Machu Picchu: 2430m (7970ft)
Hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 2007, Machu Picchu is also regarded as one of the world’s greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. Built at the height of the Incan Empire in 1452 but abandoned just over a century later this ancient mountaintop citadel lay hidden within the jungles of Peru until American explorer Hiram Bingham happened upon it in 1911.
Our visit to Machu Picchu (meaning Ancient or Elder Mountain in Quechua) is what we had based our 8-day Family Adventure. To experience this mysterious cloud-capped landmark with my children was one of those unforgettable moments (or should I say peaks?) in life.
No one knows really why or how Machu Picchu was built. As the Incas had no writing system they left behind no records or histories or stories and so the true purpose of Machu Picchu will never really be known. Similarly, no one knows why it was abandoned and there is no evidence suggesting the invading Spaniards knew of its existence – the whole site remains shrouded in mystery.
We began our tour by following a crowd of visitors up a steep flight of steps to first take in the panoramic views of the ‘Lost City’, together with the tooth-shaped rock that pierces the clouds behind it. Although we had seen this iconic image of Machu Picchu countless times before it doesn’t compare to seeing it in person. I tried to mentally erase all the selfie-snapping tourists and imagine what it must have been like for Hiram Bingham when he first caught sight of it, and what it must be like to have Machu Picchu all to yourself. I enjoy this scene from The Motorcycle Diaries for that very reason …
From here we stumbled upon a trail that led away from the main site (and crowds) and along a ridge cut into the mountainside towards an ancient Inca bridge. Although this walk (a 30-45 minute round trip) enjoys some beautiful scenery, and is relatively flat, the path is a little precarious in stretches with unguarded drop-offs of several hundred feet. Needless to say, watch out for your children! There is a barrier just before the wooden plank bridge preventing thrill-seekers from ‘testing it out’.
We spent the rest of our time exploring the ruins of the city itself – a maze of houses, dry-stone walls, fountains, temples, terraces and lots and lots of stone steps – and stopping frequently to pat grazing llamas on the head.
A video guide to exploring Machu Picchu with kids.
We spent just over three hours here. We could have spent longer but the kids were getting hungry and tired (tip! remember to bring plenty of water and snacks!). Nevertheless we saw a lot in the time we were there and enjoyed exploring on our own.
Recommended age for kids:
My children were 7 and 6 years at the time of visiting and they loved it. There were, however, moments when my 6-year-old became tired and my husband had to give him a piggy-back. There are a LOT of steps and getting around Machu Picchu is quite a workout, particularly for little legs. If your child is small enough to carry in a back pack, then you should definitely bring one with you. We also had a number of rests along the way!
Surprisingly, Machu Picchu is not as high as some of the other Inca sites we visited in the region but at 2430m it is still at a height where altitude sickness can be an issue. (In its mildest form altitude sickness is thought to affect people from 2500m / 8000ft. For more information on altitude sickness visit the UK’s NHS website or visit your local health practitioner.)
It’s worth noting that the number of visitors is restricted to 2,500 per day so you must book your tickets in advance. Similarly, after 10am it gets very busy so it’s definitely worth trying to get there as early as possible – unlike us!
Good to know:
- The only toilets are at the entrance gate. Remember to get your children to go before you head in!
- I read in a few places that you are not allowed to bring food or disposable containers. However there were no bag checks upon entering. If you want your children to enjoy themselves you should take plenty of water and a discreet eco-friendly snack.
- Restaurant options include the luxurious Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (the only hotel at the actual site of Machu Picchu), a hearty (and very good!) sandwich from one of the food stalls at the entrance or in one of the many restaurants and hotels in Aguas Calientes – a 25 minute bus ride back down the mountain.
- When buying your ticket for Machu Picchu you have the option of paying an extra fee to climb Huayna Picchu – the tooth-shaped mountain that sits directly behind Machu Picchu. The hike requires a certain level of fitness (in some parts it requires getting down on all fours to scramble up the rocks) and not recommended for young children under 12. The 360m (1000ft) climb takes about 1 hour to ascent and 45 minutes to descend.
- The book, Presenting Peru & Machu Picchu by Saydi Maria Negron Romero is a useful guidebook and suitable for both adults and children. Although the English version could benefit from better translation, it does offer a fantastic visual guide to the site similar in design and layout to a kids’ encyclopaedia book. We bought a copy (‘an exclusive edition for Peru Rail’) on the train to Machu Picchu.
Getting there :
Machu Picchu can be accessed on foot via the Inca Trail or by the shuttle bus that runs from Aguas Calientes (a 25 minute journey each way).
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Family Guide to Peru
To view all our blog posts and videos in the Peru With Kids series see our destination guide to Peru for Families.