Rain or Shine, Find the Best Time to Visit Cusco

Machu Picchu with Alpacas

Introduction

Once the mighty capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco has a lot to offer to any traveler. It has the beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and the hikes that is hard to find else where.

Machu Picchu may be the best known of all these landmarks, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t include other attractions such as the Lares Trek or Vinicuna. Or worse, you add these to your itinerary but you arrive when hikes are wet or they’re closed for the season. All this to say that timing your visit right can make or break your trip, so it’s essential to plan and go when it’s the best time to visit Cusco.

Understanding Cusco’s Climate

Cusco’s unique highland climate is characterized by distinct dry and wet seasons. The dry season, from April to October, provides clear skies and ideal temperatures, making it perfect for exploring outdoor wonders like Machu Picchu.

On the other hand, the wet season, spanning from November to March, brings increased rainfall but transforms the landscapes into lush, vibrant greenery, offering a different landscape that most travelers never get to see.

Best Months to Visit

While you can always find something to do in Cusco at any time of the year, it’s best to time your trip around the activities you want to do.

April to October (Dry Season)

The dry season, stretching from April to October, stands out as the opportune time for exploration in Cusco. This period is favored for its minimal rainfall, ensuring uninterrupted experiences.

The dry season is popular among tourists, so booking accommodations and tours in advance is advisable. If you’d like to avoid the crowds, visit in May or September. These are considered to be shoulder season. If you’re planning to bundle up your Inca trail hike with a trip to Galapagos, consider going at the start of dry season in April.

Temperature

During these months, Cusco experiences a delightful climate with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F).

best time to visit cusco - dry season

The skies remain clear, and temperatures are mild, creating a perfect setting for outdoor adventures and cultural immersions.

Festival and Events in Cusco

March or April – Semana Santa or Easter Week

Exemplifies the infusion of Catholic observances with Andean elements. The week begins with a procession for Taytacha Temblores, the “Lord of Earthquakes,” and concludes with a meal representing the twelve apostles, showcasing a unique blend of traditions.

May 1 – Labor Day

Celebrated with parades, cultural exhibitions, and festivities honoring the contributions of workers. A time for the community to unite in recognizing the value of labor in shaping the city’s identity.

May or June – Qoyllur Rit’i

Unique event bringing pilgrims from Andean villages to Sinakara chapel, featuring a fusion of old and new Andean symbols, indigenous rituals, traditional music, and dances

Activities

Outdoor enthusiasts find the dry season ideal for the iconic Inca Trail trek and exploring the archaeological marvel of Machu Picchu and other ruins in Cusco. The clear skies enhance the panoramic views, creating an unforgettable experience along the Inca Trail and within the historic Machu Picchu site.

What to Pack

To adapt to temperature changes, packing layers is essential. Here are some items you should include your packing list when traveling to Cusco in the dry season:

  1. Light Layers
    May in Cusco marks the beginning of the dry season, but temperatures can vary throughout the day. Bring light layers, including long sleeves and a jacket for cooler evenings and mornings.
  2. Comfortable Walking Shoes
    Cusco is a city with cobbled streets and uneven terrain. Comfortable walking shoes are essential for exploring historical sites and navigating the city comfortably.
  3. Sunscreen and Sunglasses
    The sun in Cusco can be strong, even in the dry season. Protect your skin with sunscreen and your eyes with sunglasses, especially if you plan to spend time outdoors.
  4. Daypack
    A small daypack is handy for carrying essentials during day trips and explorations. It’s useful for storing items like water, snacks, a camera, and a light jacket.
  5. Water Bottle
    Staying hydrated is crucial, especially at higher altitudes. Carry a reusable water bottle to ensure you have access to water throughout the day.
  6. Camera or Smartphone
    Cusco is filled with picturesque landscapes and historical sites. Capture the beauty of your surroundings with a camera or smartphone to create lasting memories.
  7. Hat or Cap
    Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat or cap. It provides shade and helps prevent sunburn, especially if you plan on spending time outdoors.
  8. Insect Repellent
    In certain areas, especially if you plan on exploring nature reserves or outside the city, insect repellent can be useful to protect against mosquitoes.
  9. Rain Jacket
    There’s still a possibility of light rain. A compact rain jacket can come in handy and won’t take up much space in your bag.
  10. Altitude Sickness Medication
    Cusco is at a high altitude, and some visitors may experience symptoms of altitude sickness. Consult with a healthcare professional and consider bringing medication if needed

June to August (Peak Dry Season)

These months are the best time to visit Cusco, so it’s no surprise that it attracts a higher number of tourists. Plus, they also coincide with significant events and festivals. The Inti Raymi festival, celebrated in late June, is a cultural spectacle reenacting the Inca Festival of the Sun. Participating in such events allows travelers to immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of Cusco. If you insist on traveling during the peak dry season, prepare to encounter huge crowds especially in Plaza de Armas and make sure to book in advance if you want to do the Machu Picchu hike.

Festival and Events in Cusco

June – Corpus Christi

Visual stunning procession with around 50 patron saints and virgins from different neighborhood churches. The streets burst with vibrant colors and cultural displays.

June 24th – Inti Raymi

Annual festival honoring the Inca sun god Inti. Reenacts ancient Inca rituals and ceremonies, offering a unique opportunity to witness the cultural heritage and traditions.

Jun 29 – Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Religious ceremonies, processions, and cultural events dedicated to these revered saints. A time for the community to pay homage, fostering religious unity and cultural identity.

July 28th and 29th – Peru’s Independence or Fiestas Patrias

Patriotic displays, parades, and cultural events. The city waves the red and white flag proudly, with daytime parades, folkloric dance performances, and nighttime fireworks.

August 30 – Feast of Saint Rose of Lima

Religious ceremonies, processions, and cultural festivities dedicated to the patroness of Peru and indigenous people. Emphasizes spirituality and cultural heritage.

October 8 – Angamos Battle Celebration

Commemoration of the Battle of Angamos with patriotic displays, parades, and cultural activities. Reminds of historical events shaping Peru’s identity and instills national pride.

Activities

Travelers during the peak dry season can engage in cultural immersion by participating in local festivities. Additionally, this period offers optimal conditions for scenic exploration, with the Andean landscapes at their most breathtaking. It truly is the best time to be in Cusco.

🧭 Looking for inspiration? We’ve listed the best day trips from Cusco. That’s one less thing for you to plan!

What to Pack

Similar to the dry season, it’s still advisable to pack layers to accommodate temperature variations. Aside from what I’ve mentioned on the list above, I recommend to bring warmer sleepwear and other clothing that have lighter fabric.

November to March (Wet Season)

During the wet season, rainfall increases, but the landscapes transform into a lush paradise. The surrounding mountains and valleys come alive with greenery. Travelers seeking a quieter experience with fewer crowds might find this period appealing. However, it’s important to be prepared for occasional showers and to plan activities accordingly. December to March in particular are the wettest months to visit.

🚌 Pro Tip
If you’re looking for other places in Peru to visit in this rainy season, consider coastal cities we’ve talked about in Best Time to Visit Peru

February and March, are the two months of the year when prices of excursions and accommodations are super cheap

Festival and Events in Cusco

November 1 – Saints’ Day

Involves religious ceremonies and remembrances honoring saints and departed loved ones. Families gather to pay respects, creating altars in a cultural tradition combining spirituality and community.

December 8 – Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Processions, traditional dances, and cultural events dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Showcases a blend of religious devotion and cultural expressions.

December 24th – Santurantikuy Fair

Unique tradition where people buy and sell objects for nativity scenes in the Plaza de Armas. Artisans showcase crafts, from silver and tinwork to embroidery, capturing Cusco’s cultural craftsmanship.

Rain or Shine, Find the Best Time to Visit Cusco -

December 25 – Christmas Day

Observed with various festive activities and celebrations throughout Cusco. The city radiates Christmas spirit, with locals and tourists joining in the joyous atmosphere.

January 1 – New Year’s Day

Celebrated with events, parties, and festivities, marking the start of a new year with hope, joy, and cultural traditions.

February – Cusco Carnival

Involves a city-wide water fight on the first Sunday of Carnival, creating a lively and playful atmosphere that reflects the festive spirit.

Rain or Shine, Find the Best Time to Visit Cusco -

Activities

While the wet season brings increased rainfall, it offers a different charm. Rafting and river adventures become more exhilarating as water levels rise.

The region’s waterfalls also come to life, providing a refreshing and picturesque backdrop for exploration and photography

What to Pack

Preparation for occasional showers is important. Getting caught in the rain while in the middle of a hike is not advisable especially that temperatures drop quick in high altitude.

Rain or Shine, Find the Best Time to Visit Cusco -
  1. Waterproof Jacket or Poncho
    Heavy rainfall is common during the wet season. A waterproof jacket or poncho will keep you dry and comfortable.
  2. Water-Resistant Footwear
    Cusco’s streets can get muddy and slippery during the wet season. Invest in water-resistant footwear to keep your feet dry and comfortable.
  3. Quick-Dry Clothing
    Opt for quick-dry clothing materials that wick away moisture. This helps you stay dry and comfortable, especially if you get caught in the rain.
  4. Light Layers and Warm Clothing
    Even though it’s the wet season, temperatures can vary. Bring light layers for daytime and warmer clothing for cooler evenings.
  5. Waterproof Daypack or Dry Bag
    Protect your belongings from rain by using a waterproof daypack or packing important items in a dry bag.
  6. Waterproof Case for Electronics
    Keep your electronic devices safe from rain by using a waterproof case.
  7. Hat with Brim
    A hat with a brim provides additional protection from rain and keeps your face dry.
  8. Gloves and Scarf
    In cooler temperatures, gloves and a scarf can provide warmth and protect against wind.
  9. Travel Towel
    A quick-dry travel towel is useful for staying dry during unexpected rain showers.

Accommodation Considerations

Accommodation prices and availability fluctuate based on the season. During the peak dry season, from June to August, popular accommodations may get booked quickly, necessitating early reservations.

Conversely, the wet season offers an opportunity for budget-conscious travelers to find more affordable options.

Lifestyle and Local Experiences To Try

Culinary Experiences

Rain or Shine, Find the Best Time to Visit Cusco -

Cusco’s culinary scene is influenced by seasonal specialties. Travelers can indulge in local dishes, such as the savory “cuy” (guinea pig) or the hearty “lomo saltado.” Exploring food markets like San Pedro Market provides an authentic taste of Andean flavors and a chance to interact with local vendors.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Cusco’s nightlife is diverse, offering everything from lively bars to traditional dance performances. Exploring the city after sunset reveals a different ambiance, with Plaza de Armas being a hub of activity. Engaging in cultural performances provides insights into the region’s folklore and artistic expressions.

Health and Altitude Considerations

Given Cusco’s high altitude (approximately 3,400 meters or 11,000 feet above sea level), it’s essential for travelers to acclimatize gradually. Taking it easy during the first few days allows the body to adjust, reducing the risk of altitude-related symptoms. Staying hydrated and avoiding strenuous activities upon arrival are key precautions for a comfortable visit.

🏥 Safety First
After experiencing altitude sickness hiking up Volcan San Pedro and Acatenango in Lake Atitlan, I’ve learned to identify the first signs of it. Learn what to do to prevent altitude sickness in your Cusco trip.

Sustainable Travel Practices

Cusco has a rich Andean culture and well-preserved landscapes that its people and the city work hard to maintain. As travelers, it’s important to respect their land and culture.

You can do your part by supporting eco-friendly accommodations, practicing responsible trekking, and minimizing plastic usage contribute to sustainable tourism. Engaging with local communities in a respectful manner fosters positive cultural exchange and helps preserve the region’s unique heritage.

Conclusion

The best time to visit Cusco is the dry season that goes from April to October, but it still shouldn’t stop you if you want to see a side of Cusco that most travelers miss.

Cusco promises a memorable experience. So, pack your bags, embrace the diversity of this Andean gem, and create lasting memories that blend history, culture, and natural wonders. Your adventure in Cusco awaits!

What months are the best time to visit Cusco?

Aim for June, July, or August to get the best weather possible during your time in Cusco. These are the months when skies are clear and rains are very uncommon. You may get a bit of sprinkle but it will mostly be sunshine and cool breeze.

What months are the cheapest time to visit Cusco?

February and March are the cheapest months to be in Cusco. It’s at the tail end of the wet season that goes from June to August.

What should I pack when traveling during the wet season in Cusco?

At the very minimum, bring a waterproof jacket or poncho and water-resistant footwear. Aside from that, dress in layers! It’s all about the layers.


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