This past summer, we finally took the boys to Machu Picchu…what an adventure! We defied all those scary notions that the trip would be too much for the for kids…that it’s too hard for the little ones. That is hard to travel and also to walk along the high cliffs (they might fall!), etc. Well, our kids are 6 and 8 and we’re very glad we did it now as a family – and I’ll tell you why.
Being Peruvian, I have been to Machu Picchu about seven times before I had kids, twice with my husband. Yeah, it sounds like too much, but I just got addicted to the energy of the place. It recharges me, I don’t know why. I can tell you that it is way better than a perfect day at the beach…and I am a total beach addict!
I haven’t come back there since our wedding, more than 10 years ago. Last time we were there we went with all our wedding guests that flew in from the USA (and Australia – love you, Bruce!) for our wedding. We had tons of fun as tour guides for the gringos…but that’s another story. Back to the kids traveling with us to Machu Picchu…
Over the past decade, Peru has had tremendous economic growth. It’s great for the Peruvian people, and as a tourist you’ll find a lot more comforts than in the past. But now you will face different challenges, especially traveling with kids.
The great thing is that the Machu Picchu ruins look better preserved, and you and your family will be blown away – safely. 🙂 No more fungus that erodes the ancient stones, yay! What has changed is that now you’re not free to explore the sanctuary as long as you please. There are two openings each day for visitors (morning and afternoon), and you must follow an established circuit, moving forward only.
Once you visit an area inside the ruins, they don’t want you to go backwards. That is challenging for little ones that like to explore. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine since there is so much to see ahead. It has changed so much and there are so many more people than when we last visited in 2006.
There is so much information to give you about how to get there with Kids – and I’ll write more about that later, but let’s start with this.
Getting to Machu Picchu
Once in Cusco, to get to Machu Picchu you need to get tickets for the train, bus tickets (to get you from the “Machu Picchu Village” (formerly known as Aguas Calientes to the sanctuary), and get your entrance tickets to get into the ruins. You will probably end up taking the train from Ollantaytambo or Cusco. There are many tour operators who will book a complete package for you, including tours of the Sacred Valley for a family adventure.
If you go all the way to Machu Picchu, I say, go all the way. That means getting there at dawn to see the sun rise and burn away the clouds, gradually reviewing the grandeur of the sanctuary. Many people and families do the afternoon opening but you will miss a truly spectacular show.
Get On the Bus
To make sure we were there bright and early, we got in line for the bus at 3:00 A.M – but we had a little help. The night before, we found a couple of Peruvian women at the bus stop and asked them if this is where we line up. They said yes, and in fact, they were already in line. They couldn’t afford a hotel that night, so they were just going to sit there, all night long.
We made a little deal with them, since the hotels were all full: we bought them some blankets and a few snacks, and asked them to hold a place for us. Six hours later, I went to get in line at 3:00 A.M. I left the kids asleep in the hotel with my husband, and then they came around 5:30 because the first bus leaves at 6:00 AM sharp.
That’s the tricky part, since kids are cold and basically asleep – even though they got 8 hours of sleep, getting them up at 5:00 in the cold and dark is tough! Make sure you bring a bunch of stuff for them to feel warm and some fruit or something to wake them up. Keep enough free space in your backpacks for their stuff (hats, jackets) so that climbing and visiting will be easier for them so they’ll better enjoy your family adventure.
Along the way up, you’ll see all the hardcore backpackers who make the trek on foot from the village to the sanctuary. They have guards at the bottom of the road to make sure nobody sets off before 4:00 AM – a fast hiker can make it up to the top in 90 minutes, but most people will need two hours or more to make the climb. Even though we were on the first bus of the day, about 50-60 hikers made it there before us and were already in line by the time we arrived.
I have to tell you the bus route still scares me – it hasn’t changed, it’s still the same road hugging a cliff barely wide enough for two cars. You can’t see it at 6 am but on your way back in the afternoon it can make your heart stop for a second as the driver navigates dozens of hairpin turns. But, don’t worry – I’m told no Peruvians or foreign tourists have fallen off the cliff.
MACCHU PICCHU INCA CITADEL FOR THE KIDS
The kids slept in our arms on the bus on the way up. Once we got there, they started walking like zombies…they moaned and complained like the undead, believe me! When dawn broke, we were expecting the clouds to fade away and show Machu Picchu in all its glory…but unfortunately it was a very foggy morning, so the clouds didn’t burn off until 11 A.M. or so, by which time the place was overrun with tourists.
Once the kids were awake they started running and playing around the ruins and went ga-ga over it all, even though they’re well past the goo-goo ga-ga stage of life. 🙂 It was a magical family adventure, and it’s one that kids will never forget. They keep saying that they climbed mountains. I won’t forget it either.
If you want to learn the cost of our trip get it here. Or if you have any question don’t hesitate to ask in the comments 😉 I would be happy to share what I know.