When it comes to what to do in Peru on a family vacation, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Maybe marching up to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu? Or, perhaps, snapping photos of your kiddos posed with alpacas and brightly-clad ladies in Cusco?
While these are must-see highlights, Peru family travel doesn’t stop there. Check out these kid-friendly destinations that showcase the diverse geography of this amazing, ancient country.
Located in the Sacred Valley in Peru, Machu Picchu rises nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. In 2007, it was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Not bad for a 570-year old city!
An estimated 60 percent of Machu Picchu’s construction occurred underground. The ancient city’s deep foundations of crushed rock not only provided an ingenious means of drainage but were also designed to safeguard Machu Picchu from the area’s frequent earthquakes.
What’s even more astounding? The Incas excelled at a special type of stone construction known as ashlar. Using polished granite, they crafted stone blocks that fit together so precisely no mortar was required. Some blocks remain so perfectly fitted together that you can’t even wedge a piece of paper between them!
Machu Picchu contained an urban center of 150 buildings. Surrounding this city center were naturally occurring springs and huge swathes of irrigated, terraced land. This meant Inca farmers could grow crops for up to four times as many people as the city’s actual population.
The Incas also constructed a paved road to Machu Picchu known as the Inca Trail. Today, thousands of tourists make the two- to five-day trek up the Inca Trail.
A hub for solo travelers, backpackers, and adventure seekers, visitors flock to Cusco by bus and plane before making their ascent to Machu Picchu. But seeing Cusco with kids should be more than a quick stopover on your Peru family adventure. In fact, due to the higher altitude, we recommend stopping in Cusco after visiting Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley so you and your family will have more time to acclimate to the altitude. Fortunately, the city boasts kid-friendly activities your whole family will enjoy.
Once the heart of the Inca capital, today the Plaza de Armas remains the center of action. Not only is it one of the prettiest squares in South America, but it offers a great vantage point for people watching. As the magnet for festivities and local events, don’t be surprised if you catch music or entertainers here, too.
After you’ve spent some time enjoying the view, take a leisurely stroll down the streets fanning out from the plaza. They offer a vibrant mix of Inca and Spanish influences from architecture to textiles and artisanal crafts. A fun place to shop for souvenirs, your kids will find colorful dolls, miniature stuffed Alpacas, and more to decorate their rooms post-trip.
Cusco offers numerous museums and art galleries, but kids will love the Museo Inka’s vibrant collection of textiles, jewelry, and other ancient Incan artifacts. A steep block northeast of Plaza de Armas, the museum also includes metal- and gold-work, pottery, queros (ceremonial wooden drinking bowls crafted by the Inca), and even mummies.
The Sacred Valley
Peru’s Sacred Valley provides a stunning backdrop for endless cultural activities. Myriad villages and archaeological sites also provide a window into a storied past, when the Inca Empire reigned vast and mighty.
In Awanakancha, visit a llama and alpaca farm before touring the farm’s vibrant textiles showroom. There, enjoy firsthand insight into the traditional process of weaving and making garments, from start to finish, using the soft, vibrantly dyed wool of the camelids raised there. In nearby Pisac, tour the market where colorful, artisanal crafts and wares are sold, from musical instruments to carvings, paintings to replicas of old Inca jewelry.
If you and your family long for outdoor adventures, then a visit to Piuray Lagoon is in order. There, enjoy an exhilarating day of paddle boarding or kayaking. Piuray is renowned for its stunning scenery and calm, mirror-like waters. This makes it the perfect place to practice your paddling skills. Or, go for a relaxing bicycle ride around the lake before enjoying a leisurely lunch Peruvian-style.
When it comes to traveling the Sacred Valley with kids, the Inca heritage of this idyllic region comes to life in places like Chinchero, a traditional Cusco urban center overlooking the Sacred Valley. Not only is Chinchero renown for its archaeological sites but it remains a living time capsule because of area residents’ dedication to preserving traditional lifeways through dress, customs, and traditional arts and crafts. Other unforgettable ancient sites worth exploring include the surreal landscapes of the Maras Salt Mines and the Moray terraces once farmed by the Inca.
And no trip to the valley would be complete without a stop at the Ollantaytambo ruins. Built for religious purposes, the fortress of Ollantaytambo marks the site of the only successful stand against the conquistadors. The most popular starting point for the famous Inca Trail, Ollantaytambo’s gargantuan dimensions come into perspective while climbing the Inca stairs to the top of the fortress where you’ll gain a panorama-worthy view of the Sacred Valley.
Located in the Andes between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is one of the highest navigable lakes in the world with a surface level of 12,503 feet above sea level. By volume of water and surface area, it’s also the largest in South America. More than 25 rivers and glaciers flow into the lake but only one river drains it, the Desaguardo. The result? Just five percent of the lake’s water drains naturally while 95 percent evaporates.
More than 40 islands dot the lake, and many of these are inhabited by the Uros, an indigenous people of Peru. Today, they continue to live as their ancestors have for thousands of years, on a series of man-made islands, created entirely from the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows of the lake. Requiring constant maintenance, the residents replace them from the top as they rot from the bottom.
Depending on your location, you’ll also enjoy scenic views of Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), located on the Bolivian side of the lake, where more than 180 ancient ruins remain. The presence of innumerable ancient sites should come as no surprise since Andean legend names the lake as the birthplace of the Inca Civilization. Revered as sacred by the Inca, the lake even contains the remnants of a mysterious underwater temple between 1,000 and 1,500 years old.
Besides archaeological remnants, Lake Titicaca contains incredible biodiversity with many species of water birds, the gigantic Titicaca water frog, the Titicaca grebe, and 530 aquatic species. Even more amazing? Ninety percent of the fish in the lake are found nowhere else in the entire world!
While Lake Titicaca represents a popular tourist destination, nearby Puno is the capital of Peruvian folklore. It boasts more than 300 local dances as well as centuries-old music and art. Puno’s traditions are vibrant and dramatic, making it a culturally immersive must-see on a family trip to Peru.
Founded in 1668, it sits 12,565 feet above sea level and is home to a population of 102,800 that rely on tourism and agriculture. Residents of Puno handcraft textiles and other goods from alpaca, llama, and sheep wool.
They also construct musical instruments such as the charango (a small guitar) and the siku (a panpipe). Local artisans also craft vibrant Toritos de Pucara (Pucara Bull statues), testaments to the Spanish colonials who introduced bulls to Peru. Today, they symbolize resilience and prosperity.
Paracas Reserva & Ballestas Island
Established in 1975, the Reserva Nacional de Paracas provides crucial sanctuary to marine and bird life on the Paracas Peninsula. South of Pisco (149 miles from Lima), the reserve covers 9.3 miles (15 km) and is a saline desert, the final resting place of an ancient ocean. Along the coast, you’ll see one of the largest sea lion colonies in the world as well as numerous birds including stunning pink flamingos.
Located near the reserve are the Ballestas Islands, where you can observe a variety of wildlife from sea lions to penguins, and even more amazing bird species. March remains the perfect time to scope out baby sea lions and their moms relaxing on the sandy beaches.
As you make your way by boat to the Ballestas Islands, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Paracas Candelabra (a.k.a. The Candelabra of the Andes). This massive geoglyph is a jaw dropping reminder of the Paracas culture that once flourished here and dates to 200 B.C.!
Fun activities here include riding the huge sand dunes of the desert in buggies and sandboarding, an exciting sport that will test your balance and “surfing” skills as you glide across the sun-warmed sand. An experience kids love.
The Peruvian Amazon
The Peruvian Amazon covers about 50 percent of the country and is divided into three distinct regions. From the Reserva Nacional Tambopata to Manú National Park, you and your family will enjoy spectacular views and many family-friendly activities. These include accessible jungle hikes, river cruises, plenty of wildlife observation, and visits to indigenous villages.
Whether you choose to visit from Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado, the main gateways to Peru’s splendid tropical jungles, visiting the Amazon rainforest will make your family trip to Peru complete.
What to Do in Peru on a Family Vacation
Interested in learning more about what to do in Peru on a family trip? We’ve got you covered! Check out our Ultimate Travel Guide to Peru with Kids for everything you need to know to maximize this culturally enriching experience.
Family fun in Peru doesn’t stop with Machu Picchu and Cusco. They’re just the beginning. Interested in learning more about a Peru family trip? Check out our 11-day Peru Family Adventure and our ultimate family travel guide to Peru with kids.
At Our Whole Village, we craft transformational trips for curious families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its people, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we design for curious families just like yours.