Our mother-daughter journey to Machu Picchu

By Marley Braun | Destinations

For Hayley’s sweet sixteen, I planned a mother-daughter trip to Machu Picchu, in Peru.  I wanted to get her something that she would never forget, and that would bring us closer together.  

Being the mother of a teenage daughter is definitely not a walk in the park. It's hard to get them away from their phones and their friends, or to spend quality time with you that doesn’t include screaming and eye rolling. I figured the bigger the adventure, the better!  

Peru had never been on my bucket list (and honestly, it scared me a little) but I found a great package deal.  I could not have asked for a better trip.

Our adventure started off in Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes.

We spent our first few days relaxing in Cusco and enjoying the town itself.  It has some wonderful local markets, and you can not beat the prices there.  We stocked up a full suitcase of souvenirs very quickly!  

Peru is known for its cacao trees, so how could we pass up a chocolate making class?

We had so much fun bonding there that we decided to sign up for the cooking class that evening. The teacher/chef took us on a tour of the local food market, and we got to come back with our new purchases and cook an authentic Peruvian dinner.  

I can not even begin to tell you how exhausted and hungry I was, but watching the grin on Hayley’s face as she cooked with me and other people from around the world was priceless to me. 

  • Knowing some Spanish when you go there is very helpful.  
  • Make coca tea your new best friend.  Cusco is over 11,000 feet above sea level, and can be quite jarring to your body if you aren't used to the high elevation.  Take it slow the first few days and drink a lot of coca tea.

Next on our sightseeing list was the many Incan Ruins.

....Although Hayley was always watching out for any chance to be distracted and completely enthralled by a llama.

There are no shortage of Incan ruins (or llamas for that matter) on the way to Machu Picchu.  We visited Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, Qenko, and Sacsayhuamán.

I can not begin to tell you how many pictures she made me take of her with the llamas.  Hayley feeding the llama.  Hayley petting the llama.  Hayley sitting next to the llama. When you have a teenage daughter, you become their personal selfie-stick.

When I wasn’t acting as a human selfie-stick, I roamed around the two towns taking pictures of the locals and checking out the local markets.  Everything there was so colorful to me and I wanted to capture it all.

That night, we were dropped off at our hotel that was literally IN the train station.  No worries about missing the train the next morning!  We were led to our room that had a padlock on it as our door lock.  The adventure part of our trip had begun!  We could not stop giggling or talking about what to do with the padlock.  We had yet to have hot water in a shower on our trip, so that caused more giggling before heading to bed.

I think we would both say our favorite spot on the way to Machu Picchu was the Sacred Valley.

The citadel there is now in ruins, but you can climb high above the valley floor and look down at the patch-worked patterned fields that are surrounded by vast terraces and stonework.  

Oddly enough, my favorite part was walking through doorways that my head almost touched.  I am only 5’2 and in Peru I felt like a runway model, which was nice for a change!

I chose the Vistadome train to get us to Machu Picchu, and it did not disappoint.

 It had large panoramic windows all around it and it was perfect to see the countryside of Peru.  On the way back to Cusco, the train provided live entertainment in the form of a fashion show, which got us giggling again.  

On top of that, the train ride was a perfect place for Hayley to practice her Spanish.  The Argentinians next to us spent at least an hour teaching her phrases.  As I marveled at how much Spanish she had learned in only two semesters, I realized she was clearly enjoying telling amusing stories about me.  I could understand "madre" thanks to 4 semesters of high school Spanish, and the universal language of laughter.

The train dropped us off a few steps from our hotel (hot water finally!), which was at the bottom of Machu Picchu in the town of Aquas Calientes.  

You take a bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu and in all my life, I have never been on a crazier bus ride.  To say it is terrifying, yet thrilling at the same time, would be an understatement. These buses fly up this winding, very steep, one-way road and it looks like they are playing a bizarre game of chicken with a busload of people.  It is not for the faint of heart!

The ruins when you finally reach Machu Picchu are spectacular!  

I can think of no other word to describe them. It is one of those places you really have to see to fully appreciate it.  We walked from one end of them to another with only a few breaks to pet the wild llamas. 

How they got all of those stones up that mountain left me dumbfounded (yes, that is truly how my brain works).  How my legs carried me all the way up to the Sun Gate at the end of that day I will never know, but it was worth it!

Only 400 people each day are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu.

Huayna Picchu is the peak that overlooks Machu Picchu.  You start hiking before sunrise, and then you are able to sit at the top of Huayna Picchu and watch the sun come up.  

The climb is difficult and narrow in spots, but it's worth it!  You MUST reserve these tickets ahead of time, and they WILL sell out.

The view over the ruins when we reached Machu Picchu, with the peak of Huayna Picchu in the background.

I had trained for a few weeks at the gym getting my legs and heart ready for the climb, but it was hard! I’m not going to lie.

At the very end of the climb, you descend into a very narrow cave (this is when I asked myself WTF am I doing, I am claustrophobic), only to emerge at the very top to the most serene atmosphere I have ever witnessed.  

High above the clouds, Hayley and I just sat in silence waiting for the sun to rise.  

THIS was mother-daughter bonding at its best. No arguments. No eye rolling. No cell phones buzzing.  Just immense appreciation and love.  We had conquered the mountain and it rewarded us paid in full.

My Top 5 Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu

  • Fly into Cusco a few days early.  No offense to Lima, but I loved Cusco hands down. It's a great place to get acclimated to the altitude change, and you'll get a better sense of the Peruvians and their home. 
  • Even if you don’t think the altitude is bothering you, most hotels will offer the coca tea  24/7.  Drink it, and while you’re at it, use it to wash down some yummy Peruvian food.  Hint:  If something just says “meat”, ask if it is beef. You may be surprised (or delighted) to find that it is guinea pig, a delicacy in Peru. 
  • Unless you know Spanish really well and are comfortable traveling on your own, consider using a FIT (flexible independent travel) package for Peru. I really liked it because I was able to customize everything, but also had a set itinerary. With a FIT, we had people who spoke English to get us from place to place, and tickets for trains and attractions ahead of time.
  • Spend the extra money and ride on the Vistadome train It is worth it.  This is one time that you don’t want to bury your head in a book.  
  • Plan to hike Huayna Picchu, and get your ticket WAY ahead of time.  Spend a minimum of two days there. You will thank me later!

Remember:  Our recommendations are based on our 2012 trip, so make sure to do your research.  Send us a message - we'd be happy to help!


About the Author

I am a mom first, and a wandering (but not lost) soul second. After years of planning travel for friends, I became a Cruise Planners Travel Advisor. You can learn more about the services I can offer you by visiting me at Memories by Marley

  • Khadijah says:

    This is so cute. I almost always travel alone but it must be so comforting to share these experiences with your daughter. Definitely memories not to forget.

  • Kayla says:

    Oh wow, what an amazing trip for your 16th birthday!! I had no idea they only allow so many people up a day, definitely good to know!

  • What an amazing experience to have with your daughter! I would have loved that at her age.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I don’t think my mother would ever be up for Machu Pichu adventure but I loved reading about your experience. I’m planning to go to South America in 2020 I’ll keep this bookmarked for sure.


  • Barbara says:

    Lovey adventure. I had my first trip mother and daughter in 2017, my mom came to visit me and we did a tour around Europe. It was like no other trip.

  • […] Then, I thought of the perfect mother daughter date idea:  a date-night cooking class, just like we had done in Peru.  […]

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