Sally Black // © 2017 Sally Black
Feature image (above): Given proper preparation, Black believes many families can tackle Machu Picchu in Peru. // © 2017 iStock
Sally Black has many titles: mother, grandmother, explorer, nurse, author and travel agent among them. Her passion for travel — and for taking the kids with you as early as possible — led her to found travel agency Vacationkids and to pen the book “Fearless Family Vacations: Make Everyone Happy Without Losing Your Mind,” published in 2015. In the text, Black offers parent readers pro tips on planning family trips that excite and challenge the entire group.
“Travel is a rite of passage,” Black said. “You go, you see, you experience things. But you do have to go. Even a Disney theme park trip or cruise can help parents build their confidence. Then they’ll say, ‘Oh! We can take the kids to Mexico or Costa Rica!’ And I reply, ‘Yes, you can!’”
Once clients with kids are more self-assured in their ability to travel as a group, Black has a list of favorite international destinations to recommend. She spoke with us about one of those hot spots — Peru — and why it’s ideal for intrepid families.
When Peru comes up in conversation, people immediately think of Machu Picchu. How do you recommend families see the famous site?
Machu Picchu truly is a world wonder — a must-visit-before-you-die kind of place — and a family trip here is a real bonding experience. Travel agents really need to qualify clients and understand their expectations and travel style before booking this trip, though. Once I’ve done that, I have trusted family tours I consider, by Kensington Tours, Disney Adventures and G Adventures. Just from this list of suppliers, you can see the broad range of travel styles and budget options that are available.
You’re big on getting the kids traveling at a young age. That said, what is the ideal age range for kids to go to Peru?
Some kids are old souls at 8, while others are immature at 18. To help parents decide, I normally show them videos that give a sense of the height, steep terrain and altitude they’ll encounter. From there, they can decide if it’s something their kids can handle now or if this trip is best saved for a couple years in the future.
I also always recommend parents check and follow the recommendations of their pediatricians prior to planning this adventure. Altitude can seriously affect younger kids, not to mention kids with asthma and allergies. A doctor’s clearance is an important safety measure in my book. The last thing you want to do is schlep all the way to Peru and end up with sick kids. Families with limited time need a reality check — spending a couple days acclimating to the altitude in Cusco is not an option; it’s physically necessary. It will make your Machu Picchu experience far more enjoyable and less of a physical challenge.
Experienced hikers often opt to trek the 26-mile Inca Trail. What about for families not so eager to hike that distance?
Visitors fly into Cusco, which is actually at a higher elevation than Machu Picchu. From there, they take the train downhill into the Urubamba Valley — you can feel your breathing ease as you go. The train ride itself offers stunning vistas and is very enjoyable.
Hikers can get off the train and meet up with their guides at certain points to hike into Machu Picchu. The other option is to simply stay on the train to the town of Aguas Calientes — a very cool market town — which is at the base of Machu Picchu. From here, buses carry tourists up the steep, dirt switchback road to the park entrance. That’s a nail-biting experience on its own. For the ultimate experience, clients can stay at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, from which it’s easy to catch the sunrise over the ruins.
Peru offers more than Machu Picchu, of course. What top stops do you recommend in the country for families?
To the north, there’s the Amazon. Inkaterra is another company I use here, mostly for intrepid jungle experiences. One of my favorites is lodges is [eco-luxury lodge] Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. Iberostar also offers a rainforest cruise along the Amazon River that works well for families.
Even farther north, near Trujillo — where not many tourists go — there are a couple of amazing ruins: Chan Chan Archaeological Zone and The Sun and The Moon Temples. To the south, I recommend Paracas, Nazca and beautiful Arequipa.
What are your thoughts on spending time in the capital city?
If you’re heading to Peru, you pretty much have to go to Lima — it’s the transportation hub. It is a cosmopolitan city and, as with most of Peru, is very family-friendly. Sights to see include Parque de las Leyendas, which is part zoo, part archaeological site. For older kids and teens, there’s the monastery of St. Francis, great city bike tours and even hang gliding, which is extremely popular because of the Pacific breezes along the cliffs. Another personal favorite of mine is ChocoMuseo — the chocolate museum.
When is the best time to go?
Peru is, of course, below the equator, so its seasons are opposite ours. This makes Peru an excellent destination choice during school holiday weeks. There’s also not much of a time change from most U.S. cities, which means not too much jet-lag stress for families.
Last but not least, do you have any favorite eats to share?
Any and all Peru visitors must try Manolo Churros in Lima. They’re the best dessert on earth!