For most travellers, Peru’s defined by Machu Picchu. In reality it’s one of the most diverse, intriguing and culturally rich countries in the world with over 11 different eco-regions and 84 of earth’s 117 life-zones within its borders.
Two thirds of the land mass is Amazonian Rainforest and many of the national reserves, parks and historic sites are only accessible with registered tour operators. Don’t let any of that put you off. Peru is an amazingly welcoming country and makes it wonderfully easy to enjoy every fascinating corner and crevice. Visit with care and respect, plan everything in advance and it’s possibly the most amazing family holiday you’ll ever have.
The home of the great Inca civilisations is immersed in ancient history and home to several world icons including Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and the Colca Canyon.
Nature and biodiversity
Peru is the 17th most megadiverse country in the world and has over 1700 bird species. Two thirds of Peru is Amazonian Rainforest and there are a total of 75 nationally protected areas covering almost 16% of the country.
Peru has hundreds of beautiful beaches and beach resorts but over 3000km of the long, narrow coast is desert. Peru is the third largest South American country and over 50% of the population live in the western coastal regions.
Temperatures on the coast rise to 30˚ in summer with low levels of humidity and little rain.
Choice of accommodation
A wide range of family accommodation includes luxury city centre hotels, beach resorts, cruise boats, home stays, guesthouses, national reserve lodges and camps and even trains.
Where to go
The capital of Peru sits at the centre of the country’s long, west coast overlooking the Pacific. It’s a brilliantly, lively and engaging city with a lovely historic centre and makes a fascinating pit stop for a few days with older kids and teenagers.
Costa Verde just outside Lima is great for beaches with temperatures between 25 and 30˚ in summer.
Don’t miss: Plaza Mayor, Larco Museum, Museum of the Nation, Casa de Aliaga, Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge.
Catch an after 10pm Peña performance in the city’s Barranco district for traditional music and dancing.
Direct daily flights from Lima to Cusco take one hour and 10 minutes.
The ancient Greeks believed Delphi was the navel of the world, in Peru, it’s Cusco. Whichever wins the title, there’s not doubt in anyone’s mind that this historic city, high in the Andes, is in a spectacular setting. It’s also base-camp for the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and where most people spend a few days getting used to the altitude.
Cobbled alleys, grand squares, flawlessly engineered Inca walls, Baroque cathedrals and the occasional llama wandering past, Cusco’s a lively, bustling city with a lot of charm and stunning views.
Don’t miss: Centro Cusco for traditional dance performances; street stalls and markets; the Inca Museum; the San Blas district; Cusco Cathedral; Sacsayhuaman Fortress; Qenko archaeological complex; Puka Pukara.
The classic Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu is 43km and usually done over 4 days. Various operators offer guided treks and supply permits.
You can also travel to Machu Picchu from Cusco by train.
Ringed by snow-capped volcanos, Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and the best base for visiting the Colca Canyon, Salinas and Aquada National Reserve and Manu National Park.
Direct daily flights from Cusco to Arequipa take just over an hour.
What to do
Machu Picchu, Cusco
The Valley of Machu Picchu is Peru’s biggest attraction. Tickets are limited to 2500 per day and most visitors take the Inca Trail to the 2430m high site. All tourism’s strictly managed here and the best way to see Machu Picchu with kids is with a registered tour. Machu Picchu
The Sacred Valley, Cusco This lush, fertile valley an hour north west of Cusco was a main Inca settlement and contains several villages, monuments, temples and agricultural sites. The entire circuit is 170km round and, again, works best with kids as part of a tour. The Sacred Valley
Lake Titicaca, Puno
195km long Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in the world above 2000m high. The small city of Puno is where its most accessible and several tours are available to the mysterious floating islands of Uros and Amantane. The lake’s surrounded by ancient myth and legend and Puno has more annual folk festivals and traditional celebrations than anywhere else in Peru. Lake Titicaca
Colca Canyon, Arequipa
3270m deep Colca Canyon is one of the world’s deepest and over twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the only locations to see Andean Condor and the valley has several remarkable colonial towns, ruins, temples, monuments and traditional villages. Colca Canyon
Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve, Arequipa
This 366,936ha reserve’s remarkably accessible and an unforgettable experience for kids. It’s home to the Misti, Chachani, Pichupichu and Ubinas volcanos; hordes of wildlife including flamingos, vicunas, llama, alpaca and guanacos; traditional villages and ancient living cultures; the Sumbay Caves and Salinas Lagoon. Salinas and Aguada Blanca
Manu National Park, Arequipa
This UNESCO World Heritage site contains the entire Manu River basin and is one of the world’s most bio-diverse areas. 30 indigenous communities live within the park and there are over 200 different species of animals including spider monkeys, jaguar and capybara. The park can only be visited on a registered tour. Manu National Park
Chan Chan, Trujillo
The largest pre-Inca adobe city in the world is just outside Trujillo on the north west coast. It’s part of the La Libertad complex of ancient temples and monuments. Chan Chan and La Libertad
Tambopata National Reserve, Madre de Dios
The national macaw sanctuary’s in this reserve and it’s one of the most accessible area in south east Peru for Amazon River cruises and guided jungle trekking. Tambopata National Reserve
Amazon Rainforest Tree Top Jungle Walks, Tambopata National Reserve
Exploring the Amazon Rainforest tree canopy on a series of rope bridges, towers and platforms could turn out to be a Peruvian holiday highlight for kids. Tree Top Jungle Walks
Amazon Rainforest Family Cruises
Over two thirds of Peru is Amazon rainforest and only accessible by boat. A wide range of cruises on delightful, historic boats are designed for families with children and give you a choice of itineraries and lengths. Family Rainforest Cruises
Educational value for kids
Machu Picchu is Peru’s most famous archaeological site, but the country’s covered in ancient monuments and most areas have museums and heritage centres.
Reserves like Salinas and Aquada are home to indigenous communities who welcome respectful visitors and especially children.
Take a guided jungle night walk with older kids in one of the rainforest reserves to see the vast populations of nocturnal wildlife.
A guided horse back tour of the Colca Canyon is one of the best ways to see spectacular Andean Condor in flight.
Take a Lake Titicaca cruise to Amantani Island, it’s home to 10 villages and has a natural viewpoint where you can see the entire lake.
Spend a day at least exploring Lima, it’s a beautiful colonial city and the entire historic centre’s a World Heritage site.
Puno is known as Peru’s folklore city. Visit in the first two weeks in February for Festival de Candaleira or take a wander round the city centre any time and enjoy the free, impromptu street performance.
Visit for carnival and kids can see where Notting Hill came from originally.
The sheltered waters round Antigua are ideal for diving lessons and the island has several excellent schools.
Spend the day at the English Harbour and put the British element of Antigua into context for kids.
Dickenson Bay is water sport heaven and almost everything’s taught by well-qualified local instructors.
Getting around with kids in Peru
You can hire a car and explore the north and south west of Peru by road. But taking into account it’s the third largest country in South America, hot in summer and with very high altitudes, it’s understandable why most visitors choose to travel by train or plane.
Some of the country’s sites can be visited independently but many more are only accessible with a tour guide. Several UK companies now specialise in Peru for families. If you’re travelling with children a holiday with pre-arranged travel and accommodation is worth considering.
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