The Sacred Valley of the Incas (or the Urubamba Valley) is a historically-rich region nestled in the Andes in the southern region of Peru. We started our Peru trip in the capital, Lima, which sits on the western coast in the middle of the country. After 2 days in Lima, we flew down to Cusco (or Cuzco). We continued straight to the Sacred Valley with our baby and toddler to help with our altitude acclimatization before Machu Picchu.
Cusco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the prior capital of the old Inca Empire. A trip to Machu Picchu is incomplete without also visiting other cities and sites in the Sacred Valley. We stayed in Ollantaytambo for 2 nights, where we visited Machu Picchu for a day, and after we stayed in Cusco for 2 nights. We could have used a day more in each, but at least we got a glimpse!
- Getting to and around the Sacred Valley with a baby and toddler
- Choosing where to stay in the Sacred Valley with a baby and toddler
- Things to do and eat in the Sacred Valley with a baby and toddler
- Baby/Toddler Traveler Notes
- Related Reading
Getting to and around the Sacred Valley with a baby and toddler
Lima to Cusco
Driving and bussing from Lima are an option, but extremely time-consuming so we opted to fly from Lima to Cusco.
Lima airport can be a challenge. It feels very disorganized and we were constantly worried about missing our flight. They change gates regularly and don’t announce it. The airport redeemed itself a bit by having separate lines (at check-in, security and at the gate) for families with children. Our flight was 3 hours delayed. The other Cusco-bound flights (regardless of carrier, Peruvian, LATAM, Star Peru) were delayed as well. They don’t announce flights, so you need to pay extra close attention to the flight information boards, and keep checking with the airline attendants so as to not miss your flight. Our gate changed 5 times (including floor changes). Eventually, we made it through, and it’s a super quick 1-1.5hour flight.
Cusco to Ollantaytambo
A driver in his personal car collected us from the airport and drove us up above Cusco’s red-tile roofs winding through the beautiful Sacred Valley en route to Ollantaytambo. Along the way, we met an alpaca or two, snow-capped mountains and gorgeous sweeping green lands. The drive took a little under 2 hours. Pulling into Ollantaytambo was an eye-popping moment. Where have we been transported to? Regardless of country location and language barriers, I find any smaller town to be more of a culture shock than big cities.
We curved up and around a narrowing cobblestone road that ascended to a wall bordering the town. We had to sit in stand-still traffic for about 5 minutes or so as the streets in town are so narrow some are impassable by cars and the ones that are can only fit one car at a time. A police officer-like figure is a permanent fixture directing the traffic flow one way at a time. We bounced forward taking in the bustle of the little village and were at our hotel within a few minutes.
In and around Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is small enough to cover on foot, but there are also tuk-tuks if you need a lift. There are cars too, but I think people mostly use these to go beyond the town itself. We took the train to and from Machu Picchu. There are no roads to the ruins, so you must take a train (unless you’re hiking).
In and around Cusco
We returned to Cusco via car as well. Cusco is much larger than Ollantaytambo, but because of our hotel’s location we were able to walk almost everywhere we wanted to go. We only used uber to go a little outside of Cusco and to the airport.
Choosing where to stay in the Sacred Valley with a baby and toddler
You have several options for where to stay in the Sacred Valley. The towns all have a slightly different feel and are closer/further from Machu Picchu and other sites.
I picked Ollantaytambo for a few reasons: (1) easing the altitude adjustment. Ollantaytambo is at a higher elevation than Machu Picchu, but lower than Cusco. If we could get comfortable with Ollantaytambo then Machu Picchu wouldn’t be a problem. After Ollantaytambo, Cusco would only be a little stretch higher. (Read more about our experience adjusting to the altitude in my Machu Picchu post.) (2) Ollantaytambo is in a good location for getting to Machu Picchu, all trains have to pass through Ollantaytambo as it’s the next closest stop to MP. (3) Ollantaytambo is an amazingly authentic and adorable village that I didn’t want to miss out on.
All of Ollantaytambo’s accommodation options are fairly modest but perfectly adequate. If you wish to stay at higher star hotels, Urubamba is probably a better option. It’s about 30 minutes closer to Cusco and is bigger than Ollantaytambo with more accommodation and restaurant options. It is still very easy to get to Machu Picchu and other areas of the Sacred Valley from Urubamba.
We stayed at the Intitambo Hotel in Ollantaytambo for 2 nights. Cars are unable to drop you directly in front of the hotel, but our driver got us one street over and carried our bags up the stone steps and down the road for us to the hotel. It’s all cobblestone so roller bags don’t work well here. The staff was welcoming and accommodating in checking us in and helping us arrange cars to/from Cusco. We had a double room on the third floor (no elevator), the same level as the rooftop balcony. They did not have a crib, but with two beds we each slept with one baby in a bed which worked well. No heat in the room was definitely chilly getting up and ready in the mornings, but the heavy blankets were warm enough through the night.
The location of the Intitambo Hotel was perfect. We could easily walk to restaurants, shops, and the train station, but it was tucked a little off the main road. Since a stroller wouldn’t work on Ollantaytambo’s roads, the location was extra important since we had to carry the babies everywhere. The most memorable part of this hotel was the large rooftop balcony. It had a few tables and chairs where you can eat and relax, and take in the impressive mountainous views. It looks directly out over Ollantaytambo rooftops, the Archaeological Park Sanctuary ruins, and Pinkuylluna Mountain Granaries. The included breakfast was a small but sufficient spread.
Cusco has a wide range of accommodation options. We were most interested in exploring Cusco’s historic center, and a few things just outside Cusco. Thus we stayed right near Plaza de Armas, in the historic center, at Ramada Costa Del Sol Cusco. This hotel was a bit luxurious after our other Peru hotels which was intentional and welcomed. It’s all about balance, right?
The check-in experience was smooth and comfy as we remained in armchairs and sipped tea as they processed our information. The common areas of this hotel are impressive as they preserved and modernized a Colonia-era mansion. However, walking through the lobby courtyard and heading to the elevators there are a few stairs you can’t bypass so we had to pick up the stroller. There are elevators to access the guest rooms, they’re tiny, but they work. Our room was comfortable and clean, and they provided us with a baby crib. The breakfast had plenty of hot and cold options, Peruvian and American, a much wider spread than our other hotels in Peru. They had highchairs and were friendly with the babies. The hotel is in a perfect location for exploring Cusco’s historic center.
Things to do and eat in the Sacred Valley with a baby and toddler
We stopped in Inka’s Tower and had to climb two narrow flights of curved stairs to the top. It was worth the squeezing, ducking and climbing though as there are great views from the top. The restaurant has big windows looking out over Ollantaytambo. We had a yummy meal (quinoa salad, guacamole, and puff crisps, alpaca saltador, chicken and rice) as the waitress fawned over Orlo requesting to hold him. Everyone was very friendly and excited to see the babies.
We enjoyed exploring the village at all different times of day, taking in the different sights and smells, admiring the colorful textiles. Elden had fun wandering the carless streets, he thought it was a fun maze and we were so curious as to what he thought about this place so different from where he lives.
I wanted to check out the Sanctuary ruins and Pinkuylluna Mountain Granaries but with our delayed flight, cold mornings and early sunsets, we couldn’t find the time to make that happen. Thankfully the Intitambo Hotel has a perfect balcony where you’re able to admire both of these sites directly, we only didn’t get to climb them ourselves. I was disappointed at first, but I very quickly realized when traveling long term sometimes you need to slow down, you’re not going to make it to everything and that’s okay. It’s more important to stay healthy and maintain some semblance of sanity than check all the boxes.
Cusco was once the Inca Empire’s capital, and you can see evidence of this all around the city from the stonework to roofs, balconies and more. A main goal of our time in Cusco, like most any city we visit, was to wander and admire the uniqueness of Cusco. We like to people watch, notice cultural differences, try lots of local food, let Elden play in parks or playgrounds, marvel at the architecture and more. We meandered through Plaza de Armas where the Museo De Historia Natural and Museo De Historia Natural gorgeously flank the edge of the plaza, and all around Centro Histórico taking in everything, including the twelve-angled stone. Peru was the first South American country we’ve visited so everything was extra exciting and new.
One day we ate a casual lunch at Los Toldos for delicious pollo a la brasa, Peruvian rotisserie chicken. Another day we ate at the Inka Grill which is right in the main square. The staff loved Elden and Orlo and tried to engage them quite a bit. Both were restless though so Steve took each of them out to have some fun in the square as we waited for the food. The plaza is a pedestrian-only space so it’s a great place for kids. After eating we let Elden play in the plaza, splash in the fountain (the toddler water obsession seems to span cultures) and run around some more.
We visited Awana Kacha, a farm, live museum and store. I wanted to go to see the llamas, vicuna and alpacas which live right on the property. We grabbed an uber, but there’s also a bus stop right nearby. It’s about half an hour outside of Cusco. The animals were friendly and eagerly ate up the greens we gave them. There’s a little snack and souvenir shop and Peruvian ladies dressed in traditional clothing weaving. At the end there’s a large store with the Awana Kancha goods. Someone’s son had an outdoor playroom setup with a bunch of toys and Elden was so excited to play for a bit. We didn’t plan our transportation wisely and were a bit stuck when we wanted to leave. It’s a little ways out so there are no taxis driving by not already working. We could’ve taken the bus but we wanted to stop elsewhere on the way back. We ended up having a worker call a car for us that drove out from Cusco to pick us up and bring us back. If you want to make a trip out here, I’d suggest having a car wait for you, take the bus or go through a tour. On our way back to Cusco, we stopped at San Cristobal Church for an overlook view of Cusco. It’s a beautiful sight, all the red-tile roofs nestled among the mountains.
For our 5-year wedding anniversary, we went to Qespi. We still attempt fancy restaurants, sometimes, with a baby and toddler! I made reservations online before our trip and we were the only ones in the restaurant for the first half of our meal. The service was superb, and the restaurant beautiful.
Peru isn’t the first place people think of as family-friendly, but we had a great time, even bringing along a baby and toddler. We did not have enough time in the Sacred Valley though. It’s a stunning region, fascinating culture, and delicious food. Don’t miss out!
Baby/Toddler Traveler Notes
- We couldn’t use our stroller in Ollantaytambo due to the deep ruts in the cobblestone.
- We managed our Babyzen yoyo+ stroller around Cusco, but it was bumpy and not always easy.
- A baby carrier is a better friend over a stroller in the Sacred Valley, and you’ll fit in more with the locals. They all wear their babies on their backs!
- At the airport and train station at least, you should be able to cut the line or there will be a designated separate line for families with young children.
- Some Peruvians were obsessed with the babies and may try to touch your baby and request to hold him/her.