Many many thanks to Manuela Anamaria for sharing this awesome travel story with us. Machu Picchu (or as Bub likes to call it, “Nacho Picchu”) and hiking the Inca Trail are inexplicably on my bucket list, even though I’m afraid of heights and don’t like camping 🙂 Please join me in being inspired by Manuela and her quest for her daughter to be the world’s most travelled baby — are you ready to visit Machu Picchu with a toddler?!
Machu Picchu for us was a long time dream, a dream we knew would have to wait with the impending arrival of our baby. I imagined it, I visualized it and I even researched it for years, yet when I became pregnant, I knew instantly that it would be even longer before I’d get to go. It was a long three years after the birth of our daughter when we finally felt that it was time to conquer this new world wonder.
Our main issue with waiting this trip out was the altitude sickness some people experience at high altitudes. It is not a precise science who experiences altitude sickness and who does not. We felt we needed to wait until she could express herself as Cusco, the main city where the airport is located, sits at an altitude of 3400 meters. Most of our research indicated that people have no issues breathing under 2500 meters but anything above that might pose a risk.
We love doing vacations on our own terms and piece everything together ourselves, so a ready-made tour was not an option. From hours of research, I found out that the best way to visit Machu Picchu with a toddler is to slowly acclimatize to the altitude. What most people do not know is that Cusco (where the plane lands) is at a much higher altitude than Machu Picchu. Most tour groups start in Cusco, which is why people become ill since they go from sea level to 3400m within hours. Acclimatization takes a few days, so the best thing to do, especially when travelling with a child, is to descend to a lower altitude and not remain in Cusco.
We took things extremely slowly and made sure our daughter was used to the altitude before we got to Machu Picchu by taking her to Bogota first (2640m above sea level), followed by Quito (2800m) above sea level. Machu Picchu itself sits at 2430m, as do many of the towns in the Sacred Valley.
For our first day in the area, we rented a private car from our hotel to pick us up in Cusco and drive us to a lower altitude in Ollantaytambo, about a two-hour drive away. Ollantaytambo is a small place with ruins of its own. Our quaint hotel was situated on a cliff facing the ancient ruins, and it allowed us to breathe a different pace of life. In places like this, it really feels as though time stands still. The native population still wears traditional woven clothing, and their genuine and beautiful smiles made me feel like I could lose myself in this world. Our three-year-old daughter was equally fascinated by the bright colours of the clothing and the gentle nature of the locals who always seemed to smile at her.
We saw a few llamas around, but our child was a bit afraid to approach them. The next day, we woke up early to catch the 5 A.M. train to Aguas Calientes, the city at the bottom of Machu Picchu and the starting point to the twenty minute bus ride up the mountain. In order to reach Aguas Calientes, we must board the early morning train to try to avoid the later crowds. I must mention that train tickets and entrance tickets to Machu Picchu were all purchased online ahead of time, with a wide selection of trains and times to choose from. Keep in mind that the Peruvian government only allows a certain number of visitors per day, making it important to purchase tickets in advance. Kids under five years of age do not have to pay for an entrance ticket.
The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is two hours long and it was still dark outside. We reached the station and left our bags at the hotel. From there, we lined up for the bus to reach the mountain and purchase tickets at an adjacent booth. The road up is extremely steep and I am amazed that the buses manage to go up and down the curbs. We chose to go in March, which is the end of the rainy season. In February the Inca Trail is closed due to weather (we did not want to attempt the Inca Trail with a child).
From where the bus stops to reaching the ancient ruins, it is about a ten minute easy walk. Our daughter never liked the stroller so we always use the Ergo child carrier to get around when she is tired, which basically means my husband ends up carrying her most of the time. This was the case for Machu Picchu as well; though she did walk parts of it, she saw most of it from her Ergo.
Machu Picchu turned out to be everything I expected it to be and so much more. It is amazing how an entire city was built in the middle of the mountains with extremely difficult conditions to reach it. In fact, this new world wonder was only discovered in 1911, though it was built around the 1400s. Even with the many pictures as I had seen and as much as I felt I knew what to expect, being there took my breath away. Though she didn’t understand much of it, our daughter seemed fascinated as well as she posed for the camera. The llamas around and the many tourists kept her interested in the scenery. We walked for hours and attempted to take in as much as possible. Only seeing Machu Picchu does it justice, no words can adequately describe it.
If children get tired, there is a restaurant and facilities right by the entrance gates. Bringing large backpacks is not allowed, however, we had a small backpack with a few things we needed for our daughter that did not seem to pose an issue. There are lockers by the entrance for larger belongings.
After having seen the wonder, we descended to Aguas Calientes and embarked on the train to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. Here, there are numerous five star hotels to indulge in. We spent a few days in Urubamba (you must take the Ollantaytambo train and then a shared bus or private car to reach Urubamba), enjoying the outstanding traditional local food and spoiling ourselves at a gorgeous hotel surrounded by green valleys. Nothing is too much to ask for, and the locals are extremely friendly and kind.
We conquered Cusco on our last two days and chose to stay in the center of the city. Though it is 3400m above sea level and many people get altitude sickness here, we had no issues since by the time we reached it we were fully acclimatized. To survive high altitudes, it is very important to keep well hydrated and well rested. We made sure to bring electrolytes for our daughter should there be a need, and fortunately we didn’t need to use them. Coca tea is widely available, and is said to help with the altitude.
Visiting Machu Picchu with a toddler was an incredible experience and I believe that, with enough planning, children of all ages should be able to thrive. Conquering the world with a child has never been easier, as in the face of globalization, everything we need is widely available around the world. Our daughter turned four a few weeks ago, and we are fortunate to say we have never had an issue in any of the 24 countries she has travelled to around the world. People are kind and always helpful, especially when they see children. Follow your dreams, and take the kids along; there is no lesson more valuable than travel.
Many thanks again to Manuela Anamaria, whose book, Global Citizen Unwrapped, will be published soon. Stop by her site Your Global Family in the meantime.