"The most desirable human sacrifice," Rudy says with a grin, "would have been a teenage girl about your age." He casts a mischievous glance at my 14-year-old daughter, who cracks a wary smile. We're standing amid the ruins of Machu Picchu, the 15th-century kingdom that was built for the Incan emperor Pachacuti high in Peru's Andes Mountains.
At almost 8,000 feet above sea level, the view isn't all that's dizzying. Rudy, our guide at these ruins, is a walking encyclopedia of Incan civilization, dispensing a steady stream of fascinating historical and cultural nuggets. We learn that the Incans were a sophisticated people of architects, mathematicians, doctors, teachers, farmers, and astronomers. They knew how to predict solstices, track constellations, and even perform brain surgery with an anesthetic. The Incans worshipped the sun, moon, rain, wind, lightning, and Pachamama, Mother Earth herself. They chose to build their city at this hallowed location, between two mountains aligned on a north-south axis, because it provided a natural compass. Sacred places were built with windows facing east to greet the sunrise each morning.
We learn that most Peruvians visit Machu Picchu but once in their lifetime -- if they are lucky. We are traveling with Adventures by Disney (www.adventuresbydisney.com), which offers almost two dozen different trips to bucket-list destinations in the U.S. and abroad. Like most of the 26 travelers in our group, we began our trip looking forward to seeing Machu Picchu. The day we spend here exploring the ruins and hiking a portion of the Inca Trail has been absolutely astonishing. Yet we've had so many other eye-opening experiences this week, including a Class III whitewater rafting trip down the Urubamba River; an afternoon exploring the lesser-known but fascinating archaeological ruins at Ollantaytambo; and a hands-on weaving demonstration at the Center for Traditional Textiles.
Throughout our journey, we've been introduced to wonderful Peruvian cuisine. We've tried ceviche, alpaca (cooked every which way), quinoa tabouleh, giant corn, and numerous varieties of potatoes. (Peru has more than 3,000 kinds of potatoes. Who knew?) One night, we were treated to a traditional Andean pachamanca, a celebration feast of marinated meat and vegetables cooked over hot stones in an earthen oven. My daughter sampled yellow Inca Kola (owned by Coca-Cola, tastes like bubblegum) and I've downed a few pisco sours and bottles of Cusquena beer.
We haven't had to sweat any of the governmental bureaucracy or other challenges that travelers sometimes encounter in Peru, because our guides have taken care of everything. We've stayed at four-star hotels offering gorgeous surroundings, plush bedding, spa treatments, and even free Wi-Fi. Touring with Adventures by Disney has also meant having local guides who speak English and who can present the destination in an interesting and relevant way. As a result, we may leave Peru, but it will not leave us.
When to Go: Adventures by Disney's 9-day Peru itinerary is available March through December.
How Much: $3,079-$3,729 per adult and $2,929-$3,549 per child, excluding airfare
What's Included: An overnight to explore Lima, all accommodations, meals, activities, ground transfers, an internal round-trip flight between Lima and Cusco, entry fees, and taxes. Each group is provided with at least two expert guides. Airfare to Peru isn't covered.
How Old: Disney sets a suggested age of 8 and a minimum age of 4, but I recommend waiting until kids are at least 10, considering the rich historical backdrop. Consider also that visiting the ruins at Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu require considerable climbing at high altitudes. Every day features a lengthy history lecture that will bore the stuffing out of little kids. Bottom line: Do not bring your 4-year-old.
There is a huge difference between meeting an age requirement and being of an age to even begin to appreciate a destination. And then there's the question of getting value. Disney delivers a premium experience at a significant price tag. Ask yourself if this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, as it will be for most families. Common sense says that you'll get exponentially more for your money if you wait until your kids are 'tweens or teens. Not only will you be rewarded with a truly marvelous trip, but your kids will remember the experience all their lives and, hopefully, thank you.
For families with kids who are younger than 10, Adventures by Disney offers more than a dozen itineraries North America and Europe that would make better options than this bucket-list adventure.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is the co-founder and editor of WeJustGotBack.com, an award-winning family travel site featuring reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, and more. The author and her daughter were guests of Adventures by Disney.