Peru has a range of exciting activities suitable for both kids and adults. If your children are fascinated by history then Peru’s wealth of cultural treasures – from the Nazca Lines to Inca ruins – will keep them busy, and if they’re fascinated by the natural world then trips to volcanoes, canyons, high lakes and the amazing Amazon jungle will be of equal interest. There are lots of family-friendly activities to enjoy – from visiting llama farms to sandboarding and kayaking, and from learning to build with adobe materials to cooking in clay ovens and making chocolate.
However, traveling in Peru has its challenges – distances are long between many destinations and you must also factor in high altitudes, strong sun, variable sanitation, and mosquitoes. With the right preparation though, it can be a terrific family vacation.
Tour operators will organize transportation for you, and this is safer and more convenient. However, you can travel independently to Peru with the right planning. There are regular bus services throughout the country but the quality of vehicles and roads varies.
Peru is quite a large country and getting between tourist destinations can involve long bus rides. Anything more than three or four hours is not easy for many children, so consider focusing your trip on a geographical area or taking internal flights, most of which take only an hour or less. These are particularly recommended between Lima and Cusco, Lima and Iquitos and Cusco and Puerto Maldonado.
Taxis are a useful way to get around in cities and to more remote spots. However, it’s essential to use a reputable company, usually booked through your hotel or an agency. For Lima, a sightseeing bus tour is a good way for your family to get familiar with the city.
When to go
In the mountains and jungle, the rainy season peaks between December and April but it can be rainy in October/November too. The driest period is June to August. May, June, and September are particularly good times to visit Peru, avoiding the summer crowds but when the weather is still good.
On the coast, Lima is famously foggy and cloudy for much of the year. It tends to be warmer and with more rain from December to April and cooler and cloudier from May to November. Temperatures are usually a comfortable 54°F - 77°F (12°C - 25°C). The northern coast gets hotter and wetter in the rainy season, while the southern deserts are drier and cooler.
Before you go
If you have a baby or toddler then consider waiting until they're older when they can experience more of what Peru has to offer. However, locals love children and you will find diapers, baby milk and all the necessities in supermarkets in major towns. High altitudes and the jungle are not suitable for babies and toddlers.
Getting the children as excited as possible about the trip will be good for everyone, so pre-planning is essential here. Peru has so much to offer that it’s a great idea to kindle the kids’ interest beforehand with TV programs and books on the Incas, the jungle, and other topics. Another great thing to do is get them some Spanish classes or if they’re already studying it, motivate them to learn more to practice in Peru.
Health and safety
Vaccinations and disease
Always check with your doctor before traveling. It’s advisable to get vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever. Rabies is present, so ensure your children avoid contact with street dogs and other wild animals.
Mosquitoes and Malaria
If you’re traveling along the northern coast or to the jungle then you'll need to be prepared for mosquitoes. The best advice is to wear long sleeves, long pants in the evenings, and use repellent. Malaria is a concern in the Peruvian Amazon, although rarer than in Africa and Asia. Consider taking anti-malarial pills and consult your doctor because many pills have side effects. Avoid taking toddlers and babies to jungle areas because Yellow Fever vaccinations and Malaria medication are not safe for this age group.
Food and drink
As a relatively poor, tropical country with sanitation issues, stomach bugs are an issue, particularly for children. Common sources of illness include shellfish, pork, unwashed salad, unpeeled fruit, and ice. In top-class hotels and restaurants, you are usually fine but it’s prudent to avoid these foods in cheaper places and particularly from street food.
Altitude and sun
Most of the Peruvian highlands are above 2000 m, and Cusco and Puno are well above 3000 m, so be aware that altitude sickness can be a factor for a few days, particularly if you are flying from Lima or elsewhere at sea level. This can cause headaches and dizziness. The best solution is to take it easy and eat light food high in carbs. Consider going down in altitude when arriving in Cusco to a lower destination such as Pisac or Ollantaytambo. Being near the Equator, the sun is fierce in the highlands so apply plenty of sunscreen on children and take hats. Be aware that it is doubly strong at high altitudes even if the air is cold.
Be aware of the dangers of pickpockets in tourist spots and on buses in Peru. It’s best to keep valuables to a minimum and out of sight. Store your money in a belt on your person and take particular care with cameras. If your children are taking photos, keep hold of their cameras in busy areas and on public transport.
Peru is full of tour operators and they are better regulated than in the past. However, it's important that you ask for tourist office accreditation before booking. If they offer special activities such as climbing or rafting then ask for the relevant international certification.
Archaeology and history
Peru is filled with archaeological treasures, which can delight children with an interest in history, particularly if they've read about them before the trip. The most famous sites are the Inca sites in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu, but other regions boast wonders too, such as Trujillo, Chiclayo, and Chachapoyas in the north. In the southern desert there are the mysterious Nazca Lines and in the north the adobe structures of Huaca de la Luna and Chan Chan, as well as the fortress of the cloud warriors at Kuélap.
Most tourists don’t travel to Peru for the beaches but there are many good spots for sunbathing and swimming along the coast if the children want a fix of sun and sea. To escape Lima for a few hours, there are good beaches at Punta Hermosa and San Bartolo. Further south, Paracas Reserve has good beaches and birdwatching. The best beaches are far to the north at Mancora and close to Chiclayo but consider flying because it’s a long way from Lima.
Peru is heaven for birdwatchers so come equipped with binoculars. The best spots are in the Amazon jungle close to Puerto Maldonado, deeper in Manu National Park or in the lodges near Iquitos. Condors are a highlight of travel in the mountains and particularly common in the Colca Canyon region.
Hiking and trekking
Peru has hikes and treks to suit all levels. If your children are fit and motivated then consider exploring the Huaraz region, a haven for climbers. The full-length Inca trails may be too long for children but a shortened one or two-day version could work. Hikes into the Colca Canyon, to ruins in the Chachapoya region or around Lake Titicaca are other options but always pace yourself, get acclimatized to the altitude and go with a registered guide.
Horse-riding can be a more leisurely way for children to explore the mountains. Horses and guides can easily be hired through operators in the Cusco and Sacred Valley region as well as in Huaraz and further north.
Rafting and kayaking
Peru’s rivers, rushing down from the Andes to the coast and jungle, are excellent for rafting and kayaking. Gentler rafting suitable for families can be found in the Cusco region, and a leisurely kayaking session is a great way to see Lake Titicaca. More difficult level rafting, unsuitable for young children, can be found elsewhere in the Sacred Valley and in Huaraz. Canoeing is an essential part of any Amazon trip and great for kids on quiet tributaries.
Where to go: Family-friendly destinations
Cusco and the highlands
Peru’s most popular tourist region – around Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu – is very family-friendly. Bear in mind that most of the attractions are historical, so whet your children’s appetite for Inca heritage before traveling. For something more light-hearted, children will love learning the whole process of how to make chocolate 'from bean to bar' at the ChocoMuseo in Cusco. If they have a sweet tooth then there is plenty of homemade ice cream in Cusco, and if they're feeling adventurous you could sample cuy, whole roasted guinea pig. A visit to a llama farm is another great idea, and there are many on the outskirts of Cusco such as Awana Kancha on the road to Pisac.
There is plenty of horse-riding, hiking, rafting and kayaking in the mountains to keep kids happy if they want something more adventurous. Lake Titicaca is another fascinating destination, but be prepared for the cold and high altitude. Kayaking here is a good family activity. Watching condors at the Colca Canyon is very impressive, followed by a dip in the thermal baths, while Huaraz region is better for teenagers who are interested in hiking.
Lima and the coast
Lima is a bustling city with some great food, so introduce children to the delights of fish ceviche and Peruvian-Asian fusion foods. Walk along Malecon Rimac to sample the sweet creamed rice and mazamorra morada, a delicious warm purple pudding. Don't miss the impressive Water and Sound Show every afternoon at 4 pm at Parque de la Reserva in the center. There is also a ChocoMuseo, similar to that in Cusco, offering interesting workshops on how chocolate is made. Other family attractions in the city include Minimundo with miniature replicas of Lima and Peruvian landmarks, the science exhibits of the Interactive Imagination Museum, and the Planetarium.
Beaches up and down the coast are good depending on the time of year but bear in mind it can be cool and cloudy. We recommend taking a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands to watch sea lions, seals and penguins. You can combine this with a trip to Ica where children will love learning how to sandboard and taking a dune buggy ride. The Nazca Lines flight can be good for older children, although bear in mind turbulence can be scary for younger ones.
In northern Peru, kids will enjoy exploring the adobe ruins around Trujillo and Chiclayo, and they can try their hand at adobe workshop building with soil and bamboo, or learning to cook Pachamanca style in a clay oven.
The Amazon jungle
Peru offers a wealth of jungle experiences from ‘jungle-lite’ to deep excursions into primary jungle. The former is probably better for families close to Puerto Maldonado. Refugio Amazonas is a particularly family-friendly lodge with a Children's Rainforest Playground, jungle trails and activities tailored for kids.