Our whole family sat on the couch listening in a trance, to the heavenly windpipe music and mesmerized by the mystical beauty that lie within Machu Picchu. This was part of a Spanish language documentary type of series, which highlighted different parts of the world that my mom loved watching.
From that point on my mothers dream was to visit Machu Picchu and stand tall on the mountain to breathe the fresh mountainous air. She never got to go and I never dreamed that my bare feet would one day walk over those immensely large stones. In honor of her dream, I stood over a cliff, with my hands wide open and breathed in the fresh air for her.
When we first started planning our family trip to Machu Picchu, we had a 4-year-old and a 15-month-old. It was our dream trip, and to be honest, we debated about going without our kids. But we finally realized that finding someone to watch our children for a week so that we could trek the ancient ruins of Peru was highly unlikely.
We had been saving up for years (we didn’t make much money), and we finally bought our airline tickets for our family of five, after three years of planning. Yes, our family grew during our saving period. We traveled with an 8-year-old, 5-year-old, and 3-year-old. Most people discouraged us from going to Machu Picchu with such young children.
And I love a challenge! So we decided that we could do it with the little ones, especially since our kids were already accustomed to the outdoors, hiking, and were pretty easy going (the baby not so much).
We traveled in July, which apparently is high season, and we were encouraged to buy our train tickets in advance. However, the tickets must be bought in person. You can’t book them in advance unless you pay an agency to do it for you. That wasn’t money we were willing to spend.
Our adventurous and budget minded spirit was okay with only having our hotel booked and our online Machu Picchu reservation. The rest we planned to do upon arrival. Looking back now, I don’t regret having done it that way, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless your train dates are flexible. After you see all of our photos, you’ll want to book your tickets right away!
As I did my research, it was difficult to find information on traveling with kids to Machu Picchu. I hope this post is helpful and encourages you to go beyond Machu Picchu to also discover the little town of Cusco. Cusco was one of the highlights of our trip with so much more to explore and discover. Please note that my tips and advice below work for any family, but they are geared for families who are traveling on a budget since that was the case for our family.
The information below was written from our experience in the summer of 2013 to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Things may change so you’ll want to check the official website for Machu Picchu.
Traveling Adventures: Machu Picchu and Beyond with Kids
1. Wait until you leave the airport to do your big money exchange.
Or unless exchange a few dollars at the airport. The Peruvian currency is the “Nuevo Sol” or “Sol” for short. You’ll need to calculate ahead of time approximately how much the dollar is worth and then get your money exchanged either at the airport or in the town of Cusco. I highly recommend you wait to do the latter. We exchanged most of our money in the shops around Plaza de las Armas. You can go from each little store and ask for their exchange rate if you’re trying to find the best rate. Always use extra caution when pulling out money when traveling. This is best done behind closed doors or at least out of sight.
2. Travel when the kids are younger — you’ll get great discounts!
On both of our Latin American adventures, we found that traveling with younger kids can save money as opposed to waiting until they’re older. The Latin American airlines gave us quite a discount on each child ticket that we bought. I don’t know what the cut-off age is for the discounts, but it’s worth checking into before you buy your tickets. Also, many of the tour buses and even the Machu Picchu entrance tickets didn’t charge me for my youngest child. If I would have known this ahead of time, I would have saved some money when I was being quoted for touring packages. Make sure that you let the tour companies know if you have a little one and the ages of your children so you can at least get a discount.
Machu Picchu entrance fees: There is no charge on admission for kids under 8 years of age. Children under 18 years of age only pay the student price, NOT the full price. Our tour agency totally pulled one over on us as we were ignorant to the fact that my 8-year-old didn’t have to pay the full price. So they charged us full price. Go to the entrance ticket website here to check if anything has changed.
3. Opt for a private chauffeur rather than a tour company package
If we were to do this again, rather than purchasing a package through a tour company (find options online), we would hire a private chauffeur (they are everywhere so you can hire one once you’re in town or ask your hotel to recommend a driver) to take us to the ruins in and around Cusco. The chauffeur can help you hire a guide at each of the sites or sometimes they serve as guides. We used a tour company for 65 percent of our site-seeing adventures around the city and it worked out fine for the most part. We were able to meet lots of other tourists (the picture above is of our tourist group) and thankfully everyone seemed tolerant of our children. The disadvantages were LONG days and waiting for everyone to get around the ancient sites (even though we had children we were faster compared to most of the other tourists in our group). There were areas we wanted to explore, but if it wasn’t on the tour schedule, then we couldn’t. If the people we were grouped with mostly spoke in Spanish, then the guide would forget to speak in English for our family. Another advantage is the tour included meals and stops at artisan shops. So it took away the guess work of where do we eat and where do we stop. But a private chauffeur would have been more accommodating to our family and wouldn’t have been much more expensive in the long run, possibly even cheaper.
4. If possible wait to book your tour package until you arrive if you’re trying to save money.
This may not work for everyone but we were flexible with our itinerary and we didn’t want to spend tons of money on a tour package.
All of the tour companies we looked at online cost a tremendous amount of money. As soon as we got off the plane inside the Cusco airport, there were quite a few tour company representatives sharing their packages and prices. Some were reputable and some were not, but we just asked our hotel personnel for their opinion upon arrival. If your tour package includes visit Machu Picchu make sure that you ask does it include the train ticket fee, the taxi fee to the train station, the hotel stay in the town of Aguas Calientes (if your train arrives there after 1 it’s hard to make it to Machu Picchu and back.)… Also, ask who is meeting you at the train station in Aguas Calientes and confirm your hotel stay before your arrival. We were told that some one would meet us in Aguas Calientes at the train station but they didn’t. Thankfully, I had the number of the lady in charge of my tour.
What I advise is to take a brochure from each table and ask them what their tour includes and write it all down. Ask for a quoted price ahead of time and have them write down the price and what includes. They are making deals with people all day so they won’t remember what they quoted and what they told you it included. I always assume they are trying to take advantage of us as foreigners but many times they just forgot. Then take everything to your hotel and study it. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, it’s pretty straight forward, or you can ask the front desk at your hotel to help you understand.
This is one of the positives of stopping in Cusco: We were able to take our time to find a reasonably priced tour package and explore the beautiful city in the meantime.
5. Do your research when it comes to choosing a hotel
We stayed at a family-friendly hotel in Cusco that caters to people of all ages and phases of life. We found that their rooms were suitable for the size of our family. When I looked up hotels online, they all required for me to get two rooms since we are a family of five. Because our youngest child was a baby (in Latin America they can still be classified as “babies” until 3 years of age), I called a few hotels and informed them that I needed a queen size bed and 2 twin beds, and that our baby would share a bed. Many times we bring an air mattress for the 3rd child or have them share beds.
We found a quaint little hotel built on the hill in between the artsy area of San Blas and Plaza de las Armas called Casa de Campo. They have a suites, apartments, as well as hotel rooms. We stayed in a suite. It was perfect for our family with a fireplace and jacuzzi in the master bedroom that we enjoyed every night after our boys went to bed! Seriously, after hiking all day, the jacuzzi was a delightful surprise (we didn’t realize our room came with one). I always try to find a place with free breakfast and this hotel’s price came with a breakfast buffet included. For a family of five, getting a free breakfast is always a plus because by the time you get everyone up, dressed, and actually find a reasonably priced place to eat, half of your morning could be gone. There are a lot of hotels in Cusco, so be sure to find one that fits your budget and needs. Because we had such a pleasurable experience at Casa de Campo, I highly recommend it.
6. The Cost of Entrance Fees to Musuems and other Historical Sites are not included in Tour Packages
Tour companies will bombard you on the street with their packages offering to take you on a city tour, the Sacred Valley tour, or to some local museums and ruins like Saksaywaman. What they don’t tell you is that the price you are being quoted only includes the guide and transportation. We quickly discovered that you have to buy a Boleto Turistico Del Cusco (The Cusco Tourist Ticket). This ticket must be purchased by the tourist, which is why it’s not included in the tour package price. It costs 130 soles (approximately $45) and it gives you access to 16 different museums.
7. Getting around Cusco and Machu Picchu
- Stroller: If you have a baby or toddler, you’ll be happy to know that in most parts of the touristy part of Cusco, you can use a stroller (But keep in mind there are a lot of cobblestone streets so it won’t be smooth riding). Strollers aren’t that practical to use in Machu Picchu, but you can use one in the town of Aguas Calientes where most people spend a night before conquering the majestic ruins. If you have a jogging stroller, that would work even better.
- Walking: Cusco and Aguas Calientes were safe and easy to get around. Thanks to God we didn’t have any dangerous encounters, but we also weren’t out partying past 10 p.m. and we stayed in well lit and populated areas. A few nights we were out at 9 p.m. walking as a family near the Plaza de las Armas and felt quite comfortable.
- Bus, taxi, or private chauffeur: We used all of these forms of transportation (including a train ride to Machu Picchu), and they were all affordable (except the train ride to Machu Picchu) and easy to get. (Note: the train ride out of Cusco isn’t running right now.)
8. Beyond Machu Picchu–Discovering Cusco
We toured lots of sites in and around Cusco before heading to Machu Picchu. We split the tour into two days and still couldn’t fit in all of the sites. (All of the sites below require the Boleto Turistico del Cusco, and as far as I could tell, you cannot pay at the museum. You have to buy the Boleto at designated places. The ticket needs to be purchased in Cusco first.)
- Ollantaytambo: This site is about an hour away so our tour included lunch, a tour of the ancient ruins in Ollantaytambo, and transportation.
- Pisac: Another ancient ruin site that we were able to visit on our way down to Ollantaytambo. My boys loved hanging out in this area because there was a ton of rock climbing and jumping to enjoy. The stonework and panoramas at Pisac’s Inca citadel were breathtaking from the Sun Temple.
- Chinchero: This is a small Andean village with a presentation of how they make fabric. We were able to explore the village on foot. I loved this site!
- Tambomachay: This was an archaeological site that I would have been fine without seeing, but it was included in our package so we happily explored it.
- Qenqo: Apparently this site is home to one of the largest wak’as (holy places) in the Cusco Region. Many wak’as were based on naturally occurring rock formations. It was believed to be a place where sacrifices and mummification took place.
- Saksaywaman: We loved hanging out here and I wish our tour guide would have let us walk over to the Christ statue that is situated looking over the city of Cusco but there wasn’t enough time.
- Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha and Museo Historico Regional: These museums are located in Cusco. They were the first museums we explored on the tour with lots of interesting information.
9. Make sure you get in writing the details of what your tour package covers and the amount.
So if your tour company says it cost $500 for Machu Picchu, Tombomachay, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Ask does the price quoted include your train ticket to Machu Picchu? Does it include the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu? Does it include the ride up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes? Will I need to stay in a hotel in Aguas Calientes? If so, does it include my hotel stay? Does it include my ride from Cusco to the train station? Does it include lunch/dinner? Does it include the entrance fee (Boleto Turistico) for the other museum sites? They’ll be shocked that you are asking but it proves you’ve done your research. Get it ALL in writing because what happens many times is one agency subleases another agency for another leg of the trip and then an another so between 50 people they have no idea what was included in your original package.
10. The logistics of getting to the actual Machu Picchu site
I did not realize all of the logistics that were involved getting to Machu Picchu prior to visiting. I did my research but still I just didn’t quite picture it as it ended up unfolding. So whether you are spending a night in Cusco after landing or not, it doesn’t matter this is how it goes down. You have to purchase the train ticket ahead of time not at the train station. You can find a ticket office in Plaza de las Armas.
From Cusco you need a ride to the train station there are two, but from my understanding only the Ollantaytambo train station is for tourist. It’s at least an hour drive out of Cusco.
From Ollantaytambo you take the train to Aguas Calientes the closest town to Machu Picchu.
Depending on your arrival time to Aguas Calientes will determine if you’ll have a chance to visit Machu Picchu they close at 5 p.m. If you arrive later then you’ll have to spend a night in Aguas Calientes. Once you get to Aguas Calientes you’ll need to take a bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu and then a bus back. You need a ticket for that bus and you need a ticket for Machu Picchu. You can also hike up but it’s a strenuous 2-3 hour hike up.
Then you take the train back to Ollantaytambo and then a taxi or bus back to Cusco. The timing of all of this is very important so it’s definitely something to inquire about ahead of time.
Ultimately, I found Cusco and Machu Picchu to be extremely tourist-friendly. Happy trip planning!
Do you have any family friendly tips from your Machu Picchu trip to share with us?