Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca citadel perched atop a mountain within the southern stretches of the Peruvian Amazon, and it’s a wonder in every sense of the word. Whether you visit at the peak of the Peruvian summer or brave the mud and mist of the rainy season, Machu Picchu doesn’t disappoint. Its jungle setting means exotic flora and fauna abound, but remember that rain is always a possibility—even smack-dab in the middle of the dry season. Thanks to new government regulations, massive crowds and daylong lingerers are a thing of the past, meaning the only photo bombers you need to contend with now are the resident alpacas and llamas.
- Weather at Machu Picchu
- Animal Spotting
- Natural Phenomena
- Travel to Machu Picchu with Backroads
Weather at Machu Picchu
Dry Season (May to October)
Though technically the dry season, don’t rule out a shower or two during this time. Machu Picchu is located on the edges of the Peruvian Amazon Jungle, where rainfall can occur year round. There’s often a morning mist that typically clears by early afternoon. The morning hours can be frigid, especially during June and July, but the sun-drenched days are usually pleasant and offer temperatures in the low 60s (Fahrenheit).
Wet Season (November to April)
Machu Picchu’s wettest months are also its warmest, with temperatures reaching as high as the upper 70s. Humidity is also high, ranging from 60 to 90 percent daily. The mornings see the most precipitation and fog, when the citadel can be almost completely shrouded in a dense and opaque mist. January through March see the most rainfall.
Backroads Pro Tip
Whether you visit Machu Picchu in the wet or dry season, the weather can be unpredictable. This is thanks, in large part, to the steamy jungle environment. It’s always a smart idea to pack a good rain jacket, waterproof shoes and sun protection, no matter what time of year you’re visiting.
Llamas and Alpacas
Chances are very high you’ll spot a llama or alpaca during your visit to Machu Picchu. They freely roam the ruins, munching on the foliage and attracting tourists’ attention. You can spot the difference between the two species by size and ear shape. Llamas are much larger than alpacas, and they have shorter, pointier ears; alpacas are defined by their fuzz-framed faces and bigger, leaf-shaped ears.
Machu Picchu is home to one of the world’s most diverse bird populations, with many of its over 420 bird species being endemic to the region. Though many of these species are most likely to be spotted within the forest biome, keep a particular lookout for the green-and-white hummingbird, Inca wren and rufous-collared sparrow while you roam the ruins and trails.
Vizcachas are the bushy-tailed rodents of Machu Picchu, and they can often be found lurking by and on the rocks and boulders of the ruins. Their appearance is best described as a cross between a guinea pig, a rabbit and a squirrel. Like squirrels, they’re fast and hide at the slightest sound, so do your best to keep quiet if you spot one. You might just snag a photo before it scurries off!
The spectacled bear is South America’s only bear species, and the Machu Picchu ruins happen to be one of their favorite habitats. However, as an elusive, nocturnal and endangered species, the chances of spotting one during your visit are relatively slim. They tend to stick to the denser forested areas and usually only make appearances at the ruins a few times a year.
Backroads Pro Tip
To ensure you see a spectacled bear during your visit to Machu Picchu, pay a visit to the Andean Bear Rescue Center, which is located on the grounds of the Hotel Inkaterra Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes. You’ll have the chance to stand face-to-face with the endangered species there and learn about the Inkaterra Asociación’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts.
Occurring every June 21, the winter solstice is one of the most incredible moments to visit Machu Picchu. During the time of the Incas, the winter solstice was celebrated as a festival dedicated to the sun, their primary deity. The Incas built the Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu with the winter solstice in mind. Every June 21 at dawn, the sun’s rays shine perfectly through one of the temple’s two windows, illuminating the ceremonial stone within. The second window is perfectly aligned with the rising sun’s rays on the summer solstice.
Backroads Pro Tip
To view the magical solstice moment from a good vantage point, snag a seat on the first bus up the mountain. Aim to reach the gates of Machu Picchu as they open at 6:00 a.m. (You can be a little later but not much!) This’ll give you plenty of time to beeline for the Temple of the Sun and to grab a good seat for nature’s show. Afterward, head over to the sundial (the Intihuatana stone) to watch the sun cast a triangle-shaped shadow on the flat rock behind it.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—visiting Machu Picchu has become a much more regulated affair. When it comes to the crowds, the government’s new rules work in your favor. The new visitation regulations implemented in 2017 cap the number of daily Machu Picchu visitors at 2,500 and restrict visitors to morning or afternoon visiting slots, meaning there’s no longer daylong lingerers at the site. For even fewer crowds, avoid Sundays, when Cusco locals can visit the citadel for free. Instead, time your trip for April or May or September through November. During these windows, the weather is just right, and the throngs of North American and European travelers on summer vacation have either not yet arrived or are long gone.
Machu Picchu’s hilltop location delivers a host of adventures that extend far beyond simply wandering the terraces and ruins of the main site:
Huayna Picchu Mountain Hike
This short (but steep) hike takes you up the famous peak that appears in the background of nearly every Machu Picchu photo. The views from the top are spectacular, with the ruins of Machu Picchu immediately below and nothing but jungle-coated mountains behind. Don’t miss the Temple of the Moon en route to or from the summit.
Machu Picchu Mountain Hike
On the Machu Picchu Mountain hike, you’ll earn the classic view of Machu Picchu, with Huayna Picchu rising up behind the ruins. The hike is rigorous and long, with steep, narrow sections the closer you get to the summit. This hike, as well as the Huayna Picchu hike, requires a special ticket that can be purchased in combination with your Machu Picchu ticket.
Sun Gate Hike
Once the citadel’s main entrance, the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) is how Inca Trail trekkers arrive at Machu Picchu. It’s the perfect spot to sit and to soak in the surreal setting and views. The steep, well-marked journey to it takes about 45 minutes to an hour and requires no special ticket. Look for signs pointing to the trail at the Caretaker’s Hut.
Inca Bridge Hike
The Inca Bridge is located around the back side of Machu Picchu, and it’s a short 20-minute walk from the trailhead. The bridge, a narrow and cliff-hugging plank construction, is believed to have once served as the secret entrance to Machu Picchu. This, like the Sun Gate hike, is included in your entrance price to Machu Picchu.
Travel to Machu Picchu with Backroads
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