“The weather of the Andes is like the women of the Andes: changeable and unpredictable.”
– A popular Cusco saying
When I first landed in Cusco, I was decked out in two layers of shirts and pants, a jacket, a scarf, knee-high boots and wool socks—because a city high up in the Peruvian Andes must be cold all the time, right? I soon found out how wrong I was. When I walked outside of the Cusco airport, I started sweating under the intense heat of an unexpectedly sunny day.
“It’s amazing!” my host Manuel told me as he loaded my luggage into his car. “Before you arrived, it was cloudy all day. Now it’s so sunny, as if Cusco is welcoming you.”
But two hours later, the skies turned dark and I heard pounding on the roof of my guesthouse. I ran outside into the biting chill of the wind and realized it was hailing. Nickel-sized balls of ice pelted my surroundings.
“This is Cusco’s snow,” Manuel joked.
From then on, I learned to expect the unexpected from the weather in Cusco, Peru.
Temperatures and Seasons in Cusco, Peru
Temperatures in Cusco don’t vary much during the year (the temperature holds in the 60s-70s Fahrenheit during the day and 30s-40s at night), and it never snows, but the region does have two distinct seasons: dry and rainy.
Dry Season: May to October
Rainy Season: November to April
Also note that Peru is located in the Southern Hemisphere, so wintertime in the United States is summertime in Peru, and vice versa.
Deciding When to Go to Cusco
So when’s the best time to visit? It depends. May to October will have the most sunshine and hardly any rain, plus June is the most festival-packed month. However, June to August sees tourists crowding the city more than any other time of the year. Rainy season is low season, so it won’t be as crowded and prices, especially for housing, tend to be lower. But then you have the heavy rains to deal with. My advice? If you love being in on all the action and crowds, you’ll love May through August. But if you enjoy peace and quiet, and don’t mind a lot of rain, November through February is your best bet.
Insider’s Tip: If you get caught in the rain without an umbrella, don’t worry. Usually dozens of vendors will show up out of nowhere and set up shop on the side of the road selling umbrellas (paraguas).
Getting Heat in a Cold City
Despite Cusco being in the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit at night throughout the year, heaters are very uncommon. Buildings usually don’t have central heating, and though space heaters can be found, they are a rarity. The Cusqueñan solution to cold nights? Alpaca blankets. They can be found on every bed of every home and hostel. These blankets are thick, patterned, and highly effective. My first week in Cusco I told my host it was too cold, and even though I already had three alpaca blankets on my bed, he gave me three more. That night I slept with the weight of six alpaca blankets smothering me—but it was definitely warm.
Backpacker hostels and guesthouses are highly unlikely to have heat. Upscale hotels will likely have heat. It’s best to call or email and find out.
Another option is to buy a “natural” heater. Some Cusqueñans have large clay pots in which they pour a special type of alcohol and then light a fire. The pots can be bought at the Plaza Túpac Amaru, and the alcohol can be bought at San Pedro Market. Just be careful, as using these natural heaters creates a fire hazard.
Because I was staying in Cusco long-term, I bought an electric space heater from El Molino market.
You’ll also often see people sitting or standing outside of homes and businesses during the day. That’s their way of warming up naturally with the sun’s rays. So if you’re in a store or restaurant and can’t seem to find the employee, check outside; they might have just been too cold to stay inside.
Other Tips on Weather in Cusco, Peru
- Because of Cusco’s high altitude (11,000+ feet!), the sun is particularly intense, so even if you don’t usually burn, be prepared for sunburn in Cusco.
- No matter the time of the year, Cusco is cold at night (between 30° and 40°F).
- The air is very dry, so bring moisturizing products to treat cracked hands and lips.
- Personally, my days in Cusco were spent vacillating between sweating in the sunlight, and shivering in the shade. At night, I was always cold. I ended up buying a down jacket, which I highly recommend for Cusco.
I hope this helps you understand the weather in Cusco, Peru, as I’m sure it will shape what you pack and what time of year you visit.
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Want more tips on travel to Peru?
- How Much My Trip to Machu Picchu Cost
- 10 Ways to Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu
- The Ultimate South America Packing List
- I also wrote a book on long-term travel to Cusco, Peru!