Even though Machu Picchu has a distinct dry and wet season, you have to expect rain year-round. Since the site sits on the border between the Amazon Rainforest and the mighty Andes Mountains, you know this place is going to be special in more ways than one.
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Machu Picchu can be a year-round destination if you aren’t afraid of a little rain. There aren’t any extremes as far as temperature goes, but the rainfall is what you need to take a closer look at when making your travel plans. If you believe rain will ruin a holiday, it is not a year-round place for you.
While it’s never too hot or too cold during the day, it will always be humid. And during the nights, it can get down to freezing in some months of the year. Precipitation comes in fast and hard, so even though the bouts of rain can be short, they’ll drench you down to your underpants in a matter of minutes if you aren’t wearing the right clothing.
And once you’re there, is it worth waking up in the middle of the night to get to Machu Picchu for sunrise? We voted no on that one, but we’ll guide you through our thought process so you can make your own decision.
Tip: Have you read our complete guide on visiting Machu Picchu? It includes everything from prices and hotels to getting the train and bus logistics right. We also explain how the one-way circuits work and which short mountain treks can be included in the combination ticket.
The seasons in Peru
When I talk about summer and winter in this article, I mean Peru’s summer and winter.
Peru is in the southern hemisphere, making the seasons all wonky for those of us coming from Europe and places like the US and Canada. Summer is in the winter (December through February) and winter is in the summer (June to August).
No matter when you visit Machu Picchu, you can go in expecting temperatures around 20°C (68°F) during the daytime.
The main thing you need to focus on is the rain.
Wet season in Machu Picchu
During the summer, temperatures can climb up to 26°C (79°F) during the day, but usually hover a bit lower, making a visit to Machu Picchu comfortable. Humidity is at its highest at 90%. At night, you’re looking at an average of 10°C (50°F).
Summer is also in the middle of the rainy season—the more frequent rains start in November and extend all the way through March. We visited in January and were lucky to get only one burst of rain during our wandering around Machu Picchu. That said, that little shower managed to get us completely wet, so don’t underestimate what you wear.
The rain comes mostly in the afternoons and usually is of the shorter variety, but there are no guarantees. You could end up going on that one day where it rains nonstop. There are an average of 15 rainy days per month in the summer.
You can expect less tourists and cheaper prices in hotels in the summer months, but also possible delays in transportation due to the changing weather and an overall more frustrating experience if you’re made out of sugar and hate getting wet.
If you’re planning on going on any of the longer treks, double check that they operate during your planned vacation. The Inca Trail, for example, is closed every February for maintenance.
Our top tips for visiting Machu Picchu: ☂️ Visit during April or May for the best weather and least crowds. ☀️ In order to get to Machu Picchu for sunrise at 6 am, you’ll need to line up at 4:30 am for the bus! 🚶♂️ If you’re visiting in peak season (June to August), book your tickets up to 6 months in advance, especially if you want to do a hike. 😉 Before choosing a time slot for your visit, understand how tickets and circuits work so you don’t end up disappointed (you can’t choose your circuit when getting a combination ticket!).
Dry season in Machu Picchu
The winter months of June, and especially July and August are the busiest months of the year at Machu Picchu, since they coincide with dry season at Machu Picchu and school holidays in many countries that tourists come from. By busy I mean the time when there are a lot less tickets than people interested in buying them, hence the need to secure them months ahead of time.
Like I mentioned above, temperatures don’t get too crazy at Machu Picchu no matter what time of year you visit. Case in point: The coldest month is July with an average temperature of 18°C (65°F). That said, you do need to expect freezing temps at night, which can be something to consider especially if you’re planning on going on overnight treks. I’m not saying they will, but it is not unheard of. Pack your long johns just in case! Most of the time you’re looking at temps around 10 to 15°C (50 to 60°F).
This being the edge of a rainforest, it still rains even in dry season, but your chances of a dry day are considerably higher. If you do get rain, it’ll probably be a short shower in the afternoon on one of the 3-5 days a month that it does rain (on average).
During the winter, you have to expect tickets sold out months in advance, the highest accommodation prices and the coldest nights in Machu Picchu. I do recommend reading below about how Machu Picchu tickets work so you get an idea of how the crowds can affect your trip (or not).
And remember to book your tickets months in advance, and I mean up to 6 months if you’re going on any of the hikes! See our complete guide to Machu Picchu for details on how, when and where to buy tickets.
Tip: It’s called winter, but you’re still at a high altitude and with clear skies: take and use SPF protection!
Shoulder season in Machu Picchu
Possibly the best months to visit Machu Picchu are in shoulder season, namely April and May. It’s right after the heaviest rain of summertime, making the flora lush and amazingly green, but also before the winter peak when everyone and their uncle are trying to check out the Inca city.
Temperatures are fine and the rainy days are fewer and further between.
The months of September and October also see less tourists, shorter lines and decent weather. The rain is on its way in, but is far from its maximum. You’ll get a slightly less green experience than if you visit during or after wet season.
Other things to consider: Where else are you going?
One thing to consider when planning a visit to Machu Picchu is where else are you going on your trip? For example, if you’re touring Paracas National Park and hopping on a boat tour of Islas Ballestas, know that Machu Picchu’s low season is the high season there.
If you want to beat the crowds at both destinations, choose a shoulder month like May or October. But if you want to see the most sea lions on Islas Ballestas, you’ll need to brave the droves of tourists at Machu Picchu, since they (the sea lions) come out in the highest numbers in the winter.
Then again, if you’re hoping for a chance to actually swim at any of Peru’s beaches, the summer is the only time you’ll be able to do that unless you are a local or come from Canada. The waters are f-f-freezing most of the year!
A basic overview of how Machu Picchu tickets work
I keep mentioning the crowds at Machu Picchu, but how crowded does it actually get? To understand this, you need to know how Machu Picchu tickets work.
There is a set capacity of visitors at Machu Picchu: a maximum of 2000 people a day can visit the famous city, with a few hundred more allowed in on the combination tickets (city + hike).
Tickets are bought in time slots where you have a set time when you need to enter, and you get a 4-hour time limit from that time to walk through the circuit of your choosing.
Circuits are one-way only, meaning there aren’t people jumping from one place to another like bees on flowers. The routes are roped off and the flow of tourists goes in one direction. There’s literally no turning back at Machu Picchu. So it‘s all very well organized and considering the size of the city, always feels spacious enough.
You can either buy a ticket solely to visit the city, and that’s when you get a 4-hour window to take all your photos, with entrance times from the morning all the way through to the afternoon.
Or you can choose to go up one of the surrounding mountains and buy a combination ticket. In that case, your time slot will always be in the morning, there are no afternoon hike tickets. You get an extra 2 hours for your whole visit, and the capacity to see the mountains is restricted to only a couple hundred a day.
Tickets to Machu Picchu are not sold on the spot and must be bought in advance on the official website. Or you can take a tour with a tour provider. Again, see our complete guide to visiting Machu Picchu if you want to know how to buy tickets and not become confused about all the options that are on sale.
What you need to remember is to get your tickets months ahead of your visit if you’re trip is in June to August. And even in low season, tickets usually sell out, just not that far in advance. It’s never really low season at Machu Picchu, it’s just sometimes better for those that travel last minute.
You should also be aware that when you buy a combination ticket, you are not able to choose your circuit at Machu Picchu and will end up on one of the shorter ones.
The best time of day to visit Machu Picchu
What all this means is that there is a steady influx of people coming into Machu Picchu throughout the day, and that during peak season, tickets will be sold out months in advance, especially for the limited-capacity mountain hikes.
It also means that around lunchtime, the people that came into Machu Picchu for the coveted sunrise will be leaving, but also that the people that came in on the 9 am train will be taking their place. And by late afternoon, everyone from earlier in the day will be gone completely. That’s your chance for some peace and quiet if that’s what you’re after.
In summary, the only time you could feel like Machu Picchu is emptier is either at 6 am or in the late afternoon, but again, since the mountain hikes are only sold at morning time slots, an afternoon visit might not be doable for your particular trip.
Unless you buy two time slots—one for the morning and one for the afternoon—and get the best of both worlds. That’s what I would do.
Mornings are when you’ll get the most fog or clouds, if any, and afternoons are the favorite time of day for rain showers. Consider this when choosing your time slot if you’re visiting in the wet season.
Tip: When choosing the day of your visit, know that locals have free entry on Sundays. The site and Machu Picchu Pueblo buses and restaurants will be busier on this day.
Sunrise at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu’s daily hours of operation are 6 am–5:30 pm. The first time slots available for visiting Machu Picchu are at 6 am, and that time is very popular for the chance to see the sun rise behind the ancient city.
Huge numbers of tourists hope to get tickets for this particular time, but if you’re on the first buses up the mountain, you will be one of the lucky few dozens that get Machu Picchu all to themselves (for about 10 minutes before the next buses get there).
It’s also the “most exciting” time since you need to take a bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu from Machu Picchu Pueblo (our guide to Machu Picchu covers all the logistics of the trains and buses needed to get there), but bus tickets are not time stamped and work on a first come first serve basis.
To be the first one in the ancient city you have to wake up in the middle of the night and line up at 4:30 am at the very latest to have a chance to fit into the first buses up the mountain. So you see, you need to be really adamant on seeing the sunrise at Machu Picchu to be willing to go through these lengths to get there on time.
We had no interest in standing on a sidewalk for god knows how long during the wee hours of the day, so we got our beauty sleep, got out of bed at a decent hour and were still blown away by Machu Picchu and the extra steep hike to Huayna Picchu that we went on.
Afternoons at Machu Picchu
Aside from less people in the ancient city in the afternoon, you could also aim for a sunset at Machu Picchu. In the wintertime, the sun sets at around 5:30 pm, which is also the official closing time at the site. Just think, you could spend those colorful, magical minutes before the sun goes down at the ancient city.
The guards at Machu Picchu are also known to be a little more lax with the allotted time for your visit if you’re one of the last of the bunch at the top. They won’t be ushering you out 15 minutes before closing time, instead letting you enjoy Machu Picchu a little bit more.
Rain is something to worry about if you want to avoid it, since it mostly comes in the afternoons. If you aren’t visiting in rainy season though, you’ll very likely be blessed with clear skies, something the foggy mornings can lack.
Bonus round: Where to stay at Machu Picchu
Another thing you’ll need to think about when scheduling your Machu Picchu visit is accommodation. This is because getting there takes several hours, so depending on which time slot you buy your Machu Picchu tickets for, you’ll need to stay overnight somewhere on your journey.
If you’ve read our guide about visiting Machu Picchu, you know that in order to get to the ancient city, you’ll need to take a train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Pueblo and then a bus from there to Machu Picchu ancient city.
Hotels Machu Picchu Pueblo
Anyone entering Machu Picchu in the morning will need to find a hotel in Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, the small town right under the mountain that Machu Picchu city sits on.
Here are some good hotel choices in Machu Picchu Pueblo:
Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel is a five-star hotel with Inca-inspired décor and beautiful location right by the Urubamba River.
Another five-star hotel, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, pulls out all the stops, with terraced hills, stone paths, waterfalls and villas in lush gardens that will make you want to stay another day.
Hotels in Ollantaytambo
If you’d rather stay overnight in Ollantaytambo to catch a morning train from there, consider these hotels:
El Albergue Ollantaytambo is a 3-star hotel right next to where the trains leave from, so it has convenience going for it. The rooms are basic but spacious and very clean, with high ceilings and wooden beams.
If eco resorts are what you fancy, try the pretty Las Qolqas EcoResort. It isn’t for you if you need all the creature comforts (like walls), but if glamping in style sounds right for you, take a look at this place. Those views!
Where to next
If you like hikes, why not get inspired and add some other places to your bucket list?
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