Peru is a destination associated with high-altitude thrills and off-the-beaten-path adventures, but it's also a perfect spot for a family vacay—and Cusco is a great introduction to the country. It has cobblestoned streets ideal for exploring, hundreds of Incan ruins, vibrant festivals, and fun museums. Families also benefit from excellent tourist services, including a variety of great hotels and dining options to choose from. In the surrounding area of the Sacred Valley, travelers of all ages love the wide open spaces, colorful wildlife, and exhilarating journeys by train.
Roam Cusco's labyrinth of streets and scout out an alpaca for a one-of-a-kind photo op. Travel the old-fashioned way from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu on the rail adventure of a lifetime. Introduce little ones to the delights of Peruvian chocolate at Cusco's Choco Museo. Take your pick from hundreds of fascinating Incan ruins to explore. Whatever you include in your itinerary, you'll find that traveling with kids can make your trip much more fun: in Peru, as elsewhere, children's enthusiasm is a natural antidote to cultural and language barriers.
One important note to remember if you're traveling with kids in high-altitude Cusco: the air is thin and all travelers require acclimation. No matter the activity, carry water and factor in time for frequent breaks, especially if you're planning on doing a lot of walking.
For more tips on family on travel in Peru, check out this article.
Explore Cusco By Foot — and Make New Furry Friends
Cusco's streets are an adventure playground: think steep staircases, narrow alleys, twisting streets, and passageways appearing out of nowhere. Kids love the novelty of a city like this — just walking around for awhile offers plenty of amusement for the whole family.
Look for street festivals and fairs, usually happening along Avenida El Sol and around the Plaza de Armas. Take the kids to watch: the ingenuity that goes into the costumes is incredible. Regardless of what's happening on the cultural calendar, though, there's never a shortage of color in Cusco. In bustling marketplaces such as the Centro Artesanal Cusco, browse Peru's varied handicrafts, then learn about the process behind traditional weaving at the Center for Traditional Textiles for Cusco.
Everyday street life is fun for kids to observe, as well. At outdoor stands, food vendors cook up a range of exotic specialties, from guinea pig to skewered beef hearts — a dish that will fascinate or repulse your kids, depending on their sensibilities. Nearby, Quechua women and children clad in traditional garb wander the streets with llamas, alpacas, or donkeys. They'll let you pose for a picture with them or even stroke their animals for a small fee: make sure you have some change on hand.
Read this article for more of the best things to do in Cusco.
Sample Sweet Treats, Then Stargaze at the Planetarium
There are lots of museums in Cusco. But the one that kids invariably like best is the Choco Museo, a must-stop for chocoholics of all ages. Located just one block from the Plaza de Armas, it features exhibits on the history of chocolate. But it's mostly devoted to chocolate-making workshops that take participants through the full bar-to-bean process, including segments dedicated to fondue, cocoa, and truffles. Kids will relish the chance to concoct some of their own chocolate sweets. Don't walk by the Choco Museo if you're not planning to stop: the aromas drifting out of the doors will have children pleading to sign up for a class.
After sweets, it's all about stars. Most evenings around dusk, you can sign up for a tour of the night skies at Cusco Planetarium. Included in the tour are pick-up from central Cusco, an introduction to the exceptionally clear Andean night skies, and stargazing with telescopes. The Incas, of course, were fascinated with astronomy: they designed many of the temples around Cusco and the Sacred Valley according to astronomical principles. And children will be just as intrigued. Viewing the night sky like this, high up above the city, is a magical way to prepare for further explorations of the Sacred Valley, the ancient heartland of the Incas.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Discover Ancient Incan Ruins and Let Off Steam in Thermal Pools
Cusco and the Sacred Valley encompass the heartland of the Incan Empire, and there's hardly a better region to explore as a family than this far-reaching legacy of ancient civilization. Children will almost certainly agree: after all, what could be more fun than hide-and-seek in crumbling temples, or finding mysterious ceremonial sites buried deep in the jungle?
There are many ruins other than Machu Picchu to check out. Qorikancha, right in central Cusco and once the wealthiest, most important temple in the Incan Empire, offers kids an interesting introduction to the Incas. Just outside the city within an easy day trip, be sure to visit Sacsayhuamán, a vast site that's great for kids to get some fresh air and exercise — and to have another close encounter with an alpaca. The animals and their owners are easy to find around the site: in exchange for a few coins, they're generally willing to pose for pictures or to let you interact.
Of course, you'll probably visit Machu Picchu, too. In Aguas Calientes, a.k.a. Machu Picchu Pueblo — the closest community to the Machu Picchu ruins — take kids for a family splash in the area's natural thermal pools.
Are your kids especially enamored with ancient history? Keep reading about the best Incan ruins beyond Machu Picchu.
Travel Back in Time and Board a Train to Machu Picchu
One of the must-do experiences in Peru is even more appealing if you're on a family vacation. That experience is to embark on one of South America's greatest train rides, starting in either Cusco or Ollantaytambo and traveling all the way to the continent's most visited tourist attraction, Machu Picchu.
The journey, through llama-dotted valleys and lush jungle, is breathtaking. At the end of the trip, you'll disembark at Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo). A word of advice: there are many trains to choose from, but kids particularly love the Vistadome train, which maximizes the breathtaking views with large, panoramic windows and traditional dancing onboard.
Click here for more on Peru's best train rides.