Deciding to bring a baby and toddler to Machu Picchu
I set my sights on Machu Picchu several years ago, but our travels mostly took us east and west rather than north and south. After our first baby was born, I considered Machu Picchu for his first international trip. I was worried away from that idea after a little research though. I considered it again later, but then Zika deterred us. When planning this latest trip, Peru wasn’t on my first, or second, or even third itinerary, but eventually it made it onto the final plans and I’m so glad it did.
Machu Picchu, specifically, excited me but not necessarily Peru. Thankfully Machu Picchu is inside Peru because it forced us to get to know and experience part of this great country. Peru blew us away, we really enjoyed our stay. This post will be all about our day at Machu Picchu, read more about our other Peru experiences here.
There aren’t many, but I successfully found a few blogs from other parents who brought a baby or toddler to Machu Picchu. They helped convince me to go for it. I was most concerned about any altitude issues, but I figured we’d be okay once I realized Breckenridge, Colorado is at a higher elevation than Machu Picchu. We brought Elden to Breckenridge when he was 13 months old. I had a headache the first day, but otherwise, we didn’t have any issues with the elevation there (and I didn’t even consider or take precautions with that elevation change).
- Deciding to bring a baby and toddler to Machu Picchu
- Adjusting to the altitude with a baby or toddler
- Getting to Machu Picchu with a baby and toddler
- Making reservations and booking tickets for Machu Picchu
- Baby/Toddler Traveler Notes:
- RELATED READING
Adjusting to the altitude with a baby or toddler
I wanted to approach Machu Picchu slowly and strategically to make sure we all stayed healthy and happy. This was the very beginning of our two-month trip, and it would be a rough start if we got sick so early. People live happily and healthily at different altitudes all over the world, including babies. Your body can adjust to different altitudes (read the science behind it here), but it needs time. I knew we could do it, it was only a matter of doing it the right way.
We flew from NYC to Lima, Peru (505’ (154m)). We stayed in Lima for a couple nights. Next, we proceeded to Cusco but continued directly to Ollantaytambo which is a little further out in the Sacred Valley. Cusco (11,152′ (3399m)) would be the highest elevation we visited, so I planned for us to visit it last when we were hopefully better acclimated. We stayed in Ollantaytambo (9,160′ (2792m)) for two nights. We took the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (6,693′ (2040m)), the town right below Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu sits at 7,972′ (2430m). Lastly, we stayed in Cusco (11,152′ (3399m)) for two nights. We felt the elevation and were more breathy, especially while carrying the babies, but we felt fine and none of us got sick.
Getting to Machu Picchu with a baby and toddler
Getting to Machu Picchu even if bypassing the Inca Trail is a trek in and of itself. Since we were bringing our babies, we spread the adventure over a few days. Approaching it slowly helps with altitude acclimatization, and we didn’t want to wipe ourselves out before even getting there.
We flew with JetBlue from New York City to Lima, Peru (with a quick layover in FLL). We stayed in Lima for two nights to explore the capital.
Next, we flew with Peruvian Airlines from Lima to Cusco; it’s a quick 1-1.5hour flight. Weather in Cusco caused a 3-hour delay, which was the case for all the airlines flying the same route.
From Cusco, we organized a car through our hotel from Cusco airport to Intitambo Hotel in Ollantaytambo. It’s about a 2-hour drive through a beautiful landscape.
After our first night in Ollantaytambo, we headed to Machu Picchu. We walked 15 minutes from our hotel to the Ollantaytambo train station. We boarded PeruRail’s Vistadome train bound for Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo). Ollantaytambo is the next closest stop from Aguas Calientes. You can stay elsewhere (e.g., Urubamba) and take the train from further out, but you’ll have to stop in Ollantaytambo anyway.
Elden is a major train lover so I was excited for him to experience the train ride. It’s a big, beautiful picturesque blue train. PeruRail has different trains and experiences which you can compare here. I thought the Vistadome train had more windows and would be a better viewing experience. We took the 08:00 Vistadome train there, but I booked the Expedition train (a bit cheaper) for our return trip since it was after sunset (18:20 departure) and we wouldn’t be able to see much anyway.
The Vistadome train was nicer and provided better service, but it wasn’t worth it to us. The windows (my main concern) were very similar, they both have huge picture windows on the side, and some on the ceilings. We only purchased two seats as children between 0-2 years old do not need to pay, but you have to keep them on your lap. (Children between 3-11 years old must have their own ticket which is discounted 50%.) It’s only a 1.5-2 hour train ride so it wasn’t bad, we managed, but with a kid on each of our laps it was a bit tight.
Since trains are the only transportation option in and out of Aguas Calientes, they’re central to the town. Tracks run right through the middle of everything. Aguas Calientes is a fascinating town almost like a remote island, as you’re only able to arrive via train (or hiking). There are no roads to Aguas Calientes.
From here you can hike (approximately 1.5 hours depending on your fitness level) or take a bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu. We took the bus, which afforded some stunning views of the cliffs paired with hopes of not falling off the edge of an incredibly narrow road down said cliffs. It’s an extremely windy and bumpy 30-minute ride, but the kids didn’t seem to mind.
After the bus you’re finally at the entrance of Machu Picchu. Though they don’t drop you at the top, you still need to hike up! It’s only about 15-20 minutes give or take depending on your speed and if you stop. We stopped to catch our breath every so often, but it wasn’t bad and it is completely worth the effort.
A day at Machu Picchu with a baby and toddler
Early morning start
At 40°F (4.5°C) and no heat in our hotel room, it was really hard to pull ourselves out of bed, but with the excitement of finally seeing Machu Picchu, we rallied. We woke up early and dressed in several layers.
Our hotel provided a quick breakfast and then we strapped the babies on us and headed out. We could’ve flagged down a tuk-tuk, but despite the cold, I wanted to walk. It was only a 15-minute walk from our hotel (Intitambo Hotel) to the Ollantaytambo train station. I booked our PeruRail tickets in advance online, and we picked them up at the counter that morning. There was an outdoor waiting space but we didn’t have to wait long before boarding. They cut off the line and ushered us directly to the front (baby travel perks!).
The train ride to Machu Picchu with a baby and toddler
The train was beautiful inside and out, a classic. The windows are huge and perfect for admiring the stunning landscape. Elden, the train lover, was excited to see the tracks, wheels, and all things train-related. We slid into our seats which are mostly all in groups of four facing one another across a shared table. We only had two seats so it was all four of us on one side and another couple opposite us. It was a bit tight and sometimes awkward trying to limit a baby and toddler’s interaction with people that didn’t really want to interact, but it wasn’t a long ride.
Orlo pooped mid-train and since I didn’t think the couple opposite us would appreciate me changing him on the table at our seats, I had to bring him to the bathroom and change him on my lap due to no changing table.
They served us complimentary drinks and snacks, along with proper plates and cutlery. While nice for most, for us, it made it even a little tighter and tougher to maneuver and manage everyone’s hands and legs. Throughout the ride, they played soothing music and it felt like a very smooth and peaceful tourist experience (nice, but honestly too much pampering to us).
Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo
Upon arrival at Aguas Calientes it had already warmed up and we were able to shed a layer. Right away you have to go through a large craft market which sits between the town and train station. We wandered up and down and around the picturesque village of Aguas Calientes. We had an early lunch in the main square, sitting outside at Ylla Fusion restaurant we took it all in and tried to conserve our energy. Steve tried the popular Peruvian delicacy, guinea pig. I had some yummy chicken and empanadas. Meanwhile, the waitress held Orlo for a bit, everyone wanted to hold him.
Approximately 1,600 people live in the town and another few thousand come in and out daily to visit Machu Picchu.
Bus ride up to the gates
Next, we sought out the bus to Machu Picchu. We thought we were waiting in the right line across from the school, but eventually realized it was the Ministry of Culture office for purchasing Machu Picchu entrance tickets.
We found the ridiculously long bus line, but first had to go elsewhere to buy the bus tickets. With tickets finally in hand, we snaked around the line and were ushered to cut right to the front (because of the babies). It’s not necessarily easy traveling with kids, but they’re trying to help make it a little better and it definitely improved our time in Peru.
They directed us to sit right in front and we held on tight. It’s switchbacks all the way up a bumpy dirt road, which the bus has to share with other buses on the return trip down. It’s a little nerve-racking, but if you can get past that, you’re afforded some gorgeous views of the mountains.
We were greeted at the gate by a flurry of guides vying for business. Per the new 2018 rules, you must have an official guide with you to enter Machu Picchu. You can either book a tour, or you can easily hire a guide last minute right outside the entrance gate. We did the latter as we aren’t big on tours. Several different guides approached us, but we went with Luis who said he was trying to get a small group together. This way it was a bit cheaper. Two other individual women joined our group and we headed for the entrance. We were able to jump to the front with the babies, but we had to wait inside for the rest of the group to get through the line. (NOTE: Don’t forget your passport, you need it to enter the park.)
Once inside we trudged through the crowds trying to stick close to our guide. We visited in July in high season, and on a beautiful day, so it was unsurprisingly crowded. It was even warmer by this point so we were down to only our t-shirts. It’s a dirt pathway, flat and shaded at first, then you start your ascent. We would climb a little, and then we’d stand to the side as our guide would detail some history to us and let us catch our breath. I was carrying Elden on my back, so an extra 30 lbs. (13.6kg) and could definitely feel the elevation. We were breathy but didn’t ever feel sick from it.
Coming up to the iconic lookout point was such a surreal experience. You see so many photos of places on Instagram, TripAdvisor, and Facebook before you get to see them in person so you have certain expectations. Machu Picchu was as beautiful as anticipated but it also has a mystical aura about it. You can’t portray the feel in photos, you have to go in person and feel it for yourself.
The guide showed us all around detailing the history, answering questions and offering to take several pictures for us. I carried Elden (2.5 years old) on my back in a Lillebaby toddler carrier up the main drag and then he wanted to get down and walk himself.
Toddler safety at Machu Picchu
Certain areas are extremely narrow and drop down a cliff so we made him stay up in the carrier, which he wasn’t always happy about. Other times we felt comfortable enough letting him down as some areas are expansive enough or have high enough stone walls.
He had a blast exploring the “little houses,” saying Machu Picchu and saying hi to the llamas (oh and also kicking off his shoes driving mom and dad bonkers!). Our family is a fan of Llama, llama red pajama books so we were excited to see the llamas that live directly in the park. I expected Elden to like the train and the bus, and be indifferent to the ruins. I was happily surprised at his interest in the site itself and months later he still talks about wanting to go back!
Machu Picchu with a young baby
Orlo (6 months old) loved to face out in the Ergo carrier walking up and around Machu Picchu. He waved his arms and legs squealing making fellow trekkers smile and laugh. He let us know when he was ready to get out and eat.
I don’t recall any benches, but there are rocks in some places you can sit on. I sat on the perfect rock taking in the stunning landscape as I nursed Orlo. It was such a blissful and surreal moment I’ll remember forever. After he ate I turned him toward me in the carrier so he could sleep. He snuggled in and slept for the next hour or so. The only restrooms are outside the park gates, so I had to change his diaper on a 500+ year old window ledge. It worked!
Machu Picchu tour with a baby and toddler
Our guide said he usually completed his tour in 2 hours, but we took 3. We slowed the group having to stop for the babies for all sorts of reasons, and it was extra crowded. The others in our group didn’t seem to mind, but in hindsight, we would’ve preferred to have a private tour. We would’ve wanted to push faster in some parts, but then of course we had to stop longer in other spots. The guides usually release you close to the exit but not outside as many people want to wander a little on their own. It would’ve been nice to do so, but we and the babies were both done after 3 solid hours.
Returning to Aguas Calientes
After exiting we were able to jump right to the front of the bus line again and bumped back along down to Aguas Calientes. In town, we stopped for a quick pizza snack. We zipped through the market en route to the train station and picked up a magnet along the way. The train station was overflowing with exhausted and half sunburnt travelers. (TIP: Don’t forget your sunscreen! Even if it’s chilly the sun can be strong.)
Returning to Ollantaytambo
We boarded the Expedition train back to Ollantaytambo. It wasn’t as nice as the Vistadome one, but I actually preferred it. Expedition was cheaper and Vistadome felt slightly stuffy which makes me feel a little uncomfortable with young kids in tow. The sun had already set so we didn’t have any views on the return trip.
Before we knew it we were pulling back in Ollantaytambo, and with the sun down it was freezing like the morning. At the station, there was a flurry of people, tuk-tuks, cars, and buses. Lots of people take the train from this station but stay elsewhere and need additional transportation after the train. I was glad that we stayed in Ollantaytambo. It’s a long day, especially with kids, so it was great being done with the journey at that point. You can also stay directly in Aguas Calientes and avoid having to take the train the same day.
We stopped in Apu Veronica restaurant which is on the second floor on our way back for a more filling dinner. I had delicious quinoa veggie soup and pollo saltado. Steve had stuffed avocado and chicharrón. It was a very cozy and satisfying meal after our full day.
Overall it was a long day, challenging at times but still easier than anticipated and certainly worth all the effort. We had a great time and would recommend it to others, even parents with baby, toddler and really kids of any age.
Making reservations and booking tickets for Machu Picchu
With all the different city stops and transportation required we needed a lot of different tickets. See below for how I went about booking the various tickets and how much we paid (in USD in 2018).
Flight from Lima to Cusco
I considered all the airlines (e.g., StarPeru, Avianca, LATAM) for our flight from Lima to Cusco, but I had trouble processing the transaction with my card for some and I didn’t like the schedules for others. Ultimately I booked with Peruvian Airlines who agreed to take my money about 4 months in advance of our trip. We were scheduled on a 08:00 flight, and it cost (round-trip) approximately USD $164 per adult, about 75% of that for our toddler and only USD $24 for the baby (lap infant).
Car from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
A few days prior to our arrival I arranged a car through our hotel to bring us from the Cusco airport to our Ollantaytambo hotel. It cost USD $40. I know you can hire your own taxi for less but for this particular leg I wanted it pre-arranged and not have to worry about finding someone and bartering the last minute.
Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
I booked our train tickets directly through PeruRail’s website about 4 months in advance. We traveled there on the 08:00 Vistadome train which was USD $95 per adult. We did not need to purchase tickets for the babies. I briefly considered Inca Rail which also provides service to Machu Picchu, but PeruRail had more options and I read some reviews about PeruRail being a better experience.
Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
We purchased our bus tickets on the same day right before boarding the bus. The ticket line wasn’t too long, but the bus line was very long. Here’s some further information about where to purchase, and how you can purchase in advance. The round-trip ticket was USD $24 per adult, and we did not need to purchase tickets for the babies.
Machu Picchu entrance tickets
I followed Thrifty Nomad’s handy guide when purchasing Machu Picchu entrance tickets online. I booked directly through the Ministry of Culture’s website for USD $47 per adult about 4 months in advance. We did not need to purchase tickets for the babies. We could’ve purchased tickets same day in person, but our travel dates were set and we visited in high season so I felt better having the tickets reserved in advance. Since we weren’t staying in Aguas Calientes and didn’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night, we purchased “second turn” or afternoon tickets.
Bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes
This was purchased round-trip so we simply had to show our ticket again from earlier to get the bus back down. You can book a one-way bus ticket if you want to hike only one-way and bus the opposite.
Train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo
I booked these train tickets at the same time as the reverse route. On our return trip, we traveled on the 18:20 Expedition train which was USD $65 per adult.
Car from Ollantaytambo to Cusco
We arranged another car to take us from our hotel back to Cusco for our next stay. It was USD $40, the same as going there.
Baby/Toddler Traveler Notes:
- No strollers are allowed (and would be completely impractical) in Machu Picchu.
- Bring a baby carrier! Even if your toddler walks well it’s a good idea to have a carrier since it’s such a long day and a big hike for little legs, plus you can keep them contained when you’re too close to a cliff drop-off.
- You have to pay for the bathrooms and they’re only outside the park entrance. We changed baby’s diaper while inside the park and made sure Elden went potty right before we entered and right after we exited.
- Yes, there are huge cliffs at Machu Picchu that you must be careful of with little ones, but there are also areas with enough space for kids to move around on their own. There are also some areas enclosed by stone walls that block a toddler from running off.
- You should be able to cut all lines (transportation boarding, ticket purchasing, entrance, etc.) if you’re traveling with a young baby.
- You cannot bring large bags inside the park, but we were okay with a standard-sized backpack as our diaper bag.
- Rules dictate no food is allowed in the park. We had snacks in our backpack and no one cared. We needed the fuel and made sure to be respectful and take our trash out with us.
- While there we saw one other baby, a few toddlers, and several elementary-aged children.
- Quick Itinerary Guide: Machu Picchu Pueblo/Aguas Calientes, Peru
- A glimpse of the Sacred Valley
- One day in Lima
- A taste of Peru
- Quick Itinerary Guide: Cusco, Peru
- Quick Itinerary Guide: Ollantaytambo, Peru