Planning an Awesome Family Adventure to Peru
Peru is an awe-inspiring country filled with culture, history, and unbelievable scenery. It is also kid-friendly and affordable, so when we sat down several months ago to plan our spring break trip, Peru shot right to the top of the list.
The crown jewel of Peruvian archaeological sites (and even all of South America) is certainly the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, and seeing it was the primary reason for our visit. Taking our kids to visit this Unesco World Heritage Site high in the Andes mountains where llamas and alpacas roam free is a no-brainer! With everyone on board, we set out to make it happen.
In this post, we'll walk you through planning an amazing family trip to Machu Picchu. What to do, where to stay, and how to get there - it's all here.
Travelling to Machu Picchu With Kids
1) Where is Machu Picchu?
2) When to Visit
3) Purchasing Machu Picchu Tickets
- 3a) - Machu Picchu Ticket Types
- 3b) - How to check daily ticket availability
- 3c) - How to buy tickets to Machu Picchu
- 3d) - Tours and Guides to Machu Picchu
4) Travelling to Machu Picchu
- 4a) - Arriving in Cusco
- 4b) - Travelling Through Peru's Sacred Valley
- 4c) - How to purchase Machu Picchu Train Tickets from Cusco
- 4d) - Choosing A Train
5) Arriving in Aguas Calientes
- 5a) - Heading up the Mountain
- 5b) - Hotels in Aguas Calientes
Visiting Machu Picchu with Kids
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Where is Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is located on the western end of Peru's Sacred Valley (or Valle Segrado), right in the heart of the ancient Incan empire.
Your journey will take you through the Sacred Valley and the cities of Cusco, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Aguas Calientes by train or a combination of taxi and train. It is a picturesque stretch of land carved out by the Urubamba River which runs from the town of Pisac northeast of Cusco and ends at Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo). From there, visitors make the climb either by foot or bus to the citadel of Machu Picchu.
Urubamba is a quiet city nestled in the valley and is the de-facto capital of Valle Segrado. With lots of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and even luxury resorts, this is a great home base for your visit. There is no shortage of things to explore in this beautiful area, and families will love the salt mines at Maras and the Incan site of Moray.
Ollantaytambo (oh-Yan-tay-Tom-bo) is about a thirty-minute drive from Urubamba and is another unique city full of culture and Incan influence. It is the next large town along the river and is where you will likely catch your train to Aguas Calientes.
Aquas Calientes is the service town for Machu Picchu and sits at the base of the mountain. It's an eclectic mix of luxury resorts and backpacker hostels where you'll find all manner of restaurants, shopping, tour guides, transportation, and even a museum. If you want to be as close as possible to the action, this is it.
When to Visit
High season in Peru is June through September and low season runs from December to February. Low season is also rainy season. We visited in March which is a shoulder season for tourism and the end of rainy season. It sprinkled or rained every afternoon of our visit. Although it didn't damper our spirits, it did have us taking precautions with our camera. It can also make the steps and pathways around the citadel slippery.
Besides cloudy and rainy conditions, we found the climate to be comfortable. We were warm hiking around the ruins, so a lighter rain jacket would be appropriate. You are right next to the Amazon jungle, so plan accordingly. Conditions can change rapidly, so dress in layers. Also note that early morning or late afternoon are the best times to visit to avoid large crowds.
During high season, you'll need to make a special effort to secure all of your tickets ahead of time (entry, train, etc.) because they will sell out. See our instructions below on how to do this.
Purchasing Machu Picchu Tickets
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Now that you've decided to make the trip, it's time to buy your tickets. Since Machu Picchu is the most popular tourist destination in Peru, the government limits access to the citadel to 2500 people per day. This means that during high season (June-September), it's likely that all tickets will be sold for any given day, and it's important to get your Machu Picchu tickets in advance as soon as you know when you'll be visiting.
Ticket Prices for Machu Picchu (March 2017)
Be aware that ticket prices for Peruvians are half the cost than those for tourists. Students and children are also half the adult price. Here are the ticket prices as of March 2017:
-Base Citadel Ticket - Adult = 152 soles/~$47 USD
-Machu Picchu + Huayna = 200 soles/~$62 USD
-Machu Picchu + Montaña = 200 soles/~$62 USD
Machu Picchu Ticket Types
There are several different ticket types. If you are only planning on visiting Machu Picchu itself (Citadel), then you'll need just a base ticket. If you would like to hike up to either Huayna (Wayna) Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña Machu Picchu), then you may purchase those. These are the high peaks surrounding the Citiadel that allow for views from above. Huayna Picchu also has some additional Incan ruins to visit, whereas Montaña Machu Picchu does not. Tickets to these sites are limited to specific time slots and entries per day.
New Entrance Policies Beginning July 2017
Beginning July 1st, entrance to Machu Picchu will be split into two different times in order to minimize the total number of visitors at the citadel at any given time. When purchasing tickets, you'll need to chose either a 6:00am-12:00pm ticket or a 12:00pm-5:30pm ticket.
These new policies should allow visitors to better enjoy the views without the enormous crowds, especially during high season and will benefit everyone. It also means that visits will be limited to 5 hours (which is plenty), so plan accordingly. These new changes will likely affect train schedules also, so be sure to double-check your itineraries if you've already booked your trip!
Huayna Picchu has a maximum of 400 people permitted per day, and entry times are either 7-8AM for the first 200 or 10-11AM for the final 200. This is a challenging ascent that begins from town (Aguas Calientes). Tickets must be purchased in advance - a week in low season, or a month in high season to be safe. It is also recommended that you leave heavy gear behind and take lots of water. This is a trek best left to teenagers and adults in good physical condition and not for families with small children, expectant mothers, or the elderly.
Montaña Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu Mountain)
Machu Picchu Mountain has a maximum of 800 people per day. Entry times are either entry at 7-8AM and 9-10AM. This option is cheaper and less strenuous, but does not offer quite the view that Huayna Picchu does nor does it have any ruins to visit. It is also the shorter of the two mountains.
For a nice 3D map of the citadel and loads of other great information on Peru, consider Lonely Planet's Peru guidebook. It got a lot of use before and during our trip! As with all their guides, there are solid recommendations for food, accommodation, and tours for each stop in the Sacred Valley.
How to Check Machu Picchu Ticket Availability
Since the Ministry of Culture limits access to Machu Picchu to 2500 per day, it can be helpful to check to see how many tickets are left on a particular day. Fortunately this is easy to do and can help you decide if you need to reserve your tickets ahead of time, or wait to purchase them in person.
1.) Head over to the Peru Ministry of Culture Website.
2.) Change your language over to English by clicking on the British flag
3.) Click on the 'Queries' Tab.
4.) Change the drop-down menu to 'MACHUPICCHU' to see all remaining tickets.
This calendar will show the remaining number of tickets for each day.
How to buy tickets to Machu Picchu
Buying Machu Picchu Entry Tickets Online
There are a few different ways to purchase tickets to Machu Picchu. The first is by visiting Peru's Ministry of Culture website at www.machupicchu.gob.pe and purchasing them online. This is great if you will be travelling during high season, or like to have things ready to go before you arrive.
Student/Child Tickets Cannot Be Purchased Online!
Purchasing tickets in advance did not work for us because they no longer sell student/children's tickets online due to fraud. Unless you are only purchasing adult tickets, or have children under seven years old (free admission), you will need to find an alternate way to purchase your tickets to Machu Picchu.
Buying Tickets In Person at a Ticket Window
If you choose, you can buy tickets in Cusco at the Plaza de Armas (Main Square) or at the ticket windows in the Wanchaq, Poroy, or Ollantaytambo Stations, providing that you are also purchasing a train ticket. We purchased our tickets directly from the Ministerio de Cultura near the town square in Aguas Calientes after arriving by train. I would only recommend this if it is low season, however.
Purchasing Through a Tour Operator or Reseller
The Ministry of Culture website will actually show you a list of resellers that they have authorized to sell tickets. Here's how to see it.
2.) Click on the 'Travel Agency' Button on the bottom of the screen
3.) Choose 'MachuPicchu' in the drop-down at the top.
From here, you can see which agencies sell tickets and their listed websites (if there is one). Now, this is a TON of stuff to sift through, and honestly, I can't vouch for any of it. If you do decide to purchase your tickets through an agent, understand that you will pay a higher price because the agent will charge a service fee. The upside is that you can get your tickets e-mailed to you so you can print them out and have them ready to go.
Machu Picchu Tours, Guides, and Tour Packages
If you're looking for Machu Picchu tours and would like to have everything handled for you, I would suggest using a reputable partner like Viator. They have several tours on their site that range from a simple tour guide + tickets, to full-day guided tours from Cusco and other points in the Sacred Valley. These are much better options, in my opinion, and will offer you a better level of service in case anything goes awry.
Hiring a guide when you arrive either in Aguas Calientes or at the gate to Machu Picchu is also an option.
Guides must be certified and have been issued a valid qualification, so look for a photo identification card hanging around their neck. Expect to pay around $50 USD for 1-2 people for a 2.5 hour tour. Larger groups can go for around $25 USD per person. Prices are pretty standard, but be sure that you agree on a price per person or group before setting off.
A Note About the Inca Trail
Since we're discussing family trips to Machu Picchu, you probably aren't considering a four-day trek through the mountains, but it is an option, and there is more than one trail to get there. If this interests you, you must book with a tour company and a Machu Picchu tour guide. Spots fill up quickly, so book as far in advance as you can (at least six months).
Viator has all the options and tour packages covered, so check here for the latest prices and descriptions.
Travelling to Machu Picchu
Arriving in Cusco
Most visitors will arrive in Peru at Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) in Lima and fly to Cusco (CUS) from there. This flight is only about an hour, but take note that there are no late evening flights into Cusco due to deteriorating weather conditions.
Cusco is a large and bustling city and has a wide variety of things to do for families. However, because of the high altitude, we advise travelling down into the valley to better acclimate and also to be closer to Machu Picchu. This is beneficial because you will not only have more time for exploring Machu Picchu earlier in the day, but you will also feel better at that lower altitude. We were certainly glad we did this, as we immediately felt a bit light-headed in the Cusco airport.
Traveling Through Peru's Sacred Valley
When you arrive in Cusco, you'll be taking some form of ground transportation to catch a train, whether that's in Cusco, Urubamba, or Ollantatytambo. There is no rail service directly from the airport. Taxi's are an option, along with private transfer, or combis which are vans that leave when they're full.
We used Cusco Transport & Tours for our ground transportation, and a private van ran us $100 USD. To us, the price was worth it for the convenience and security of knowing we didn't have to haggle for a ride outside of the airport. With a late arrival, it was less worry for us when we landed in Cusco, and if you have a large amount of luggage, making sure you have a van is a good idea since it may not all fit in a regular taxi.
There Are No Trains Directly from Cusco Airport!
When you arrive in Cusco, you will have to take some form of ground transportation to a train station.
- Poroy Station = ~40 min. (trains don't leave from here Jan-April)
- Urubamba Station = ~1 hour and 40 min.
- Ollantaytambo Station = ~2 hours
After an overnight in Urubamba, we took a cab to Ollantaytambo from Urubamba in the morning, bought train tickets, and came back to Urubamba all in one day and did not feel too rushed. However, if you want to get up to Machu Picchu first thing in the morning, you will want to overnight in Aguas Calientes.
Trains leave from Ollantaytambo Station all day long, so finding one to fit your schedule should not be hard. You can book in advance at perurail.com or buy tickets at the ticket window. If you are travelling in low season like we did, this shouldn't be a problem, but in high season, I would book online.
How to purchase Machu Picchu Train tickets from Cusco
Purchasing train tickets is straightforward. They can easily be purchased online at www.perurail.com or you can purchase directly from the train stations or airport. I recommend making reservations in advance to avoid the chance of there not being any seats on the train you want.
Where to buy PeruRail Tickets in Person
Tickets can be purchased at the following locations:
Centro Comercial Larcomar (shopping mall)
- Centro Comercial Larcomar, Plaza Centro, 1st floor, Miraflores, Lima
- Monday to Friday: 11:00 am to 22:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 11:00 am to 22:00 pm
Jorge Chávez International Airport
- National Departures, 2nd floor, between Gates 13 and 14
- Monday to Friday: 04:00 am to 20:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 04:00 am to 20:00 pm
Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport
- Monday to Friday: 06:00 am to 20:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 06:00 am to 20:00 pm
Plaza de Armas
- Monday to Friday: 07:00 am to 22:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 07:00 am to 22:00 pm
- Monday to Friday: 07:00 am to 22:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 07:00 am to 22:00 pm
Train Station Ticket Offices:
Wanchaq Station (Main Sales Office)
- Monday to Friday: 04:00 am to 20:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 04:00 am to 12:00 pm
- Monday to Saturday: 06:00 am to 21:00 pm
- Sundays: 06:00 am to 20:30 pm
- Monday to Friday: 06:00 am to 11:00 pm and 16:00 pm to 19:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 06:00 am to 11:00 am and 16:00 pm to 19:00 pm
- Monday to Friday: 04:00 am to 21:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 04:00 am to 21:00 pm
Machu Picchu Station
- Monday to Friday: 06:00 am to 21:30 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 06:00 am to 21:30 pm
Day Trip Machu Picchu Tours From Cusco?
It's possible, but I wouldn't recommend it. As I said before, I think it's advantageous to start your trip closer so you have more time to visit the site and also to get out of the higher altitudes. There are so many great things to see in the Sacred Valley as well, so don't limit yourself to just Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Choosing the Best Train for Your Trip
There are three classes of service to choose from - Expedition, Vistadome, and the Belmond Hiram Bingham. Expedition is PeruRail's basic car and service. Vistadome cars have glass canopies in the cars giving you an awesome view of the Urubamba River and mountain vistas during the journey. They also serve a small snack and drinks during the trip.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham is for those looking for a full first-class train experience and includes fine dining, entry tickets to Machu Picchu, a tour guide, drinks, and afternoon tea. This would definitely be a cool way to go if your budget allows.
Be aware that between early January and late April, services are altered to accommodate the rainy season. Some tracks are closed during this time for safety reasons due to possible landslides. Be sure to check the PeruRail website for details on train service. Some train schedules switch to a bi-modal service (Train+Bus) leaving from Cusco. If you are leaving from Urubamba or Ollantaytambo, service is not affected. Also, there is no bi-modal service for the Expedition trains, only Vistadome and Hiram Bingham trains.
We chose to ride on the Vistadome trains for the better views and more comfortable seating arrangements. It was a cool experience to watch the Urubamba River rush by as we made our way through the Andes mountains. It's really one of the prettiest train rides you might ever take.
Tickets Must Be Picked Up in Person!
You'll need to have the following to pick up your train tickets at the the station one hour before your train leaves:
- a copy of the e-mail with your reservation number
- passports for everyone in your group
- the credit card that was used to make the online purchase (they will ask for this)
Arriving in Aguas Calientes
Aguas Caleintes is the end of the line and and the final leg of your train journey.
This quaint backpacker town is the jumping off point for your adventure up to Machu Picchu. You'll find it to be an easy town to get around with a wide variety of places to eat (French pastries anyone?) and plenty of souvenir shops for the kids to find the perfect trinket to bring home.
Heading up the Mountain
Before you visit, you'll need to make sure you've done the following:
- Purchased Entry Tickets to Machu Picchu (can be done in town)
- Purchased bus tickets up to the Citadel (unless you're hiking)
Bus tickets can be purchased at the ticket window on the main road. It's really just a small shack, but you'll recognize it with people lining up and the green buses parked in a line nearby.The buses run all day from 5:30 am. until 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon and the ride takes about 20-25 minutes. The last departure from Machu Picchu is at 5:45 pm.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or credit. Adults are $24 USD and children are $12 USD round trip.
Want To Hike To The Top?
Instead of taking the bus, you can hike up to the top if you'd like. It will take about 1.5 hours, but a word of warning - it's steep and the air is thin!
Here is a list of items you'll want to have with you.
- Machu Picchu Bus tickets (if you're riding)
- Bug spray or 'mosquito water'
- Good shoes or boots that are comfortable
- 2-3 hours of time to view the ruins
Hotels in Aquas Calientes
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge
Operated by Belmond (of Hiram Bingham Train fame), the Sanctuary Lodge is able to boast about one thing no other hotel can - a location right on the doorstep of the Citidel. It's a beautiful hotel with a spa, two restaurants, and packages that include entrace tickets and a private tour guide. While this may sound enticing, it's not cheap to stay this close - especially considering that the buses from town start running at 5:30 a.m.
Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel by Inketerra
If total indulgence is your thing, then the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is the place to be. This gorgeous hotel is a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, meaning you can't really go wrong. Besides beautifully appointed cottages set in the lush jungle, a buffet breakfast, birdwatching excursions, and afternoon tea are included in the price.
Kids will love a trip to the nearby Spectacled Bear Conservation Center, and guests of all ages will like exploring the trails and taking a tour of the orchid gardens. If your budget allows for it, this hotel is worth splurging on. This hotel has earned 4.5/5 stars on TripAdvisor.
Casa Andina Classic Machu Picchu
For a more modest option, check out the Casa Andina. This hotel is part of an upscale chain of hotels in Peru that offers of a free buffet breakfast and awesome views of the roaring Urubamba River. Rooms with 3 beds are available for families. This is actually the hotel we had booked, but didn't get to stay at because of a flight delay. This hotel gets good reviews from guests and has earned 4/5 stars on TripAdvisor.
Tierra Viva Machu Picchu
Tierra Viva Machu Picchu is another well-reviewed hotel that is a solid mid-range option for families. Tierra Viva has properties all over Peru and the Sacred Valley, and offers a nice hotel at a good price. Hot breakfast and wifi are included with the room, and this property sits right against the Urubamba River and the Cloud Forest. They offer rooms with double queen beds and will accommodate kids for $20 USD extra. Only steps from the bus stop, this is a great hotel to get an early start to Machu Picchu.
Peru is Amazing!
We can't recommend this trip enough. We had such a great time, and we were in awe pretty much the entire week. When we got home, the kids said this was one of their favorite trips to date, and I can't disagree - It. Was. Awesome.
Hopefully, we've given you some of the information you need to help you plan your own family vacation to Machu Picchu. Feel free to drop us a line in the comments or track us down on social media with any questions. Happy travels, everyone!
Peru is much more than just Machu Picchu. We wrote about 49 other things to do in Cusco and Peru's Sacred Valley that you'll want to check out also!