Traveling to Peru with small children will be a challenge; though Peruvians are very family-oriented, transportation difficulties and the rugged appeal of many of Peru's primary attractions may test parents' resourcefulness and patience, as well as that of the children. Slightly older and adventurous children, however, should revel in the archaeological grandeur of Machu Picchu, the indigenous peoples of Lake Titicaca, and the phenomenal flora and fauna of the Amazon jungle. A trip with children may not differ much with respect to the places one chooses to visit, though there are some specific things to do and ways to do them in those places that may appeal more to kids. Families should approach Peru as an excellent opportunity to learn about South American history, ecology, and Peruvian culture.
Days 1-2: The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Families will probably want to stick to the tried-and-true highlights of Peru, beginning with Cusco and Machu Picchu. Instead of beginning in the old Inca capital, however, it might make more sense to head straight to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where the altitude is lower (requiring less acclimatization) and there is more open space. Stay at one of the area's rustic country hotels, where kids can go horseback riding and teenagers can go white-water rafting or mountain biking in the Valley. Athletic kids should like climbing the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo and Pisac, where they can admire not only Inca ingenuity but also the stunning mountain views.
Day 3: Machu Picchu
Children will greatly enjoy the scenic train to Machu Picchu. It's a good idea to consider spending the night in Aguas Calientes, as seeing the ruins of Machu Picchu involves a lot of climbing and you'll require stamina to see it thoroughly. The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel, though expensive, has great grounds, birding walks, and a swimming pool.
Very athletic children will eat up the hike to Huayna Picchu, which provides some of the most dramatic panoramic views you're likely to stumble across. Nearly as good, and less challenging, are routes from the Intipunku (the Sun Gate, where hikers come upon the site from the Inca Trail).
Days 4-6: From Cusco to the Jungle
A short flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado and a drive to the pier is all it takes to plunge into the Amazon jungle. Two good lodges that don't require too much river travel time are Reserva Amazónica (for families that may enjoy a bit of pampering) and Sandoval Lake Lodge (for those who prefer to rough it a bit). The first has a private treetop canopy walk, which kids should love, and a small island that is a private refuge for several types of monkeys; boats take guests out at night to look for caimans on the river. A 3-day, 2-night stay is a good option.
Day 7: A Breather in Cusco
Fly back to Cusco and spend the day getting to know the city. The city is full of fun and funky restaurants that will appeal to young ones, and kids should like spotting the dressed-up llamas that wander Cusco's streets.
Kids should also appreciate the blocks of Inca stone masonry that fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle; have them try to locate the puma stone on Calle Inca Roca and the 12-angled stone on Calle Hatunrumiyoc. At the ruins of Sacsayhuamán, on a hill overlooking Cusco, are huge rocks with slick grooves—kids of all ages use them as slides.
Days 8-10: Lake Titicaca
The long but terrifically scenic train ride from Cusco to Lake Titicaca is one of the best in South America. Stay in a hotel perched on the edge of the lake, and head out on a boat tour of Titicaca (either daylong or with an overnight stay). Kids should marvel at the natives who live on the floating islands, and older kids who like to rough it will enjoy visiting the communities on Isla Taquile and staying overnight with a family on Isla Amantaní. The next day fly from Puno (Juliaca, actually) to Lima for your flight home. If you have extra time in Lima, which isn't exactly a family-friendly city, take older kids to the Museo Larco to survey the sometimes eye-popping ceramics of ancient Peruvian civilizations.