Well what to say, obviously having just returned from 2 weeks in Peru (here’s our detailed Peru itinerary) , I can only answer yes of course!
Visiting Machu Picchu with kids will be a challenging but memorable experience! We have been traveling with our twin boys Liam and Santiago, almost 3 years old, and thanks to a very detailed pre-planning everything went smoothly!
Our journey started with with 2 days in Lima, then took us on an adventure to Huacachina and from there we flew to Cusco to drive for 5 days in the Sacred Valley and during that time we made our visit to Machu Picchu.
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Planning a trip to Machu Picchu with kids
Preplan when you want to go
The visit to Machu Picchu is not something you can wake up in the morning and decide to do, unfortunately in this case the spontaneity must give way to the organization, especially if you decide to visit the site in high season between June and August.
This is true if you are travelling with or without kids.
HOT TIP: Especially if you decide to take a last minute trip to Peru, and you want to go to Machu Picchu, check on the official website that there are tickets available before paying for flights and all the rest, in high season they could finish weeks in advance. All info on how to buy Machu Picchu tickets independently here!
Once you have made sure that there are entrance tickets available, one of the things to decide is whether you want to organize a day trip from Cusco or one of the other villages in the Sacred Valley, or if you want to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu village)
Here are my reflections to help with the decision.
New entrance rules
In 2018 the government changed the access to Machu Picchu site, so you will have to choose whether to buy the ticket for the morning or afternoon. It is no longer possible to stay inside all day.
Another thing to keep in mind is that in the morning if you want to be at the gates of Machu Picchu at 6:00 am to watch the sunrise, in high season you will have to line up for the bus as early as 4:30 am because the queues are very long (the first bus leaves at 5:30). Obviously we have not experimented directly, but it is what I have read on the net many times.
As well as the fact that most of the time reaching the Puerta del Sol in time does not guarantee sight of the sunrise because often low clouds, fog, or haze obscure the view.
With these premises my suggestion, if you are traveling with small children, is to visit Machu Picchu as a day trip taking the afternoon entrance.
Having made these decisions it only remains to:
- check the train timetables and buy return tickets. (our train on the way back was completely full)
- buy the entry ticket for Machu Picchu (I explain how to buy them independently here as the official website is a bit unclear, but if you follow step by step you will not have to pay extra money to an agency!)
- The bus ticket from Aguas Caliente to the site entrance can be bought directly when you get off the train
I will now explain how we organized ourselves step by step to get to Machu Picchu, to make it really easy if you follow our itinerary, then I will illustrate the other possible options. Here is a quick overview of how the day will unfold
- reach Ollantaytambo
- took the 8:53am Vistadome Perurail train that arrives at 10:29am
- bought the bus tickets from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu entrance
- entered at 12Noon precisely
- explored the site until roughly 4pm then took the bus back down
- had an early dinner in Aguas Calientes
- took the 6:20pm Expedition Perurail that arrived back at 8:05pm
- got back to Urubamba by 8:30pm
How to get to Machu Picchu
How to get from Urubamba to Machu Picchu
Step 1. Get to the Ollantaytambo station.
As we were staying in Urubamba the most convenient plan was to drive 15 minutes to Ollantaytambo. A few metres from the entrance of the train station there is a guarded car park (I think it is mainly used by the small vans and buses that run the organized tours) where you can leave the car for 3 soles per hour,
If you don’t have a car it’s not a problem as a taxi from Urubamba costs a few soles.
Step 2. Train to Machu Picchu
There are two companies you can choose to travel with by train to Machu Picchu: Perurail and Incarail. Both private and both super expensive … but excluding one other way that I do not recommend with children (I will talk about it more at the end) there is no alternative. We used Perurail, mainly because the schedules adapted better to our program
HOT TIP: when you buy the ticket online you will receive a confirmation email, with this and the credit card used for the purchase you will have to go to one of the Perurail offices and they will print the ticket. In the email you will find the addresses of the offices. A really practical one is in Cusco airport, just in front the luggage belt
We took then Vistadome train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, leaving at 8:53 am arriving at 10:29 am, very punctual! At Ollantaytambo station everything was well organized, but it was not rush hour, I think it is much more chaotic early in the morning.
Perurail offers three service levels, the Vistadome train is the intermediate. It has panoramic windows that really allow you to enjoy the magnificent scenery. I especially recommend it in the morning, as when coming back between tiredness and darkness it makes no difference how big the windows are!
There is also a train station directly in Urubamba, but while we were there only two trains stopped at this station, one too early and one too late for our program (6:50 and 10:30). The journey is also much longer taking 3h instead of 1h 40min.
Of course if you stay at the splendid Tambo del Inca maybe it’s worth considering them!
Children under the age of three travel free but without an assigned seat. We were lucky, the train was not full and the boarding assistants made a couple of little changes so we could all have a seat. If you want to be sure your kids have a seat, you can buy it for children up to 11 years at 50% discount. During the trip we also received a snack, a huge slice of brownie and coffee or non-alcoholic juice, other drinks were available to purchase.
Step 3. Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Once arrived at the Aguas Calientes station you get sucked into the market that starts right in front of it and from which you cannot escape. The market seems a little maze, but even though you can’t see the end of the market, you will still come out right in front of the bridge that you have to cross to reach the main square.
From the bridge, if you look down on the left hand side you will immediately see a lower level the road where there is usually a line of people waiting for the bus to Machu Picchu. From the bridge you can get off directly at the bus level.
Tickets must be bought in an office 5 minutes from the stop. Going up the small road where the line is formed, turn into the second little street on the left. They accept cash and credit cards, but on the cards there is a surcharge.
Children up to 5 years ride for free… luckily, because for a journey of less than half an hour you have to pay US$ 24 per person for the round trip !!!! Daylight robbery!! Obviously you can decide to climb on foot … but there will be so much to climb once you get to the top that we spared ourselves, you can go for it if you wish though!
Ok the last effort is now to get in line and wait for the frequent buses and then you can finally start the trek to see one of the seven wonders of the world!
How to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu
The train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes takes much longer than from Ollantaytambo. It is about 4 hours from the San Pedro station which uses Incarail, or more than 3 hours from the Poray station (both Incarail and Perurail have trains from there), but it takes about twenty minutes to reach it .
Despite this the journey can still be made as a day trip, you just must leave earlier and return later. An alternative often considered to save money is to take a bus/combi or taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then the train from there.
All travel agency also organize Machu Picchu tours from Cusco and most of the agencies selling the Inca trail or other Machu Picchu hiking tours also start there.
How to visit Machu Picchu
In this part I am not going to replace a good guide, but mainly offer a series of tips based on our experience.
How long to see Machu Picchu
The new rules unfortunately require some self-discipline specifically if you face the visit without a guide. Considering that most people will not return to Machu Picchu for many years, it might be easy to get carried away by the beauty of the sacred city and wander too long before realizing that it is time to go out and not finish the visit
Unfortunately the new tickets allow access only for half a day from 6am to 12pm or from 12pm to 5pm. It is true that I didn’t see anyone being escorted out at 12pm, but you never know when they could begin to enforce the rules!
Having said that, most people will find that a 3 or 4 hour visit (especially if you don’t climb Huayna Picchu or the Mountain) is more than sufficient.
What to wear in Machu Picchu
The sacred city of Machu Picchu is in the mountains at 2,430m so as on all the mountains the weather is variable and can change in a very short time. The forecasts these days are very accurate, but if you leave in the morning from the Sacred Valley I suggest you use the usual technique of onion dressing (Mark says this is called layering, but I prefer onion dressing!) and bring with you a light raincoat.
We were extremely lucky, the sun accompanied us for the whole day. It was clear when we entered that the weather was stable so we relieved ourselves of all the heavy clothes and left them at the small lockers immediately after entering (5 soles per bag)
We were wearing normal trainers shoes and they were absolutely fine. I’m guessing that if you are going to Machu Picchu during the rainy season or you are planning to climb Huayna Picchu or the mountain you want to look at something more technical.
Trekking Machu Picchu with small kids
After you have passed the gates you begin to climb, go up and up. The altitude makes itself felt and although the route is easy enough, perhaps consider that children could get tired more easily. Ours did get tired about half way or three quarters, but we were prepared and we brought them on our backs with the ergobaby, our heroes of this journey!
Once at the top it becomes easier because there are open spaces and slopes gentle enough for them walk and explore happily. We put them back in the carriers when we decided to walk to see the Inca bridge. The journey should last 40 minutes round-trip (there is a book at the entrance where you must sign in and out with timing) but we spent an hour. This path would be far too dangerous for a child to walk. In some places you walk on a narrow path on the side of the mountain almost overhanging. I’m not sure if I would do it again!
Food and toilets
You cannot bring food into the site. I knew but I forgot and still had bread and bananas for Liam and Santiago. At the entrance the guard saw them, but he simply asked me to put them back in the backpack. Bring a good supply of water because it is for sale only outside.
There are no toilets inside, so adjust accordingly. You can go out once inside your visiting time, but consider that there is a good hike from the entrance to the actual ruins.
We got the brilliant idea of potty training our boys the week before the trip. As you can surely imagine the results were variable with occasional accidents and many stops in the most unexpected places! Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a pee in the grass, but we considered that other business would be disrespectful of the site and other travelers so we always carried with us their portable potty with liners. Don’t forget that there are no bins, so you’ll have to take back all the trash you produce … not ideal, but it’s part of traveling with children!
Guide. The new rules say that you can’t enter visiting Machu Picchu without an official guide. If you didn’t contact a guide previously, you can negotiate the price with one of those that are waiting. We have not however seen anyone deny entry to those without a guide including us. (but I regret we didn’t have a guide to really go deeper in the history of this magical place)
Best time to go to Machu Picchu
From May to September in the afternoon is the quick response from my point of view.
You can visit Machu Picchu all year round (the Inca trail is closed only in February for maintenance) but the period from May to September is the dry period when the weather should be at its best. This is also the period that coincides with the high season. We didn’t find a lot of people at the beginning of May. In the photo below you can see the only time when an organized group makes the site seem more crowded than it actually was.
Before Liam and Santiago (BLS) I always tried to avoid the high season, but in this case the plan prefers dry children!
Machu Picchu altitude
How high is Machu Picchu? Machu Picchu is situated at an altitude of 2,430m. Many people don’t realize that this isn’t actually the highest point of their trip.
It is quite common to suffer when you go up to altitudes greater than 3000m. Many people pass from Lima (on the sea) to Cusco (altitude 3,399m) underestimating the possible risks.
In this post I wanted to reiterate the importance of considering that in Peru everybody could suffer from altitude sickness.
Spending a couple of days at a lower altitude helps the body to adapt. After some research I developed the itinerary to try to minimize the undesirable effects of altitude sickness. For this reason the choice to move to the sacred valley immediately after landing in Cusco
We were lucky enough, I took paracetamol only on the first two mornings because I had a slight headache, Mark maybe 3 or 4 days. Liam and Santiago seem not to have suffered. Children seem to suffer less, but they must be watched more closely as for them it is more difficult to explain possible illnesses.
Machu Picchu trip cost
Unfortunately visiting Machu Picchu is not coming cheap: you have to take into account, taxi to the station, (unless you stay in Ollantaytambo), the cost of the round trip train from Ollantaytambo (or Cusco) to Aguas Calientes, the cost of a return bus to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes and of course Machu Picchu entrance fee itself!
To us it all cost £ 170 per person (around US $ 220) excluding the taxi because we had the car !!!! And fortunately the children have not paid anything otherwise it would have been a drain for a Machu Picchu day trip !!!
The only way to save money is to consider alternative methods that I personally would not recommend to those traveling with small children, but as we all know the choices are always personal.
To save money on the train tickets you can walk all 28km from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes along the railway or you can reach Hidroelectrica by local transport and from there walk 2-3 hours to Aguas Calientes.
Obviously to save the cost of the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu you can walk (it seems to be an hour)
What to say, make your reflection and if you do a quick search on the internet you will find many testimonials from people who reach Machu Picchu in this way!
Visiting Machu Picchu with kids is something you will remember all your life, don’t let the cost of or what apparently seem a complicate pre planning throw you down, follow the steps and let me know if you enjoy it!