Located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Machu Picchu is not only one of the wonders of the world, but also a testament to the ingenuity and talents of the Incas who created it. Occupied for only about 100 years, Machu Picchu is now thought to have been the palace and estate of the Inca Emperor, and consists of a collection of buildings, temples, and terraces. You can still feel the energy of the Incas when you walk the terraces, enter the temples, and run your hand over the stonework of Machu Picchu, the Old Mountain.
Enigmatic and stunning, this archaeological wonder is the destination for thousands of travelers every year, and to get the most out of your visit, it pays to keep the Machu Picchu climate and weather in mind when planning your trip.
Machu Picchu is located in a tropical cloud forest and towers over the surrounding Urubamba Valley. While you might think, from looking at a map, that the temperature in Machu Picchu could be uncomfortably hot at times, this is not the case at all. The temperature in Machu Picchu tends to remain in a narrow and very comfortable band between about 50 °F (10 °C) and 80 °F (27 °C), with a daily average temperature range of between 54ºF (12ºC) and 75ºF (24ºC), so at no time will visitors be subject to extreme temperatures.
Like many subtropical regions, Machu Picchu has two seasons; the dry season and the rainy season, and these will influence when you may want to take your tour of the ruins. You can, however, find yourself surrounded by mist or fog at any season of the year, and rain is present throughout the year, even in the dry season months. Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable, but this simply adds to the fascination of the region.
The dry season at Machu Picchu runs from May through September. As the name implies, there is little precipitation during this period and although it is actually cooler than the wet season, it is considered to be Machu Picchu’s “Summer”. High temperatures at this time will be in the upper 60s °F (19 °C) and lower 70s °F (22 °C) to lows in the 50s °F (11 °C). During this time little or no rain will fall.
Many consider the dry season the best time to visit Machu Picchu as the pleasant temperatures make sightseeing a real joy. The months of June, July and August have the best weather but are also considered to be the peak or high season tourist-wise, when crowds and queues are at their largest.
The rainy season begins in October and usually ends in April. The rains do not really become drenching until January, however, so timing an ‘off-season’ trip during the wet season can provide you with just as rewarding a visit as one during the dry season as you will not have to deal with the crowds that are present during the dry season, and many of the regions beautiful orchids come into bloom.
Temperatures are higher than in dry season too, reaching the 80s °F (27 °C) with nothing lower than about 59 °F (15 °C). Travelers should however note that some of the roads and trekking routes (including the Inca Trail) to Machu Picchu are closed in February, when the rains are at their heaviest.
Perhaps one of the best times to visit Machu Picchu is the shoulder season between April and May as the rainy season comes to end. This is when the mountains are a beautiful verdant green and the crowds aren’t as large as the busiest dry season months. Similarly, the months of September and October are also a great time to visit to avoid the crowds. October in particular is a great month to witness some orchid species as they start to bloom.
Machu Picchu is open daily from 6am to 5:30pm (with last entrance at 4.30pm), so that begs the question when is the best time of day to visit?
If you want to do a hike to either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain your decision is made for you as you are restricted when you can go. You will have to get there early!
If you wish to climb Huayna Picchu, there are three ticket time slots available:
Similarly, if you wish to climb Machu Picchu mountain instead, there are also three ticket time slots available:
However for those just wishing to visit Machu Picchu (and not do a hike) travelers have more of a choice. Tickets have times slots with hourly entry times between 6am and 2pm, which officially allow you to stay for 4 hours from your time of entry (but it is unlikely you will be made to leave if you stay longer). If this is the case for you, then when is best?
If avoiding crowds is most important for your trip, then early morning or late afternoon is the best time to visit as the logistics of visiting Machu Picchu by train from Cusco and the Sacred Valley make morning tours the easiest option for the majority. The citadel is at its busiest between 11am and 3pm, and by 4pm the site becomes very much quieter. At this time you may even get a photo without someone else in the frame if you are lucky and may find the golden glow of the late afternoon just as magical as the soft light of sunrise.
Despite this, many people want to see the sunrise at the citadel, and indeed many of the trekking routes to Machu Picchu time their arrival through the aptly named Sun Gate in time for the spectacle. For everyone else, you would need to make sure you visit during the dry season (sunrise happens before the main site entrance even opens during the rainy season), and even then be warned it can be hit or miss what the weather will be like for dawn, with morning mists and clouds often obscuring the first rays of light.
In the dry season, to see sunrise you would need to be at the ruins at 6am sharp. This would involve staying overnight in Aguas Calientes and either being on one the first bus departing at 5.30am – which could mean queuing at 4.00am, and making sure you bought your bus ticket a day or more in advance – or hiking for 1½ hours up the steep (and narrow in parts) stone steps from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, which is not for the faint-hearted and can be precarious in the dark as you would need to set off at 4.30am.
In our opinion, a big part of the beauty of visiting Machu Picchu is the way the sunlight, shadows, mist and clouds look throughout the day as a stunning backdrop to the majesty of the Inca ruins. If you have the time, try to visit the site over two days, arriving in the afternoon on the first day and early in the morning on the second day, giving you the chance to visit in both the morning and afternoon and explore the site at a more leisurely pace without the crowds.
Travelers wishing to take advantage of the dry season might want to plan their trip around the Inca Festival of the Sun, Inti Raymi. Perhaps the most famous of all Peruvian festivals, Init Raymi is held in Cusco in June, and it would be hard to ever forget the colors, sounds, displays, and people who take part in this ancient festival that calls upon the sun to return after the long ‘winter’ to give his blessing of light and warmth to the earth. A re-enactment of the ceremony that Inca priests performed for this important rite brings the meaning of this day into focus. Accommodation does tend to book up well in advance around this festival so be sure to plan ahead.
The Lord of the Earthquakes Festival is held before Easter, in March or April. This festival, which features processions to commemorate the 1650 earthquake, is held in Cusco. Dancers, floats, music, and colorful crowds make this an exciting time to be visiting Machu Picchu.
July 28 sees all of Peru celebrating Independence Day, and the festivities in the area surrounding Machu Picchu include dancing, parades, marching bands, fireworks, and plenty of delicious food.
Visitors heading to Machu Picchu in December can take advantage of the huge Santuranticuy Artisan Crafts Fair held in Cusco just before Christmas where you’ll find unique and beautiful gift items, perfect for Christmas presents or simply as a souvenir of your visit.
There really is no bad time to visit a new Wonder of the World like Machu Picchu, but hopefully with the information above you will now be able to ascertain when the best time to visit Machu Picchu for you and your group is. If you have any questions or concerns about when to travel, our Peru destination specialists are ready to help.
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