The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is found high in the Andes mountain of Peru. A world famous historical site, these sprawling ruins sit atop ridge surrounded by great peaks. Although these days you can reach Machu Picchu by train, thousands of visitors a year still prefer to get there by spectacular multi-day mountain treks. Many of these follow the ancient Inca Trail . But if you’re considering a visit to Machu Picchu, or a trek in the region, you need to take into account the variable weather conditions up there. In this article we’re going to look at what weather to expect at Machu Picchu and on the Inca Trail, and the best times of year for you to visit.
First of all, it’s important to note that the weather in this region is unpredictable and changes fast. No matter what time of year you visit, you can experience quickly changing periods of rain, cloud, sunshine and wind both at the ruins and on the treks. This is because of Machu Picchu’s location - sitting above a cloud forest in a generally subtropical climate.
Temperatures are mild during the day all year around, sitting consistently just above 20 degrees celsius (it can climb to around 26 degrees in summer). Nights and early mornings though can be cold - at their highest at around 10 degrees, but commonly dropping to zero degrees, even in the summer months of October to March. In the popular winter months, May to September, nights are colder and can even fall below zero.
The Photographer waited six hours on top of the mountain for the rain and fog to go away for this picture. Photo by Rokni
Temperatures do vary depending on your height - the Machu Picchu ruins are at around 2400m elevation, but trekking routes like the Inca Trail go up and down valleys and mountains. Lower elevations are milder and more humid, and higher elevations can bring much colder nights and mornings. It’s important to be prepared for this with adequate clothing, which we’ll cover later in this article.
Broadly the seasons in the Machu Picchu region fall into two categories - the dry season and the wet season. The months these begin varies from year to year, so the most predictable weather is during the middle of these seasons.
The dry winter months herald the peak season for visiting Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. This is thanks to mostly dry days with relatively clear skies, making for good mountain views and great photo opportunities.
June to October sees the most consistent weather, although you still get the odd bit of rain, especially in the evenings. April, September and October are unpredictable shoulder months (tourism jargon for the months at the beginning and end of season) where you can expect rainfall at times during the day and bouts of cloudy weather - bad news for Machu Picchu ruin views. However there are still plenty of sunny, clear days during the shoulder months.
The wet season usually kicks in around September to November. These summer months will see 80% of the region’s annual rainfall. The months of December, January and February are the worst - when the rainfall dramatically increases. Trekking in the Machu Picchu area is not advised during this time as trail conditions are poor. The Inca Trail itself is closed every February by the government for safety, and to perform trail maintenance.
A porter hiking on the Inca Trail through the rain. Photo by Marv
You can visit Machu Picchu during the wettest months (usually reaching it by train rather than trekking), but expect rain during your trip, and clouds which can obscure the mountain views. Be aware though, that following a rainfall you often get a period of bright, clear weather, so it’s still possible to get good views at those times.
March still gets plenty of rain, but by April you usually see a significant reduction in rainfall, and this is considered a shoulder month. May sees generally good weather and by June, the dry season should have begun.
During the wet season humidity rises from a tolerable 70% to an oppressive 90% in the wettest months. This can make trekking quite exhausting and very sweaty!
Weatherwise, visiting the region from May to August is the best time to visit. Of course, the drawback is that this is also the the height of peak season - trails are full and the ruins swarming with tourists. If you want to visit at this time of year and do a trek, consider one of the quieter routes such as the Salkantay Trail - see our Machu Picchu Routes article for more information.
A good alternative to avoid the crowds is to head in the shoulder months of April or October and even March or November if the wet season timing is favourable. Prices are cheaper, trails and the ruins are quieter and although these months see rain, there’s also a good amount of fair-weather days too.
It's important to be prepared for the changing weather conditions on the Inca trail. Photo by Salomon
As we’ve seen, the weather and temperatures are quite variable in the Machu Picchu region. That means you need to be prepared with appropriate clothing for all the mountains can throw at you. The best way to do this is through layering. This lets you easily cope with those cold nights, chilly mornings and high passes with lots of layers. As the day heats up, or you drop to warmer climes, you simply shed layers without having to change into an entirely different set of clothes. When it gets colder you just put your extra layers back on, simple!
It’s important to note that for layering to work your clothing needs to be made of moisture-wicking materials rather than absorbent materials. Try to avoid cotton and denim which act like sponges and will stop a layering system working properly. Instead look for clothing made from breathable synthetic materials like polyester and nylon. Wool, especially merino wool, is good for thermal layering.
Here’s a quick list of some clothing items to consider bringing for treks to Machu Picchu:
When you’re up in the Andes, you can expect any kind of weather regardless of the season. Whether you’re just exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu, or doing a trek like the Inca or the Salkantay Trail, do take those extra layers and waterproofs because the weather can change rapidly and without much warning.
We hope you found this article useful, and please check out our other articles about travelling and trekking to Machu Picchu.