Museo, where kids can learn how to make their own candy. This doubles as a fun lesson on the roots of of the cacao plant and how it gets transformed into the world’s favourite confection.

The alpaca farm
On the way to Pisac from Cusco, stop off at Awanacancha. For adults, there is a store with high quality alpaca items. But the real reason to go is the exhibit that explains how to tell the difference between the four camelids native to Peru. Kids always love being able to feed the llamas and alpacas.

How To Hike Machu Picchu With Kids

Maureen Santucci

Maureen is based in the ancient Peruvian capital of Cusco, where she works as a travel advisor and journalist covering Peru for Fodors Travel Guides and a variety of other publications.

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