Planning Your Family’s Perfect Machu Picchu Trip

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Machu Picchu is a bucket list vacation destination for many families. Parents and grandparents dream of taking their children to this iconic Inca site to learn about its historic and cultural significance. These types of family travel experiences supplement children’s education and strengthen bonds through shared experiences.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is an astoundingly beautiful and deeply spiritual destination. Be prepared to experience a wide array of emotions while visiting, ranging from wonder and amazement to sheer bliss. For travelers like me, Machu Picchu touches the soul. After arriving at this extraordinary Peruvian Historic Sanctuary, I never wanted to leave.

When parents think of going to Machu Picchu, hiking the Inca Trail generally comes to mind. This classic hike over a period of several days takes trekkers through the Peruvian Andes along an ancient path, much of which still utilizes the original Inca construction. The hike varies in altitude from 8,900 feet to over 13,700 feet, which makes the trek even more taxing. The Peruvian government limits the number of people allowed on the trail each day to 500, of which only 200 can be hikers.

The Inca Trail isn’t the only way to get to Machu Picchu, however. There are a number of additional options offered by experienced tour operators. These alternatives open up Machu Picchu to a broader range of family travelers. Since journeying to Machu Picchu is a trip of a lifetime, it’s important to do it your way to get the most out of the experience. Some of the available choices include:

Journey Via Train – Great For Families.  For those traveling with younger children, older adults, or simply preferring to conserve their time for Machu Picchu itself, taking the train the entire way from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes could be the best choice. This “no-worries” option allows families to fully maximize their time at Machu Picchu. Once at Aguas Calientes, guests board buses making the steep trip up to Machu Picchu. After arriving, there is ample time to take a full tour of the grounds of the Lost City of the Incas with your private guide and hike up to the “Sun Gate” overlooking Machu Picchu. The next morning offers plenty of opportunities for more exploration. Those who wish can take an adventurous 2+ hour challenging hike up Huayna Picchu and enjoy the breathtaking views.

Train + Short Inca Trail Hike.  This is a good choice for active families who want to get a taste of the Inca Trail hike without going the full way. Take the train from Ollantaytambo to kilometer 104 with your guide. From there, you’ll join the Inca Trail and hike through the cloud forest to Machu Picchu. You’ll visit the sites of Chachabamba and Winay Wayna, and have lunch at a waterfall before reaching Intipunku, the “Sun Gate” overlooking Machu Picchu. After entering Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, you’;ll do a short tour before transferring to your hotel. The next morning, guests can explore Machu Picchu and hike up the steep staircase of vertical steps on Huayna Picchu for a spectacular view of the entire area if they choose.

Inca Trail Glamping.  For families wishing to hike the Inca Trail with almost all the comforts of home, Inca Trail Glamping is the best option. This is an excellent way to experience the Inca Trail without crowded campsites and some of the other hardships. While the accent is on luxury and pleasure, it’s important to remember that this is still a challenging hike at altitude. On the first morning of your Inca Trail hike, you’ll transfer from your hotel to kilometer 82 of the Inca Trail with your guide. There, your tour operator should have your porters and equipment waiting. It takes several days of hiking the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu from this point, traveling an average of 5-8 miles each day. The scenery and Inca ruins along this route are spectacular. Guests will have hot showers, a personal chef and even a massage therapist to help them maximize their enjoyment of this bucket list experience. Upon reaching Machu Picchu through the “Sun Gate,” participants will have a short time to view the area before returning the next day for extensive exploration.

Salkantay Lodge to Lodge Trek.  There are additional ways to get to Machu Picchu other the famous Inca Trail. One is the Salkantay Trail, often dubbed the “back way to get to Machu Picchu.” This can be a good choice for active families who want to avoid crowds, prefer stunning vistas and fantastic lodges to camping, or when Inca Trail permits are not available. Climbing through fifteen different ecosystems and varying altitudes reaching over 15,000 feet, this trek is not one for a novice hiker. Participants in this week-long trek should be in excellent cardiovascular shape, have trained well and be ready for a challenge. The views on this trek are said to be absolutely amazing. Evenings are spent at lodges along the way where hot meals are served. Horseback riding options are also available. Upon completing their trek, guests will meet up with the train which will take them to Aguas Calientes. The next day, guests have plenty of time set aside for exploration of Machu Picchu with their guide and even a Huayna Picchu hike.

Custom “Truly Your Way” Experience.  This is an excellent option for larger families and multigenerational groups. It’s also a good choice for smaller families who would like a private tour just for themselves, have younger children, or prefer something a bit different than a standard off-the-shelf tour. Maybe you want to spend three days in Machu Picchu instead of one or two. After all, this is the much-awaited bucket list trip of your dreams. Top tour operators, such as Austin Adventures, specialize in making dreams come true with these kinds of trips. Custom trips can be more expensive for smaller families, but they’re often worth it. A group of 8-10 is the perfect size for a custom trip, though, as the costs are more reasonable at that point when compared to a standard tour. Make sure to inquire about this option.

To bring the Machu Picchu journey of your dreams to life, it’s essential to choose a highly experienced tour operator. Austin Adventures fits the bill perfectly. Named one of the World’s Best Top Tour Operators by Travel + Leisure, Austin Adventures offers superb guides and over 40 years of experience running adventure tours. The company has specialized in family travel for decades and understands the unique needs of family and multigenerational vacationers. Austin Adventures partners with Apumayo Expediciones, a local Cusco-based company with a long history of leading successful adventure trips throughout Peru. Together, they work closely to plan family-friendly Peruvian trip itineraries that yield peak travel experiences for every family member.

If you’re considering a trip to Machu Picchu, here are a few tips:

Plan ahead.  Machu Picchu is a very popular destination, even during the shoulder seasons. Access to the Inca Trail and optimal lodging choices are limited. To avoid disappointment, start planning your trip several months in advance. If your family is planning to visit during the peak June through August season, it is advisable to book 4-6 months in advance to ensure the availability of Inca Trail permits and the best lodging options. 

Know what your family can handle.  Think about your goals for this trip and the kinds of experiences your family wants to have. Given the high altitude, it’s important for family members to be in reasonably good shape to get the most out of the Andean experience. While Machu Picchu trips are available for families with kids ages 7 and up, children that young are probably best suited for customized, private tours. Families with children ages 10 and older are generally good candidates for family-friendly group tours. Families with tweens and teens are likely to learn the most from this trip.

Clearly understand the options.  Talk with your tour operator and be honest about your family’s physical condition, fitness plans and travel preferences. Discuss individual family member interests and what kind of experience you’re seeking, particularly if this is a multigenerational trip. A highly seasoned tour operator can help match you with the right type of tour, guide, and lodging to best meet your needs. Options may also be available for travelers with disabilities. Austin Adventures and partner Apumayo Expediciones are experienced in accommodating travelers with special needs.

Machu Picchu is a captivating vacation destination for families. To get a better feel for this visually stunning experience, take a look at this Pinterest board.  Start dreaming about your perfect visit to Machu Picchu and begin planning your trip. This memorable site deserves to be at the top of your family’s travel bucket list.

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