What’s the best time to visit Machu Picchu? For clear skies, sunny weather, and a chance to take photos of Machu Picchu like the ones you see in the travel magazines, the easy answer is June, July, or August. This is peak season for travel to Machu Picchu. Because of course, everyone has the same idea. But that’s not a drawback as long as you know what to expect.
Read on and discover tips for how to make your trip to Machu Picchu the best it can be.
Seasons and climate
If you are coming from the U.S. or Europe or Asia, remember that south of the equator, June, July, and August are officially winter. But in countries like Peru that are located in the tropics, the categories of “summer” and “winter” take different forms. In the mountains of Peru, the more appropriate distinction is that between the dry season (May to October) and the rainy season (December to March).
Between May and June, the rainy season in Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Andes surrenders its last drops and the dry season takes over. During the day, you can expect nearly constant sunny weather with temperatures around 73-77°F (23-25°C) and sometimes warmer. At night, the temperature drops drastically due of the lack of cloud cover. The higher you are in elevation, the colder it gets. Expect nighttime temperatures around 50-54°F (10-12°C) at Machu Picchu and 32-36°F (0-2°C) in Cusco.
What to expect at Machu Picchu
During the peak season months, the number of visitors to Machu Picchu skyrockets. In 2017, new regulations were introduced to better control the flow of visitors and ensure a better experience for everyone.
What do these new regulations mean for your visit to Machu Picchu? You are required to go with a guide, choose from one of 3 walking circuits, and buy tickets for one of 2 time slots:
- morning slot – 6:00 am to 12:00 noon
- afternoon slot – 12:00 noon to 5:30 pm
- OR buy tickets for both slots and spend a full day at the ruins.
Contact Incas Expert to discuss which option is best for you.
Plan ahead for train tickets, hotels, and extras
On the one hand, tickets to Machu Picchu rarely sell out even in the high season. But on the other hand, trek permits, trains, and hotels can become very limited. Unless your schedule is very flexible, it’s best to book everything as soon as possible.
Last year for example, Inca Trail permits for June and July sold out within weeks after they went on sale in October. Likewise, tickets to hike Huayna Picchu (an extra trek within the ruins) always sell out for peak season dates. Train tickets to and from Machu Picchu also become very limited. Finally, keep in mind that hotel availability becomes limited and special rates can apply if your travel dates coincide with Peruvian holidays including July 28 and 29 (Peru’s Independence celebrations).
Tips for travel peak season travel to Cusco
In general, travelers will spend a minimum of 1 or 2 nights in Cusco as part of a trip to Machu Picchu. The city experiences an extended high season beginning in May and culminating with the fiestas patrias (independence celebrations) at the end of July.
See the Cusco Cultural Calendar for descriptions and dates of major events throughout the year.
Processions of music and dance and a general festive atmosphere make this a magical time to visit Cusco and experience the rich cultural traditions of its people. Be sure to visit the fresh food markets to see the bounty of fruits that are in season. Do expect crowds at major tourist sites both in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
For the peak season in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, hotel availability becomes limited. If you have a specific hotel in mind, be sure to book weeks or months ahead of your trip. Also keep in mind that some hotels charge special rates for holiday bookings including July 28 and 29.
What to pack
A trip to Machu Picchu, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and the region’s major sights involves warm days, very cold nights, and plenty of walking on cobblestoned streets or uneven terrain. You might be thinking you need to pack a lot of clothing, but the simple secret is to plan to dress for comfort and wear layers that you can add or remove as needed throughout the day.
Sample packing list
- Jeans, trousers, or leggings for sun protection and comfort in case the day turns cloudy or cold
- Light long sleeve shirts for sun protection with short sleeve shirt.
- Warm fleece and jacket with wind protection.
- Shoes with comfortable soles. Heels are impractical.
- Thermal underwear for evenings – shirt and long pants
- Warm hat, gloves and scarf – bring your own from home or plan to buy in Peru. You will see (and be tempted by) alpaca and llama wool hats, gloves and scarves on sale at tourist markets all over Peru.
All in all, traveling to Peru during the peak season has its perks and perils. On the plus side, you can expect ideal weather for sightseeing and a calendar full of cultural events in Cusco. However, popular attractions will be crowded and availability for some tickets and hotels will be limited if you’ve waited until the last minute to plan your trip. By planning ahead and managing expectations, you can avoid the hurdles and enjoy a wonderful trip to Peru.
Questions about travel to Machu Picchu in the high season? Ask away in the comments section below.