Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – With a Baby!

When Grant and I were backpacking in 2018 we had an entire Peru trip planned only to have our plans unexpectedly come to a halt when we were robbed on an overnight bus traveling from San Pedro de Atacama to Arequipa. I mean in retrospect we had it coming with red flags all over (see: using MacBook Pro before putting on eye mask to sleep on overnight train with bag in overhead bin!) but nonetheless we were shook and had to return to the US Embassy in Santiago to get replacement passports. We already had Galapagos booked on the backend so we had to cancel Peru.

I hadn’t solidified our Machu Picchu plans yet, but I knew I wanted to finagle our backpacker budget so we could hike the Inca Trail. I was dying to have this once in a lifetime experience! Grant suggested it wasn’t that big of a deal that we missed the Inca Trail and that I only wanted to do it because other backpackers were talking about it (the audacity!). I was super disappointed and put it on my “to revisit” list (yes, this is actually on the notes app in my phone!).

This actually worked out for the best (doesn’t it always!?) because his parents wanted to tag along the original trip, but they didn’t want to do the Inca Trail so I was looking at a DIY version where you follow the train tracks from Aguas Calientes.

Flash forward to August 2021. After being cooped up and limited on travel opportunities due to the pandemic we were itching for a big international vacay. We had two weeks to fill since the owner of our condo was returning for a bit so Peru seemed perfect.

However, this time we had a toe-head in tow. Our son Marin was barely over a year old, but I was determined to tweak the original Peru itinerary to accommodate our littlest traveler. (Guess we’ll have to save Arequipa and Ayahuasca for next time!)

How to Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a Baby

To hike the Inca Trail it is mandatory that you have a guide. Well to be fair I guess you don’t have to we actually met a couple on our volunteer trip in BVI that did the hike solo aka illegally without a guide.

Since we weren’t on a backpacker budget anymore I decided to book the best of the best, Alpaca Expeditions. Don’t let the cringe-worthy neon shirts fool you, this “green machine” is amazing.

Felipe (Puma) was the best guide and was basically family by the end of the trip. Our porter (I wish I could remember his name) was such a good sport about carrying baby Marin and was awesome!

Everyone on the Alpaca Expeditions team was so friendly, helpful, and professional from the chefs to booking agents! Highly recommend.

We grabbed our gear from their office in Cusco before driving down to the Sacred Valley. After spending a few days there to acclimate we started our trek. Read about our time in the Sacred Valley here.

Choosing which Inca Trail trek to do with a Baby

I booked a private trek because I wanted a shorter option and didn’t want other people’s once in a lifetime experience to be dampened if Marin decided to have a fit. I wasn’t sure what he would think of riding in a backpack all day. Did I mention you can hire a porter to carry your baby in a backpack for only $70? Score! This worked out especially great because we didn’t have to buy or travel with one of those bulky baby carrier backpacks.

I also booked the 2 day trek vs the 4 day trek for the same reasons. If it had only been me and Grant than we would have probably opted for the longer route.

For the 2 day / 1 night trek there are two options. Sleep at a hotel or camp. I obviously wanted to camp to get the full experience, but the tent was less nature-y than expected. It was on the side of the road…not a secluded spot only accessible by foot!

The set-up was a little flawed honestly. We had a beautiful day hiking and the reward for our hard work was a view of the Sun Gate in the afternoon with barely any crowds. However instead of entering Machu Picchu then, we backtracked down to Aguas Calientes, camped near the town and rode the bus back up in the morning with the lazy bears who didn’t hike at all!

At first I was annoyed at the inauthenticity of the campsite and wishing I selected a hotel for a shower but after a few Pilsen beers and a Quechua music dance party I was happy with our choice!

What does it cost for a private hike on the Inca Trail?

It costs $1000 per person (babies are free) plus the baby porter fee and train upgrade (Vista Dome) so our total was $2,220. Pretty steep for sleeping in a tent! But it truly is a once in a lifetime experience!

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a Baby Day 1

The van picked us up from our hotel in the Sacred Valley at 5:00 in the morning and we met our crew and had some breakfast. Afterwards we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes. The train ride is beautiful! We opted to do the regular train on the way there and the Vista Dome train on the way back to enjoy the scenary.

The Hike Itself

The hike was incredible! It was intense enough to get a workout and feel accomplished but I wasn’t dry heaving. We stopped and swim in a waterfall, saw jaw dropping views, and walked the same steps the Incas did hundreds of years ago!

We took breaks at super cool ruins, like Wiñay Wayna, and we crossed paths and had lunch with a neighboring Alpaca Expeditions group who was on the 4 day trek. The food was surprisingly good!

We had amazing weather (we visited in August) and hiking to the Sun Gate was a bucket list moment for sure! We arrived to the Sun Gate at around 3:30 in the afternoon so it was definitely a full day of hiking.

Tips for Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a Baby

  • Prepare for stone stairs not dirt trails (not to mention the stairs are made for little Incan feet) As you can guess this is a calf killer!
  • Dress in layers! I started in a hoodie and ended up wearing a tank top at Machu Picchu.
  • Bring some Nuun electrolyte tabs and a water filter if you have one (Alpaca Expeditions supplied water but it had to be boiled to be sanitized first so it was always served hot and you have to wait on it to boil! Not what you’re going for to quench your thirst.)
  • Don’t forget diapers. We had some scenic side of the road diaper changes, even one at the Sun Gate!
  • Pack snacks and milk (Marin was a very picky/minimal eater at the time and still breastfeeding so this one was easy for us!)

Camping near Aguas Calientes

As I mentioned, the camping experience was not quite what I had pictured, but we had fun nonetheless. It was baby Marin’s first time sleeping in a tent and we passed out after a long day hiking.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a Baby Day 2

This is the actual Machu Picchu day. We woke up at our campsite and hiked to the bus stop. I carried Marin in a cool traditional wrap. We took the bus of shame with the other non-hikers to the entrance.

Once inside we had an awesome tour and learned so many fun facts about Machu Picchu. It truly is amazing. The Incas are incredible architects!

I will admit, at first I wanted to cram touring Machu Picchu in with the hiking day but it was a long day within itself. Baby Marin couldn’t even hang! We didn’t have the baby carrier or porter for this day and it we could have used it!

After visiting these awe-inspiring ruins we took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes where we had a nice lunch and Pisco sour. We also checked out the town and did some souvenir shopping. Marin made some baby friends at the market.

Riding the Vista Dome train to Machu Picchu

We boarded the Vista Dome train and returned to our hotel in the Sacred Valley. The Vista Dome train was pretty cool but I think you get nearly the same views with the regular train so safe to skip if you’re on a budget. The train itself was nicer and there was even entertainment with a dancing guy in traditional garb. Baby Marin was scared of him!

Once we got back, we took a much needed shower, got room service, and were all asleep by 7 PM!

Visiting Machu Picchu during the Pandemic

We went to Machu Picchu in August 2021 and it had recently reopened. Peru was very strict with mask mandates (we had to double mask in some places!) and buy mandatory face shields for the train. Marin thought they were entertaining! Wearing a mask in some of our “supposed to be timeless” Machu Picchu photos was a bummer, but we were able to take it off for a few pics too. Not ideal, but it was better than postponing our trek!

It is worth hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a baby?

Absolutely! The Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu was the best part! I think I would have been disappointed had we only done the train and day tour. Baby Marin did great and while he may not remember it when he’s older, I feel like there’s some subconscious positive effect. At a minimum, we didn’t have to wait until he’s older to go!

If you’re considering bringing a baby on the trek, do it!

Trekking with the best of ’em,


Note: We visited Machu Picchu in August 2021.

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