5 Ways to know if Machu Picchu should be on your child’s bucket list
If you ask well-traveled adults about their must-do destinations, Machu Picchu in Peru is probably on their bucket list. But just because the ancient Inca citadel is on your list doesn’t mean that it necessarily should be on your child’s list.
Before you book this pricey trip, ask yourself these 5 questions.
1/Does my child travel long distances well?
Machu Picchu isn’t just off the highway. Outside of the locals and a few Germans, the world didn’t even know about this sacred Inca city until American archaeologist Hiram Bingham announced its existence in 1911. The Incas built in a remote region on the Andes Mountains on purpose; it was never found by Spanish conquistadors. Today, it’s still an arduous journey. It begins with a flight (or perhaps several flights) to Lima and then on to Cusco. From there, you take a half hour taxi ride to Poroy station and then board a scenic train for a 3-1/2-hour trip to Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu.
2/Does my child suffer from altitude sickness?
You likely won’t know if your child is susceptible to altitude sickness before the trip, so it’s best to go prepared. At 11,152 feet, Cusco is actually higher than Machu Picchu. Locals swear by coca tea, or mate de coca (derived from the same plant as cocaine), even for children. Alternatively, you can get a prescription for Acetazolamide from your travel clinic before you leave. In addition, drink a lot of bottled water, avoid heavy foods, and for adults, skip the alcohol. Our family took Acetazolamide as prescribed and had no problems.
3/How does my child deal with long lines?
For as difficult as it is to get to Machu Picchu, you’d think that you’d have the place pretty much to yourself. Not even close. First, there’s the line for the shuttle bus that takes you from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Even early in the morning, the line was a 45-minute wait. Once you arrive at the top, there’s the line to enter. Keep in mind, you already have your tickets, as they must be purchased prior to arriving, but visitors must have their tickets and passports checked before setting foot inside the World Heritage site.
You’ll find the fewest crowds in February. While the Inca Trail is closed, Machu Picchu is still open. However, it’s also the rainy season, so you’re taking your chances with the weather. My best advice? Simply accept the crowds.
4/Does my child have an interest in history?
It always helps to know what exactly you’re looking at. Otherwise, you’re likely to hear, “Mom, it’s just a bunch of rocks.” Have your child read up on the Inca Empire before you go. If you have an older child, I’d recommend Cradle of Gold by Christopher Heaney.
5/Does my child like to hike?
There’s a fair amount of walking to be done at Machu Picchu. If you’re there at the crack of dawn, you can hike up to the Sun Gate. Or better yet, pay the extra admission fee to hike to the top of Huayna Picchu, the mountain that towers above Machu Picchu. From there, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the ancient city. But this hike is not a stroll in the park; it’s a steep, strenuous climb up more than 2,000 ancient stone steps, recommended only for the sure-footed visitor.
For all these reasons, I would not recommend a trip to Machu Picchu for any child under 12, unless you have mature 10-year old set on being the next Indiana Jones. You simply need a certain degree of maturity to manage this kind of trip. It can be a destination of lifetime, but it’s not for every family.