10 Tips For Taking Kids to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Visiting the lost Inca city is an adventure vacation which requires you to traverse the mountainous Sacred Valley by bus, train or on foot. Visiting Peru is also a profound cultural experience. In an era where children are increasingly plugged in to artificial computer screens and inundated with photos of internet celebrities, it might be worth considering Peru for your next family vacation.

But is Machu Picchu a family friendly destination?

As an expat living in Lima, I’ve been to Machu Picchu both as a tourist and a guide on dozens of occasions. The trip requires a flight to Cusco which sits at over 11,000 feet of elevation. There are many spectacular archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley but most of them, including Machu Picchu, require several hours of strenuous hiking to view.

This year I decided to take my 5 and 3 year old daughters to Machu Picchu, and I’m pleased to report that they thoroughly enjoyed the trip. However, it’s very important to observe some simple rules to help make the kids’ vacation enjoyable.

1. Have lots of hard candies and insist your kids eat them.

This may sound a little bit strange coming from a health conscious parent, but there is a time and place for everything–even sugar. Glucose helps fend off the effects of altitude sickness, so it’s important to have a steady supply of something sweet when walking around Cusco. 11,000 feet is pretty extreme elevation, so be extra attentive to any complaints your kids might have about stomach aches or nausea. Try not to allow them to run around excessively, and make sure they drink plenty of water or Gatorade. Tourists commonly experience some headaches and nausea on the first day of their trip, but after a night or two the body adjusts. Eating enough sugar so that you feel a slight sugar buzz eliminates most of the symptoms.

2. Plan time for a nap every day.

The altitude of Cusco and the strains of being in a foreign city can be extremely taxing on small children. It’s important to plan on being back at the hotel after lunch for a two to three hour nap. After hiking around at altitude, the kids are going to be exhausted, and you’ll receive few to no complaints about laying down for a short nap. Join them! It’s a vacation after all!

on-the-train

3. Plan on seeing half as much as you would on a trip with adults.

Don’t attempt to push your kids too hard on a trip like this. If you keep them well rested, they will absorb and enjoy the sights that Peru has to offer, but if you push them when they’re tired the trip will become a nightmare. Pick an activity for the morning and spend an hour or two visiting it before retiring for lunch. Accept that you won’t see everything, but you will enjoy what you do see.

4. Be very patient.

Understand that even adults sometimes have moments of panic when fully immersed in a foreign culture. For children, it is disorienting to go to a place where people speak a different language. Even the act of sleeping in a strange bed for a series of nights can be daunting. You can expect to have a few moments where your kids become a little distraught at no apparent provocation. They only need to be reassured and will bounce back quickly. If they are acting a bit unreasonable, hug them rather than scold them with the awareness that they’re in the middle of a remarkable journey.