When To Go
All the high-season/low-season trade-offs are here. Winter (June through August) means drier weather and easier traveling, but it's prime vacation time for those in the northern hemisphere. Don't forget that three major observances—Inti Raymi (June 24), Peru's Independence Day (July 28), and Santa Rosa de Lima (August 30)—fall during this time, and translate into exceptionally heavy concentrations of Peruvian travelers. (Also consider that Sundays are free for Cusqueños.) The result is higher lodging prices and larger crowds at these times. Prices and visitor numbers drop dramatically during the summer rainy season (October through April). Note that January is the height of rainy season, and the Inca Trail is closed in February. For near-ideal weather and manageable crowds, consider a spring or fall trip.
Entrance to Machu Picchu is now limited to 2,500 visitors a day. In low season this won’t present a problem, but if you are traveling during the winter months (North American summer), be sure to purchase your entrance tickets well ahead of time. If your heart is set on hiking Huayna Picchu, the mountain that is behind Machu Picchu and which affords great views of the citadel below, you should purchase tickets in advance regardless of the season. If you are not using an agency, you can purchase tickets yourself online at www.machupicchu.gob.pe, although the website is occasionally down.
You often hear rumors that Machu Picchu will be closed to tourism in order to preserve it. While this is highly unlikely to happen, there are a number of options being discussed in order to help protect it. Among these are requiring all tourists to be accompanied by licensed guides, restricting the areas that can be visited and/or splitting entrance into morning or afternoon. At this point, nothing has been decided but you should check the current status with a tour operator when making your plans.
Although many travelers day-trip to Machu Picchu, an overnight in Aguas Calientes (the town below the site) lets you experience the ruins long after the day-trippers have left, and before the first train and tour groups arrive in the morning. When booking your return train, it’s best not to do that for the same day you are flying out of Cusco, just to be safe.