Seasonal Planning for Machu Picchu Travel
Machu Picchu is in the Peruvian Andes and as such has two distinct seasons: a dry season of clear skies with bright sunshine but a chill in the shade and at nights (approximately April-October) and a wet season of frequent rains and milder temperatures, during which landslides are common (approximately October-April).
The driest weather of the year comes in June, July, and August, which coincides unsurprisingly with the high season. The warmest (and fairly wet) weather arrives in October and November, with highs of around 70° F (21° C). The wettest weather of the year arrives just after in January, February, and March.
Bear in mind that despite these general patterns, weather at Machu Picchu is fickle. Clouds can shroud the site even in June, ruining those holiday snaps. Dazzling sunshine can bathe the site even in the wet month of February. And rain is a possibility at any time, as is chilly weather and as is sharp, bright sunshine. At this exposed site, come prepared for such eventualities.
Machu Picchu itself is open all year, but the Inca Trail does close for the whole of February for annual maintenance. Another major consideration is that train services to Machu Picchu in January-March are also more limited: there is no train travel from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu, during this period, with trains instead running from Ollantaytambo.
Bear in mind that come high season or low season, crowds and costs are still going to be considerable in and around Machu Picchu in comparison to most other travel destinations in South America.
|Season||Months||Pros||Cons||Best For||Where to Go|
|Winter (High season)||June-Aug||Dry and bright; best weather for outdoor activities; great festivals||High season crowds and costs; advance reservations necessary||Hiking and festivals||Any hikes in/around Machu Picchu; Sacred Valley; Cusco|
|Spring (shoulder season)||Sep-Oct||Mostly dry and bright; good weather without big crowds||Few festivals||Hiking||Any hikes in/around Machu Picchu; Sacred Valley; Cusco|
|Summer (low season)||Nov-Mar||Fewer visitors and easier to escape crowds; great rafting||Frequently overcast, wet weather||Escaping the crowds; rafting||Sacred Valley towns like Ollantaytambo and Pisac; Cusco|
|Fall (shoulder season)||Apr-May||Mix of wet/dry weather means high season and low season activities possible||Weather can be poor despite increased crowds and costs||Hiking and festivals||Any hikes in/around Machu Picchu; Sacred Valley; Cusco
Winter (June through August)
As a thrilling traveler destination and as one of the most popular destinations in South America, Machu Picchu is always crowded in comparison to most other places: but it is particularly busy at this time of year. Crowds do also bring increased costs: be sure to book well in advance for hotels and tours. But the advantages of traveling to Machu Picchu right now far outweigh the disadvantages.
The brightest, driest weather of the year makes the ground firm underfoot and almost always keeps the rain away: perfect weather for hiking, which is the most popular activity hereabouts. Of course, there is the internationally renowned classic Inca Trail to trek, which requires a guide and must be booked months in advance. But there are many other fabulous hikes. See here for more on hiking the other alternative treks to Machu Picchu.
With lows around 34° F (1° C) at this time of year, the area's thermal springs have never seemed more tempting: take a dip at places such as Santa Teresa, which is also the access point to the 'Backdoor to Machu Picchu' hike.
But when you take a break from the trail, perhaps the best thing to do at this time of year is simply to soak up the vibrant life of the Sacred Valley and its many enchanting festivals. The biggest of these is Inti Raymi in June at the time of the winter solstice: a huge festivity celebrated at Sacsayhuaman outside Cusco.
Cusqueña Beer Festival June. Peru's most popular beer, Cusqueña, has an entire festival dedicated to it in the city where it is made, Cusco. Held during the first week of June, accompanied by lots of live rock and salsa.
Corpus Christi June. This solemn festival of religious devotion takes place on June 11 in the central squares of towns and cities in the Sacred Valley and across Peru.
Inti Raymi June. This, the most important celebration in the Inca and Andean calendar, is the festival of the sun: traditionally honoring the shortest day of the year in the Andes and when the sun is furthest from the Earth, June 24. The Incan God of the Sun and the Goddess of Mother Earth, Pachamama, are both honored in this colorful celebration mainly held within the atmospheric grounds of Sacsayhuamán, an Incan site just outside Cusco.
Fiestas Patrias July. This is the umbrella term given to any of the celebrations held to mark Peruvian Independence Day on July 28, and the establishment of the Republic of Peru on July 29. They are taken as a joint holiday, with much partying in towns and villages around these dates.
Pachamama Raymi August. Earth mother day, or the day in honor of the Incan Mother Earth, Pachamama, happens on August 1. There are celebrations of this traditional Andean festival throughout the Sacred Valley - including, evocatively, at the ruins of Moray.
Spring (September through October)
Just after the high season, spring brings the chance to enjoy Machu Picchu with some more of the same dry, bright weather, only with increased temperatures and without the high season crowds. The possibility of rain increases only very slightly in this season.
Once again at this time of year, outdoor activities are number one on the agenda, with hiking most visitors' first choice. This is the perfect time to really evade the crowds and try a longer hike to Machu Picchu such as the trek via Choquequirao. There are also some brilliant hikes within Machu Picchu which offer some brilliant viewpoints of the ruins and mountains.
Señor de Huanca September. On September 14, pilgrims from all over Peru, Bolivia and some other locations in South America come to Cusco to embark on the 6-hour pilgrimage by foot to the beautiful chapel of Santuario Señor de Huanca close to the town of San Salvador.
Semana Turistica de Cusco October. This seems like a touristy crowd trap on paper, but the events put on throughout the city during Cusco Tourist Week held at different times during October actually give a lot of interesting insights into what the region offers.
Summer (November through March)
The onset of the year's worse weather for outdoor activities (frequent cloud cover and heavy rain, which peaks in February, the wettest month of the year, plus a distinct possibility of mudslides) keeps crowds away in Machu Picchu's warm, damp summer season.
You will, however, be able to see Machu Picchu with less crowds to detract from the view than at any other time of year. And while hiking is limited right now, there is some great white-water rafting to be had on the rivers in the Machu Picchu area. This is a great time of year to focus instead on the region's cultural activities, though. There are festivals a-plenty to contrast with the rainy weather, including some of Peru's most important during Christmas/New Year and Carnaval/Semana Santa.
And Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, is one of the cultural capitals of the Americas. This historic one-time Inca city has eclectic museums, Inca ruins, and bedazzling churches and cathedrals, not to mention the best and most varied eating scene in Peru outside of Lima. See here for Cusco's best places to eat.
Those traveling to Machu Picchu need to know two important things at this time of year: in February, the Inca Trail is closed, and from January to March there are extremely limited trains from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, with trains only running from Ollantaytambo. See here for more on getting to Machu Picchu by train.
Día de Todos Santos & Día de los Muertos November. On these two days, November 1 and November 2 respectively, the memory of the dead is honored across Peru. In the highlands, this is normally done by bringing gifts of food to the dead in cemetery tombs. Candlelit vigils are also held at cemeteries until dawn on November 2, and a special bread called tanta wawa is prepared.
Handicrafts Fair December. Peru has myriad handicrafts fairs and markets, but this, the Santuranticuy Fair taking place on December 24, is among Peru's largest artisan fairs. Held in Cusco Plaza de Armas, its focus is the religious figurines and decorations Peruvians like to decorate their homes with. However, it can also be a good source of interesting souvenirs.
Navidad/Año Nuevo (Christmas/New Year) December/January. Christmas itself is a religious and low-key affair by Peruvian standards, but New Year celebrations in Cusco are famous across the country. The beautiful city backdrop, illuminated by multiple fireworks, attracts revelers from far and wide.
Carnaval February/March. This occurs in the days leading up to Lent. This event is celebrated to some extent in almost every Latin American town or city, but in this region, the big party is in Cusco. Cusco festivities, against the delightful city backdrop, and framed by mountains, are quite photogenic.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) March/April. Again, this is not specific to the Machu Picchu region, but is celebrated across Latin America during the week leading up to Easter. If Easter falls at the beginning of April or before, this celebration is in March. Cusco's special celebrations include, on the Monday of Holy Week, the festival of Señor de Los Temblores. These particular celebrations remember the earthquake of 1650 which damaged Cusco, with a 'Lord of the Earthquakes' effigy carried through the city.
Fall (April through May)
Autumn sees Machu Picchu through from the end of the wet weather in March through to the start of high season in June, with progressively drier and sunnier weather, and the return of key tourist services such as the trains from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.
Improved weather means the increased popularity of one of Machu Picchu area's incredible hikes, and yet this is also a good time for white water rafting on certain regional rivers. Lingering rainy weather will also mean having a few indoors activities, such as exploring Cusco's fascinating history and culture, on the agenda too. See here for how to best spend 24 hours in Cusco and here for some of the best day trips from Cusco.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) March/April. Again, this is not specific to the Machu Picchu region, but is celebrated across Latin America during the week leading up to Easter. If Easter falls after the beginning of April, this celebration is in April. Cusco's special celebrations include, on the Monday of Holy Week, the festival of Señor de Los Temblores. These particular celebrations remember the earthquake of 1650 which damaged Cusco, with a 'Lord of the Earthquakes' effigy carried through the city.
Señor de Choquechilca May. In Ollantaytambo, from where many travelers catch the train to Aguas Calientes to arrive at Machu Picchu, the most important festival occurs in late May, remembering the moment when a wooden cross appeared next to the town's Inca Bridge. Locally, this event was considered a miracle and is celebrated accordingly, with lots of music and dancing, plus processions.
More Helpful Information
For more specific information for what each month of the year has in store at Machu Picchu, please see our month-by-month guides to Machu Picchu, starting with Machu Picchu in January.
For an overview of everything you need to know about visiting the Machu Picchu ruins, please see this Ultimate Guide to Machu Picchu.