Cusco is my favourite city on earth. Not that I have visited them all, but after having spent over 2 weeks roaming the picturesque cobblestone streets of the Inca Capital, I feel a strong connection.
Only a few places pack the punch of culture, history, and natural beauty quite like Cusco. But with its dizzying altitude and equally varied climate, deciding when to visit Cusco could turn into a high-stakes gamble.
After visiting, and speaking to locals, tour agencies, and fellow travellers, I realised that the decision on when to visit Cusco is not the easiest to make. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all time to go. It all depends on your reason for travelling.
Because, yeah, having good weather is nice. But let’s be real: if you’re considering (or have decided) to visit Cusco, you’re not going for the sunshine. There are better places to go to soak up the sun.
So let’s discuss all those different reasons, and the best times to visit for them!
When to Visit Cusco for the Best Weather
The worn-out banners of past colonial empires sway gently in the Peruvian breeze, suggesting the warmth hidden within those walls. Your trusty backpack accompanies you as you navigate the vibrant streets under the afternoon sun.
But when can you expect the sun to shine its brightest?
The Rainy Season
From November to May, Cusco is surrounded by green hills and crystal-clear air. However, you’ll also find rain that pours with the might of Andean gods, moulding the landscape into something wet but beautiful. The city streets are washed clean by the downpour, and the air is crisp.
Yet, having a coffee in a cosy café during rainfall can have a charm all its own.
Because of the weather, these months are generally quieter. So, if you’re keen to visit, but don’t like big crowds, it could just be the time for you. Not everybody can handle the crowdedness of Cusco in summer, which is fair enough.
This weather can definitely be a deciding factor when figuring out when to visit Cusco.
The Dry Season
The dry season, starting in early May and running to October, is the darling of many tourists, offering bright, sunny days and clear, starry nights. But because of the lack of moisture in the air, it also means colder nights.
You see, the moisture in the air in the rainy season also works as a sort of insulation. It’s worth mentioning that the temperature in Cusco during the day is nearly the same all year round. But in the dry season, it gets very cold at night and in the mornings.
The average temperature at night gets as low as 34°F (1.2°C) in July.
The weather in Cusco is not the only weather you should take into account. Often, Cusco is the last stop on a longer journey through Peru.
When to Visit Cusco for the Lowest Prices
Money doesn’t grow on trees. We all know that. But hey, timing can save you some cash. The main reason to visit Cusco? Machu Picchu, of course! While the entry fee stays the same year-round, prices for hotels, tours, and the train to Machu Picchu go fluctuate.
So, when’s the budget-friendly sweet spot? The late rainy season (February and March) offers fewer tourists and the chance of a steal on everything from alpaca wool goodies to a hike to Humantay Lake.
Accommodation prices drop, the once-crowded sites breathe a little, and the city’s buzz turns into a cosy whisper.
Oh, and with fewer tourists around, you’ll have a better shot at that Instagrammable pic without any photobombers. Just saying.
One thing to remember: the Inca Trail closes in February for maintenance, and the wet season can make the stone paths slippery. Both on the trail and in Cusco. Stay safe and enjoy!
When to visit Cusco for the Best Festivities
As the night sky lights up with crackling fireworks, the cobblestone streets come to life. Dancers gracefully move, their feet rhythmically pounding the earth. You won’t want to miss out on this vibrant celebration in the heart of Cusco.
Fiesta de San Sebastián – January 20
What’s the true magic of Fiesta de San Sebastián? It’s the way this vibrant celebration brings the town of Cusco to life, uniting locals and visitors alike in a joyous display of culture and faith.
Picture the streets filled with colourful attire and the sound of lively folk music, as people come together to honour their beloved patron saint, San Sebastián. It’s a festival that paints the town with laughter, creates unforgettable memories, and reminds us of the power of cultural celebration.
The Cusqueño Carnival – February
Every February, the Cusqueño Carnival bursts into life with vibrant parades, folk dances, and a joyful community coming together. It’s a splashy affair with water fights that aren’t just for kids – everyone’s fair game!
So, keep your wits about you and maybe bring a dry change of clothes.
Don’t mix up the name of the festival with the Cusqueña beers! Because tossing a Cusqueña in a water fight? Well, that’s only acceptable if you’re aiming for your own mouth!
The Black Christ – Mid-March to the first week of April
The veneration of El Señor de los Temblores, or The Black Christ, goes beyond a typical spiritual gathering. It’s a truly awe-inspiring tribute unlike any other. Picture this: from mid-March to the first week of April, you’ll witness a captivating blend of Catholic and Andean religious traditions come alive.
And here’s the mind-blowing part: legend has it that this revered statue possesses the power to halt earthquakes! Can you imagine?
As the centuries-old effigy, darkened by incense and candle smoke, passes through the faithful, you can’t help but feel the air fill with a sombre yet serene ambience.
Balconies shower the procession with petals, a symbolic act meant to renew faith and purify the city. It’s not just a mere procession; it’s an extraordinary connection between the divine and the devoted. Absolutely breathtaking!
It’s when to visit Cusco if you don’t like tourist crowds and don’t mind a drizzle of rain every now and then.
Cruz Velacuy or The Feast of Crosses – May 2
Have you ever seen a city transformed by the glow of candlelight and the reverence for tradition? That’s Cruz Velacuy for you. On May 2, Cusco fills with illuminated crosses, decorating not just the churches but homes, hills, and even the most unexpected nooks.
It’s a sight so serene, you’d think the stars decided to vacation in Peru for the night.
Here’s a fun fact: the crosses aren’t just there for show. Each one is a guardian, a protector of the neighbourhood, keeping a watchful eye over the community.
And let me tell you, these aren’t your garden-variety crosses—the craftsmanship is a testament to the local artisans’ skill, a blend of Andean and colonial influences that’ll leave you in awe.
But, it’s not all silent prayers and quiet reflection. Oh no, Cusco knows how to throw a party and Cruz Velacuy is no exception. Music, dancing, feasts—it’s like a block party but with a deeply spiritual twist.
Qoyllur Rit’i – May
In the high Peruvian Andes, there’s a festival that’s nothing short of extraordinary, and it’s called Qoyllur Rit’i. Held annually in May or June to coincide with the full moon before Corpus Christi, this celebration is less known but oh-so-captivating.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims ascend to an unbelievable elevation of over 15,000 feet, braving the cold and thin air. But why? They’re on a spiritual quest to connect with nature and the divine at the Sinakara sanctuary.
There’s something mystic in the air during Qoyllur Rit’i. It’s said that the festival originated with an apparition of the Christ child, known as the “Señor de Qoyllur Rit’i,” and has since blended Andean beliefs with Catholic traditions.
Pilgrims trek to the glacier, believing it’s where stars are born, to seek blessings and metaphorically bring back a piece of starlight to illuminate their lives.
Corpus Christi – June
Corpus Christi, celebrated with a gusto that only Cusco can muster, is a mix of faith and tradition woven into the city’s heart every June. Have you ever witnessed a merging of sacred and communal joy?
That’s what you get here—a spectacle bathed in vibrant colours and echoing with prayers. This is the time when the fifteen patron saints and virgins from nearby churches are taken in a procession to the Cathedral, to “meet” the body of Christ, sixty days after Easter Sunday.
Inti Raymi – June 24th
Let me tell you about Inti Raymi, a festival so vibrant and energetic, that it’s worth planning a trip around—trust me, I know because we did just that! It was held by the Incas each year on June 21st, with the last one in 1535.
This coincides with my birthday, a happy accident! I got to celebrate my birthday most uniquely: by worshipping the sun in Cusco. It made deciding when to visit Cusco a lot easier. For me at least.
Nowadays, Inti Raymi still is a festival dedicated to the sun, but celebrated on June 24th. It’s a theatrical reenactment of what Inti Raymi used to be like. So it’s not fully real anymore, but it doesn’t make it any less fun.
Inti Raymi, which actually means Festival of the Sun, is a traditional Inca celebration that pays homage to the sun god, Inti, a key deity in the Inca culture.
Imagine stepping back in time and witnessing a sea of vivid costumes, the air filled with the sounds of traditional music, and performers engaged in ritualistic dances that celebrate the source of warmth and sustenance.
Our adventure in Cusco was centred around experiencing this spectacle first-hand. As the chilly morning gave way to the warm celebrations, we were surrounded by happy faces, from locals, tourists, and performers alike. We watched in awe as the Sapa Inca, draped in all his regal attire, was paraded on a throne amid chants and offerings.
If you’re a fan of cultural immersion, Inti Raymi is the epitome of it—dazzling, powerful, and humbling, all rolled into one sun-kissed solstice celebration.
We decided not to book a tour with a guide explaining what we were seeing because we were on a very long backpacking trip, and thus on a budget. But luckily for us, the local man next to us loved Inti Raymi so much, he was happy to tell us all about the show.
Honestly, it was so good. Looking back, having a guide tell us what we were seeing made everything extra special. It’s a great performance, but if you know exactly what story they’re telling, it’s even more fascinating.
But that’s just the main event on June 24th. The whole week is filled with traditional dance and music. Parades fill Cusco’s main square, and it seems like there is no end to it. All are in traditional clothing, and every different group is telling their own story.
In the evenings you can watch people practise the dance. We watched a group of young and old reenact the dances. People in their 80s were having so much fun dancing, and remembering the time they were part of the parade.
Pachamama Raymi – August 1
When August rolls around in Cusco, the air buzzes with a different kind of excitement. Pachamama Raymi, or Mother Earth Festival, is when locals pay homage to Pachamama—the nurturing earth goddess revered in Andean culture.
It’s about giving thanks, and believe me, it’s nothing short of vibrant gratitude in full display.
Farmers begin by preparing their lands for sowing, and this isn’t your average gardening session. They dig in with traditional tools, showing respect for keeping age-old agricultural methods alive.
Plus, did you know they often sprinkle their fields with a libation, a symbolic offering of local brew to Pachamama? It’s their way of asking for a blessing for fruitful harvests—a toast to the earth if you will.
While Inti Raymi has a regal flair with its Incan emperor and royal processions, Pachamama Raymi feels more like a heartfelt family gathering.
There’s sincerity and warmth as everyone from small children to grandparents participates in rituals and feasts. It’s the perfect occasion for us visitors to marvel at—and maybe even join in—the Earth’s birthday bash, Andean style!
Also a great time to visit Cusco!
Santurantikuy Festival – December 24
Christmas Eve in Cusco sparkles with a kind of magic you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Cue the Santurantikuy Festival—a storied market that transforms the Plaza de Armas into a festive mix of creativity and tradition.
Can’t you just picture the scene? Stalls brimming with intricate handicrafts, each a testament to the artisans’ skills passed down through generations. It’s quite the sight!
The festival’s name, Santurantikuy, translates poetically to “the sale of saints,” and that’s not just a charming metaphor.
Miniature figurines of saints, baby Jesus, and nativity scenes are the stars of this holiday bazaar. People come from all corners to find the perfect pieces to complete their nativity displays at home.
But don’t think it’s all about buying and selling. Santurantikuy is also a cultural spectacle—a chance to rub elbows with the very heart of Cusco’s community.
As night descends, it’s not just about material gifts. The true gift of Santurantikuy is in the shared smiles, the stories told, and the collective joy swirling in the Andean air.
When to Visit Cusco: The Best Month
Choosing the best month is much like flicking through Polaroids of the same stunning vista. Each photo captures Cusco in a different light: the beauty of the rainy season, the electric green of the early dry season, or the golden glow of festival days in June.
But for a balance between agreeable weather and the buzz of local life, late May and June sit comfortably at the peak of the list.
If you don’t like crowds but still want to immerse yourself in culture, celebrating Christmas in Cusco could be the right call. If you want clear skies and the colourful Inti Raymi Festival, then June is the time for you.
Honestly, speaking from experience, Inti Raymi is amazing. I’d go back just for that.
Where to Stay When Visiting Cusco
Cheap and cheerful, or luxurious and calming. Cusco’s array of accommodations is as diverse as the landscape it sits upon.
📍 Budget option – Hotel Colquewasi
A great hotel with a great price. They include breakfast and have clean rooms. In the historic centre, but a 12-minute walk to the main square. Taxis are cheap in Cusco, though!
📍 Mid-range option – Hotel Amerinka
A great hotel at a great location! Very close to the main square so in the centre of the historic district. Rooms look great and include breakfast. Honestly a great option with a good price for its quality
📍 High-end option – Casa Andina Premium
A beautiful hotel close to all the main attractions of Cusco. It looks amazing. Again, the rooms include breakfast. To be honest, it isn’t the most luxurious one out there, but it has everything you need for a luxury stay. If you want more, you’d just be paying more for the sake of it.
What to Do While in Cusco
Hopefully, you’ve decided when to visit Cusco. And whatever your reason is for visiting: you’ll want the full experience. Let’s find out what some good things to do are. After you’ve decided when to visit Cusco that is.
You have to consider the fact that you have to acclimate to the altitude. And because of that, you can’t just do everything on day 1. I’ve written all about the things to do when getting acclimated to the altitude.
These are some other things you can do after you’ve acclimated.
Trek the Inca Trail
This is the grand odyssey, the pilgrimage of modern times. Walking in the very footsteps of the Incas, the Inca Trail leads to the wonder of Machu Picchu, a sanctuary city hidden high in the Andes.
We did this trek and while it was quite challenging, it wasn’t as dangerous as it sounds. It was majestic, and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Crossing mountaintops, cutting through the Andes only to finally see the grand finale from the Sun Gate after 4 days of blood, sweat, and tears. Honestly. I’m not that emotional. But I cried some tears of joy. I felt so accomplished.
We used Alpaca Expeditions for our trek and highly recommend them
Weave Through the Markets
Unleash your bargaining powers in Cusco’s colourful markets. Here, vibrant textiles tumble in cascades from stalls. A great way to see how the locals do their shopping. As you might have noticed: there aren’t really any supermarkets around.
Humantay Lake is a jewel nestled in the mountains, and getting there is a mix of adventure and sheer bliss. Imagine trailing through rugged mountain paths with the anticipation of crystal blue waters as your reward. Does it sound strenuous? Sure, but the hike to Humantay Lake is absolutely worthwhile.
It’s a climb, and yes, at over 4,200 meters above sea level, it’s literally breathtaking. But aren’t the best views earned, not given? Packing your camera is a must – but even the most high-tech lens can’t quite capture the magic you’ll feel gazing upon the lake’s glacial waters.
It’s a feast for the eyes and a balm for the soul. Plus, there’s that little smug satisfaction of ticking off another incredible sight from your bucket list.
Can you imagine trekking across a landscape that looks like it leapt straight out of a painter’s palette? That’s Rainbow Mountain for you, a geological wonder that’s a testament to the whims of nature’s artistry.
Officially known as Vinicunca, these mountains are streaked with stunning hues of red, yellow, green, and blue. It’s like Mother Nature went wild with her crayons.
But before you set out on this adventure, a word to the wise: the altitude here is no joke, climbing up to about 5,200 meters. So, how do you prepare for the thin air? Hydration and a slow pace are your best buddies on this journey.
And while you’re gasping for breath (because let’s face it, you will be), just remember the reward that awaits. Once you reach the summit, you’re not just treated to the psychedelic rollercoaster of colours—that’s just part of the gig.
You’ll also get a panoramic vista of the Andes that’s so unreal, that you’ll wonder if you’ve stepped into an alternate universe.
Heads up though, Rainbow Mountain is gaining popularity by the minute. It’s no hidden gem anymore—but don’t let that stop you. Just imagine the bragging rights after.
A friendly reminder: you can take a horse to the top instead of hiking. Please don’t. Those horses struggle as much as you with the altitude. I know it’s tempting, but the hike is not that hard. Breathing can get a little difficult, but it’s so much more rewarding to have done the hike yourself.
Plus, the horses don’t take you to the top. They take you along the most flat bit of the hike. You still have to do the steep part at the end.
Short on time and not sure whether to hike Rainbow Mountain or Humantay Lake? Then check out this detailed comparison of both of these amazing hikes!
FAQs – When to Visit Cusco
I’ve discussed a whole lot of stuff now! But in case you have any other questions, here are the most frequently asked ones I haven’t answered yet.
When is the Worst Time to Go to Cusco?
The worst time to hit Cusco’s pavements might be during the height of the rainy season when relentless downpours could put a dampener on outdoor excursions and photo ops.
Equally, during the festival days, the city is a riot of colour and joy, but also teeming with visitors.
It depends on what you do or don’t enjoy. June is the busiest, but has the nicest weather.
February is the quietest and it’s cheaper, but the Inca Trail is closed, and it rains a lot.
Is Cusco Safe?
Cusco is generally safe, but like any city buzzing with tourists, pickpocketing can be a concern. It’s always wise to keep your valuables secure and be cautious, especially in crowded areas.
Also, the altitude requires time for acclimatization. Rest and hydration are key to preventing altitude sickness.
Is Cusco Cheap?
Cusco can be a budget-friendly destination, especially during the off-peak and shoulder seasons. Street food and local markets are great for affordable dining options, and bargaining is common practice in markets.
However, as the central gateway for Machu Picchu, prices can vary greatly.
Should I Reserve My Accommodation in Advance?
It’s highly recommended to secure your hotel room in advance, especially if you’re visiting during peak times like the Inti Raymi Festival. Many popular accommodations fill up quickly, and planning ahead ensures you have options that meet your preferences and budget.
Should I Book My Tours in Advance?
Popular tours, such as the Inca Trail and visits to Machu Picchu, often require advanced booking, sometimes several months ahead, due to limited permits. For less crowded sites and experiences, booking locally upon arrival can work well.
This offers flexibility and potentially lower prices. We only booked the Inca Trail a few months ahead but booked everything else whilst in Cusco.
What Is the Best Month to Go to Machu Picchu?
June and July are typically the best months to visit Machu Picchu. The days are clear, and the morning mists that often shroud the ruins lift to unveil the site’s beauty. However, keep in mind that this is the busiest time, so booking early is crucial.
May and September are quieter months, still with decent weather.
Final Thoughts – When to Visit Cusco
Visiting Cusco is like stepping into a page from history, where every cobblestone whispers tales of the past. Here’s the scoop: to really immerse yourself in Cusco’s charm without the hustle and bustle, aim for the sweet spot months of May and September.
They’re the unsung heroes when you want that perfect balance of weather and fewer selfie sticks blocking your views.
But hey, if you’re looking to join the vibrant chaos of peak season festivities, grab your calendar, and circle those summer months. Just remember to play it cool and act like the seasoned traveller you are by booking your big-ticket items well in advance.
Whether you’re in it for the stories to tell or the memories to cherish, Cusco’s rhythm is set to the pace of your own drum—but a little planning never hurts anyone. So pack your bags, prep for altitude, and get ready for adventure.