Kids Come Too: Peru
Hiking in the cloud forests of Peru may seem like an extreme vacation option not suitable for children, but in fact, you can (and definitely should) include your kids in an epic tour of Northern Peru.
Peru is an amazingly fascinating country that encompasses a vast geography expanding from Andes peaks to Amazonian rainforests. Most famous of all is Machu Picchu which dominates the tourism scene in the Southern Cusco region, welcoming over one million visitors each year. But in the north, there is another slightly overlooked archeological site of Kuelap, more ancient than Machu Picchu. There are a number of less marketed destinations throughout Peru that are well worth the visit, they might save you a few bucks and offer a more authentic and less crowded experience.
How to Get There and Get Around
Flights are available between Lima (the gateway for most international visitors) and Jaen City where you can begin your tour of the Northern Region of Chachapoyas. This region of Peru is home to many wonders, three of which hold particular appeal: Gocta Falls, Kuelap, and the mummies of Leymebamba. These sites are spread out across the region, so you’ll be spending a fair amount of time driving on some precarious mountain roads. You may want to consider hiring a driver or jumping on an organized tour. Car seats are not common, so if you absolutely need one, bring your own.
Gocta Falls is a stunning, towering waterfall accessible after a hike of a few hours. The trail is fairly well-paved, so you could try it with your child strapped in a carrier, but depending on the age of your children you may consider breaking the journey up into sections on horse, followed by walking the well-trodden trails. Get kids involved in some bird spotting by encouraging them to search for Peru’s national bird, the Cock of the Rock. Although it can be shy, it's vibrant scarlet color is easy to spot against the lush green forest. When hiking with children, make sure to bring along a travel pack with a first aid kit, sunscreen, and plenty of water.
Plan to spend a few days in this region, as each activity can easily take all day. After you rest your weary legs, you’ll be ready to plan your next excursion to the walled settlement of Kuelap.
The round stone homes of this ancient settlement, built in the 6th century AD by the ancient Chachapoyas people who were later invaded by the Incas, can be found high up in the cloud forests in the Chachapoyas region. Peru’s tropical forests are close to mountain ranges so they maintain a magical dense fog at the canopy level, giving them the romantic name “Cloud Forests.” Following considerable investment this year, a cable car opened that reduces the travel time to this site. What was once an all-day bus ride is now a 20-minute glide through the air which lands you at an almost neverending set of steps that lead to ruins.
The cable car transforms the attraction from being practically inaccessible (especially to travelers with children) to a family must-see spot. The site features many stone staircases that need to be carefully scaled, but families making the trek will find the history and views are well worth the effort. Horses are also available for hire at the base if tired legs need a little help up the mountain, an experience children (and tired parent-arms) especially will love. Keep a look out for the living Peruvian treasure’s; alpacas and llamas.
From Kuelap, you’ll have a journey of about two hours south to reach Leymebamba, where you can learn more about the ancient Chachapoyas people and see actual mummy specimens. This region remains uncrowded and offers many adventure and outdoor activities for the daredevils in your family, from canyoning to wildlife tours.
Hygiene: Bathrooms can be a little basic in Peru, unless you are in a hotel, so be sure to always carry toilet tissue and hand sanitizer in your backpack. If your kids are still in diapers, stock up in big cities as they are harder to find in remote areas.
Food: Whether enjoying the rustic remote restaurants or fine dining in the city you will enjoy a range of family-friendly options, likely with an abundance of fish dishes and traditional grains like quinoa. Ask your waitress to make your kid's dishes sin picante if you are worried about them being too spicy.
Lodging: Book an unforgettable stay at the uber modern Gocta Lodge, which has an infinity pool overlooking the Falls. Kids will love the early evening routine where the alpacas are let out and allowed to roam the grounds. About forty minutes from Gocta Lodge in the Chachapoyas region is Casa Hacienda Achamaqui, which offers slightly more rustic options but is still very well-placed to explore the area. A walk through the fields at the rear of the property will allow you to spot a sarcophagi right in the mountainside. B&B’s are available throughout the region and offer a cost effective way to sample real Peruvian hospitality. Be sure to check reviews carefully and ensure that accommodations are suitable for families.
Call a family meeting and state your case for a family vacation to Peru. Skip the crowds by convincing your parents to travel to the north where you can explore primary cloud forests and pretend you are an adventurer.
Once the tickets are booked, astound your parents with amazing facts about this South American country. All of your Peruvian knowledge will no doubt help to pass the time during the long flight.
Peru is home to great food and some of it is deliciously spicy. You might find a few unusual dishes that you haven't tried before.
Have you ever had a pet rodent? Peruvians have been eating guinea pigs for thousands of years. It’s called ‘Cuy’, so look out for it on menus when you visit and give it a try because it’s yummy!
Do you like jerky? Ancient Peruvians invented this dried meat snack and you can try out the original recipe when you visit if you order Ch'arki.
Remember real travelers never insult their hosts, so if you don't like something, you don't need to be loud about it, just tell your parents quietly and remember to say thank you or Gracias!
Did You Know?
Llamas and Alpacas are not the same animal, and the national animal of Peru is actually the Vicuña which is deer-like, has a super soft wool coat and is more similar to an Alpaca.
Alpacas have a soft coat, pointy ears and are shorter.
Llamas are taller, have coarse hair and are more likely to spit (gross!)
The Vicuña is a protected animal and it is forbidden to hunt them, so don’t even think about it!
The fictional Paddington bear was from Peru, but you might be more likely to find him in the gift shop than the forest.
Wanna Dig Deeper?
Lonely Planet: Peru: Travel With Kids
Far-Flung Lands: A Journey to Machu Picchu With Kids
TripAdvisor: 10 Days in Peru with Kids
Background, Context & Reference
More From This Issue
LSD, Creativity, and the Modern Psychedelic Renaissance by Kristi Pahr
Why We Should Encourage Our Kids to Do Semi-Dangerous Things by Stacy Tornio
Experiments in Rebellion by Shereen Thor