The first question that comes to your mind when you travel, besides security, is about the best time to visit, especially when you know you will be in the outdoors for so much time. And you definitely need to know what’s the best time to visit Machu Picchu if you want to make the most of your time there. It’s not exactly one of those places that you can return and visit multiple times.
As a destination, Peru covers a large range of climates from the high Andes Mountains, the tropical Amazon rainforest, and the arid Pacific coast. It is truly a year-round travel destination where temperature and rainfall change significantly at any point of the year by region and altitude.
In Peru’ as much as in many tropical regions, there are not 4 seasons, but 2, dry season when the sun is supposedly shining all day long, and the lands are the dry and wet season when the vegetation is lush and green, and rainfall guaranteed almost every day.
Or you might experience the 4 seasons all in one day. Weird but likely.
Both seasons have their pros and cons when it comes to traveling to Machu Picchu.
We are going to explore them so that you can choose wisely which season is the best for you and you know what to expect.
BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU – SEASONS AT A GLANCE
DRY SEASON – April to November
- generally clear skies
- little to no rainfalls
- July and August crowded
- it’s cooler at night
Humidity level 40-45%
WET SEASON – December to April
- Smaller crowds
- Lower prices in hotels and tours
- amazing lush and green landscapes
- constant rains especially in the afternoons and nights
- muddy trails
Humidity level 60-65%
SHOULDER SEASONS – April to June and September to November
Should be the best time to travel to Machu Picchu, where there is a smaller crowd and it’s less likely to rain and it’s warm enough to enjoy your walks and hikes.
April to June is probably even better since it’s right past the rainy season which means the vegetation is still blooming green.
- Remember the Amazon forest it’s just 100km away, so expect rain every now and then even in the dry season.
- The nights are always cold.
SO WHEN IT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU?
Depending on your priorities, dry, wet, cold, hot, busy, quiet, Cusco and Machu Picchu can be visited all year round. Now you know what to expect when, well, roughly!
ELEVATION OF MACHU PICCHU
MACHU PICCHU has an elevation of 7,972 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level.
For reference I report here below related sites altitude:
- Elevation of Machu Picchu Mountain: 3.082 mt (10,111 ft)
- Elevation of Huayna Picchu: 2.720 mt (8923 ft)
- Elevation of Cusco: 3.399 mt (11,150 ft)
HOW TO ACCLIMATIZE TO THE ELEVATION OF MACHU PICCHU
There are general rules or tips that suits every situation of high altitude.
The first thing to know is that no matter how fit or trained you are, altitude sickness can hit you as well.
My guide on the Inca trail told me that he saw very fit people suffering so much that they had to go back. They just couldn’t move forward.
Altitude sickness can have lethal repercussions if you don’t pay attention to it and respect it and take the necessary measures.
In order to acclimatize to the elevation of Machu Picchu they always tell you first that you need to spend some time in Cusco before taking any trails.
Since Cusco has a much higher elevation, you are more likely to enjoy your hike to Machu Picchu after spending a couple of days at a higher altitude.
I remember in fact when I hiked Kilimanjaro, which is about 6000 mt, at day 3 of our hike we were ascending of a few hundreds of mt before going up again for the same reason.
Particularly if you are coming from Lima, which is at the sea level, it involves a significant change of altitude in such a short time.
You need to give your body a little time to adapt.
Even more, if you have never experienced such an altitude, you need to test it and be cautious, observing how your body reacts.
HOW TO PREVENT ALTITUDE SICKNESS
According to Healthline website:
- Climb slowly – you are not chasing anything nor in a competition. Take your time and enjoy the views
- Eat carbs – this one I like a lot 🙂 – pack your backpack with high carbs snacks, better if healthy, like fruits and nuts. But it’s very subjective. When I go to such high altitude, my stomach refuses any kinds of food, liquid or solid food while I am hiking. I can eat if I am just hanging out and doing anything. So listen to your body and don’t feel in competition with anyone else.
- Avoid alcohol – well can you please make it for one day or two? I don’t normally drink, so for me, it’s natural. But if you do, please make the effort.
- Drink water – plenty!
- Take it easy – see nr 1
- Sleep lower – if you can do it you should walk back to sleep at a lower elevation, but of course, if you are hiking with a group you need to stay all together. However, normally the hikes are organized like that. Guides know what they are doing.
- Medication – well, you need to consult your doctor about it. Please bear in mind, though, that medication can help but not always work. Besides, when I hiked the Kili I was told not to take any because if you hide the symptoms of altitude sickness, the guides cannot know what’s going on with you and cannot help you. Symptoms can help interpret what your body is saying and you can act accordingly. In any case, I am not a doctor. I am just repeating what I was told, which to me makes sense. You should consult your doctor, in case.
SYMPTOMS OF ALTITUDE SICKNESS
The symptoms of altitude sickness usually appear within 12 to 24 hrs after reaching the elevation and should get better within a day or two and they include:
- shortness of breath
- sleep problems
- decrease in appetite. (Damn, I wished I had this one!!)
If you don’t see any improvement with time or if you see that those symptoms are unbearable, seek a doctor’s assistance or if you are hiking notify immediately your guide.
WHAT TO BRING AND TO WEAR AT MACHU PICCHU
- Hiking boots
- Rain gear at an easy reach like a lightweight raincoat.
- Dress in layers as the temperature can change easily
WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU TO HIKE MACHU PICCHU:
- Walking stick
- Insect repellent
- Lightweight raincoat
- Change of shirts
HOW TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU
There are many different ways to visit Machu Picchu and you can choose according to your time availability, interests, and budget
A few years ago, hiking Machu Picchu was a privilege reserved to the few lucky ones, because the only hiking trail the “Inca trail” has a cost of about 700 USD
Nowadays there is a variety of routes that you can take, always with a guided tour, but at a lower rate and without missing beautiful scenery and charming places.
On the contrary, while researching I realized that some of the routes are even more scenic than the main original one.
Or, if you have a limited availability of time you can just go by train and here as well you have different options.
Remember though that you will need at least a full day.
To learn more, you should check my post on the 8 ways to get to Machu Picchu
BE A RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER
If we are going to start a conversation on responsible tourism we might need to open up a new long discussion, which I would like to leave for another post.
However, a few words can be spent here as well, in relation to what has been said in the previous chapter.
But first of all, let’s briefly define what does responsible tourism mean.
“Responsible tourism is defined as tourism that creates better places to live in and to visit.”
( I am paraphrasing from the same source)
- Maximizing the benefits of tourism with the creation of more jobs, conservation of the natural environment and resources in general, improvement of the infrastructures to the benefit of the local people
- Minimizing the negative impacts such as the generation of waste, overuse of water, damage to heritage, negative cultural impacts of visitors…
Now how can we help to support responsible travel while visiting Machu Picchu?
The official site of Travel Peru is helping us with an answer:
- when visiting parks always follow the guides and rangers guidelines
- When camping out, use only authorized campsites, or areas with sparse vegetation, near water sources and protected from wind, rain and wild animals.
- Set your camp at least 60 meters (70 steps – 197 feet) away from the seashore, lagoons or river sides.
- Bring water on your hikes. Avoid using plastic bottles.
- Avoid carrying media players or other devices that might upset the natural environment.
- Refrain from removing plants and watch animals from a safe distance, without feeding them or interfering with their activities
- Avoid purchasing products manufactured using endangered plants or animals.
- Be mindful when photographing local people, always ask for permission.
- As much as possible avoid making campfires. If you must make one, use dry wood and surround the fire with ring rocks. Always put out the fire and stir the ashes before leaving the campsite.
- Leave no trace, only footprints
- Buy local handicrafts and products in order to support the economy and follow fair trade principles.
- If you hike, be considerate with the people who will be carrying your bags, tents and everything including the kitchen sinks. Those people work hard and deserved to get a decent monetary compensation for what they do. Sometimes choosing a cheaper tour have an impact on their wages although they should be protected by the law. Not all the company follow it. Make sure to chose your tour wisely. See below chapter on how to tip the hiking team.
- tread on marked trails only
- take local transportation whenever possible
- inquire about local sustainable projects
RESPECT THE RULES
Remember that this is a sacred site first of all.
Therefore it requires unconditional respect and some common sense behavior.
I feel somewhat offensive for writing this because those are “rules” that anybody should have inside with no need to be reinforced.
However, I read that there have been acts of vandalism or stupidity, whatever you want to call it, in the past.
Therefore I feel that is my duty to reiterate it.
And so it goes:
- Don’t damage nor write on the walls of the ancient building
- Don’t litter
- Don’t take any stone or plants away. their place is there, where they belong.
- Don’t walk where you are not allowed
- Don’t consume alcohol
- Don’t feed the llamas (well this is everywhere not only in the Citadelle)
- Respect whatever your guide recommends. They are specialized and very knowledgeable guides and they know very well what they are doing.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I TIP MY GUIDE AND TEAM?
This is a very important topic that raises a lot of questions regarding responsible travels.
One thing you should know is that although they tell you that tipping is optional and not compulsory, this is not accurate information.
Tipping is expected, very much so, by the guide of your hike and even more by the rest of the stuff, which is most of the time on a very minimal wage.
I have written more about this topic in these 8 ways to visit Machu Picchu article.