Best time to go to the Andes


temperature & rainfall

Locations: Bolivia | Chile | Ecuador | Peru
Nov-Mar are the rainiest season in the Andes, plus the Inca Trail closes for renovation each Feb – the wettest month. The best time to visit the Andes is in May to Oct, when it is cooler (particularly the further south you go) but dry, with the best chance of blue skies and strikingly clear views. If you’re adding the Amazon into your trip, this is also a great time to visit. However, if you’re continuing on down to Patagonia, the far south all but shuts down for the southern hemisphere winter.

When to go to the Andes


a month by month guide

As these mountains are so huge, there is no terrible time to go to the Andes; you may just need to adjust your latitude and altitude to get the most out of each season. For example, November, December, January, February and March are wet in Peru and Ecuador, but the height of summer in Patagonia.

The Inca Trail closes for renovation in the wettest month of February, but Machu Picchu does not. If you’re kitted up with waterproofs, you can take the train to the ruins and explore it without all the unwashed trekkers spoiling the (soggy) view.

July and August will be the busiest months in the northern Andes as they coincide with many school vacations as well as some of the brightest weather. You’ll need to book well in advance, especially if planning to hike the Inca Trail, and expect higher prices for flights and accommodation.

If you can travel either side of the busy period, May to June and September to October offer great weather without the crowds and higher prices. April can also be a good time as the scenery is lush after the recent rains, and the Inca Trail has only recently reopened.

Inca Trail permits usually go on sale for the following season between October and December. This has been getting earlier in recent years due to high demand – so keep an eye out and speak to your vacation company to ensure you get in early if planning to trek at peak times.

Expect celebrations around the summer solstice, 21 June, for Inti Raymi – the Festival of the Sun.

See our in depth guides for more information on the best time to visit Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Patagonia.

Things to do in the Andes


what to do & what not to

Things to do in the Andes…


These mountains were made for walking, and whether you’re here on a dedicated hiking vacation or just fancy stepping out for a day or two, there are plenty of routes to choose from. Ecuador has multi day treks around the Quilotoa Loop, combining Quichua villages with stunning crater lakes and gorgeous ecolodges; or head higher up, into the páramo, to be surrounded by swirling mists, surreal plants, and – if you’re lucky – the odd condor. In Peru, of course, the Inca Trail needs no introduction, and on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca you can hike across the mystical Isla del Sol.
Machu Picchu is a must see, of course. You can take the four-day Inca Trail trek to this mountaintop citadel, but if you don’t have enough days – or strong enough knees – scenic train journeys travel here from Cuzco, meaning Machu Picchu really is open for all. Our top tips: spend a night in the nearby town to give you an extra day to explore, and book well in advance, particularly if traveling between April and August; trekking permits and train tickets sell out many months in advance.
Border hopping in the Andes is incredibly easy, and gives you a much more rounded view of these mighty mountains. Travel overland between Chile and Bolivia – crossing in the Atacama Desert – or Bolivia and Peru, where Lake Titicaca straddles the border.

Things not to do in the Andes…


Race to the top. Acclimatisation is everything in the Andes, and if you are attempting to summit Cotopaxi, trek the Inca Trail, or cruise across Titicaca, be sure to spend a few days acclimatising at lower elevations. Even the common entry points such as Quito, Cuzco and La Paz are brutally high, so take it easy, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol to help your body adjust.
Focus on the bucket list names. The Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, the Salar de Uyuni, Lake Titicaca… All of these are deservedly famous, and you don’t want to come all this way just to miss them. But do get off the ‘Gringo Trail’ for at least part of your vacation. Visit Latacunga or Saquisili markets in place of Otavalo; opt for the little-trodden Lares or Salkantay treks to Machu Picchu; walk around the volcano-ringed Cuicocha Lake or the blue crater of Quilotoa instead of automatically opting for Titicaca.
Overlook the culture. With scenery this dramatic, it can be easy to ignore those who live in the Andes. But the market towns, colonial cities, crazy capitals and indigenous villages are a huge part of what makes these mountains so special. Book a homestay with a Quichua family, get to know your Peruvian porters, meet the last ‘Ice Man’ of Chimborazo, and learn a few words of Spanish as an icebreaker of your own.

Andes travel tips


advice from our South America experts


Daniel Pawlyn and Martin Ruffo from our supplier, Intrepid Travel, share their advice on traveling in the Andes:

The Andes – country by country


Martin Ruffo is from Argentina. He shares his tips on the highlights of each Andean country: “Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia offer the most culturally rich side of the Andes, where ancestry traditions remain alive today as much as they did in the times when the Incas ruled this land. Plus – there aren’t many mountain hikes in the world that lead you to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World like the Inca Trail does. In Bolivia, the three-day 4x4 tour of the Uyuni Region gives you access to one of the most remote and isolated sides of the Andes. Personally, I believe that Patagonia is one of the best hiking areas in South America. The beauty of this region is unparalleled. But I’m perhaps a little biased!”

How fit do you need to be?


Daniel Pawlyn: “Preparation depends a lot on your destination and planned trekking route. The treks to Machu Picchu can reach quite high altitudes (Dead Women’s Pass is 4,200m) so I would get fit and pack coca tablets to help combat the effects of altitude. The W Trek in Patagonia on the other hand is mostly under 1,000m altitude so is more like a mountain walk in the UK. In all cases you need to be prepared for changeable mountain weather with the correct clothing and gear.”

Why book a small group tour?


Daniel Pawlyn: “There are three main reasons for taking a small group vacation in the Andes. First, all the logistics of the trek are organised for you, including porterage of bags and meals, allowing you to simply enjoy the walking and scenery. Second, the trip leader and walking guides have incredible knowledge of the mountains’ flora, fauna and culture, so you’ll learn so much more. Finally, you’ll meet wonderful, likeminded people in your group, enjoying conversations while trekking, meals in the evening and just sharing the experience.”
Martin Ruffo: “It is only because we travel in small groups that we can facilitate joint activities and interactions with local communities the way we do in Peru. Only small groups allow us to camp at quiet sites in Patagonia or to stay at smaller and cosy properties along the way. Of course, this style of travel is not for everyone but, for people that are after these kinds of experiences, small groups are the only way.”

Responsible tourism in the Andes


Heather MacBrayne, Director of our supplier Discover South America: ““Learn a few words of the local language (Quechua or Aymara depending where you are) and take coca leaves to help with the altitude. They are also a great gift for local people you may meet along the way who believe in the Andean concept of ayni or exchange.
When booking a guided trek make sure that you are booking with a reputable operator. In several Andean countries many trek operators are still very informal and although there may be guidelines in terms of employment conditions for local staff these are often not enforced.

Sadly there are inadequate rubbish disposal facilities in many remote Andean villages and as plastic packaging becomes more popular it is more and more of a problem. Do your bit by taking minimal plastic packaging and carrying out what you carry in. If you notice litter while out on a walk you can pick that up too! There are recycling facilities in many Andean cities now.”

Preparing for Andes treks


Heather MacBrayne, Director of our supplier Discover South America: “If tackling a multiday trek in the Andes (such as the Inca Trail) focus your training walks on steep up and downhill treks. Consider rubber tipped walking poles to protect your knees on the downhills. Invest in a comfortable day pack with breathable panels and a waist strap. When walking for several hours at a time you will really feel the difference. Invest in a refillable water bottle and either water purification tablets or one with a built in filter. Andean power bars made from popped quinoa and kiwicha [amaranth – a type of seed] are available in Peru and Bolivia and make an excellent local alternative to imported power bars.”
Kathy Jarvis, from our supplier Andean Trails, on what to pack for the Inca Trail: “The more acclimatised you are, the more you’ll enjoy it. You can suffer a lot if you try and force your body too high, too soon – as well as it being dangerous. So allow as much time as possible as you can before trekking. And then it’s a case of having the right clothes – good kit, jackets, waterproofs, warm gloves, hats. It’s better to bring your own sleeping bag. There are some for hire, but it’s quite a personal thing! If you’re camping at 4,000-5,000m, then you’ll need a good, four-season sleeping bag. On the Inca Trail, you actually camp at about 3,600m, so you could get away with a smaller bag.”

Andes travel advice


tips from our vacation reviews

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Andes travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your suitcase.
“Ecuador is incredibly diverse, people genuinely interested, especially when "the only Gringo on the Bus!"” – Phil Madden

“Research your vacation well in advance and tailor your trip to meet individual needs. Allow time to acclimatise before moving on to high altitude. Ensure you build in time to rest and do your own thing… Local people are very tuned in to environmentally friendly behaviour and encourage visitors to do likewise. We were able to support local industries through local visits and purchases.” – Cicely Olive on a tailor made vacation in Peru

“Peru is a wonderful destination with so much more to offer than just the iconic Machu Picchu - all thoroughly recommended… As we did, do the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction, so that you finish up with Macchu Pichu as the jewel in the crown, but don't miss out Arequipa and Colca Canyon.” – Paul Mors

“Be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions. Wrap up warmly in the haciendas, especially at night. Wear plenty of warm clothes to watch the "last iceman". Yet be prepared for warm sunshine too, especially at lower altitudes and during the middle of the day.” – Andrew Wintersgill in Ecuador
Written by Vicki Brown
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Photo credits: [Page banner: alphis tay] [Temp chart: Dimitry B.] [Helpdesk: Esmée Winnubst] [Country by country: Diego Delso] [Why book a small group tour: Phil Whitehouse] [Responsible tourism - coca: young shanahan] [Preparing for Andes treks: AHLN] [Review 1 - Paul Mors: johnjodeery] [Review 2 - Phil Madden: young shanahan]
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