Peru Family Vacation: Machu Picchu
This post is part of our Two Weeks in Peru with a Toddler series. The Introduction, route map, and itinerary can be found here.
At last, time for the famed city of Machu Picchu.
Perched atop a mountain crest, mysteriously abandoned more than four centuries ago, Machu Picchu is the most famous archeological ruin in the Western Hemisphere and an iconic symbol of the power and engineering prowess of the Inca. In the years since Machu Picchu was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911, there have been countless theories about this “Lost City of the Incas,” yet it remains an enigma. Why did the Incas build it on such an inaccessible site? Who lived among its stone buildings, farmed its emerald green terraces, and drank from its sophisticated aqueduct system? –NOVA
Days 1-2: Arequipa
Days 3-4: Colca Canyon
Days 7-9: Cusco
Day 10: It’s transportation day. We checked out of the hotel, got a car transfer, then a train ride to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu) and then a terrifyingly steep bus ride up the mountain to the famed ruins. Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance online as there are caps on the daily number of visitors. Same goes for admittance to Huayna Picchu, the peak behind the abandoned city.
But, oh: MACHU PICCHU!!! A sight to behold. The iconic ruins deep within the jungle, perched on a single solitary peak, with the river winding past, far below. Use the bathroom before entering, bring more water than you think you’ll need, and prepare for steep climbs and hordes of people.
Following our transportation adventure, it was 2pm by the time we’d arrived atop the mountain, probably the peak tourist time. Not our best planning. The kid was tired, I was still reeling from the bus ride up the mountain (hairpin turns! Steep cliffs!) and the steamy jungle weather was a drastic change from the dry desert days earlier in the trip. We should have promptly turned around, headed for our hotel, and tried again on the marrow.
But we stuck it out and spent a few hours wandering among the buildings and snapped the requisite photo of the family in front of the main square. And then Ben promptly snoozed his way through the rest of the tour.
Families with older children might enjoy the climb up Huayna Picchu to see additional temples but a word of caution first: it’s a strenuous climb, with steep stairs, and lousy handrails. Skip it entirely if you have little ones or are afraid of heights. As of this writing, the daily cap for Huayna Picchu was 500 and advance tickets are required.
Another activity for families with older children: Instead of arriving at Machu Picchu via bus and rail, try one of the many treks that wind through the countryside before entering the site through the famed sun gate.
Looking for more info on Machu Picchu? We loved the NOVA special.
Once again board the buses for a ride down the mountain. We splurged wildly and checked into the exotically decadent Inkaterra Hotel. Ben loved the twisty jungle trails and bird feeding stations set up throughout the grounds.
We ventured into Aguas Calientes for dinner (dreadfully overpriced) and a quick perusal of the tourist market before deciding that our lovely casita back at Inkaterra was a better location of our little family. Little Ben was so tired that he didn’t even try to scale the walls of his crib that evening.
Day 11: Following a tremendously decadent breakfast in the Inkaterra’s restaurant, we had a few hours to kill before our train’s departure. We followed the road out of town and eventually walked along the train tracks before finding a spot along the river to enjoy the scenery. From the bottom of the valley, Machu Picchu looks dramatically inaccessible and remote, perched atop its lonely mountain. The train ride back to modern civilization is short, especially as we disembarked in the Sacred Valley, ready for a bit of R&R.
Machu Picchu- Really, it’s the only reason you’d go this far out of your way and the only reason the lousy town of Aguas Calienties exists. Get there early and be prepared for crowds.
Hiking – Some adventurous souls hike up the mountain to Machu Picchu, but we chickened out and instead following the train tracks along the river. There are also several treks, including one-day jaunts, for folks hoping to hike into Machu Picchu.
Expedition Train From Cusco to Aguas Calientes/MP. www.perurail.com
We didn’t actually handle any of the train or entrance reservations for the MP portion of the trip so I don’t want to lead you astray with false information. Either consult Peru Rail or contact our awesome travel agent Marc at CAT Travel for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Up Next: Part 6. The Sacred Valley
Part 1. Arequipa
Part 2. Colca Canyon
Part 4. Cusco
Part 5. Machu Picchu
Part 6. The Sacred Valley