Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu – Discovered not so long ago, Machu Picchu has quickly become a coveted destination for tourists the world over. The Ancient Incan Citadel is a breathtaking sight, but the trek to get there is equally famous. We’ll give you a full guide to Machu Picchu – when to visit, how to get there, what to bring, and much more.
Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu
The “best” time to visit Machu Picchu might depend on your personal travel schedule. That being said, there is a definite “high” and “low” season for tourism, as well as certain times of year when the Inca Trail is inaccessible. We’ll cover that next:
Machu Picchu Tourist Season
Machu Picchu has distinct tourism seasons which are mainly determined by the weather, including temperature and precipitation.
First off, it’s important to note that the Inca Trail is closed each February for general maintenance (and because it’s the worst weather month). So, February is a bad month to visit.
High season for tourism in Machu Picchu is in July-August. The weather is pleasant, and it coincides with the least precipitation. Due note that this is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and nighttime lows dip lower than the rest of the year. However, since Machu Picchu is a popular tourist destination world-wide, it can get extremely crowded during these months, not to mention more expensive lodging and accommodations. You will need to book well in advance.
This is why we suggest the shoulder seasons for visiting Machu Picchu (Apr-May and Sept-Oct.). These months still feature pleasant weather, and the trails and accommodations are more accessible. These months are also outside of rainy season (although it begins to pick up again in the back half of October).
Summer in Machu Picchu (winter in the Northern Hemisphere) sees tourism, but not nearly as much, as it’s the heart of the rainy season.
Machu Picchu Weather
Machu Picchu is characterized by its tropical forest climate. Machu Picchu is relatively warm year-round, but due to its elevation, it can still get quite chilly at times, especially during the night.
Macchu Picchu sees consistent day-time highs year-round, routinely reaching near 77F when the sun is up. Nighttime lows dip into the 50s throughout the year, except during Jun-Aug (winter) when they’ll dip below 50F at night. Overall, it’s quite consistent, with winter bringing somewhat colder nights.
What really will affect your vacation plans is the “wet” and “dry” season. Wet season runs from November to March, picking up in October and slowing down in April. There is significantly more rainfall during these seasons, reaching up to nearly 160mm in January and February. Therefore, the dry season runs from April-October, and is a more popular time to visit Machu Picchu (which is reflected in the crowds and accommodation prices).
Getting to Machu Picchu
Now that we’ve covered when to visit Machu Picchu, let’s talk about the logistics of making it happen. There are number of things you need to do to visit Machu Picchu, which includes securing permits from the Peruvian government, and actually planning your trek to this secluded destination. We’ll cover it all here, starting with the regulatory side of things:
Due to the popularity of reaching Machu Picchu, the Peruvian government had to put limits on the amount of people who can trek the Inca Trail per day. This is both to preserve the integrity of the trail, and to ensure that crowds do not reach unpleasant or unsafe levels.
Therefore, in order to take the Inca Trail (the most popular route), you need to secure one of these permits. You can take an alternate route if you can’t get one of these permits, and we’ll cover your route options below.
Permits are released each year in October. The trail is limited to 500 trekkers per day, but that includes permits for guides, so functionally there are much less than 500 permits for tourists. You need to book these permits well ahead of time, or work with one of many tour companies that handles this process. Tours book up really fast for July-August, moderately fast for the shoulder seasons, and slower during wet season (November-March).
If you are booking a tour during July-August, and you want to take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, we recommend you book at least six months ahead of time.
Ways to Get to Machu Picchu
The central hub for visiting Machu Picchu is Cusco, a city in southeastern Peru. This is where you’ll find the majority of transportation options and treks leading to Machu Picchu.
As mentioned above, there are numerous ways of getting to Machu Picchu from Cusco. The primary methods of getting there are via train, which is the fastest option. The other, and perhaps more popular, option is to hike. There are many hiking routes to Machu Picchu beyond the most popular Inca Trail, and we’ll cover them below.
Here are your options for getting to Machu Picchu:
Machu Picchu Train (and Short Bus Ride)
If you want to skip the trek, and simply want to see Machu Picchu, the train is your best bet. The train from Cusco takes you alongside the Urumbaba River, and is a very scenic ride through Peru. In whole, the train ride takes you about 3.5 hours, and takes you to Aguas Calientes.
From Aguas Calientes, you can take a bus to Macchu Picchu which takes about half an hour. You can also hike to Machu Picchu, along a short trail which takes a couple hours. The hike is not overly difficult, and suitable for those in moderate shape.
There are several options for booking train tickets to Machu Picchu, including from major train operators Inca Rail and Peru Rail. Trains from Cusco to Aguas Calientes mainly run out of the town of Poroy, just outside of Cusco. Therefore, you might need to take a cab to the train station itself.
Remember to book your tickets far in advance. As has been a running theme, Machu Picchu is a popular destination, so train traffic fills up, especially during the busy season. If the train out of Cusco is full, some travellers have suggested booking a ticket from the nearby town of Ollantaytambo.
Hiking to Machu Picchu
For many, the hike to Machu Picchu is just as significant as the site itself. It’s a long, arduous hike, and requires overnight camping. But you’re rewarded with one of the most renowned sites in the world. There are many hiking trails which lead to Machu Picchu, and we’ll start with the most famous:
Inca Trail: By far the most famous and most-travelled route to Machu Picchu is the Inca Trail. So popular that Peru has limited the number of travellers per day (more on that above, if you missed it).
The Inca Trail is most often done in 4-day tour packages (with 3-overnights), departing from Cusco and ending in Machu Picchu. In fact, the Inca Trail isn’t overly long, only about 25 miles in total. But it dips and climbs over a series of peaks and valley, and it’s the elevation that truly makes it a challenge.
The Inca Trail begins at about 9000 ft. above sea level, and reaches points close to 14,000 ft. above sea level, eventually arriving at Machu Picchu which is close to 8000 ft. above sea level. These shifts in evlevation, coupled with the thin air, make endurance difficult, and can cause altitude sickness in some travellers.
You’ll find many tour companies offering treks to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail, with some making other stops, and some doing the trek in more or less than 4 days. For a first-time traveller to Machu Picchu, we recommend a classic 4-day trek.
The Salcantay Route: Probably the second most popular trek, and only increasing in popularity as the Inca Trail becomes more and more crowded, is the Salcantay Route. The Salcantay Route is named because it cuts past Mt. Salcantay, a peak of great significance to the Incans. While you won’t get to the peak, you will travel past at a very high altitude. Because this route is less direct than the Inca Trail (and because there are different detours available) the trek takes about 5 to 8 days in length.
One-Day Inca Trail: The hike from Cusco to Machu Picchu is what is generally considered the “Inca Trail”, but some tours start you further up the trail, offering a condensed version of the hike. Many companies start you about a 4-hour hike from Machu Picchu (at KM 104 on the Machu Picchu train-line). Some tours offer this as a day-trip, and some tours offer an overnight option, which allows you to enter Machu Picchu as the sun rises.
Vilcabamba Traverse Route: Often considered the most difficult of the popular Machu Picchu hiking routes, the Vilcabamba Traverse Route covers 60 miles before reaching your destination. These are not easy miles, covering mountainous terrains, climbing and dipping elevations, across peaks, valleys, and narrow passes, past ancient architecture, and more.
Definitely a hike for experienced hikers, and those who know they are okay with the altitude. The trip can take up to 13 days to complete, although experienced hikers can do it in as little as 7. The Vilcabamba Traverse Route leaves out of the town of Cachora.
Travelling to Machu Picchu
Before we wrap up our guide to Machu Picchu, we’ll give you several more tips and tricks for planning your visit. Keep all these factors in mind to make your trip as hitch-free as possible:
Health and Safety Concerns with Altitude
As we’ve mentioned throughout this article, it might be the case that the altitude proves the biggest challenge to your Machu Picchu experience. The best thing you can do to help with altitude is to get acclimatized before climbing Machu Picchu. This means spending a few days (or as much as you can) in Cusco to let your body adjust to the altitude before your trek. This way, if your body experiences negative effects from the altitude, it can sort out before you hit the trail.
Unfortunately, altitude sickness is very unpredictable, and it can strike healthy people just as easily. Try to drink plenty of water (bottled water, don’t drink the tap water in Peru), and eat well before your trip.
In the case of any unforeseen event that leads to you requiring medical attention, be sure that you purchase travel insurance before your trip.
What to Pack for Inca Trek
Prepare for all conditions on your Inca trek. You need to pack clothing for heat, cold, wet, and dry. Of course, you’ll also need a suitable pair of hiking boots. The nights are cold and the days are hot, so pack layers accordingly. The sun shines bright on the trail, so be sure to cover vulnerable parts from the sun.
As for trail supplies, this is why a guided tour is so important. They will cover food, water, and essentials. But it doesn’t hurt to pack more bottled water and snacks if you can, and if you think you’ll be especially thirsty. Of course, don’t forget the sunscreen!
Also note that hiking poles are not allowed on the Inca Trail unless they have rubber tips.
Guide to Machu Picchu
Thanks for reading our guide to Machu Picchu. As you can see, there are many ways to get to and experience this ancient wonder. Use our guide to plan your ultimate Machu Picchu getaway.
When is Dry Season in Macchu Picchu?
Dry season in Macchu Picchu runs from April to October. Toward the end of October, the rain starts to pick up, and it continues all summer (note that Peruvian summer is North American winter, being in the Southern Hemisphere).
When Was Machu Picchu Discovered?
It may surprise some to learn that, despite its ancient roots, Machu Picchu was discovered only recently. The general accepted date was July 24, 1911, when Haram Bingham, an American archaeologist discovered the site. Because the Incans were all but wiped out by Spanish invaders during the 16th century, Machu Picchu sat virtually unknown for centuries. Machu Picchu is believed to have been a “summer getaway” of sorts for Incan leaders.