So you’re looking for the perfect adventure for your active, energetic family . . . is the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu the right choice? This is an important question because you want to have the best trip possible, but you don’t want to sign your kids up for more than they can reasonably do. We at Detour have been down this path ourselves and can definitely answer all your questions about planning this trip. And, if the Inca Trail’s not right for your family, we have some great alternative treks to consider in Peru as well.
Hiking the Inca Trail is considered a moderate trek when it comes to trekking in Peru, but for most of us hiking at over 10,000 ft (> 3,000 m) up and down ancient Inca staircases for days on end will leave even the fittest feeling it. Undertaking such a journey can conjure up some uneasiness … How difficult is it? Will I be able to do it? These questions are even more difficult to answer when you start thinking about bringing the kids along.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen kids transform into little energizer bunnies. But, I’ve also seen them morph into giant monsters when they’re hungry and tired (like how you feel after hiking for 8 hours).
While there is no official minimum age for hiking the trail, we asked some of our local operators for their thoughts and the consensus was 12 years old was the absolute youngest they would consider for such a trek, and that 15 years old or older is a better age to do this hike. Group treks (with other travelers) require a minimum of 16 years old in order to join. So if you’re interested in this trek with a younger kid, it would have to be a private trek, just for you and your group of family and friends.
INCA TRAIL DISTANCES, HIKING TIMES, AND ALTITUDE
Below is a breakdown of hiking distances and average trek times the Ulitmate Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu. This should help you determine if you and your child are up for the challenge. A more detailed itinerary is found on the trip page, under the Itinerary tab.
Day 1 (arrival in Cusco): Easy and slow-paced local’s tour of Cusco to start acclimatizing to the 11,000 ft elevation and to get to know the town. You spend the night at a charming hotel in the San Blas neighborhood.
Day 2 (Cusco Ruins day hike): A hike of about 5 miles (~8 km) to explore Sacsayhuman and Tambo Machay, the incredible ruins just outside Cusco. The hike takes most of the day, giving you time to explore the ruins. The maximum elevation is 12,300 ft. You’re continuing to acclimatize, so the hike is tailored to how you are feeling. It’s possible to take a taxi instead of hiking trails. You spend the night at your hotel in Cusco.
Day 3 (hike from Moray ruins to the Maras Salt Pans): Hiking 7 miles (~11 km) from Moray (an experimental agricultural center for the Incas) to the Maras Salt Pans (where salt has been harvested for thousands of years). The hike starts at about 13,300 ft, and is mostly downhill, ending at around 10,830 ft. It takes about 6 hours, including time to explore. You hike through gorgeous countryside, farmland, and small towns, with lovely views of the surrounding mountains. The hike is vehicle supported, so can hike as much or as little as you like. You spend the night at a hotel in Ollantaytambo, at about 9,000 ft.
Day 4 (first day on the Inca Trail): Easy warm up of 3 miles (~5 km) along rolling hills. On this day you begin at Km82, which has an elevation of 9,000 ft (2,750 m), and camp at about 8,690 ft (~2,650 m), at Llactapata Ruins Campsite. You start the trek in the early afternoon (after a morning exploring Ollantaytambo). This means you avoid most of the 500 people starting the Inca Trail this day in the morning, so you nearly have the trail to yourselves. You hike through small communities, sharing the trail with locals farmers and mules. Hiking time: 2.5 – 5 hours.
Day 5 (second day on the Inca Trail): This 7.5 mile hike (~12 km) is where the trail starts to get challenging. After a mellow morning passing the last town, you trek part way up the first pass, encounter your first Inca stairs, and overnight about a half mile from the top of the pass. The views of of the surrounding mountains are stunning! Camp at 12,590 ft (3850 m), at Llulluchapampa Campsite. Hiking time: 5 – 6 hours.
Day 6 (third day on the Inca Trail): This 9.3 miles (15 km) stretch is the most challenging day on the Inca Trail. You climb two passes: Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) at 13,819 ft (4212 m) first thing in the morning, drop down to the Pacasmayo Valley at 11,650 ft (3550 m) for lunch, and then tackle Runcuracay Pass at 13,120 ft (4000 m). On this day, you’re almost entirely on original Inca trail – you’ll have steep uneven stairs and trails. You pass a couple of amazing ruins along the way, and you have time to explore both. The views from both the passes are breathtaking. At the end of the day, you camp at 12,030 ft (3600 m) at Phuyupatamarca, “the place above the clouds,” with views of Apu Salkantay and the Urubamba River valley. Hiking Time: about 8 hours
Day 7 (fourth day on the Inca Trail): 6.5 miles (11 km) of half downhill and half flat trekking on ancient Inca steps and trails. This is an early morning start so you have maximum time at Machu Picchu. You have lunch at Wiñay Wayna Ruins, and a bit of time to explore these amazing ruins. This part of the trail is where you transition from the high Andes to the cloudforest, so you start to see lush vegetation, orchids, and birds. Arrive at the Sun Gate (at 9,025 ft / 2,750 m) in the afternoon for your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. You’ve made it! After soaking in the view, you’ll continue down through Machu Picchu Ruins (at 7,875 ft / 2,400 m) take a bus to nearby Aguas Calientes where you’ll overnight in a local hotel. Hiking time: 5 hours on the trail; more possible at Machu Picchu if you want. You don’t go into the ruins this day, you just admire the iconic vista.
Day 8 (full day at Machu Picchu): Return to Machu Picchu Ruins by bus for a full guided tour with your guide. There’s time for hiking Huayna Picchu Mountain or Machu Picchu Mountain if you would like, and wandering around the site. Hiking distance and time completely depends on you. The tour takes about 2.5 hours, and covers about 2 miles. Exploring on your own or hiking one of the mountains add more hiking time and distance. Early afternoon bus to Aguas Calientes for lunch, and then you head to the train station to catch your train back to the Sacred Valley. Your driver picks you up and takes you back to Cusco, arriving in the late evening. You stay at your hotel in Cusco for your last night.
Day 9 (depart Cusco): You have the morning free to explore on your own. You’ll be picked up at your hotel and taken to the Cusco airport in time for your departing flight.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE INCA TRAIL OK, so after all that, you may reasonably conclude that the Inca Trail just isn’t quite the trek for your family. Don’t worry, you can still do an amazing trek in the same area and visit Machu Picchu. In fact, if hiking for four days straight isn’t your jam, we have other rad options for you too.
1. Family Adventure Peru This trip is perfect for the family who likes to do it all — or at least wants to try it all. You get one day of hiking the Inca Trail (the best day of the trek in fact, when you actually walk into Machu Picchu), plus mountain biking in the Sacred Valley, horseback riding outside of Cusco, and whitewater rafting. Frankly, it’s a blast whether you’re traveling with 12 year old or 20 year old kids.
2. Lares Valley Trek to Machu Picchu The Lares Valley Trek is ideal for those who want to get off the beaten path; meet locals living in small, traditional villages; and have a more flexible hike. The trek can be tailored to be as easy or as challenging as you like, plus you can rent a horse if you think anyone in your group may need a break from hiking.
3. Hike the Inca Highlights Experience the best Inca sites on day hikes around Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Machu Picchu, then relax in in comfortable, local boutique hotels at night. You will experience Peru like no other tourists and you will even get to hike the last day of the Inca Trail to arrive to Machu Picchu on foot via the Gate of the Sun, just like the Incas did centuries ago. World-class guides will entertain you and enhance your understanding of what you are seeing, giving you a very complete Inca Peru experience.
Amped to Start Planning Your Family’s Peru Trip? Check out all of Detour’s selected Peru journeys and contact us for expert advice on planning your trip.
Experience the best Inca sites on day hikes around Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Machu Picchu, then relax in in comfortable, local boutique hotels at night. You will experience Peru like no other tourists and you will even get to hike the last day of the Inca Trail to arrive to Machu Picchu on foot via the Gate of the Sun, just like the Incas did centuries ago. World-class guides will entertain you and enhance your understanding of what you are seeing, giving you a very complete Inca Peru experience. Trip Length: 6 Days Destination: Cusco, the Sacred Valley, & Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru Lodging: Charming & Boutique 3-Star Plus Hotels Activities: Day hikes, Inca ruins
On the Ultimate Lares Trek with 1-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you enjoy Cusco before heading out to trek the Lares Valley where you camp in small, Quechua-speaking villages and interact one-on-one with the direct descendants of the Inca's before hiking the last day of the world-famous Inca Trail to arrive to Machu Picchu on foot via the Gate of Sun. Length: 9 Days Destination: Cusco, Sacred Valley, Lares, 1D Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Peru Lodging: Comfortable tent camping, boutique hotels Activities: Moderate hiking, cultural interaction, Inca ruins
A fantastic adventure for families who want to experience a little bit of everything in the Machu Picchu and Cusco region: whitewater rafting, hiking, biking and Inca ruins, including arriving on foot into Machu Picchu on the 1-Day Inca Trail trek. Trip Length: 8 Days Destination: Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, 1-day Inca Trail Lodging: boutique hotels Activities: Moderate hike, kayak, stand up paddle board, bike, Inca ruins, cultural experiences