Cusco’s weather can roughly be divided into two seasons – the dry season from May to October and the wet season from November through to April. But the best time to visit Cusco is year-round (except for the Inca Trail which closes during February), with lively festivals throughout the calendar.
Dry Season (May-October)
Cusco’s dry season extends from May through to October, with generally clear, sunny days which are ideal for sightseeing and dry skies which make for perfect trekking conditions. This is one of the best times to visit Cusco, with daytime temperatures generally hovering around 61 °F (16 °C), although it can drop to as low as 32 °F (0 °C) at night.
The months of June, July and August are the most reliable times to travel, but this coincides with the annual summer break in Europe and North America which also makes it one of the busiest. Hotels fill up quickly and securing permits for the Inca Trail can be tricky, so make sure you plan well in advance.
If you want to avoid the majority of the crowds, visit Cusco in May when the landscapes of the Sacred Valley are still a lush green from the wet season and the peak of tourists are yet to arrive.
The start of May sees the Spanish-influenced Festival of the Cross celebrated, with crosses from Cusco’s Catholic churches and cathedrals veiled amidst elaborate feasts. The more traditional Q´oyoriti (Snow/Ice Festival) also takes place, held at the foot of a glacier near Ausangate. Quechua villagers make a pilgrimage to this 4,600 meter-high mountainous location, reaffirming their spiritual connection with nature.
Corpus Christi is one of Cusco’s largest Catholic festivals which takes place on the ninth Thursday after Easter, near the June winter solstice. It was originally established by colonial authorities to replace the Incan festival of Inti Raymi, with Saints paraded throughout the streets and the Plaza de Armas before being taken into the Cusco Cathedral. They are held here for seven days, before being returned to their original churches amidst music, dancing and fireworks.
Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) also takes place at the end of June, celebrating the winter solstice with reenactments of Incan sun worshipping, folk dancing and music, as well as cultural performances on the ancient ruins of Sacsayhuaman, just outside the city of Cusco.
The start of August heralds in Dia de la Pachamama when indigenous Peruvians pay homage to Mother Earth through offerings of food and drink, with yellow confetti sprinkled outside homes marking the start of the Andean New Year. The end of the month sees the Incan festival of Warachikuy take place, with young men being tested for battle and marriage through traditional rituals which are today reenacted for visitors in Cusco.
September heralds in some light rain at the start of spring, but as the majority of tourists have headed home, this shoulder season is a great time to visit Cusco if you want to take advantage of the reduced hotel rates and crowds. Keep in mind that Machu Picchu is never empty of tourists (even in the off season) and arriving early in the day is best if you want to explore without the large tour groups.
September 8th is marked by the Festival of the Virgin of the Nativity which is celebrated with particular fervor in the nearby town of Chinchero. A statue of the Virgin Mary is paraded through the streets, followed by traditional dancers and musicians, then devotees feast and celebrate well into the night. The Lord of Huanca Festival also takes place this month, marked by a five-hour pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Señor de Huanca to conduct traditional rituals and blessings.
If you’re visiting in October, coincide your visit with the festival of La Virgen del Rosario which takes place on the first Sunday. Locals celebrate with processions through the streets and bullfights, as well as a traditional feast of pachamancas which is prepared in underground pits and cooked on hot stones. Cusco´s Tourist Week also takes place in October, with the city showcasing everything Cusqueñan in a range of musical, artistic and cultural displays.
Wet Season (November-April)
Cusco’s wet season extends from November to April, with the majority of rain falling in the month of January. Daytime temperatures hover around 64 °F (18 °C), while the nights are generally milder than in the dry season, averaging around 48 °F (9 °C). The rains tend to come in short, heavy bursts (usually in the afternoon), interspersed with dry spells.
The landscapes of the Sacred Valley transform a lush green and the rivers are flowing at full force, but keep in mind that landslides are not uncommon. Trains running between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu are occasionally delayed, with the month of February the most affected. The Inca Trail closes altogether during this month for annual maintenance, with most alternative routes muddy and more challenging for hikers.
But with the rains deterring most tourists, this is the best time to visit Cusco if you want to take advantage of reduced hotel rates and escape the majority of the crowds. Sightseeing in the historic center won’t be affected (provided you can run for cover when the skies open) and there are plenty of colorful festivals taking place.
Día de los Todos Santos and Día de los Muertos take place at the start of November, honoring both saints and the dead through candle-lit vigils at cemeteries and traditional feasting. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception takes place on December 8, marking the day that Mary became pregnant through street parades. Christmas is also celebrated with much fervor in Cusco, including the Santikuraray (Selling of the Saints) market which takes place in Plaza de Armas on the 24th December.
The Adoration of the Kings is hosted by the Iglesia San Blas in mid-January, with decorative processions and brass bands parading through the streets, accompanied by fireworks. But it’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) that is the city’s largest religious celebration. It is held in the last week of Lent in the lead up to Easter Sunday, with the biggest procession taking place on the Monday known as El Senor de los Temblores (The Lord of the Earthquakes). This commemorates the earthquake which rocked the city in 1650, with thousands of revelers descending on Plaza de Armas to party together.