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Tips for family travel to Peru and Machu Picchu

Shashi and his family take in Machu Picchu in Peru (photo courtesy Shashi Bellamkonda)(This is a guest post by Shashi Bellamkonda, a long-time geeky friend of mine who loves to travel.

He and his family (including a teen daughter, 15, and a 3-year-old son) went to the ancient city of Machu Picchu in Peru, and he has some advice for any other parents planning a trip to this place of a lifetime.

He is the Social Media Swami (yes, that’s his title!) at Network Solutions, is on Twitter as @ShashiB and blogs at Happenings, Advice and Other Technology Thoughts.)

There are some things in life that form part of your “bucket list” and when you achieve them, you feel gratified. For me, visiting Machu Picchu in Peru was like a childhood dream come true. Growing up in India, I found that studying the Inca Civilization was exciting. I can still almost hear my middle school teacher’s excited voice as he talked about the magnificent beauty of Machu Picchu.

I planned this trip spontaneously, with the help of online travel forums, websites and blogs such as this.

TACA airlines from Washington DC to Lima was economical and also was one of the best international airlines I have flown. We booked our trip using Kuoda Tours based in Cusco.  Kuoda took care of all the arrangements, including airport transfers (Sheila’s note – BootsnAll has small-group Peru tours as well.)

shashi-b-wife-and-son-at-macchu-picchuOne of our concerns was Cusco’s high altitude (elevation: 3,310 meters.) I must say, except for the fact that you have to breathe heavily, there was no problem for us with two kids. Even though Cusco is the highest point, Machu Picchu is itself at a lower altitude.

You can reach the ruins by train from Cusco, train from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley or hiking in from Ollantaytambo.

We chose to travel by car (provided by Kuoda) to the sacred valley, stay for a day and then go by train to Aguas Calientes which is the train station for Machu Picchu. If you go by bus, catch an early one from Aguas Calientes as Machu Picchu can get crowded towards the afternoon. Remember to take your swim trunks because Aguas Calientes has a sulphur spring that you should visit.

No photograph will do justice to the sight of Machu Picchu itself.

Top things to remember on this trip:

***  Don’t carry too much luggage for the trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The train only lets you carry hand baggage. Just take what you need that day and leave the excess in your hotel.

*** Since Cusco is at a high altitude, do not attempt too many activities in one day, especially the first few days.

*** All stores carry good quality diapers (some even better than ones available in the US.) Drink only bottled water. Food is very good in Peru; I would suggest eating only hot food.

shashi-b-and-family2-vertical-macchu-picchu*** Currency : I used Globalnet ATMs;  they charged me Soles 7 for ATM fees (US$2.1) I wish I had used it one time instead of three times.  Max withdrawal is Soles 400.

*** Packing:  Doing laundry is cheap, so we could have reduced our luggage by half. Laundry costs about $5 per kilo and is done in 4 hours.

*** Taxis : The station wagons with a checkered design on the sides and a number on the top are the best/safest and charge about Soles 3 within the downtown area.  Downtown Cusco is safe, but our guide advised us not to venture too much out of the downtown area.

*** For the parents – Beer!  Cusqueña seems to have a monopoly as it is from Cusco (and was very good.) Got to try Brahma and Pilsen but could not find a restaurant that served Cristal.

My teenager loved the food in Peru, and seeing the culture and the history.  My toddler liked the train ride a lot, and we all enjoyed walking the narrow cobbled streets of Cusco.

In a few hotels there were no TVs so that helped us bond as a family. Coco tea was another favorite for all of us but the toddler.

(Sheila’s note – thanks for sharing, Shashi!  Here is a post about a Mom’s solo travel to Peru from one of my reader’s blogs, Heather on her Travels, and an excellent article about trekking to Machu Picchu, published in the Boston Globe and written by my Perceptive Travel editor, Tim Leffel.)