Cusco is the top tourist destination in Peru due to the incredible site of Machu Picchu and its significance as capital of the Inka Empire. However, Cusco can also be the base to the incredible 1.5 million hectare Manu National Park to tour the Cloud Forest and descend into the Amazon Rainforest of the Manu lowlands.
Cusco is located in the Andean mountain range of southern Peru and because of this experiences a cooler climate than the lowland forests to its north and east. Cusco’s wet season is from November/December until March/April (receiving around 120mm of rain each month) and the dry season is from March/April until November/December (receiving about 20mm of rain per month). Cusco experiences its wettest periods in January and February and the driest months in June and July.
In Cusco itself, the temperature is colder than the lowlands with a daily temperature of 9 to 21°C (66 – 70°F) during the day and between 0 – 7°C (32 – 45°F) at night.
For those intending to experience the incredible Manu National Park, you should note that the temperature in the lowland rainforest has a much hotter temperature of about 30 – 35°C (86 – 95°F) by day although the nights can get quite cold. In the tropics, the temperature difference between day and night is often much greater than the differences between seasons.
On a tour from Cusco, you can also visit the Manu lowlands to see the Macaw Clay Licks where different parrots come to feed on the medicinal substrate. These tours include the Bio Trip from Andes to Amazon (6D / 5N), Manu Explorer Program (6D / 5N), and the Manu Tapir & Macaws Program (7D/6N). The Clay Licks are least active between April/May and early July.
Fruiting happens over the wet season (November/December – March/April) drawing an abundance of rainforest wildlife.
There are some festivals in Cusco that you should try and experience if you can. The festival of the Sun or Inti Raymi is celebrated on June 24th and is a main event in Cusco. During this day the whole of Cusco join in on celebrations centered around the re-enactment of Saqsaywaman’s Inca winter solstice.
Best Time To Visit Cusco Graphic
Visiting Machu Picchu & The Inka Trail
Because of the restrictions for tourists permitted on the Inka Trail, regardless of time you wish to travel you should enquire as soon as possible. Choosing a specific time to visit can be difficult as Andean weather is unpredictable despite a distinct wet and dry season. The dry season runs from May to October or November (the best time for this amazing trek) and the rainy season is from December through April. It should be noted that Machu Picchu is surrounded by forest of the Amazon Basin and showers are to be expected at any time of year, but are more intense and frequent during the wet season. Daytime temperatures can vary greatly, from about 10ºC (50ºF) to 28ºC (82ºF) with nighttime temperatures from 10ºC (50ºF) down to around 0ºC (32ºF).
Visiting the Manu Cloud Forest
South America’s Cloud Forests, and especially those in Peru, are a fantastic destination to visit. Here you can find many animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth. The tropical Andes contains 10% of the world’s vascular plants and a high number of bird species, such as Peru’s national bird the Cock of the Rock. Also included in the 1700 bird species found in the Tropical Andes are the world’s most diverse assortment of hummingbirds. This diversity doesn’t stop at birds, are there are 570 known mammals, 600 different reptiles, just under 1000 different amphibians and over 375 different fish. To visit this impressive area from Cusco, you can visit the Cock of the Rock lodge and combine with a visit to the Manu lowland rainforest. If considering the combination tours, they operate between April through October and depart Saturday or Tuesday depending on tour.
The cloud forest is defined as forest that is penetrated by cloud cover. Rainfall here is at about 5000 millimeters / 196 inches for the year with an average temperature of 24°C (75°F). Daily highs are up to 29°C (84°F) and nightly lows of 11°C (52°F). The most rainfall is in the rainy season from November to April.
Visiting the lowland Manu Lowlands
As mentioned under temperature, visiting Manu lowlands bring with it a change in temperature and climate. Rainfall in the Manu Lowlands is around 2500 to 3500 millimeters (98 to 138 inches) per year, with most rainfall occurring in the wet season months from November to April. The average temperature in the Manu lowlands is 28°C (82°F). Manu lowlands has daily highs of 34°C (93°F) and nightly lows of 22°C (72°F).
The cold fronts that affect southern Peru should be noted. In the dry season cold weather can blow in from the South Atlantic and happens once a month on average. These events can cause the daily temperature to fall to 15°C (59°F) and then the nightly temperature to drop to 13°C (55°F).
Visiting Puerto Maldonado
From Cusco, to visit both the Manu National Park and Tambopata National Reserve lowlands you will need to travel to Puerto Maldonado in the south, either by bus or plane. Remember when choosing the best time to visit Puerto Maldonado that this is a lowland jungle town as opposed to a city in the Andes. The temperature here is the more tropical 30 – 33°C (86 – 91°F) during the day.