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 can 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 limited to around 6,000 visitors a day, 600 at a time for 10 entry periods. 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 ahead of time to ensure you get the time slot you want. If your heart is set on hiking Huayna Picchu, the mountain that is in front of Machu Picchu and 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.
You often hear rumors that Machu Picchu will be closed to tourism in order to preserve it. Although this is highly unlikely to happen, there are ongoing discussions and proposals being considered to help protect it. Limiting the number of daily visitors is a good start, as is timed entry, but additional measures include enforcing existing regulations that require all tourists to be accompanied by licensed guides and restricting the amount of time that you can spend in the citadel. Be sure to check the current status of regulations 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. An alternative is to take an evening train back to the Sacred Valley and overnight there. When booking your return train, it’s best not to do so for the same day you are flying out of Cusco, just to be safe.