Plan it right and your family tour of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley will go down as the best family vacation ever. Good thing our Chief Explorer happens to have two kids of his own…
Over the past decade and a half, I’ve visited Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley countless times. I’ve been with my own kids at various stages in their development; I’ve been with my teenage nieces and nephews; and – on a couple of occasions – I’ve even visited with grandma in tow. Here’s what I’ve learned…
Take it slow
Traveling in the Andes, and specifically getting to and from Machu Picchu involves a fair bit of logistics (road transfer, train ride, bus to the ruins), so a private tour allows your travels to be efficient and done at your own pace. What’s more, the itinerary should take into account the fact that kids can’t wait till 3 pm for lunch, for example, and that they need a chance to run around before a long journey. In my experience, adults benefit from this kind of approach too, but that’s a topic for another day.
Kids often handle altitude better than adults
There’s no way of predicting who will be affected by altitude. That said, in my experience kids seems to cope just fine with altitude. For reference Cusco is located at 11,150 feet, the Sacred Valley at 9,100 and Machu Picchu at 8,000.
Start in the Sacred Valley
Machu Picchu may well be the highlight of your trip (and with good reason) but the Sacred Valley (the rural heartland of the Inca empire located between Cusco and Machu Picchu) is an absolute hit with youngsters. Not only is the altitude lower than Cusco’s and the climate a bit more temperate, but opportunities for adventure and life-changing cultural exchange abound. Whether they’re observing the cuy (guinea pigs) which have been domesticated by Andean families for centuries, snapping selfies with llamas and alpacas, or ziplining above the valley, there is something for everyone. Other family-friendly attractions in the Sacred Valley include:
The Awana Kancha ‘living museum’ where kids discover what makes South American camelids unique, see local rescued animals and learn all about the manufacture of traditional textiles.
The mindboggling salt mines near Maras which have been in operation for nearly 1000 years fascinate people of all ages, but kids get an extra special kick out of them.
Zip lining, via ferrata (climbing a 1200-foot cliff on steel ladders), mountain biking, horseback riding and kayaking can all be arranged.
El Albergue offers a traditional pachamanca (“earth oven”) lunch for both guests and non-guests. This is a real hit with all ages.
Don’t max out on museums in Cusco
History buffs could easily spend a month exploring Cusco’s many churches, cathedrals and museums without growing bored. Family vacays are a very different beast. I’d advise hitting up the main cathedral (see if your kids notice the guinea pig in the Last Supper painting), the ChocoMuseo (kids don’t seem to mind museums about chocolate…especially interactive ones) and perhaps incorporating a horseback-riding element to your tour of Sacsayhuaman, the magnificent Inca fortress overlooking town.
Know your limits at Machu Picchu
Whether you’re four or 94, your first glimpse of Machu Picchu will knock you sideways. As in Cusco, you could easily spend weeks exploring the site but this is not an option if you’re traveling with under-10s (or over-60s). The sprawling complex is located at an altitude of 8,000 feet on extremely hilly terrain, so seeing it all can be exhausting. If, on the other hand, there are young, fit teens in your group, they will almost certainly want to include a hike to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain as part of their visit. This is why traveling with a private guide who understands your group’s limits is so vital.
Choose your hotels wisely
Where you choose to stay has a massive impact on the success of your trip. It’s also important not to chop and change hotels every day – if at all possible we’d advise spending at least two nights in each spot. Fortunately, there are some fantastic family-friendly options in and around Machu Picchu.
Family-friendly Sacred Valley hotels
The value-oriented Casa Andina has fantastic family cottages and an on-site observatory which has proved a real hit with my kids.
El Albergue (of the famous pachamanca lunches) has gorgeous gardens and the best burgers in Peru. For the grownups, it also serves up smart and tasty international cuisine and excellent local coffees.
The superior Aranwa hotel, built on the grounds of a 17th-century hacienda has a fabulous outdoor pool and free-roaming animals including peacocks. Not to mention an indulgent spa and exquisite dining options.
Family-friendly Cusco hotels
The splendid Palacio Nazarenas – built on Inca ruins – will take mom and dad’s breath away. It’s also totally family-friendly and boasts the best (only) pool in town.
El Mercado, our go-to 4-star property has an outdoor fire pit where you can often find live music. Their breakfast is “market style”: very colorful, and prepared fresh and out in the open for you to see.
Family-friendly Machu Picchu hotels
Machu Picchu Pueblo, set among magnificent regenerated forest, has a string of naturally heated rock swimming pools, a cornucopia of colorful birds, and a host of kiddy-friendly excursions (including one to Inkaterra’s spotted bear research center).
Hit up these family-friendly restaurants
Sometimes you simply need a break from hotel food…
La Bodega 138 in Cusco serves up great thin-crust pizzas, copious salads and tasty pastas in a relaxed atmosphere. There’s also a great selection of freshly-squeezed juices, local craft beers, and fine South American wines.
Indio Feliz in Machu Picchu town is run by a French guy who knows all about comfort food. The handpainted wooden décor seals the deal. Reservations recommended.
I’ve mentioned it (twice!) already but El Albergue really is the go-to family eatery in the Sacred Valley.
Have I convinced you yet? Check out our most-popular Machu Picchu Family Tour or speak to a Destination Expert about customizing the family adventure of your dreams.
The cover image of this blog shows Nick and his daughter. All other pics are of our Director, Riva Bacquet’s, family.