Planning a family trip to Machu Picchu can be a confusing and overwhelming experience. Like all the world’s greatest cultural landmarks, it’s not exactly the kind of place you can just drop by at a moment’s notice. The ancient Inca citadel sits atop a mountain peak almost 2,500 meters above sea level, 75 kilometers (47 miles) from the nearest city. To reach it with young kids or unenthused teenagers in tow seems like a tough challenge. Especially when you’re drowning in information about routes, transport, and requirements. As experts on Machu Picchu family trips, we are here to make it really easy for you. We have created a simplified, easy-to-follow guide on how to visit Machu Picchu with kids. In it, we cover:
- The best route to Machu Picchu
- How to get to Aguas Calientes with kids
- Stopping in the Sacred Valley
- Getting from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
- Machu Picchu’s accessibility and facilities
- The best time to take a family trip to Machu Picchu
We hope this will solve all your planning woes and allow you to feel fully comfortable with taking your kids to the ancient citadel and confident that you’re making the best choices for your Machu Picchu family trip.
First things first: Is it Worth Taking a Family Trip to Machu Picchu?
We believe Machu Picchu is truly one of the most worthwhile places you could visit as a family. Firstly because it is such a magical and memorable place that it will feel especially poignant and meaningful when sharing it with the people you love the most. What’s more, its rich history and cultural influence will give your children a rare and impactful insight into the diversity of civilization. Not only will this encourage them to have a greater sense of curiosity for the world around them, but it will also sway them to have a greater appreciation for it, regardless of whether they’re six or 16. And while the journey there may not be simple, it will certainly be full of fun, adventure, and excitement.
How to get to Aguas Calientes with kids
The ancient Inca capital of Cusco is the first stop on your journey to Machu Picchu. It is often referred to as ‘the gateway to Machu Picchu’, and that’s because you can’t reach the citadel in the sky without coming to Cusco; it is from here that the minibuses, trains, and Inca Trail tours set off. Depending on which mode of travel your family decides to take, you can either choose to stay in the Sacred Valley for a couple of days (which is 1/2 of the way there), or continue directly to Aguas Calientes aka the Machu Picchu ‘base camp’. For the final leg of the journey, you can choose to take a coach up to Machu Picchu, or if your family is really fit, you can challenge yourselves to the steep 400-meter (1.5-hour) hike.
Take the train to Machu Picchu
The train is by far the most convenient mode of travel for a Machu Picchu family trip. Not only is it spacious, comfortable, and reliable, but it also takes you directly to Aguas Calientes. This makes Machu Picchu super accessible to groups with children. The two best trains to Aguas Calientes are:
The Hiram Bingham train:
The Hiram Bingham train is one of the most special and exclusive in the world and yes, children are allowed to travel on it. It’s a wonderful way to make your family trip to Machu Picchu that bit more special. Plus, tickets for children aged 3-11 are discounted.
The Vistadome train:
This is the main public train to Machu Picchu. While it conveniently goes directly to Aguas Clientes, it departs from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley which is 1.5 hours (60 km/37 miles) away from Cusco by car or minibus.
Hiking the Inca Trail with Kids
The 4-day Inca Trail
If you and your kids are up for a real adventure on this Machu Picchu family trip, why not follow in the footsteps of the royal Inca on the world-famous Inca Trail? This four-day trek leads you 43 km (26 miles) from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes. Along the way, not only will you be blessed with some of Peru’s greatest mountain views, but you will also get to visit some of the Incas’ lesser-known ruins like Intipata and Winay Wayna. With over 4,000 meters of elevation gain the four days, the Inca Trail has a moderate level of difficulty, making it suitable for active families with hiking experience.
The 1-day Inca Trail (Inca Trail Express)
From the KM 104 starting point to Machu Picchu, the 1-day Inca Trail is 8 km (5 miles) long with a 1,700-meter elevation gain that takes 5-8 hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll stop to rest and visit some of the Incas’ lesser-known ruins. This is much more accessible to younger or less active families. Although it’s not as challenging as the 4-day trail, it is still a tough hike, and everyone, no matter what age, feels a great sense of achievement for completing it. Plus, it still covers the best part of the Inca Trail: the ascent to the Sun Gate, (the doorway to Machu Picchu) which offers unbeatable views of the citadel.
How to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu with kids
Hike up to Machu Picchu
There is a paved stairway through the mountain forest directly from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. With an elevation of 390 meters, it takes about 1.5 hours to climb. It is perfectly safe and accessible to children above the age of eight, but the depth of some steps will make it difficult for smaller children.
Take the Bus up to Machu Picchu
After a long journey to reach Aguas Calientes, you may prefer to save the rest of your energy for exploring Machu Picchu by taking the bus to the top instead. The journey takes about 30 minutes each way and they run regularly, so you never have to wait long to board. The buses often reach Machu Picchu before the hikers, putting you ahead in the queues.
Recommended 7-Night Itinerary for a Machu Picchu Family Trip
Days 1-3: Sacred Valley
Start with a flight to Cusco City, followed by a couple of days to rest or exploration in the Sacred Valley to prepare your family for the journey ahead to Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley is a quiet and peaceful mountain valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu known for its luxury retreats and rural Peruvian feel. Spend your mornings horseback riding and visiting local farms and markets, but leave your afternoons free for a spa session back at the retreat while your kids are occupied in the outdoor pool.
Day 4: Journey to Aguas Calientes
Feeling rested and acclimatized, it’s time for your family to continue the journey to Aguas Calientes, the Machu Picchu base camp. If you and the kids are ready for the challenge, we recommend the 1-day Inca Trail which gives you the chance to follow the royal Inca footsteps and enter Machu Picchu through the scenic Sun Gate. Alternatively, treat your family to a once-in-a-lifetime train ride on the Hiram Bingham. If you have taken transport to Aguas Calientes, you’ll have the rest of the evening to rest and explore the town’s shops and markets.
Day 5: Machu-Picchu to Cusco
Wake up bright and early to watch the sunrise over Machu Picchu with your family before taking a guided tour of the citadel. With a private tour, the guide will go at your preferred pace, giving you and your kids time to rest and soak in the scenes as and when you like. To refuel for the descent back to Aguas Calientes, stop for afternoon tea at the Belmond’s luxurious Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel beside Machu Picchu. Once your family is full-up, it’s time to make the onward journey to Cusco by train and private car.
Days 6-8: Cusco
We recommend a three-night-stop in Cusco where you can explore the ancient Inca capital. Cusco is abuzz with fellow adventurers ready to make their travel dreams come true. As you wander through its ancient cobbled streets, you’ll feel the excitement and anticipation in the air. Along the way, you can stop at local markets, handicraft shops, colonial cathedrals, and some of Peru’s top-rated restaurants.
Machu Picchu Facilities
There are lots of facilities at the entrance of Machu Picchu that make it very child-friendly. These include:
- Clean public toilets
- Snack Bar and Tinkuy Restaurant (Buffet at Sanctuary Lodge Hotel with a selection of food for all ages).
- Souvenir shops
- Luggage storage
- A pharmacy and medical staff
The Best Time to take a family trip to Machu Picchu
Although your travel windows may be limited by school semesters, the citadel is open year-round, so there is still plenty of opportunity for a Machu Picchu family trip. Bear in mind it does have high and low seasons which affect prices, crowd sizes, and tour availability. To learn more about the best time for you to take a family trip to Machu Picchu, take a look at our month-by-month guide.
Book your family trip to Machu Picchu
No matter what route you take to Machu Picchu, both the journey and the destination will be one you and your kids will never want to forget. Since there are several steps to take to reach Machu Picchu, there can be a lot to organize and arrange. Hopefully, this article has given you all the information you need to get started. Remember, this is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations so arranging your trip in advance is key. To secure your family trip to Machu Picchu, talk to our trusted Machu Picchu travel planners toll-free on +1 855 217 9045, direct on +51 84 656 421 or send us a message today.