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Climate of the Sierra

The Peruvian sierra feature variations in terrain and elevation, which result in a unique climate. Discover here what the climate is like in the Peruvian highlands.
Vista de la montaña de colores
Sierra of Peru

In the Peruvian highlands, two well-defined climatic seasons are present: a dry season, from April to October, characterized by sunny days, very cold nights, and no rainfall (the ideal time to visit); and a rainy season, from November to March, when precipitation is abundant (generally over 1,000 mm).

Some general characteristics of the Andean climates include atmospheric dryness, sunlight, which decreases in summer, and temperature differences between sun and shade, night and day, morning and evening.

Departments of the Peruvian Highlands

The Peruvian highlands, a fascinating mountainous region, consists of departments that offer unique experiences to tourists.

In the north: Cajamarca, with its cool climate and pre-Columbian history, invites you to discover its thermal baths and delicious cuisine. Áncash, surrounded by imposing snow-capped peaks, offers a cool climate and unforgettable adventures in the Cordillera Blanca. La Libertad, the climate varies from warm on the coast to cool in the mountains.

In the center: Huánuco, with its mild climate, invites you to discover the Tingo María National Park and the enigmatic Paca Lagoon. Pasco, with its cold climate, is home to the majestic Cerro de Pasco. Junín, with its cool and rainy climate, houses the Junín biosphere reserve. Huancavelica, with its cold mountain climate, captivates with its colonial history and highland landscapes.

In the south we have: Ayacucho, with its mild climate and rich artisan tradition, dazzles with its colonial churches and religious fervor. Apurímac, with its mild climate, offers adventures in the Apurímac Canyon. Cusco, known for its mild climate and impressive archaeological sites, is a must-visit destination. Puno, meanwhile, surprises with its cold climate and the mysterious Lake Titicaca. Arequipa, with its sunny and dry climate, captivates with its colonial architecture and the imposing Colca Canyon.

These destinations, with their diverse climates and attractions, promise an unforgettable experience in the Peruvian highlands.

Vilcanota Mountain Range. Source: CuscoPeru.com
Vilcanota Mountain Range in the Peruvian highlands.

Altitudinal Zones

Warm Zone

There are marked differences between the western and eastern slopes. On the western slope, aridity prevails. On the eastern slope, there is a period of abundant rains during the summer.

This zone is characterized by its warm climate, hosting a diversity of tropical vegetation and a variety of typical fauna of the region.

  • Altitude: Between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level.
  • Temperature: Minimum of 18°C - Maximum of 35°C
  • Precipitation: Between 2,000 and 3,000 mm annually
  • Winds: Between 5 and 10 km/h.

Temperate Zone

In this altitudinal band, the temperate climate offers ideal conditions for agriculture and a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna.

  • Altitude: Between 2,000 and 3,500 meters above sea level.
  • Temperature: Minimum of 12°C - Maximum of 27°C
  • Precipitation: Between 1,500 and 2,500 mm annually
  • Winds: Between 5 and 15 km/h.

Cold Temperate Zone

Located on both the western and eastern slopes, at the upper limits of the punas. Here, temperatures drop, giving way to mist forests and species adapted to the cold, while transitioning towards the puna.

  • Altitude: Between 3,500 and 4,000 meters above sea level.
  • Temperature: Minimum of 6°C - Maximum of 22.5°C
  • Precipitation: Between 1,000 and 2,000 mm annually
  • Winds: Between 10 and 20 km/h.

Cold Zone

The climate is cold, with high atmospheric dryness and thermal variations. The cold climate prevails at this level, with sparse vegetation and the presence of the puna, characterized by grasslands and plants adapted to extreme conditions.

At night, temperatures drop to 0°C, causing freezing in peat bogs and streams, which thaw at dawn.

  • Altitude: Between 4,000 and 5,000 meters above sea level.
  • Temperature: Minimum of 0°C - Maximum of 11°C
  • Precipitation: Between 500 and 1,000 mm annually
  • Winds: Between 15 and 25 km/h.

Very Cold Zone

Temperatures in this zone can be comparable to those characterizing the peripheral polar areas. Although ice and snow persist, the zone receives sunlight all year round.

At the highest altitudes, the extremely cold climate limits plant and animal life but offers stunning landscapes and the chance to experience life at high altitudes.

  • Altitude: Between 5,000 and 6,768 meters above sea level.
  • Temperature: Minimum of 0°C - Maximum of -8°C
  • Precipitation: Below 500 mm annually
  • Winds: Between 20 and 35 km/h.

The altitudinal zones of the Peruvian highlands offer a unique climatic diversity that enriches the experience of tourists visiting this impressive region. From tropical valleys to snow-capped mountains, each level reveals a different facet of Peru's natural beauty.

Ausangate Snow-capped Mountain. Source: CuscoPeru.com
The Ausangate Mountain is located in the very cold highlands.

Seasons in the Highlands

In the Peruvian highlands, the seasons are characterized by two main periods: the rainy season and the dry season. These seasons are closely linked to the climatic changes experienced in the region throughout the year, and are of utmost importance for tourists planning to visit the country.

The rainy season generally occurs during the months of summer and early autumn, between December and March. During this period, precipitation is abundant and can cause intense and prolonged rainfall in the Peruvian highlands.

These rains are vital for maintaining the lush vegetation and diverse ecosystems of the region, but they can also lead to landslides and river overflows, affecting access to some areas and tourist activities.

The dry season occurs during the months of autumn and winter, from April to November. During this time, rainfall significantly decreases and the region experiences a drier and more stable climate.

The days are usually sunny and the temperatures cooler, creating optimal conditions for exploring the Peruvian highlands and engaging in outdoor activities such as trekking, climbing, and cultural tourism.

It is important to note that the rainy and dry seasons in the Peruvian highlands can vary slightly depending on geographical location and altitude.

For tourists visiting the Peruvian highlands, it is essential to consider these seasons when planning their trip. During the rainy season, it is important to be prepared for possible changes in the itinerary due to weather conditions, while the dry season offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy all the natural and cultural wonders that this region has to offer.

Ausangate Snow-capped Mountain. Source: CuscoPeru.com
During the dry season, snowfalls occur in the mountain ranges.

Climates of Tourist Cities in the Peruvian Highlands

Explore the various climate conditions of tourist cities such as Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, Cajamarca, Huaraz, and Ayacucho, ranging from subtropical to high mountain cold climates.

Climate in Cusco

Cusco, located in the Peruvian Andes, enjoys a temperate climate throughout the year, with average temperatures between 10 °C and 20 °C. During the day, temperatures are usually warm, while at night they drop. Rains are more frequent between November and March.

Climate in Arequipa

Arequipa, known as the White City, has an arid and dry climate. Daytime temperatures typically range from 20°C to 25°C but can reach up to 30°C in summer. Nights are cool, with temperatures around 10°C. Rainfall is infrequent, mainly concentrated between January and March.

Climate in Puno

Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, has a cold and dry climate due to its high altitude. Daytime temperatures vary between 10 °C and 20 °C, while nights are much colder, with temperatures below 5 °C. Rains are more common between December and March, with a drier climate for the rest of the year.

Climate in Cajamarca

Cajamarca has a subtropical mountain climate. Daytime temperatures typically range from 15 °C to 20 °C, with cooler nights around 10 °C. Rains are more intense between November and March, with January and February being the rainiest months.

Climate in Huaraz

Huaraz, in the Cordillera Blanca, has a cool mountain climate. During the day, temperatures range from 15 °C to 20 °C, but can drop below 5 °C at night. Rains are more frequent between December and March, with a drier climate for the remainder of the year.

Climate in Ayacucho

Ayacucho has a temperate and dry climate. Daytime temperatures typically range from 20 °C to 25 °C, with cool nights around 10 °C. Rains are uncommon, mainly concentrated between January and March.

Floating Islands in Puno. Source: CuscoPeru.com
The floating islands in Puno are located in the highlands of Peru.

What to See and Do in the Cusco Highlands?

Discover the natural and cultural richness of the Cusco highlands, from its majestic mountain ranges and snow-capped peaks to its archaeological legacy and the vibrant Andean culture that thrives in the region.

Important Archaeological Sites

The Peruvian highlands host an impressive array of archaeological sites that provide a window into the fascinating past of this region. From ancient Inca cities to mysterious pre-Inca ruins, these sites are must-visit destinations for tourists wishing to explore the historical and cultural wealth of the country.

  • Machu Picchu: Located in the province of Cusco. Situated at an altitude of approximately 2,430 meters, this ancient Inca city is the main attraction of the Peruvian highlands. The climate at Machu Picchu is subtropical mountainous, with temperatures ranging from 12°C to 24°C during the day and can drop to as low as 6°C at night.
  • Sacsayhuamán, also in Cusco, known for its imposing stone walls and ceremonial significance. At an altitude of about 3,700 meters above sea level, the climate at Sacsayhuamán is temperate, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C during the day and can significantly drop to 2°C at night.
  • Wari Archaeological Complex, located in Ayacucho, this archaeological site dates back to the pre-Inca period. Situated at an altitude of approximately 2,800 meters above sea level, the climate at Wari is temperate and dry, with daytime temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C and cool nights around 10°C.
  • Huánuco Pampa, in the province of Huánuco, is another archaeologically significant site. At an altitude of about 3,600 meters above sea level, this ceremonial complex offers a fascinating glimpse into the Wari culture. The climate at Huánuco Pampa is cool mountainous, with daytime temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C and cold nights around 5°C.
  • Chavín de Huántar, in Ancash, is an archaeological site declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Located at an altitude of approximately 3,100 meters above sea level, the climate at Chavín de Huántar is cool mountainous, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C during the day and can drop at night.

These are just a few of the fascinating archaeological sites that can be found in the Peruvian highlands. Each offers a unique experience for tourists, combining history, culture, and natural beauty in a stunning setting.

Tour Machu Picchu y Montaña de 7 Colores Tour Machu Picchu y Montaña de 7 Colores

Mountain Ranges

The Peruvian highlands are home to some of the world's most impressive mountain ranges, offering spectacular landscapes and unforgettable experiences for adventurous tourists.

  • White Mountain Range, located in the Ancash region. With snow-capped peaks rising over 6,000 meters above sea level, this impressive site is home to beautiful glaciers and crystal-clear lagoons. The climate in the Cordillera Blanca is cold mountainous, with temperatures that can drop below zero, even in summer.
  • Huayhuash Mountain Range, also in Ancash, known for its challenging trekking routes and stunning alpine landscapes. With altitudes exceeding 5,000 meters, this range offers breathtaking panoramic views and the opportunity to explore some of Peru's highest peaks.
  • Vilcabamba Mountain Range, located in the Cusco region, this range houses the famous archaeological complex of Machu Picchu and offers some of the most impressive views of the Peruvian Andes. With elevations exceeding 6,000 meters, the climate in the Cordillera Vilcabamba varies from warm in the lower lands to cold at higher elevations.
Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Source: CuscoPeru.com
The Inca city of Machu Picchu is located in the Vilcanota Mountain Range.

Snow-capped Mountain

The Peruvian highlands are home to majestic snow-capped peaks that captivate visitors with their imposing beauty and dreamlike landscapes.

  • Huascarán Snow-capped Mountain, located in the Cordillera Blanca, in the Ancash region. With an altitude of 6,768 meters above sea level, it is the highest mountain in Peru and offers stunning panoramic views. The climate at Huascarán is cold mountainous, with temperatures that can drop far below 0°C, especially at higher altitudes.
  • Yerupajá Snow-capped Mountain, also in the Cordillera Blanca, with an altitude of 6,617 meters. This imposing peak is known for its challenging ascent and natural beauty. The climate at Yerupajá is similar to Huascarán, with extreme weather conditions and very cold temperatures.
  • Coropuna Snow-capped Mountain, located in Arequipa, this snow-capped peak is also a volcano, standing at 6,425 meters high. Considered a deity, it has a cold mountain climate with temperatures that can reach down to 0°C.
  • Huandoy Snow-capped Mountain, also in the Cordillera Blanca, is another must-visit destination for mountain enthusiasts. With an altitude of 6,395 meters, Huandoy offers challenging climbing routes and breathtaking landscapes.
  • Ausangate Snow-capped Mountain, located in the Vilcanota Range in Cusco, stands at an altitude of 6,384 meters, making it the fifth highest peak in Peru and considered the most representative of the province of Cusco. It has a cold mountain climate.

Volcanoes

The Peruvian highlands house some of the country's most impressive volcanoes, offering spectacular landscapes and unique experiences for adventurous visitors.

  • Misti Volcano, located near the city of Arequipa. With an altitude of 5,822 meters above sea level, Misti is a popular destination for hiking and climbing. The climate at Misti varies, with warm temperatures in the lowlands and cold at higher elevations.
  • Ubinas Volcano, located in the Moquegua region. At an altitude of 5,672 meters, Ubinas is one of the country's most active volcanoes and offers impressive views of its crater. The climate at Ubinas is cold mountainous, with temperatures that can drop below zero degrees Celsius.
  • Coropuna Volcano, another significant volcano in the Peruvian highlands, located in the Arequipa region. With an altitude of 6,425 meters, Coropuna is the highest volcano in the country and offers breathtaking panoramic views. The climate at Coropuna is cold and windy, with extremely low temperatures at higher elevations.
Misti Volcano in Arequipa. Source: CuscoPeru.com
Misti Volcano in Arequipa

Travel Tips

Here are some useful tips for your visit to the Peruvian highlands:

  • Research the weather, familiarize yourself with the climatic conditions of the region you will visit to pack appropriate clothing.
  • Bring versatile garments that allow you to adapt to sudden temperature changes.
  • Avoid altitude sickness, take your time to acclimatize to the altitude, stay well hydrated to counteract the effects of altitude and prevent dehydration.
  • Choose light meals and avoid excessive alcohol to feel better at high elevations.
  • Sun protection, use sunscreen and wear a hat to protect yourself from the intense sun at high altitudes.
  • Hire local guides, take advantage of the experience of local guides to learn more about the culture and history of the region.

What to Bring to the Peruvian Highlands?

  • Appropriate clothing, prepare layers of versatile clothing to adapt to temperature changes.
  • Comfortable footwear, bring sturdy and comfortable shoes for walking on uneven terrain.
  • Waterproof jacket, protect your clothing and equipment from rain and wind.
  • Hat and gloves, keep your head and hands warm at high altitudes.
  • Light backpack, carry a comfortable and light backpack for your belongings during excursions.
  • Sunscreen, protect your skin from the intense sun at high elevations.
  • Insect repellent, avoid insect bites in areas where they are common.
  • Basic medications, carry a first aid kit with medications for altitude sickness, pain, and discomfort.
  • Camera, capture the incredible landscapes and memorable moments of your trip through the Peruvian highlands.
  • Choose light meals and avoid excessive alcohol to feel better at high elevations.
  • Sun protection, use sunscreen and wear a hat to protect yourself from the intense sun at high altitudes.
  • Hire local guides, take advantage of the experience of local guides to learn more about the culture and history of the region.