March in the Sacred Valley is still classed as the rainy season, and for good reason: after February, and alongside January, it is the wettest time of year hereabouts. But the dry days are coming through more and more along the Inca Trail as March progresses. Temperatures stretch between highs of 65° F (18° C) and lows of 42° F (6° C). While the sun is starting to show more and more, Machu Picchu is still regularly covered by clouds. This can on occasion make for better, more mysterious-looking photos. Pack for hot, wet, and cold weather—all are possible this month, and out on the trail you will probably feel all three.
Conditions on the trail are muddy after January and February's heavy rains, but also remember that the trail has just had its month of annual maintenance. This means bridges and steps will have been repaired if they were faulty or had become eroded so in some senses, you are hiking the trail when it is in tip-top condition this month. Landslides still remain a threat.
Crowds & Costs
Those who have been in the Sacred Valley in February will note the dramatic rise in tourists on the Inca Trail and at Machu Picchu and surrounds this month: to levels not seen since the previous October. The reason why is partly the improvement in the weather, with the dry season just around the corner—and partly the arrival of one of Peru's biggest celebrations, Semana Santa, or Holy Week.
This week-long festival, taking place in March or April the week before Easter, is holiday season for many Peruvians and South Americans. So whilst the early part of March is still a good time to find deals on hotels and tours, the later part of the month, should it coincide with Semana Santa, sees places put prices up to levels as high (or higher) than the main high season.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Where to Go
The Inca Trail is back on the agenda for Sacred Valley visitors this month after its annual month-long closure in February.
If Semana Santa falls during March, it's well worth reserving some time for visits to some of the towns and villages in the Sacred Valley to check out the pageantry. Cusco has particularly good festivities, but so do other towns hereabouts such as Ollantaytambo.
What to Do
It continues not to be the best season for hiking, although the Inca Trail is open again this month. Be careful on the more vertiginous trails such as the path up to Wayna Picchu, which will be very slippery. Also, refrain from clambering on rocks which may be slippery after rain.
That said, bear in mind that Machu Picchu, despite its highland setting, is surrounded by jungle: mostly cloud forest. Some of the activities in the vicinity—such as the Inca Jungle Trek, which involves cycling, zip-lining, and rafting as a 4-day adventure tour build-up to Machu Picchu—are best at this wet time of year. Shoulder season like March, with high water levels but with roads once again passable, is great for doing the Inca Jungle Trek.
Lovers of the region's flora will relish March, with everything along the Inca Trail possessing a luxuriant green look after the rains. March is the last month (until October) for spotting the Inca Trail's vast number of orchid species in their prime.
Significant rainfall has rivers at very high levels, which can make it a great time to try rafting. Going on the water at this time in the jungle also means you are closer to canopy wildlife such as monkeys. Many rivers around Machu Picchu have Class IV rapids this month. And wildlife enthusiasts will also have an enjoyable time observing the flourishing plants and flowers in the region, which are approaching their best after a season of rain.
If you wish to travel by train from Cusco to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes train station) this month, services from Cusco's Poroy train station are still not operating: you will be taken by bus for the Cusco-Ollantaytambo leg and continue by train to Aguas Calientes from there. Remember that landslides can be a risk on the railways at this time of year, too.
The main event in the Sacred Valley this month, should Easter fall in March or at the beginning of April, is Semana Santa, a "Holy Week" filled with festivities for the seven days leading up to Easter Sunday or Easter Monday. Cusco's 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.