If you're traveling to Peru chances are your plans could include a visit to Machu Picchu. After all, the ancient archaeological site is the most visited tourist attraction in the entire country, drawing more than a million travelers each year. The best time to visit Machu Picchu is May to June or September to October, when the weather is nice and crowds are thin, but the site is well worth a visit any time of the year.
History of Machu Picchu
Dubbed one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is the rare tourist attraction that actually lives up to its massive hype. Located 50 miles northwest of the Peruvian city of Cusco, the ancient mountaintop citadel was originally built sometime around 1450 for the Incan emperor Pachacuti. A century later however, the site was abruptly abandoned for unknown reasons.
For centuries the fortress was unknown to the outside world until an American explorer by the name of Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911. He spent the next several years excavating the site from the surrounding jungle and mapping its walls and buildings. Bingham's discovery fired the imagination of people across the globe, turning Machu Picchu into one of the best known archeological sites on the planet.
Later, Machu Picchu would be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and would begin welcoming tourists. Most come via a train out of Cusco, although the more adventurous will hike the Inca Trail to arrive at the fortress via an old road that was used by the Inca themselves.
Visiting Machu Picchu
Nestled high in the Andes mountains, Machu Picchu is open to visitors all year round. That means you can make plans to visit the site no matter when you will be in Peru. Of course, what part of the year is best to accommodate your specific needs depends on several factors, including weather, size of the crowds you're willing to deal with, and how you want to get there.
Visiting During Rainy Season
The rainy season in Peru runs from November into April, bringing gray clouds, frequent rain showers, and the occasional storm with it. In fact, it rains nearly every day during this period, which keeps crowds to a minimum, but can also make a Machu Picchu visit a very soggy affair. On the other hand, the rainy season also brings the warmest weather too, which means that conditions are generally comfortable when the rain isn't falling.
While rain is an ever-present threat at this time of the year, the upside is that the number of visitors to the site is much lower. That makes it easier to explore Machu Picchu at your own pace, although you'll definitely want to pack a rain jacket.
Of special note, January through March are the absolute rainiest of all of the months, so keep that in mind as you make your travel plans.
Visiting During Dry Season
Peru's dry season tends to run from about mid-April to the end of October, with cooler air, bright blue skies, and plenty of sunshine dominating the forecast. The improved weather tends to usher in an influx of visitors to Machu Picchu as well, with more travelers arriving at the site on a daily basis. Cooler temperatures are also a part of the dry season however, particularly in the early morning and later evening. Rain showers aren't completely out of the question either and heavy afternoon mists occur on a regular basis too.
Travelers visiting during this time of the year have a better chance of enjoying a clear, sunny day, although they'll have to deal with larger crowds as well. If you don't mind sharing Machu Picchu with a few thousand of your closest friends, this might be a good time to go.
Visiting in High Season
The high season for Machu Picchu — which is to say its busiest period in terms of number of visitors — comes in July and August. Those months fall right in the middle of the dry season and generally have the most stable and predictable weather of the entire year. Of course, that is exactly why most people choose that time to visit the mountain fortress, leading to some of the largest crowds found at the site all year long.
If you absolutely don't want to deal with crowds, than avoid going during these months. However, if your primary goal is to have the best chance at good weather, than this is when you should book your trip. Just be prepared to wait in line and share the space with plenty of others.
Visiting in Shoulder Season
The so-called shoulder season is when travelers can expect the best mix of weather and crowds, with a good chance of dry conditions and a fewer people. For Machu Picchu the shoulder season takes place in May, June, September, and October. During those months, the chance of rain remains at a minimum and while the crowds remain large, they are not nearly as massive as those found during the high season.
Those looking to optimize their time in Machu Picchu, while still giving themselves the best chance at good weather, the shoulder season is a safe pick. There is a high likelihood that you'll avoid rain and the site won't be completely overrun with other travelers.
Hiking the Inca Trail
As already mentioned, Machu Picchu is open year round and travelers can make plans to visit during any month of the year. But if your goal is to hike the Inca Trail to Incan city you'll want to avoid visiting in February. The trail is actually shut down for the entire month to perform routine maintenance on the route to ensure that it stays safe, scenic, and sanitary. You'll just have to book your trek in one of the other months of the year based on the weather and the size of the crowd you want to contend with.
Best Time of Day
No matter what month of year you choose to visit Machu Picchu your experience can be altered substantially depending on what time of the day you go. The site is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. each and every day, with the largest crowds arriving later in the morning and staying until mid-afternoon.
Savvy travelers can arrive there first thing in the morning and take advantage of the smaller crowds or plan to get there late in the day as other tourists begin to filter out. Taking advantage of this strategy may mean you have to book a night at one of the local hotels, but it could be totally worth it in order to spend time in such an iconic destination with fewer people around.