To celebrate our daughter’s first birthday, we decided to go hiking with a baby. We thought there was no better way to mark this milestone than to do a family hike in Peru. And what better trek to choose than the Classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu!
A Leap of Faith: Making Plans to Hike the Inca Trail with a Baby
Inca Trail permits sell out months in advance, so we made the decision to plan this family hike with a good deal of bravado. At nearly 12 months old, Miss M was used to spending a lot of time outdoors, but we’d never taken her on a multi-day camping trip. Still, it was the peak of the dry season, she was acclimatized to the altitude, and we’d paid for an extra porter to help us carry her and her “stuff,” so we thought we’d be just fine.
Best Laid Plans…
Whether it was to spare us the ignominy of having to return from the Inca Trail without completing it, or just fate, a couple of days before the trek Miss M developed a serious cold and it began to bucket down – right in the middle of the dry season! At this point, I accepted that our Inca Trail trek was not going to happen. With both a sick baby and pouring rain, the signs were against us.
At this point the supportive folks at Apus Peru suggested we do the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu instead. Family hike back on! Apus Peru made new hotel arrangements, changed our trains, and spent hours finalizing the paperwork for us to do the Short Inca Trail instead of the classic 4 day Inca Trail.
It turned out to be the perfect option for us. A one day Inca Trail hike that joins the classic Inca Trail route at Km 104 and lets you hike to Machu Picchu. The Short Inca Trail is ideal for folks who are short of time, who don’t like to camp, or who lack the desire to do a longer trek.
Starting our Family Hike to Machu Picchu
As we arrived at our starting point, my first reaction was that there were very few other groups doing the route that day, even though it was the middle of the high season. I expected it to be packed out – it’s the “easy route” after all. In fact, there was none of the hustle and bustle of the entry to the Classic Inca Trail at Km 82. By contrast, at the start of our one day Inca Trail there were just us, our guide and the porters. We were very thankful to the porters, and though I’m sure they wouldn’t admit it, I think they were grateful for the baby carrier to carry Miss M in!
Rain or shine, I think it’s great to hiking with a baby, and let your little one get some fresh air. Lucky for us, as we started our family hike the rain stopped and revealed the triangular walls of the ruins at Chachabamba. Chachabamba was discovered in 1940, almost thirty years after Hiram Bingham re-discovered Machu Picchu. Its architectural style and intricate stonework suggest that this was an important religious site in its own right, in addition to being a gatehouse guarding the entrance to Machu Picchu.
Hiking with a Baby on the Short Inca Trail!
From here, we began to climb. Having always considered the one day Inca Trail the “easy” trek to Machu Picchu, I suddenly realized that there is a lot of gentle but consistent climbing. Despite having trekked extensively in the Andes, after a short while, my aching muscles painfully reminded me that I hadn’t hit the trail in the 12 months since my daughter’s birth – nor even in the final trimester of pregnancy! I began to struggle, puffing, and taking lots of rests. Is this what it is like to be out of shape and then do a trek? Not a lot of fun!
TIPS FOR TREKKERS: No matter what trek you decide to do in Peru, you must fit, acclimatized and well-prepared! Check out all our Trekking Tips!
At Apus Peru we constantly advise people to do their research, and get in shape for their hike to Machu Picchu. I didn’t follow that advice and boy did I feel sorry! Even if you are going to do a one day hike in Peru, you need to have a decent level of fitness.
Unexpected Perks of Hiking with a Baby
Luckily for me, my daughter needed frequent breaks from the baby backpack. We stopped often to admire the views of the valley below us, which was alternately bathed in sunshine and filled with mist, with colorful clouds shifting over the mountains.
Despite Miss M’s lingering cold and my aching legs, there was certainly something magical about breastfeeding her on the trail with spectacular panoramas all about.
We are often asked by parents of babies and toddlers about trekking with their babies, and we always recommend that you allow a lot of extra time. At just 12 months Miss M wasn’t yet walking and so a few crawls and scoots around on the dirt at regular intervals kept her happy. Frequent breaks meant that we needed more time than the norm to complete the trail.
Highlights from the Short Inca Trail
A perhaps unexpected feature of the Inca trail are the endless steps! The Incas were masters at building stairways. This is something that distinguishes the Inca Trail from the alternative Machu Picchu hikes around Cusco.
Check out our list of the Best Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu!
In between panoramic views – and as a well-deserved break from climbing steps – we passed a beautiful cascading waterfall. A lovely surprise from Mother Nature in the midst of the mountains!
Maybe it’s because we were so slow, but we only encountered two groups all day while on the short Inca Trail. Despite being so near to Machu Picchu and the heavily trafficked classic Inca Trail, we felt that we were alone in the mountains. We were thrilled by the experience!
After some 6 hours of climbing uphill, we arrived at Wiñay Wayna, perhaps the most gorgeous set of ruins along the whole Inca Trail. The name Wiñay Wayna, which in Quechua means “Eternal Youth” or “Forever Young,” was given to the ruins by the eminent Peruvian archaeologist, Dr. Julio C. Tello. Considered by many to be the most beautiful of the sites on the Inca Trail, it was a wonderful highlight of our trek.
Arriving at Machu Picchu
With the frequent stops for the baby we were some 2 hours slower than the average trekker and after Winay Wayna we still had a couple of hours’ walk through the moist cloud forest. At this point, the terrain was blessedly flat and cool, and we felt as if we were walking in the high jungle. We arrived at the final massive stairs of Inti Punku. The Sun Gate, as it’s known in English, was once a control point for those who entered and exited the Sanctuary. As the entrance to Machu Picchu, it is one of the most important features of the site. And as the name suggests, it’s devoted to Inti, the Sun God.
At other times when we’ve done the Inca Trail, Inti Punku had been filled with hundreds of tourists moving eagerly to catch their first glimpse of Machu Picchu. This time, as we were arriving very late in the day, we were the only people at Inti Punku. It was a special moment to arrive at a place normally so inundated with tourists and yet enjoy it in solitude. As we descended the final stretch to Machu Picchu, we saw that there were few people at the site and we had unobstructed views. It was a unique feeling!
Hiking With a Baby: The End of the Journey
After exploring the ruins for a few hours, we made the last bus down to Aguas Calientes. Our 12-month-old looked exhausted by the day’s trek and it was amazing to get a hot shower and then sink into a soft bed.
As we hit the sack, we were filled with gratitude. Despite having been on the Inca Trail for just a day, we experienced solitude, isolated Inca ruins, and an indescribable sense of awe and accomplishment. We had trekked into Machu Picchu on foot, as a family.
Written by Apus Peru Co-Founder, Ariana Svenson and first published 4 November, 2015. Updated on 28 December 2019.