Trip to Peru on your list and wondering about the weather during the rainy season in Cusco? It's certainly a valid question given the logistics, vacation time, and the money required to turn your Machu Picchu dream trip into a reality. We wondered the same ourselves, so we decided to head to Cusco and get some fresh air post-lockdown like many city-dwellers. We're based in Lima, and January is when the kids are out of school on their summer break, so off we went for the whole month!
Does it rain in Cusco in January?
Yes, yes, it certainly does. It rained nearly every day during January; however, the rain comes in patches and most mornings are crisp and bright blue. Occasionally, rain clouds appear mid-morning, but the Sun usually does its meet and greet early. Around midday, things warm up and the first signs of change blow in during the late afternoon or evening, bringing the rain. Of course, there are exceptions, but that’s the gist of it.
We had the luxury of a month in the Sacred Valley, so we decided to plan everything upon arrival as we didn’t quite know what to expect of the weather before going. While we had our fill of showers during the stay, it was never enough to truly “rain on our parade” in any meaningful way. So what are some key takeaways from the trip?
When packing for your Peru trip, you’ll want to consider layers for any itinerary. The temperature varies in the mountains and the difference between the sunny and overcast moments of the day is notable. The average high for January is 66F (19C) and the average low is 45F (7C) to give you an idea of the range of temperatures. Water-resistant shoes and a jacket are also handy.
Planning for Cusco and the Sacred Valley
In terms of organization, while we opted for the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants model, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach if you have limited time. As we were there for a month, we knew that if we couldn’t swing a particular plan one day, there would always be another. It’s recommended that you make your plans in advance, especially since ongoing restrictions in Peru limit the maximum capacity, especially in closed spaces.
Our Cusco itinerary was peppered with visits to archeological sites, outdoor walks, and trips to the neighboring Andean towns. There was never a dull moment. The only non-negotiable activity on our list was Machu Picchu and it was certainly an adventure. Memories were made and we’re glad we could swing it, but getting our ducks in a row to organize the outing required more effort than we expected. When it comes to Machu Picchu, this was the trickiest part to coordinate.
Tips for Machu Picchu
The two main components of bringing the adventure to life are your train ticket and your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu (MP). Two trains run throughout the Sacred Valley and will take you to Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly Aguas Calientes), where you’ll get on the bus that takes you to the top of the llaqta (the archeological site itself). You’ll need to buy your train ticket to coincide with the specific time you’ll be allowed to enter MP as the tickets are allotted according to a timed schedule. To view the site, you’ll want to give yourself around two hours minimum at the site before heading down to MP Pueblo to catch your train back.
As for the trains to Machu Picchu, you have Peru Rail and Inca Rail, each with different options for different budgets. If you’re wondering if it’s worth it to book the Vistadome, it’s a yes from us, hands-down. And if you have the extra budget for the Hiram Bingham, do it; it’s one of the most unique train experiences in the world.
You may want to consider a guide as you tour the ruins to understand the cultural intricacies and historic legacy surrounding this bucketlist wonder. If you’ve decided to wing it and organize the logistics yourself, you can hire a guide in MP Pueblo to accompany you on the bus ride up and give you the lowdown in situ.
If we’re going to be honest, can you organize all of this yourself? Yes, absolutely! Is it a pain? Yes, absolutely! Unfortunately, the user experience involved in coordinating all the moving parts, especially for non-Spanish speakers, is a challenge. Therefore, we would recommend booking the MP visit through an agency without hesitation. It’ll save you a lot of time and stress to go with an agency in the end, even if it’s just the MP visit without the need for them to organize your entire Peru trip. It’s not the only way to go but by far the easiest and most relaxed.
Things to do in the Sacred Valley
Beyond Machu Picchu, you’ll find the Sacred Valley. This is where we chose to be based as we were looking for landscapes, tranquility, and easy access to the valley’s main attractions. About an hour and fifteen minutes away from the center of Cusco city, you’ll arrive at the sleepy town of Maras, which seems set in another time. Right down the road, you’ll get to explore the famous pink salt flats of Maras. The visit here is quite reduced in terms of time as guests are no longer allowed to walk among the salt flats in order to preserve them, thus you’ll be taking it all in from a viewing platform. The visit is fairly quick, so you’ll want to pair this outing with another activity that’s not far away. The agricultural terraces at Moray are the perfect complement. You can also rent four-wheelers or horses for an excursion in the area. Also close to Maras, you can swing by Laguna Huaypo. If you organize yourself ahead of time, you can even coordinate a standup paddle experience at the lake, a truly unique activity.
Ollantaytambo is another fabulous outing to include in your itinerary. We happened to pass through on our way to Machu Picchu as we drove from Maras to catch the train from this Incan citadel full of archeological sites and stories. Urubamba was also just down the hill from us. While it’s not the most beautiful stop, it did offer the best infrastructure in terms of pharmacies, buying groceries, a laundromat, and many of the luxury hotels are located in the area. Near Urubamba, there is a quaint but impressive gem, Hacienda Huayoccari, dating back to Pre-Columbian times. The hacienda played an important role in the exportation of corn and is still operative, while housing a family collection of art, books, and historical artifacts that allow visitors to slow down and immerse themselves in the history of where they’re standing.
On the topic of accommodations, it’s good to know that there are options for every type of traveler in Cusco city and the Sacred Valley. You’ll find 5-star hotels, Airbnb options, guest houses, and everything in between. Our stay was peculiar in that we wanted to try something different and enjoy an off-the-grid experience. Curious about a particular ecohouse design called an Earthship, we were thrilled when we found one in Maras, Peru! It was perfect for what we wanted, landscapes, nature, and an unbeatable location close to everything. We planned most of our excursions for the morning and early afternoon so we could play around outside, relax, have bonfires, and enjoy the stars, all with the backdrop of the breathtaking (literally, haha) Andes.
Is rainy season in Cusco worth the trip?
All in all, if you’re on the fence about rainy season travel to Cusco, there are advantages that made the trip worthwhile. From November to March is Peru’s low season for tourism. That means there are fewer people, which allows for a more intimate experience. There was virtually nobody at Machu Picchu when we visited. Granted, we’re also talking about January 2021, at a time when Covid restrictions had been relaxed but much of the world was still in the throes of the pandemic. Also, as it is the wet season, the hills, fields, and mountains are bright green, making for incredible expeditions through the valley. And lastly, the number of rainbows we saw was unreal. Every day we saw one, and many days we saw double rainbows in their entirety stacked on top of each other seemingly reaching from one side of the valley to the other. You can’t have rainbows without the rain!
So what are you waiting for? Start your planning now! And when you pass through Lima en route to Cusco, look us up for a Lima foodie experience. ¡Buen viaje!
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