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A vacation to Peru with kids is unforgettable and completely do-able! I’m sharing all the details of how we took this epic family adventure vacation with our young son.
If you are anything like me, Peru is one of those far away destinations that seems like it will always stay stuck on your wish list. And it only takes a few minutes with Google to feel like a crazy person for even thinking about doing Peru with kids.
That all changed for me right around my son’s 5th birthday. He saw a video about Machu Picchu, and Peru immediately went to the number one spot on his brand new bucket list.
Once I waded past the experts telling me that a young child wouldn’t fully appreciate the cultural experience, I realized that it was actually completely do-able. In fact, it lit a fire under me to make it happen, and less than a year later we were there! And guess what? It was fun, low stress, and our son totally loved it!
Flying to Peru With Kids
Believe it or not, Peru can be a jetlag-free trip for many American families (amazing, right?!). That alone makes it a super approachable destination for a young family. Peru Time (PET) is UTC/GMC -5 hours, meaning that for much of the year Peru is in the same timezone as the Eastern United States.
We flew into Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima after a brief stop at the Delta hub in Atlanta, Georgia. I got a great deal using Delta Skymiles for this trip, but it is possible to find round-trip economy flights from the United States as low as $400-600 if you are willing to travel during less busy times. Even JetBlue now flies into Lima!
What You Must Know About Taxis in Lima, Peru
The arrivals area of the Chavez Airport is always buzzing with taxi drivers looking for business. Just kindly answer “no gracias” and continue on your way. It is incredibly important to only hire safe, reputable taxis in Peru (especially in Lima).
I booked all of our taxis online through Taxi Datum after hearing glowing reviews (which they totally lived up to!). They were prompt and safe and even stayed in constant communication with me via email when weather sidelined our flight out of Cusco. Their prices are fair and clearly shown on their website.
Most hotels are also happy to call a safe taxi for you. Be sure to ask the hotel employee what the standard fare to your destination is, and confirm the cost with the driver when they arrive. In our experience, if you only ask the driver what the fare is, you will often pay double the going rate (or more!).
Where To Stay in Lima, Peru With Kids
No matter where you are traveling in Peru, you will most likely spend at least a little time in the capital, Lima. We stopped here overnight on our way to Cusco and visited again on our way home. Epic, bucket-list-worthy countries like Peru are so much easier to enjoy with kiddos when you allow extra time in your arrival city!
Best For an Overnight Stay Between Flights: Wyndham Costa del Sol Lima Airport
With just one night in Lima before our connecting flight to Cusco departed, The Wyndham Costa Del Sol Lima Airport was the perfect overnight stop. We were grateful that our hotel was just a quick walk across the street, no taxi required! If you are just arriving in Peru, don’t miss the free welcome drink!
Peru’s classic cocktail is the Pisco Sour, and nearly every hotel offers their own version. Like most city hotels our room was on the smaller side, but clean and comfortable. We woke up to an exciting view of the bustling city.
The breakfast buffet here is not only FREE (heck yeah!) but fantastic. I was expecting a few muffins and coffee, but this is a true hot breakfast and even includes a delicious omelet bar. This was also a great opportunity to chat with tourists headed off to other Peruvian cities.
Another convenience we discovered: there is an ATM right in the lobby, so you can quickly grab some Soles as you leave. After breakfast, we walked right back across the street for our flight to Cusco.
Best For Expansive Views of The Pacific Ocean: JW Marriott Hotel Lima
Despite our short time in Lima before returning home, I made a reservation at the JW Marriott in Miraflores. Wow, was I glad we had the opportunity to stay here! We snagged an executive level ocean view room, and the view was breathtaking. The hang gliders zooming across the ocean at our eye level mesmerized our son (and us parents too, let’s be honest!).
We almost always order a meal when we arrive at a hotel, and this Marriott has 24-hour room service. Having a quick and easy meal in our room while we get settled in is always a time saver, and it gets everyone recharged and ready to explore. The menu had several kid-friendly, familiar options, with a few Peruvian leaning choices for Mom and Dad. Oh so convenient!
Possibly the best feature of the JW Marriott for families is the rooftop pool. Is there anything cooler when you’re a kid?!
Directly across the street is the Larcomar open-air shopping center. This is another fantastic option for a quick, kid-friendly meal, and you will not get a better view of the Pacific than this cliffside spot. We loved the small Peruvian chain Papacho’s for an easy, kid-friendly meal (don’t miss the El Mistico iced tea!).
Best Resort-Style Experience in Lima For Families: Belmond Miraflores Park Lima
This all-suite hotel is truly a refuge from the speed of Lima. If your schedule and budget allow, do not miss this experience! Like other Belmond hotels, the level of service is exceptional. Suite options range from the well sized Junior Suites to 1400 square foot Presidential Suites (which include a private pool terrace).
Belmond continues to add to its top-notch children’s’ programming. In late 2017 they began offering a Paddington-Bear-themed experience that begins at the Belmond Miraflores and continues on to other Belmond locations in Peru. This tie-in to Paddington’s Peruvian heritage is such a magical way to include kiddos in a more grown-up travel destination.
Another not-to-miss item at the Belmond Miraflores is the rooftop pool. It is small, but the view is wonderful.
The food at the Belmond is also fantastic – certainly one of the best hotel restaurants in Lima. Also of note: the Belmond’s restaurant clearly notes special diet concerns on the menu. This is much less common in Peru than other parts of the world (as a general rule we found that the very high-end restaurants in Peru are most prepared to accommodate specific dietary needs).
Flying From Lima to Cusco and Other Peruvian Cities With Kids
There are enough breathtaking cities in Peru to keep you busy for a very long time, and the many quick, short domestic flights are by far my pick to maximize time and comfort.
Peru has several domestic airlines, including budget carriers. LATAM and Avianca are similar to our legacy carriers in the USA (Delta, United, etc), while LC Peru, Star Peru, Peruvian Airlines, and Viva Air Peru are the budget carriers. We chose LATAM (formerly LAN) for our flight to Cusco. They offer the largest number of flights to Cusco, and their Airbuses have a larger capacity than the budget airlines.
It is important to know that many of the airports in Peru are small and at high altitude, so occasional cancellations due to weather are unavoidable. My best advice is to build in a time buffer in case this should happen to you. Our flight from Cusco to Lima was canceled due to low visibility in Cusco. While it was a slight inconvenience, we were able to enjoy an additional day and night exploring Cusco without worrying about missing our international flight out of Lima.
If you book with LATAM and Avianca, be sure to confirm that you are paying a foreigner rate. These two airlines began offering discounted rates to Peruvian nationals several years ago (as a way to encourage domestic tourism), and passengers must show proof of residency at check-in.
But What About Those Super Cheap Long-Distance Buses?
Peru is well known for its extensive network of long-distance bus routes connecting popular tourist destinations. Many run overnight and often the ride is eight to ten hours long.
I don’t recommend this option to families because safety is a real issue. The buses drive on treacherous mountain roads in the dark, and I’ve read reports of tourists being robbed along the way.
Plenty of adult travelers take advantage of the low bus ticket prices to maximize their budget and have a great experience, but I feel the additional cost of domestic airfare is well worth the peace of mind for families. Not to mention the additional time enjoying your destination with well-rested kids!
Where to Stay in The Sacred Valley of Peru
For the best chance of avoiding altitude sickness, try to gradually increase your sleeping altitude throughout your trip. Some tourists flying into Cusco spend their first night in the city of Cusco itself, not realizing that it is actually higher than Machu Picchu! Instead, after flying into Cusco we opted to head right down to the village of Urubamba.
I truly cannot wait to return to this hotel. We pre-arranged transportation through the hotel and our driver from the Tambo del Inka immediately greeted at the Cusco airport. We hopped in the hotel’s air-conditioned SUV (stocked with cold water!) and quickly headed on our way.
To break up the 90-minute drive to the resort our driver made a special stop where we got our first close look at some Peruvian guinea pigs and alpacas, including an alpaca that was just one day old. What a perfect way to start our visit to the Sacred Valley of Peru, and just a hint of the fantastic service we would experience at this hotel!
After arriving at the Tambo Del Inka we relaxed in the massive lobby, sipping the customary coca tea and admiring the lobby’s enormous stone fireplace while the check-in staff worked their magic.
The entire staff here is beyond phenomenal. Service in every area was consistent, friendly, and welcoming. The door staff always remembered our son’s name and even encouraged his beginning Spanish.
We stayed in a Deluxe Room with two queen beds, and it was the perfect size for us, with a large bathroom. A standout feature was the walk-in closet (say whaat?!). There are not many hotels offering a walk-in closet in their standard rooms, and having that extra space to store luggage is a game changer for a family!
Every meal we had here was fantastic. It is also worth noting that the restaurant is very accommodating of special diets. The endless breakfast buffet even includes a large gluten-free section.
Explora Valle Sagrado is a new, all-inclusive resort in the Sacred Valley. The Explora brand is well known for exceptional adventure travel experiences in several locations around the world, so you know you will be in good hands here!
One of the huge benefits here is the all-inclusive package. If you feel nervous about planning your visits to tourist attractions, this is perfect for you! The resort offers over 20 day trips called Explorations. They keep the groups small (up to 8 people), so you won’t be herded on and off buses in a large gaggle of tourists. It is almost like being on a private tour, and you don’t have to worry about a thing!
Explora Valle Sagrado’s rooms are simple, modern, and peaceful. However, definitely take note that there are no televisions or WiFi in the rooms. So if your kiddos might want to relax with a movie on a rainy afternoon, make sure you download it before you leave home!
What To Do in The Sacred Valley of Peru with Kids
Here is the real reason I love Peru as a destination for kids: there are so many incredible outdoor sites to visit where they can freely let out their energy and explore, while Mom and Dad soak in the history and culture. You won’t want to miss the five locations below. Not only are they incredible, but also super kid friendly.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you use a guide if you can. Even though we had researched the history ourselves, having a private driver and guide that spoke English and really knew the ins and outs of these spots was completely worth it.
Our guide Marilou from Tikariy Tours made our experience unforgettable. As a mom herself, she made each day totally family friendly, and always seemed to know what our son might find most interesting and fun (and when he needed a few minutes to just sit and chill). You can certainly get away with hiring a taxi to take you around each day, but we learned so much more about Peruvian culture just by spending time chatting with Marilou. And she seriously made it so much more fun and stress-free for our family.
Ollantaytambo is an amazingly preserved village where kids can explore cobblestone streets rich with history. Be sure to point out the irrigation channels that still remain! We even came across a colorful celebration in the main plaza during our day here.
The Ollantaytambo fortress climbs up the nearby mountainside. If you need a day to really get the kiddos’ energy out, this is the one! You will climb a ton of stairs, but it is worth it to see sites like the Wall of The Six Monoliths. Ask your guide to point out the far away quarry where these giant stones came from. Talk about putting their size into perspective!
Chinchero is most famous for its vibrant weaving community. This is one place where you will want to have plenty of Soles on hand to stock up on souvenirs. We made room in our bags for several beautiful table runners, blankets, and scarves to bring home.
This stop isn’t just for Mom and Dad to shop though! Your kiddos will love to see the women of the community make natural dyes and soap, and weave the intricate textile designs. After visiting the weavers, take the time to walk through the cobblestone streets and explore. The village is also home to a breathtaking Spanish Colonial Church, an expansive Inca wall, and views of the 18k foot Chicon mountain.
Pisac may not be as famous as Machu Picchu, but the Inca ruins here are well worth the visit. The vast expanse of agricultural terraces is another great opportunity for your kids to get out their energy. Especially because Pisac is not nearly as busy as Machu Picchu.
If you are touring with a guide, they will be able to point out the Sun Temple here, as well as the fascinating cliffside burial sites. There is a large market in Pisac on Sundays and smaller markets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Most of the items sold are the same as those found in Cusco, but the atmosphere of the market is a fun experience.
I will be the first to tell you that Moray was not at the top of my list for our Sacred Valley visit. But I was so glad our guide suggested this spot! Since Moray is a slightly off the beaten path, it is another great gem (you won’t find yourself stuck in a herd of tourists here!).
No one can say for sure what the Incas used Moray for, but the theory is that these concentric circular terraces were an experimental agriculture site. There can be up to a 27° F temperature difference between the top and bottom terraces. Our visit here was completely fascinating!
The Maras Salt Mines are very small evaporation ponds where local families farm salt. Stream water is controlled with small ducts and inlets. This is a great chance to show your kiddos supersaturation and evaporation in action!
Be aware that if you visit during the rainy season, the experience won’t be quite the same. There is a gift shop selling some of the salt harvested here, so it is a great opportunity to pick up a fun souvenir.
Taking The Train To Aguas Calientes
Part of what makes traveling to Machu Picchu so exciting is the magical journey of planes, trains, and automobiles along the way. There are only two ways in and out of Machu Picchu City (also called Aguas Calientes) for tourists: the Inca Trail and the train. While the Inca Trail may be a great option for teenagers or older children with serious hiking experience, the train is a fantastic choice for families traveling with younger ones.
PeruRail offers three levels of service to Aguas Calientes: the budget-friendly Expedition, the moderate Vistadome, and the upscale Belmond Hiram Bingham. We chose the Vistadome for its combination of panoramic views and reasonable pricing. Along with the amazing views, you’ll get a snack and hot and cold drinks. On the return trip, the train crew puts on an alpaca wool fashion show and a traditional dance. The staff working our train car clearly love their jobs and went over the top to entertain the passengers!
There are three places to get on the train to Aguas Calientes. The Poroy Station just outside of Cusco is the longest trip, at just under 4 hours by train. We chose the next option, Urubamba Station in the Sacred Valley, because it was right on the grounds of our hotel (The Tambo Del Inka Resort). Our ride was around 2 and a half hours. The third choice is the Ollantaytambo station (also in the Sacred Valley), which is an hour and forty minutes from Aguas Calientes.
An important note about luggage on PeruRail
It is important to know that PeruRail officially only allows one small carry-on size bag (no more than 11 lb) per person. Most hotels in Cusco and the Sacred Valley will be happy to store large roller bags for you while you are visiting Machu Picchu. They are all aware of the rule and are used to international tourists traveling with larger luggage.
Alternatively, you can email email@example.com with your reservation details and request permission to bring larger luggage onboard. We did this because our luggage did not meet all the restrictions (we took small carry-on size backpacks, but they were over 11 pounds) and printed out the email granting permission to show at check-in. There is only a very small luggage storage area on each car, and these fill up quickly, so arrive early.
How To Buy Entrance Tickets For Machu Picchu
Tickets for Machu Picchu can’t be purchased at the entrance.
Intrepid and patient tourists can buy tickets to enter Machu Picchu on the Peru Ministry of Culture’s Website. The website is challenging at best. Around the time of our visit, it was reportedly only accepting Visa cards for payment and many travelers we spoke to couldn’t get any foreign card to work. The site is also entirely in Spanish. Purchasing is a two-part process. First, you will choose your ticket type and date to make a reservation. Within 6 hours you must use your reservation number to pay in a separate section of the website (or your reservation will be completely canceled and you will have to start over from the beginning).
Because we visited during the rainy season, we simply purchased tickets in person at the Aguas Calientes office. This was incredibly easy but I don’t recommend it if you are visiting during the dry season (May – October). The government caps the number of tourists allowed in each day, and tickets can sell out.
The lowest stress way to buy your tickets in advance is through an agency like Ticket Machu Picchu. You will be paying a little more for the agency to handle the process but it is well worth the money for peace of mind.
You will also be given the option to add on entrance tickets to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain at an additional cost. These are fantastic hikes for teenagers and adults used to hiking, but generally too strenuous for young kids.
All Aboard The Bus To Machu Picchu!
Once you reach Aguas Calientes there’s just one more step on the journey to this incredible location. The Consettur bus takes you on a quick 20-minute ride right up to the entrance of Machu Picchu itself (sometimes also referred to as The Citadel).
A lot of tourists question whether they reallllly need to take this overpriced bus. I always answer that question with an emphatic YES. Especially with children. It may only be around a one hour hike to the top, but there is much, much more hiking and walking to be done once you have passed through those magical gates. Save your legs for the good stuff!
We bought our bus tickets right in Aguas Calientes (you cannot miss the ticket booth!), but you can also buy them up to three days in advance in Cusco. The ticket booth advertises return tickets and one-way tickets, which can be super confusing at first glance. In this case, return ticket actually refers to a round-trip ticket. Adult round-trip tickets are $24 US. Children 5-11 years old are $12 US and kiddos under 5 are free.
An important note: foreigners must show passports to buy tickets. This makes each transaction take a little longer than you might expect. If you are heading to the ticket booth directly from the train, keep in mind that most of the other passengers have the same plan and the line can back up quickly.
Buses run constantly up the steep winding road from 5:30 am to 3:30 pm, and make the return trip from 6:00 am to 5:30 pm. There is no set schedule – even in the low season there is a steady stream of tourists and the buses leave as they fill up.
Where To Stay In Aguas Calientes, Peru With Kids
It’s true that many people do Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco, but I don’t recommend this for families. Heck, I don’t recommend it to anyone! The round-trip train ride makes for a very long day. Why not get the best out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience with well-rested kids, right?
We stayed at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, around a five-minute walk from the Machu Picchu train station. We loved that it was so close without being right in the backpacker-central that is downtown Machu Picchu City. Hotel staff will even meet you at the train station to show you the way and transport your luggage.
Rooms and suites here are spread along meandering stone paths with plenty of spots for kids to explore. The Inkaterra is right on the edge of the rainforest, so it can give you a little taste of that experience if you don’t have the extra time to travel out to a rainforest lodge.
There are several guided experiences to choose from at the Inkaterra. We had never seen how tea is grown first hand, so we chose the organic tea plantation experience. Our guide patiently showed us how to hand process tea leaves, and we made our very own tea bags.
A note about packing light: we love traveling carry-on only. We wash our quick-dry clothes in the sink and hang them to dry. However… Aguas Calientes is super humid, so save your laundry for the next stop (or use the hotel laundry service!).
Where To Stay In Cusco, Peru
The JW Marriott El Convento Cusco is a 16th-century convent turned modern hotel. Full disclosure, the rooms here are New-York-City-small, without much storage. It is totally worth it though! The location is fantastic and you will easily be able to walk to most tourist spots.
We had the opportunity to stay in two types of rooms. One overlooked the center courtyard and the other looked out on the city street. We found the courtyard view to be much quieter than the street view. So if your kids are light sleepers you will want to request a courtyard facing room.
Room service is available 24 hours here (something we really appreciate at the end of a long day!). Down in the restaurant, there is also large breakfast buffet with gluten-free options. It does not change much each day, but there are plenty of choices. If you are dying for a decent cappuccino, the espresso drinks here are good as well.
The Pool is small and in the basement but it was just what we needed. With unpredictable temperature swings and plenty of opportunity for rain in Cusco, an outdoor pool just wouldn’t get much use. And with so much activity during the day, none of us were looking for a waterpark experience.
What to do in Cusco, Peru with Kids
This ancient Inca fortress is a fantastic place to see incredibly precise stone construction. Like so many sites in Peru, no one knows exactly how or why the Incas built Sacsayhuaman.
Sacsayhuaman is the only tourist spot in Cusco that you will probably want to hire a cab for. It is only a 10-minute drive from the city center, but the walk is around 40 minutes (so make sure you are acclimated to the altitude if you decide to take it on!). This is another spot with plenty of wide open grassy space for kids to run around and get energy out. Don’t miss the natural rock slides! They are guaranteed to be unlike anything else your kiddos have ever experienced.
Plaza de Armas
Cusco’s main square is always hopping with both locals and tourists. Take photos in front of the iconic fountain, spend time people watching, and grab lunch at one of the restaurants that line the perimeter (there are tons to choose from!).
Visit the Cathedral Basilica, where you can see Marcos Zapata’s rendition of The Last Supper. Point out to your kids that cuy (guinea pig) replaces the traditional meal! There are plenty of opportunities to buy souvenirs on and around the plaza. And you can often take your photo with local Quechua women and children (and usually an alpaca or two!) for a few soles.
Choco Museo has several locations throughout South America. The one in Cusco is easy to find, just off the Plaza de Armas. You can visit the free (love that!) museum to learn about chocolate, or take a workshop and make your own! If your kiddos need a super fun break from history lessons, this is the perfect family stop.
There are also plenty of treats available in the museum shop too. So leave room in your suitcase for a few delicious souvenirs!
The Coricancha (or Qorikancha) is a quick walk from the Plaza de Armas. Kids will love to learn that the walls were once entirely plated in gold (the name literally means Golden Temple!). The Spanish built over the original Incan Coricancha to create the Santo Domingo Church. Luckily, you can still visit the magical Incan temples and artifacts inside!
You can easily see the difference between the tight Incan construction at the base and the Spanish Colonial construction on top. Encourage your kids to search for Inca rock carvings and imagine how the Incas created such precise stone structures. With a little advance research, we were able to fully enjoy the Coricancha without a guide. They are available to hire at the entrance, however.
Does Peru sound like a totally feasible vacation to you? If you take your family on an epic Peru adventure I’d love to hear how it went!