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Traveling to Machu Picchu with Kids - Other Activity - Peru

Some might say that nothing is sacred in the "Valley Sagrado" when you travel with kids.

I beg to differ.

Though it made no impression on my 10-month-old, my then five and eight-year-old daughters still rave about it even after having visited the world's highest lake, driest desert, the Galapagos, and the Amazon. Machu Picchu is one of those destinations adults dream of visiting. You may worry that children will not appreciate it but put those worries aside and don't take just my word for it. Take the words and recommendations of my kids and young friends and just go (to Machu Pichu.)

My Pre-teen says that everyone should visit Machu Picchu. Sarah says people spend too much time worrying about whether they should arrive to Machu Picchu via the Inca trail, the train, a van or a bus. "For kids who are not adjusted to altitude, the (Inca) trail is probably not much fun," she said. Sarah notes grown-ups always seem to enjoy complaining about the Inca Trail.

If you stay in Aguas Calientes, take the first bus up in the morning and beat the trekkers from the Inca trail. You can go up to the trail from the ruins and look down if you wish. Note, there are classic views without coming down from the trail. In the early morning, long plumes of steam drift up from the river below the mountain. Ditch the long train ride.

If you are traveling with your whole family consider renting a van from Cuzco to Ollyantambo and then take the midmorning train to Aguas Calientes. Taking the train from Lima is a bear for anyone; the dash to the train with small kids is a prepaid nightmare. You leave in the middle of the night and come back in the middle of the night. Departing from Cuzco may not be much better. Betsy C. reports that her family could not get on board at Cuzco and had to dash by car to catch the train at a stop along the route.

To have a guide or not have a guide? Parents tend to worry about having a kid friendly guide. Here is what the young critics had to say: Claire, 5, thought we should have a guide then she wanted to fire him when he got tired of her acting her age. Elementary-school aged sisters Margaret and Lucy thought the condor carving was the best and appreciated their guide's willingness to let them be kids. Suzannah, 9, thought the most important thing was to climb Hyuani Potosi. (see side bar)

Mom's take: Guides know where the water runs through the ruins and how to find slot caves, carvings and altars and that can make all the difference. On the other hand, don't fear paying a guide and releasing him if it is not working out for your crew. The beauty of ruins is that kids typically can run, laugh, and play in them in marked contrast to the constraints of museums and churches. You do have to watch out for steep steps and kids who like to dangle by their thumbs.

Try to stay either in Ollantaytambo or Aguas Calientes rather than in Cuzco. It may be more expensive but it will save your sanity. Staying close eases logistics in getting to the site. Also, if someone is sick, there is a place to stay while others go to the ruins. (Anyone can be subjected to a travel bug.) Staying in Aguas Calientes means you can go back a second time however, you do have to pay a second entrance fee. In Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes, there are very high end accomodation options. There are also serviceable hotels that are still expensive by local standards. The bed and breakfast Los Indios, has a few rooms and a kid and parent friendly French Peruvian dining room. However, in Ollayantambo you can also experience another set of ruins impressive in their own right. The popular train-side retreat run by Wendy Weeks has long been a favorite splurge favorite for backpackers of all ages.

Book Suggestions: Sarah's Top Three Books for Kids (plus one for parents):

National Geographic's Map of Machu Picchu—This graphically illustrated map includes short entries on the history and highlight of the sight. Lost City:

Discovery of Machu Pichu by Ted Lewin (June 2, 2003) A picture book, Lost City tells a historically accurate story of how a young Quecha boy showed the North American Explorer Hiram Bingham the site covered by the jungle.

Discovering The Inca Ice Maiden by Johan Reinhard (Author) (2003) The story of the discovery of the mummy of a 14-year-old girl on a Peruvian mountain. Admittedly not about Machu Picchu, Sarah chooses this as the most interesting kid book about the Inca. National Geographic has also released a video by the same name.

White Rock By Hugh Thomson (New Ed. Oct. 2006) Sarah recommends that a parent read this adventure journalist's account of his travels on the Inca trail in the 1980s and at the turn of the century. "Then use it (the book) to tell stories." A British documentary filmmaker, Thomason recounts his expedition to refind Llactapata, the Lost city of the Incas in 1982 and his return 20 years later to locate Vilcalbamba, the "Last city of the Incas." He packs a good deal of archeology and history in with tales of fermented beverages, cold nights, and thin air.

Family Favorites Around the Sacred Valley Cuzco:

Pachamama's on the main square for Peruvian and universal cuisine including grilled cheese sandwiches by request.

Parish celebrations for dancing with masks and faux fighting.

The Cultural Center with its weaving demonstration got mixed reviews. Arthur, 8 and Cecelia, 5 give it a double thumbs up. However, Claire, 5, gave it a double thumbs down.

Ruins around Cuzco: the bus or van that shuttles you from one site to the next is the attraction for the kids. (Sneak in adult appreciation of the history as you go.) Since its ruins, there is lots of room for kids to run and holler at most locations.

Pisaq: Sunday Market sells local costumes in doll and kids sizes. Go early (by 8:30 a.m.) to miss large busloads of visitors. The fort at Pisaq and the hike to it is a hit with kids who are up for a mile or two walk.

Urabamba – old hotels reminiscent of 1950s family resorts in the United States, but with a one hundred years of solitude feel to them. Beware, the swimming pools never seem open.


Other Activity

Travel Skills: None

Here are other activities in and around Peru that may be of interest: Botanical Gardens, Plaza de Toros de Acho, Cueva De Las Lechuzas, Reserva Nacional Del Titicaca, Dune Buggy Rides, Awana Kancha, Poza De Barro, Crossing the Border from Peru to Bolivia, Iguana's Trips and I to I .

23 Jul 2007

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