Family Travel in South America – Machu Picchu, Peru
Every picture I ever saw of the ancient Inca city, Machu Picchu was stunning. The dramatic drops and peaks of the mountains in the background, the fog rolling over mysterious ruins and the mesmerising story of how the greatest Inca King created it and then again lost in time. For most of us, Machu Picchu is on your Bucket List. And after visiting it with our family, so it should be! But, this is where the trouble starts. It can be confusing to access, and it also can end up costing you way more than you ever imagined. Here, in this very comprehensive guide, we break down on how we visited Machu Picchu for only $US343 for a family of four (2018).
- How we visited Machu Picchu for only $US343
- When to visit?
- Other options on getting to Machu Picchu?
- Where to stay with kids?
- Where to eat?
- Still, have more questions, then send us a message!
How to visit Machu Picchu for $US343
WARNING: Lengthy, squeeze full of detail post! We visited a few days after the most recent tourism visiting changes, so this could be the most up to date and best research available at the moment. The tourist path that we took is not just the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu, but also one of the more adventurous 2-day trips you can take. The road from Ollantaytambo and the walk alongside train lines (only two small trains past for our trip) means although it is possible for families, you must have a certain level of fitness and sense of adventure. By providing our advice, we take no responsibility for your actions. If you prefer luxury, read below.
Need more advice? Check out our Sandboarding and Dune Buggying down South America’s largest dunes! in our South America guides.
Helpful things to know for your trip
The closest town to Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes (Spanish for Hot Water due to hot springs in town!). The city can also be called Machu Picchu Pueblo. There is no road or airport to Aguas Calientes, so the only way to get there is by train or walking.
From Cusco to Hidroelectrica:
Leaving from Cusco, many tourist mini-buses are heading daily to Hidroelectrica in the morning. Hidroelectrica is the town before Aguas Calientes that you will need to either walk to or catch a train.
We booked our tour through Ronnie at Forever Peru Travel . All our transport, food, accommodation and tickets were all organised for us. They were also extremely helpful and kept in contact with us the whole way. To book your own experience, visit https://www.getyourguide.com/
You need to have booked your transport before travel as each bus is full to capacity (15 people). That said, in peak season we managed to reserve four seats the afternoon prior, so go figure that one! There is usually a central meeting point for each of the buses, for example, Cusco Plaza Regocijos.
Now, this is where things can get interesting. If you are prone to car sickness, this may not be the route for you! The complete one-way mini-bus transfer takes approximately 7 hours including a long stop for lunch (included for us), and 3-4 break stops.
The road between Ollantaytambo to Saint Teresa which is about 3.5 hours long is one of the windiest roads we have ever been on in all our travel. Be sure to speak up if your driver is not as careful because some of the corners are quite hair-raising if done with too much speed!
From Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes:
When you arrive at Hidroelectrica, your driver with some vague hope will point you towards the start of the walk. Yes, it is a walk! We are trying to save money, right? Despite everything you read online, the travel through this route with children (or not) is not a 2-hour walk, like what every tour agency seems to advertise!
The total distance is 12 kilometres. With children (we have a six-year-old and nine years old), we walked it in 3.5 hours. The average is 2.5 hours. Be sure to pack light for this as everything you pack needs to be carried. You can, on the other hand, opt to catch the Inca Rail train for an additional $US28 for an adult and $US10 for children each way. Under 5’s were free.
Initially, you walk up the first train line however after a few hundred metres you will then need to change tracks to the second train line. You can do this by climbing the hill to the right.
Be sure to look out for a small sign saying “Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu” you will find. If not, you can get lost; as some people will be walking straight instead, then they’ll have to return from the start, so have your eyes glued. So, be sure to follow that sign. The climb up the sandy bank is the only slope you will need to navigate over the whole stretch. The rest is flat.
Once you’re at the top, you walk through the forest along the trail until you see another sign at the second railway tracks. From here, you just continue walking alongside the train tracks until you arrive at the connection near Av. Hermanos Ayar about 1.5 kilometres before the town of Aguas Calientes.
Do not walk through tunnels as this is incredibly dangerous. If you are near the tunnel entrance, you have missed the last jump off point. I know this is very particular instructions, but we found no complete instructions online.
There is an active train line, but we only had two trains pass the whole time that gave us plenty of warning they are approaching. We also had phone reception the entire time. Lastly, walk along Av. Hermanos Ayar to your accommodation or guide meeting point.
Now, this may all seem hard. However, it is not! If you are fit enough and your kids can walk then this is a stunning and scenic track. It is flat for most of the time except for the entry and about ten rail crossings, but you should have many people who are also taking this joining you on the walk.
Be sure to watch the time as you do not want to be arriving in darkness like we did (our bus was over an hour late due to other passengers not being ready on time!). The track takes you over rail bridges and alongside the river at many points. If you look to the right along the river, you may even catch your first glimpses of Machu Picchu on the mountain beside you.
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu:
Due to our early morning start and we didn’t want our kids too tired before entering Machu Picchu, we opted for the bus. You can walk each way which is said to take 1.5 hours (but considering the misjudgement of the other walk timing, I would assume more). Alternately, you can catch the bus.
You can purchase the bus tickets at Aguas Caliente. I would suggest though that you at least buy them many hours or the night before as lineups can be long! I’ll discuss below, but up to 2,500 people are on the same adventure as you!
The bus is 25 minutes and is first come, first served. As we were on a Sunrise mission, we were advised to line up for the bus at 4:30 pm! No joke. I am serious! Expect long lineups for the buses up and back! The bus drops you right at the entrance.
The coach is $US12 each way, no discounts for children. Contrary to popular opinion, children (except babies/toddlers) are not allowed to sit on adults laps to save money. If money is tight and your children are good walkers, I would opt for the bus up to Machu Picchu and walk the downhill back, if you have enough time.
Machu Picchu itself:
Machu Picchu tickets must be booked in advance as only 2,500 people are allowed access in a day! You also must be accompanied by a guide for the majority of it. Our package with Forever Peru Travel had all our tickets and guide already included.
If you don’t have it included:
Tickets purchased in two sessions – The morning: 6 am – 12 pm and the afternoon: 12 pm to 5 pm. At present, they are not enforcing overstayers from the first session, but this may change quickly in the future. The mornings are busiest for the spectacular once in a lifetime sunrise viewing!
The afternoons can be prettier as most of the fog may have lifted. The choice is yours. Either way, leave at the very minimum 3-4 hours for your tour and self-guided for the last section. Whichever you choose, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Remember, you must also purchase a guide!
Current Machu Picchu ticket prices (Boleto Machupicchu) without guide prices are:
Adults: 152 soles / $US46
Children (8 to 17 years inclusive): 70 soles / US$21
Children (7 years and under): Free
You may also purchase extra tickets:
Machu Picchu & Huayna – Adults: 200 soles / $US62
Machu Picchu & Montana – Adults: 200 soles / $US62
Included in the regular Machu Picchu tickets are additional walks. Most guides will give you the option of leaving your tour early and visiting The Sun Gate or Inca Bridge on your own accord. Both of these are an additional 30 minutes each way. We did neither and continued the guided tour. Our guide said that the Inca Bridge is the most comfortable and most preferred walk.
Pretty much the same process in reverse! However, here I am going to tell you we cheated and paid a little extra to our $US343. My son wasn’t feeling well, so we opted to pay extra for the train between Aguas Calientes to Hidroelectrica instead of walking back. The Inca Rail although very expensive for a 25-minute trip was very relaxing! We arrived in at 9 pm the following night after staying one night only in Aguas Calientes.
When to visit?
Peak season is in full swing between June and September. We visited in early July, and the weather for us was perfect! We obviously would have had the crowds but found waiting a few minutes extra we were able to get all the touristy pictures we wanted easily enough without rushing. Shoulder season would also be very good with the possibility of rain.
December is said to be extremely slow with some tour operators taking their holidays for the entire month.
Other options on getting to Machu Picchu?
- Our Budget Option: Bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, Walk or Train from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes, Bus or Walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. $US343 including transport, food, accommodation, entrance fees.
- PeruRail or IncaRail train from Cusco (Pooroy) to Aguas Calientes. Tickets vary in price from $US75 to $US550 each way. Children are 50% off. Don’t forget you then have all entrance tickets, guides, bus tickets and accommodation and food on top of this as well. If you go this option, travel time will be approximately 4 hours, however, remember to book as early as possible for best travel times and cheapest tickets. It is the easiest, but the most expensive option.
- A private taxi to Ollantaytambo. I would say you should be able to negotiate for around 210 sole / US$65 if you have a driver who lives in these areas. Then either bus from Ollantaytambo to Hidroelectrica or train all the way to Aguas Calientes. See PeruRail for prices.
- Take a private guided tour all the way from Cusco to Machu Picchu return. You have a guide with you the whole way, so your process is very streamlined. It can be expensive, but we found one company that offers private tours at reasonable rates for such personalised service you get. We used Yom from Chaskana Travel for a Sacred Valley tour prior, and are now staying in their guesthouse. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him again, and besides his wife, Rachel is Australian too!
- For those after a challenge, you also have the hiking options. I’m not sure how family friendly these are though. Tracks: The Classic Inca Trek, The Inca Jungle Tour, The Salkantay Track or The Lares Track.
Where to stay in Aguas Calientes with kids?
Our Forever Peru Travel package includes accommodation. We paid the additional $US20 to make sure we had a comfortable room, and I must say we were quite surprised by Hotel Vista Machu Picchu. The rooms were bright, clean and ours had a lovely outlook. There was a pool on the roof, but we never had time. A basic but filling breakfast was included as well which was ready at 4:30 am in the morning! They allowed us to store our bags onsite.
Where to stay in Cusco with kids?
We’ve stayed in two locations in Cusco. One with excellent access to everything in the city, the other out of the town but the views are spectacular!
Chaskana Rural Guesthouse – we rented this fabulous two bedroom guesthouse for $US330 for a month! The owners have a tour agency as listed above, so their knowledge of Cusco and the Sacred Valley is second to none! We loved our stay here so much. Perfect for families looking to relax. The local bus is one sole / $US0.30 into Cusco (cheaper again for children) and a taxi is 15 soles / $US5.
If this is your first time using Airbnb, use this link for a $AU55 travel credit (approx. $US40). You can sign up now, and the credit will sit there until you use it anywhere in the world. PS. Yes, we do get a travel credit too if you sign up using this link. It costs you nothing additional!
CasaMelacha – Another fabulous family friendly apartment. The owner was so accommodating when we needed to check out later. Fantastic location with all the major tourist attraction in Cusco very walkable from this apartment
If you’re using Booking.com for the first time, use this link for a 10% back off your first stay. You can sign up now, and the reward will sit there until you use it anywhere in the world.
Where to eat?
In Aguas Calientes we ate at two restaurants, one already included in our package. Unfortunately, we can’t find the name of the restaurant that was in our package. But that’s ok; it was reasonable only so wouldn’t likely recommend it.
On the other hand, we had the best customer service in all of Peru at Centenario de Machu Picchu. Food in all of Aguas Calientes is expensive, but this was reasonable knowing it was a tourist town. The Alpaca was delicious according to Joe. The vegetarian Quinoa Burger was very flavour some and filling – according to me!
Summary of Costs – for a family!
So how much did it cost for our family of four to travel to Machu Picchu, stay overnight in Aguas Calientes and return to Cusco
- Original Tour package: $US343 Includes one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner, most transport, entrance fees and guide.
- Additional Optional Bus: $US48
- Additional Optional Return Train (expensive but our son was sick): $US76
- Delicious Lunch & Drinks: $US30
TOTAL for our FAMILY OF FOUR: $US497
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