The Incan citadel of Machu Picchu is one of the most recognizable places in the world and the journey to get here is nearly as fun as the destination itself. This ancient city high in the Peruvian Andes is about as postcard-worthy as it gets, with truly breathtaking views and sights. Peru is much more than just Machu Picchu though. The culture and activities found here go far beyond a playground for backpackers and llamas. Here's why a vacation to Peru’s Sacred Valley should be at the top of your list.
Families will love the vivid colors of Peru. Everywhere you look, you'll see Quechuan women dressed in their bright, traditional clothing selling their goods and tending to their livestock. Be sure to stop in the town of Chinchero, where a helpful guide will show you how these women weave their gorgeous garments from llama and alpaca wool. Kids will get a fascinating lesson on how they use local seeds and plants for creating the natural dyes for their yarn and the process they use to create a finished product. Support the local community of artisans and grab a sweater or stocking hat to take home as a vibrant souvenir of your time in this stunning land.
Tucked high in the mountains, Machu Picchu is only reachable by train. The good news is that it very well could be the most beautiful train ride you'll ever take and the kids will love it. PeruRail offers service all day long from the towns of Ollantaytambo and Urubamba in the Sacred Valley running to Aguas Calientes, where you'll begin your climb towards Machu Picchu. Consider booking one of their Vistadome cars, which offer unmatched views of the roaring Urubamba River and the misty mountains along the way. They even serve refreshments and a traditional Peruvian snack during your trip, making it the perfect beginning to what will be an unforgettable visit to Machu Picchu.
Tickets can be purchased online, but you will need your passport and the credit card you used to pay for the tickets when you arrive at the station to get your boarding passes. Be sure to check PeruRail for full schedules and details.
The ancient Incans had a rich and thriving culture, and it is on full display just about everywhere you go in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Besides Machu Picchu, you'll find stunning ruins outside the town of Ollantaytambo, as well as in and around Cusco. Book a tour to see the incredible salt mines of Maras where Peruvian families still harvest salt from the warm, salty water that flows up from the ancient ocean buried deep underground. Families will love climbing around the salt flats and even having a taste of the salty water. Buy a small bag of salt to take home or to give as a unique gift!
Older children can get an exciting culture lesson and learn about how the ancient Incans tested and cultivated crops at the beautifully terraced site of Moray. History abounds here, as you learn why this civilization was, in many ways, more advanced than the Spanish who ultimately conquered them. Cusco is also full of fantastic museums that are perfect for children of all ages, including the La Casa Concha Museum, home to the largest collection of Machu Picchu artifacts in the world.
As with any new country, discovering the local cuisine is always fun and exciting. Peru is no different, offering up a host of treats and delicacies that even the youngest in your family will appreciate. Adventurous eaters can try the national dish, Guinea Pig (Cuy in Peru), or order an alpaca steak. For those that aren't so brave, try a heavenly butifarra sandwich (pork) at one of the curbside stalls in Cusco. If you enjoy Asian food, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Peruvian/Chinese fusion that's pervasive throughout Cusco.
Kids will love sipping on a cold Inka Kola, which you can also find anywhere in Peru. It has a faint butterscotch flavor, and with the neon-yellow color, one can't help but think of it as Peruvian Mountain Dew. For a sweet and cool treat, be sure to try chichas, a juice made from purple maize.
For something that’s sure to be a hit with the kids, take a class at the Choco Museo. They offer several fun tutorials like their “Bean to Bar” class that shows you how to take raw cacao and turn it into rich, creamy chocolate. From there, you can make your own chocolate bars with your own special mix of ingredients. Yum! They have locations in both Ollantaytambo and Cusco, so you can pick whichever is most convenient.
The crown jewel of the region (and the entire country) is, of course, Machu Picchu and it is not to be missed. This ancient Incan citadel hides high in the cloud forest near the town of Aguas Calientes and remarkably, was discovered only a short time ago. Although many questions still remain about the purpose of this site, it's majesty is undisputed. Kids will love clamoring around the site, bouncing in and out of nooks and crannies, and running up the steep staircases. Around every corner is a hidden surprise to discover, and the high vistas are breathtaking. If you're lucky, you may even spot a llama or two roaming around munching on the grass.
Guides are available at the entrance if you want to experience a more in-depth tour, but it's not necessary, families can enjoy just exploring on their own. Prepare yourself to take it easy and drink plenty of water—the the altitude of almost 8,000ft is no joke here—and budget 3-4 hours to look around. Be sure to read up on the rules for entry tickets before you arrive and note that while adult tickets can be purchased online, children's tickets cannot at this time. There is a limited amount of visitors allowed into the site daily, so make sure to plan accordingly. Work on purchasing tickets either online or through a trusted tour operator as soon as your plans are firm so they don't sell out on the day you want to visit.
For more information on planning a family trip to Machu Picchu, visit http://alongforthetrip.com/machu-picchu-with-kids/