The Lost City of the Incas, aka Machu Picchu, draws some 1.2 million visitors yearly to its incredible stone vestiges left behind on a remote mountain.
With visitor numbers still down on those registered pre-pandemic, now remains a brilliant time to head to the former Inca citadel located in the south of Peru.
However, weather concerns can affect your experience, which is why this article aims to help you identify the best time to visit Machu Picchu.
If I’m being honest, there’s a reason why the Peruvian Highlands are so lush and green – which is why there’s always a risk that it’s going to rain when you’re hiking to or just visiting this incredible archeological site.
But you shouldn’t let that put you! Not only does the city look much more atmospheric with a bit of cloud cover, but the weather can change quickly, meaning you’re still very likely to get a glimpse of it from the famed photography location (see the picture below).
Here are my general recommendations for the weather conditions you need to consider when planning a trip to Machu Picchu.
- January: This is the peak of the rainy season in Peru. Trails to Machu Picchu are wet, the air is humid and the chance of more rain is high, making it challenging to hike the Inca trail and the other routes to Machu Picchu. If you don’t mind hiking in the rain – and missing out on the views – then be our guest; alternatively, opt for the train from Ollantaytambo or Cusco to Aguas Calientes, instead.
- February: This is the wettest month of all and, as a result, the Inca trail is closed due to unsafe weather conditions and for maintenance along the path. This is definitely not the best time to visit Machu Picchu, but if you must, alternative treks, such as the Salkantay, are still open.
- March: As precipitation levels lower and the Inca trail is reopened after the maintenance break, March can be a great choice for visiting Machu Picchu – although you can still expect to get a little wet during hikes. Bring a waterproof outer shell and plenty of layers to respond to the unpredictable temperatures and weather conditions you’re likely to face.
- April: As the rainy season draws to a close, Machu Picchu remains quiet before the rush of tourists arrives later in the year. This makes April the best month to visit Machu Picchu, with the weather mostly dry but with the occasional light showers.
- May and June: As the dry season arrives, so do the visitors! Events such as Inti Raymi, the traditional ceremony of the Inca Empire, fall in June and add to the melee. Though it’s still not yet high season, if you visit Machu Picchu in May or June, you should expect large crowds at the archeological site, especially in the morning. That said, good weather makes these months a great time for hiking the Inca trail.
- July and August: The peak of the dry season is also the high season for visitors to Machu Picchu. Expect to queue to get on the bus from Aguas Calientes up to the site and through the main gate at Machu Picchu, as well as take turns at the best photo spots. If you have no other option than visiting Machu Picchu during the high season then we suggest either arriving at the site as early as possible or in the afternoon.
- September: The dry season is coming to an end, making this the tail end of the high season for visitors, although numbers are lower than in the preceding two months.
- October and November: Alongside April, October and November are the best months to visit Machu Picchu. Even though the wet season is near, you can expect more sunny days than rainy ones. October is usually busier than November due to the fact that there’s less rain and so you’ll have a better chance of avoiding downpours.
- December: As the average rainfall picks up, the number of visitors drops to almost half that of the previous few months. Expect dense fog in the early mornings and showers in the afternoon, making the weather conditions less than ideal. However, there is still the possibility of clear skies during breaks in the rain.
What you need to know about visiting Machu Picchu
While the weather is a crucial factor in influencing when you should visit Machu Picchu, you should also consider the following:
- Since its reopening after the Covid-19 lockdowns, the Peruvian government has been limiting the number of visitors to Machu Picchu. Compared with pre-pandemic visitor numbers of 5,940 per day, only 5,044 people are now allowed to enter the site. As a result, it’s often necessary to purchase your Machu Picchu ticket months – sometimes up to nine – in advance. You can check ticket availability on Machu Picchu’s official website.
- Each ticket comes with a one-hour time window of entrance; 6 to 7 am is the earliest and 2 to 3 pm is the latest. You may not enter outside of your ticket’s entrance time. Arriving late means your ticket is forfeited.
- Once purchased, tickets to Machu Picchu cannot be rescheduled or refunded.
- Accommodation rates during the peak season are significantly higher than in the low season. Read our guide to the best accommodation in Cusco for some ideas of where to stay.
- Curious about the cost of visiting? Read our guide to how much it costs to go to Machu Picchu.
Which seasons offer the best weather conditions for Machu Picchu?
Weather conditions can make or break your experience of visiting Machu Picchu. For that iconic view of Machu Picchu with the towering Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains above and clear blue skies as a backdrop, visiting on sunny days is a must.
Heavy mist in the morning or afternoon can be as bad as heavy downpours, as both cause low visibility. As a result, you can forget the view: even seeing ten metres ahead can be a challenge.
But to understand when are the best weather conditions for Machu Picchu, you must first understand the weather in Peru. While Lima may see only sunny days for weeks, Aguas Calientes – the closest town to Machu Picchu – may be inundated with rain. The weather varies considerably across Peru because of the terrain and ecosystems around this vast country and the impact of both the rainy and the dry seasons.
Machu Picchu weather by season
- December to March (rainy season)
At the Inca site, the average temperature ranges between 12 and 24°C (54-75°F). You can expect showers mostly in the afternoon. Though there is no certainty which months will experience the heaviest downpours, February has the highest precipitation level on average.
Due to safety reasons and for maintenance, the Inca trail is closed during February, while other treks (such as the Salkantay and the Lares) are at their wettest during this month. Trails in Machu Picchu itself can be dangerous during the rainy season, especially those leading up to Huayna Picchu Mountain.
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- May to September (dry season)
The average temperature ranges between 17 and 19°C (62-66°F), making these the coldest months at Machu Picchu. Unlike most tropical areas, Peru and, specifically, Machu Picchu is colder during the dry season, but you’re less likely to experience an overcast day.
As the precipitation of the rainy season has turned the landscapes lush green, the dry season offers the best views and the most photogenic conditions.
It is, for this reason, the peak season for tourism falls during July and August, which also coincides with summer vacations in the northern hemisphere.
- April, October, and November (shoulder season)
The rainy season ends in April, although rain showers are still likely during this month. It’s better to visit during the last month of dry weather (October) before the rainy season starts.
However, it’s worth remembering that even though the shoulder seasons are supposed to be dry, the weather remains a little unpredictable, with occasional downpours (but more sunshine!).
As a result, the best time of year to visit Machu Picchu according to the weather and the possibility of clear views of the archeological site is from June to July.
However, this settled, dry weather attracts the most crowds. Trekking to Machu Picchu – and most parts of the Andes mountains generally – is extremely popular during these months.
To learn more about the weather in Peru and when to visit, read our article about the best time to visit Peru.
Which months are better for avoiding crowds at Machu Picchu?
Though it’s open every day, Machu Picchu’s busyness should also influence when you choose to visit. Large crowds mean more queueing time at the entrance and more effort to get unobstructed views of the site itself.
The low season – from December to March – means fewer crowds but possibly very wet weather conditions. That said, there may be one sunny day between weeks of rainy days, just like there may be a little rain during the dry season.
But it’s a big gamble since you cannot reschedule or refund your Machu Picchu tickets.
Here are the rough estimations of average daily visitors based on the number of tickets sold in 2018, before the pandemic hit. August received the most visitors, with more than 4,800, and December was the least, with 1,900.
As you can see, even during low season, Machu Picchu still attracts many people. This should come as no surprise, considering it’s one of the things you must see in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Daily average Machu Picchu tickets sold in 2018
- January ± 2,800 visitors per day
- February ± 2,400 visitors per day
- March ± 2,800 visitors per day
- April ± 3,200 visitors per day
- May ± 3,700 visitors per day
- June ± 3,600 visitors per day
- July ± 4,500 visitors per day
- August ± 4,800 visitors per day
- September ± 4,200 visitors per day
- October ± 4,000 visitors per day
- November ± 3,200 visitors per day
- December ± 1,900 visitors per day
So, when is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?
Considering weather conditions and crowds, the shoulder season is the ideal time for exploring the Inca citadel. The months of April, October, and November provide the opportunity to avoid the worst of the weather and the majority of other tourists.
During these shoulder months, you’ll have quieter treks, as crowds are a fraction of what they are in high season. Keep in mind that even on sunny days, you can expect cold nights where the temperatures may drop below freezing.
The best time of the year to visit is one thing, but choosing the best time of day is another. Among the nine available time slots, five are in the morning. Which of those is the one to choose?
The answer depends on how you plan on arriving: on a train from Ollantaytambo or Cusco or on foot through the hiking trails. Those interested in the former should check our recommendations about the best hotels in the Sacred Valley and, if you’re a fan of the ultimate comfort, the best luxury hotels across Peru.
If you’re taking the train to Machu Picchu
Even in low season, you’ll still be among hundreds (or even thousands) of people visiting the Inca citadel. So there may still be long lines, especially when waiting for the bus to and from the site. The most popular time is early morning, especially between 8 to 11 am.
So, if you want to avoid the busiest time, opt to go in the afternoon (12 to 1 pm, 1 to 2 pm, or 2 to 3 pm time slots).
Alternatively, you can also try to be the first one to arrive before the gate opens for the first time slot (6 to 7 am). Beat the crowds by getting on the earliest bus to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes; this departs at 5:30 am from Avenida Hermanos Ayar, right by the river.
Going that early in the morning means spending at least one night in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu pueblo) itself.
I booked my bus ticket weeks before my visit to secure my seat on that first bus. I noticed those who purchased theirs on-site had to wait for the following bus, even if they’d probably aimed for the first bus. Therefore, it’s best to book your bus tickets in advance (you can do it here).
Another way to ensure you’ll be the first in line when the gates to Machu Picchu open is to hike from Aguas Calientes instead of taking the bus. The catch is that you will need to start early, as the hike may take around one to two hours, depending on your fitness level – and it’s all uphill.
Insider tip: You can also use these tips during the busiest months to minimize the queues – although be aware that many visitors will try to do the same. Even if you ride the earliest bus, those who hike from Aguas Calientes may get there before you.
For those hiking the Inca trail
The most adventurous trek is the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu. Not only is it an excellent challenge, but allows you to relive the pilgrimages undertaken by the Inca themselves.
While the Inca built many trails throughout the Peruvian Andes, the route to Machu Picchu is a part of the Qhapaq Ñan (“Royal Road”) used exclusively by Inca royalty and pilgrims.
Regardless of when you trek, the end of this four-day hike is the arrival at the Sun Gate in Machu Picchu, with most reaching here at 6am to see the sunrise. If you’re a slower hiker, you may struggle to do this, however.
If you’re still keen to avoid large crowds, visiting during low or shoulder season will give you a better chance of achieving this.
Much like your ticket to Machu Picchu, your Inca trail permits must be purchased months in advance. I highly recommend trekking with the locally-owned company Alpaca Expeditions. They were brilliant when I visited Machu Picchu and they also work really hard to support indigenous communities across Cusco.