PERU TRAVEL PLANNER
When to go
Picking the best time to visit Peru's various regions is
complicated by the country's physical characteristics. Summer along the desert
coast more or less fits the expected image of the southern hemisphere -
extremely hot and sunny between December and March (especially in the north),
cooler and with a frequent hazy mist between April and November. Sometimes
though, in the polluted environs of Lima , the coastal winter can get cold
enough to require a sweater. Swimming is possible all year round, though the
water itself (thanks to the Humboldt Current) is cool-to-cold at the best of
times, except for the most northern beaches. To swim or surf for any length of
time south of Máncora , you'd need to follow local custom and wear a wetsuit.
Apart from the occasional shower over Lima it hardly ever rains in the desert.
The freak exception, every ten years or so, is when the shift in ocean currents
of El Niño causes torrential downpours, devastating crops, roads and communities
all down the coast. It last broke in 1998, and previous to that in 1983, both
times bringing with it the devastation to crops, bridges and any houses
constructed in or too close to apparently dry river beds.
In the Andes
Machu Picchu, the seasons are more clearly marked, with heavy rains from
December to March and a relatively dry period from June to September, when,
although it can be cold at night, it is certainly the best time for
most outward-bound activities. Some of the mountain rivers go up a few levels
for rafting and canoeing in the rainy season, but anyone serious about this
should contact the experts in the field for advice on planning an itinerary. And
of course, there are always a few sunny weeks in the rainy season and wet ones
in the dry. A similar pattern dominates much of the jungle , though rainfall
here is heavier and more frequent, and it's hot and humid all year round. The
lowland rainforest areas around Iquitos have a fairly consistent pattern of rain
and sun all year, but they are affected by rising or dropping water levels,
according to the rainy season or dry season in the mountains where the
headwaters starts. This means that water levels are higher between December and
January, which offers distinct advantages for spotting wildlife and access by
canoe to remote creeks.
At the risk of over-generalizing then, the coast should be visited around
January while it's hot, and the mountains and jungles are at their best after
the rains, from May until September, except for the Iquitos region. Since this
is unlikely to be possible on a single trip, there's little point in worrying
about it - the country's attractions are invariably enough to override the need
for guarantees of good weather.