The Sacred Valley, or El Valle Sagrado, sits between Cusco and Machu Picchu in Peru and was once the heart of the Incan Empire. Carved out by the Urubamba River, this beautiful valley sits at 2,792 m (9,160 ft) at its lowest point and makes a great first port of call for families travelling in the area. Many traditional Peruvian itineraries start in Cusco but at 3,400 m (11,150 ft) it is very high and altitude sickness is a real possibility. Instead, it’s worth spending a few days acclimatizing in the lower plains of the Sacred Valley.
The area is incredibly fertile and was a major source of agriculture for the Incas. It is also extremely beautiful and has, in recent years, become a tourist destination in its own right. Home to colonial towns, weaving villages, Incan archaeological sites, and lots of adventure activities, it’s a wonderful place for families explore. To get started, take a look at these four family-friendly activities for visiting The Sacred Valley with kids, plus one great place to stay and one great place to eat (map included below).
Activity 1: Be Amazed by Machu Picchu
Positioned at the far eastern end of El Valle Sagrado is Peru’s most iconic landmark, Machu Picchu. This ancient citadel was built at the height of the Incan Empire in 1452 but abandoned just over a century later. It was discovered quite by chance by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, but still this mountain landmark remains shrouded in mystery. No one knows quite why it was built or how. Similarly, there is no evidence to show why it was abandoned.
But all these question marks only add to Machu Picchu’s appeal. This cloud-capped ‘Lost City’ is quite simply, amazing, and something that should be on every family’s bucket list. Even better, if your kids are too young to walk the four-day Inca trail (or if this just sounds like too much hard work!), you can get transportation right up to the entrance gate!
For more information on Visiting Machu Picchu with kids, read my full review here and watch the video:
Activity 2: Travel Back in Time at the Museo Inkariy
We happened upon the Museo Inkariy and we’re so pleased that we found it as this is hands down the most family-friendly museum we visited in Peru. Located between the Incan sites of Urubamba and Pisac, this relatively new museum (it opened in June 2014) offers a thrill-filled journey through the pre-Columbian cultures of Peru.
The museum is spread out over eight little houses, each house representing one of the major civilisations of the pre-Columbian past. In each house, scenes from the past are reconstructed using life-size statues that are so realistic they had the children howling in delight – and terror! It’s a fun and interactive way for kids to learn some of the country’s history.
For more information on visiting the Museo Inkariy with kids, click here to read my full review.
Activity 3: Learn to Weave
Or rather, learn about the traditional techniques involved in creating the colorful, intricate Peruvian textiles. This might not sound like something that kids will love, but our visit to the Centro Texil Urpi in the high Andean village of Chinchero, was a highlight of our trip. There are a number of these centers in the Sacred Valley, established to help preserve and celebrate the ancient techniques as well as provide local communities with a secure and sustainable source of income.
We enjoyed a very informative and entertaining tour around the center where we learned the various stages involved in traditional textile production – from washing and dyeing alpaca wool to spinning and weaving the colorful yarn into exquisite table runners, cushions, wall hangings and more. And when my children had had their fill of textiles, there was a friendly llama at the center to hug!
You can read more about visiting Centro Texil Urpi and Chinchero with kids in my overview here, and watch the video:
Activity 4: Discover More Incan Archaeological Wonders
Many visitors come to Peru to see Machu Picchu, unaware that there are dozens of other Inca sites waiting to be explored. The Sacred Valley is full of mind-boggling sites that are fascinating to discover. Some of our favourites included Pisac in the west, considered by many to be one of the finest Inca sites in the region, and Ollantaytambo in the far east, home to a spectacular Inca fortress that once served as the royal estate for Emperor Pachacuti. In the middle we also visited Moray and Maras, that the children loved. Moray is home to three enormous pits, each with huge terraced circular depressions and Maras is home to Las Salineras de Maras (the white salt flats of Maras), that have been in use since the Inca times.
Incredibly, every site is very different but the one thing they all share are spectacular views and a lot of stone steps!
For more information on visiting these Inca sites with kids, read my feature here, and watch the video:
1 Great Place to Stay: Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa
If I could create the perfect hotel it would look something like Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa. This bougainvillea-filled finca sits against a backdrop of Andean peaks and big blue skies and offers real luxury in an absolutely stunning setting. The location also makes for a brilliant base for exploring the many Incan wonders of the Sacred Valley. As for the kids, they fell in love with the resident horses and the horse show that marked the beginning and end of every lunch.
1 Great Place to Eat: Wayra Restaurant
We loved the Wayra Restaurant in the Sol y Luna hotel and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Sacred Valley, even if you are staying elsewhere.
Wayra, meaning ‘ranch’, is located near the stables at the far end of the hotel property. It serves tasty local dishes such as trout carpaccio cooked with airampo (a local cactus seed) and served with cushuro (lake seaweed), avocado cream and tumbo gravy. We ate extremely well!
The highlight for our children, however, was not so much the food but the daily horse show that was performed before and after lunch. Four elegant horsemen in white ponchos and wide-brimmed sombreros enter the arena on their light-footed steeds to the beat of Marinera, one of Peru’s best-known dances. At the end of lunch, guests are invited to try a lap themselves. My kids were quick to jump on board!
Map & Pinnable for Your Trip Planning: