Located just south of the equator, January tends to be the warmest and wettest month in Peru. There are three distinct climate zones:
The desert coastal strip: This area offers pleasantly warm weather during summer months and very little rain. This region includes Mancora, Trujillo, Lima, Paracas, and Arequipa. Lima averages highs of 79°F (26°C) and lows of 66°F (19°C) and January brings dry, sunny weather and optimal swimming conditions for taking advantage of the Pacific Ocean waves. South of Lima, you'll experience slightly cooler temperatures than the north (closer to the equator).
The Andean zone or highlands: This area is wetter in January and temperatures range depending on your altitude. This region includes Huaraz, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and Lake Titicaca. If visiting the Cusco region, you’ll experience highs around 66°F (19°C) and lows around 45°F (7°C). with periods of light to heavy rains. However, 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, as pictured above.
- The large eastern area covered by the Amazon rainforest: This region is warm and humid year-round, with more rain this time of year. This region includes Iquitos, Tarapoto, Manu, and Puerto Maldonado. Iquitos tends to see highs around 88° F (31°C) and lows around 72° F (22°C). The tropical rains usually occur in the afternoon in the form of a downpour or thunderstorm.
Crowds & Costs
Since January tends to be one of the wettest months to visit Machu Picchu and the Amazon region, travel during this time does offer the advantage of fewer visitors, greener scenery, and typically lower rates for flights and hotels. In general, the mountains and canyons are somewhat avoided by trekkers this time of year, so it is a good month to come if you're seeking solitude.
January, however, is one of the busiest and most expensive months along the coast. This is also the best time to find a lively atmosphere, full-service beach facilities, and outdoor festivals.
Where to Go
Sun-seekers will find this is a great month to visit the Peruvian coast. The most popular beaches are south of Lima; Punta Hermosa, Asia, Pulpos, Punta Negra, San Bartolo, and El Silencio. Further south is the stunning Paracas National Reserve with sand dunes, untouched beaches, and diverse fauna. On the northern coast, consider local-favorite hideaways like Máncora, with pristine beaches and a relaxed atmosphere. Meanwhile, nearby Las Pocitas is less crowded and offers the area's nicest hotels and resorts.
Rain or no rain, most visitors to Peru will head to the Sacred Valley and the ancient town of Cusco. Despite wetter conditions, Machu Picchu remains open in January (it is closed in February), though it will be significantly more challenging for those wishing to trek. (Hint: Inca Trail permits go on sale in January and popular months sell out quickly.) A great alternative is to take one of several day-trips to explore ruins within the Sacred Valley.
Off the beaten path, 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. For more on this region, check out this article.
In the Amazon Basin, there is plenty to see and do, with virtually no crowds, if you don't mind the rain. The area possesses the globe’s highest levels of biodiversity and is one of the wildest places on earth with coiling rivers, cloud forests, indigenous communities, and wildlife. For instance, you can combine a trip to the jungle with the Inca Trail on this 12-day tour.
What to Do
Beaches & watersports: Summer season is a great time to flock to the beaches for swimming and lazing on the sand with a drink. The sport of surfing is growing in Peru, and many coastal towns north of Lima like Cabo Blanco (home of the "Peruvian pipe") offer great surf conditions. Kiteboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, diving, and whale- and dolphin-watching are popular as well.
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.
Sightseeing in Lima: Despite the fact that it hardly ever rains here, 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's 50 Best Restaurants list), nightlife, and great shopping. Make sure to spend an evening watching the sunset overlooking the bluffs at Miraflores.
Trekking: There are numerous trekking opportunities all over Peru though you can expect rain if you're in the Andes or Amazon regions. This is your last chance to hit the Inca Trail before it closes during the month of February—here's a 5-day itinerary to try. Despite getting a little wet, you'll experience fewer crowds and lush flora and fauna. For shorter hikes, here's a list of Top Day Hikes in the Sacred Valley.
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.
Dig into 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 dishes. Potato dishes are ubiquitous, having been cultivated in the Andes for 10,000 years. There are a dizzying number of types on offer (great with spicy cheese sauce). Also, make sure to try the picarones, or Peruvian donuts.
Peru is known for its many festivals, with literally thousands of them held all over the country every year. A few notable events in January include:
New Year’s Day: This national holiday is celebrated throughout the country. It is particularly big in Huancayo, where the fiesta continues until Epiphany (January 6). In this central highlands town, revelers wear costumes with black masks to commemorate slave forefathers who worked the area mines.
The Festival de Marinera: Taking place in Trujillo, a coastal city in northern Peru, this month-long festival features dance competitions (including the marinera, an elegant couple's dance making use of handkerchiefs), parades, and even exhibitions of the Peruvian Paso, a breed of horse common in this region.
Anniversary of the Foundation of Lima: In January, Peru's capital hosts various cultural activities by the Spanish foundation of Lima.
Full Moon: Look for these all-night beach parties in coastal towns like Máncora, especially during summer months.