December marks the start of summer and the wet season in Peru's interior, though weather patterns depend on where you are traveling. There are three distinct climate zones:
The desert strip: Peru's coast in December is sunny, dry, and warm—noticeably more so than previous months. This region includes Mancora, Trujillo, Lima, Paracas, and Arequipa. Lima is pleasant in December and averages highs of 75° F (24° C) and lows of 64° F (18° C). Keep in mind that north of Lima is warmer as you get closer to the equator.
The Andean or highland zone: You will likely have an increase in rainfall this month, including places like Huaraz, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and Lake Titicaca. If visiting the Cusco region, you’ll experience highs around 68° F (20° C) and lows around 45° F (7° C).
- The large eastern area covered by the Amazon rainforest: This region, including Iquitos, Tarapoto, Manu, and Puerto Maldonado, is warm and humid weather throughout the year with more rain beginning in December marking the start of "wet season". Iquitos tends to see highs around 88° F (31° C) and lows around 72° F (22° C).
Crowds & Costs
Due to the onset of increasing rain throughout Peru's interior and jungle regions, tourism starts to slow down, though it's still more active in December rather than January thanks to the holiday season. The clouds and moisture during this time of year should not deter you from visiting—the flora and fauna will be abundant and there are always breaks in the showers. This is a festive time to trek and you can take advantage of low season pricing for hotels and tours.
December, however, is one of the busiest (and most expensive) months along the coast where locals tend to flock. This is also the best time to find a lively atmosphere, full-service beach facilities, and plenty of fun outdoor festivals.
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Where to Go
For sun-seekers, this is a great month to visit the Peruvian coast near Lima. Further south is the stunning Paracas National Reserve with sand dunes, untouched beaches, and diverse fauna. For the northern coast, younger types should consider locals-only hideaways like Máncora, with pristine beaches and surf vibes. Meanwhile, nearby Las Pocitas is less crowded and offers the area's nicest hotels and resorts.
Rain or no rain, your first visit to the Sacred Valley in Peru's Andean highlands is a must, along with the nearby town of Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, which forms the heart of the Inca Empire. The Inca Trail is the only way to hike directly into the park through the Sun Gate. (Hint: Inca Trail permits go on sale in January and popular months sell out quickly.)
A hidden gem, Northern Peru is an area that is often overlooked by tourists. Here you can find beautiful landscapes with countless bird species, pre-Incan archaeology including the adobe city of Chan Chan, and abundant nature in the cloud forest with ample opportunities for treks, hiking and exploring lakes and waterfalls. Here's a 10-day itinerary in the northern Peruvian Andes, Huaraz & Cordillera Huayhuash Trekking.
What to Do
Hit the Beaches: Because the holidays fall during the start of summer in Peru, people tend to flock to the beaches this time of year. The most popular stretches of sand are south of Lima; Punta Hermosa, Asia, Pulpos, Punta Negra, San Bartolo, and El Silencio. These beach towns tend to stay safe and some hot spots like Asia can even get quite trendy.
Surfing and watersports: The sport of surfing is growing in Peru, and many beach towns north of Lima like Cabo Blanco (home of the "Peruvian pipe"), Chicama, and Máncora offer great surf conditions and a relaxed vibe with consistent sunshine. Kiteboarding, diving, and whale- and dolphin-watching are popular as well. This is the best time of year for waves when Peru attracts more northerly swells that bring along warmer water.
Wildlife viewing on the Ballestas Islands: Accessible from the beach town of Paracas (near Pisco) by tour boat, these islands, nicknamed ‘the Galapagos Islands of Peru', are home to rare birds like pelicans, penguins, Peruvian boobies, and Inca terns. It’s also common to spot sea lions, turtles, dolphins, and whales in the park. Due to its ideal location on the Pacific coast, day trips can be made while you explore the sand dunes of Huacachina. Lake Titicaca to the south, on Bolivia's border, also offers great aquatic wildlife viewing.
Trekking in the highlands: Peru's Andean range has long attracted lovers of the great outdoors, and trekking is by far the most popular activity. There are numerous multi-day opportunities to choose from other than Machu Picchu; check out a list of the Best 10 Treks in Peru. There's also plenty of opportunities for day hikes with options that include visits to waterfalls, caves, and hot springs.
History & Inca ruins: Within the Sacred Valley, you’ll find a host of ruins like Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman, and Pisac near the colonial city of Cusco. While these smaller sites are more spread out than Machu Picchu, you’ll have your fill of Spanish colonial villages, handicraft markets, and Incan history if you manage to visit them all.
Sightseeing in Lima: Despite the fact that it hardly ever rains in Lima, this layover city often gets overlooked for Cusco. But Peru's capital is rich in history and culture with beautiful architecture, cathedrals, interesting museums, a growing culinary scene (including #6 and #7 on The World 50 Best Restaurants List), nightlife, and great shopping. Make sure to spend an evening watching the sunset overlooking the bluffs at Miraflores.
Sample local cuisine: The guinea pig dish called "cuy" is Peru’s most authentic edible experience, often found in highland towns like Cusco and the Urubamba Valley. Also look for fresh ceviche, stir-fried beef, and creamy chicken. Potatoes have been cultivated in the Andes for 10,000 years and there are a dizzying number of types on offer (great with spicy cheese sauce). Also, make sure to try the picarones (Peruvian donuts).
Peru is known for its many festivals, with literally thousands of them held all over the country every year. Here are a few to look out for in the holiday month of December:
Fiesta de la Purísima Concepción: Held on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a national holiday celebrated with religious processions in honor of the Virgin Mary. This is a major religious feast day in Peru with masses and performances of native dances.
Santuranticuy: This festival, which means "sale of saints" is held in the city of Cusco each year on Christmas Eve, December 24th, and is essentially a massive outdoor marketplace set up to celebrate the holiday. The primary draw here are dolls, sculptures, and figurines used to decorate the Catholic nativity scenes found in many Peruvian homes during the Christmas season.
Christmas Day: This is a moment for families to come together and celebrate and the Peruvian Christmas is less secular and more religious especially in the Andean highlands. Depending on the region, Christmas dinner in the interior might include roasted turkey or suckling pig, while coastal areas often prepare fish dishes. For breakfast or dessert, Peruvians have Panetón—a traditional cake filled with dried fruits, usually served with Peruvian hot chocolate.
La Virgen del Carmen de Chincha: On December 27th, expect frenzied dancing and all-night music in the peñas (bars or clubs featuring live folkloric music) of El Carmen.
New Year's Eve: Like much of the world, Peru celebrates the end of the calendar year on December 31st. Peru's beaches become the hub of the biggest party scenes though you can find festivities in any city. One of the most distinct ceremonies is the 12 grapes tradition. When the clock strikes twelve, it is a custom to eat twelve grapes, one for each month to come, while making a secret wish (one wish per grape).