As a travel photographer, I'm lucky to spend my life discovering some of the world’s most incredible attractions. Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world, has been at the top of my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I'm also a firm believer that the journey is just as important as the destination — and the three-day Lares Trek, part of the seven-day Lares Trek tour, is the epitome of “the journey.”
From turquoise lagoons and dizzying altitudes to smiling locals herding their Alpacas, this is one hike you will treasure (and celebrate completing) for years to come. Having just conquered this epic trek with Lonely Planet Pathfinders here are ten things you should know about hiking the Lares Trek.
1. You get the best of Inca history and local culture
The Lares Trek doesn’t include as many Inca ruins as some of the other treks in the region, but it more than compensates with a look at local life and breathtaking scenery. Before trekkers start the hike, there’s a day tour comprising some of the most famous Inca sites around the Sacred Valley, once home to the Inca Empire.
The incredible agricultural terraces and Inca fortresses above the village of Písac and in the town of Ollantaytambo provide a fascinating look into how farming was maximized in the empire. Separating history from hiking gave me the time I needed to truly appreciate and understand the Inca Empire’s importance.
2. It's not a "runner up"
With only five hundred permits issued a day for the Inca Trail, forward planning is essential. The Lares Trek, on the other hand, is relatively undiscovered (at least currently).
Nevertheless, I have heard many people comparing the two; to be honest, I don't think it's a fair comparison. They both offer up incredible experiences, but with different focuses. If you want to escape into the wild, experience local living in Peru and still challenge yourself on a hike, the Lares Trek may be more suited to you. And with the Lares Trek, there’s the option to take a train into Machu Picchu. Not only is this one of the most stunning rail journeys in the world, but it gives you the chance to enjoy a warm shower and get some shut-eye in a real bed before exploring Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail hikes directly into the Lost City of the Incas, so depending on how clean and comfortable you want to be for that once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Lares Trek might be your winning ticket.
3. You'll feel like you have the Andes to yourself
On a three-day hike, I could count on just one hand how many other tourists were hiking the Lares trail. The remoteness added to the magical and spiritual vibe that you'll start to feel the second you arrive in Cusco. Sometimes on the hike I would just stop and listen to nothing but silence while surrounded by mountain peaks more than five thousand metres high. If you want to be humbled by nature, then the Andes will happily oblige.
4. It's a great chance to live (and learn) local
The history of the Inca Empire was tumultuous. These days, however, Peru’s native Quechua residents are an important part of the country’s cultural fabric.
On my hike, my tour group visited a local family and learned about weaving, how to dye Alpaca wool, and about a number of cultural traditions (did you know a Quechua girl must skin a Guinea pig to prove she is ready for marriage?). The G Adventures-supported Planeterra community projects provide real impact and opportunities for the local communities, and it was fantastic to see tourism used as a force for good. (It’s also worth learning some of the local Quechua language before arriving to help you make the most of these encounters; not everyone will speak Spanish.)
5. The stars will blow your mind
Being a city slicker, it's easy to forget how incredible the night sky truly is. High in the Andean Mountains, the Lares Trek will treat you to some of the most impressive views of the Milky May and constellations you'll ever see. Both nights, I sat outside clutching my warm coca-leaf tea until it became too chilly to admire the night sky.
6. Pack light and pack smart
On the Lares Trek, all of your belongings will be carried by pack mules and transported between campsites by porters. For this reason, minimizing weight is essential, to help your four-legged friends out. In addition, I'd advise keeping your day pack as light as possible (I regret taking quite so much camera gear). The less you’re carrying, the more energy you’ll have to enjoy the hike.
7. Don't let Day 2 beat you: The views are worth it!
While this isn't the most challenging hike in the world, it’s no walk in the park. The altitude, especially on Day 2 — when you reach an altitude of 4,800 metres, the Lares Trek’s highest point — can affect even the healthiest and most acclimatized of people. Day 2 is the toughest day of the hike, so take it at your own pace, but soldier on. Once you reach the top, the views are truly incredible — trekking down through the Valley a nice respite. Plus, no trekker is left behind: with an assistant guide on each trek, your group can take two different speeds, allowing some to go at a slower pace.
8. This is camping reimagined
Both the G Adventures campsites on the Lares Trek basic have fitted toilet and shower blocks. If you aren't a fan of freezing first thing in the morning, I'd recommend washing with the warm water bowls the provided in the morning. Oh, and a word to the wise: on the Lares Trek, wet wipes are your best friend.
One of the stand outs of the trek is the food: each meal was better than the last. Three courses of soups, fresh fish, egg dishes and delicious desserts somehow made it out of the kitchen each day, to all of our surprise. On the last day, we were presented with a whole iced cake as congratulations for completing the trek.
Don't make the mistake of skimping on the gear; these mountains are cold. If you don't have a four-season sleeping bag, rent one. Plus, an air mattress and hiking poles are worthy investments.
9. Coca leaves are king
Altitude sickness is very much a real thing, so factor this in when planning for the Lares Trek. Even if you are taking altitude sickness-preventing pills (called Diamox) before you arrive or relying on acclimation to the altitude in Cusco, the coca leaf may be of use to you.
Chewing on these leaves is the go-to in the Andes for both medicinal purposes and to ease the effects of altitude. If you aren't a fan of rolling these green leaves into a chewable ball, do take the tea when offered by the porters. Plus, if you stock up on a bag of the leaves from a market, you’ll have the perfect gift and conversation-starter when you meet locals.
10. Machu Picchu doesn't disappoint
Ever worry that something isn't going to be worth the hype? Well, Machu Picchu is not one of those places!
After completing the 36-kilometer hike, exploring these incredible and ruins is the ultimate reward — and they are as impressive in real life as they are in all those Instagram photos you've spent years drooling over. While you may not have arrived on foot, the scenic train journey from Ollayntambo to Aguas Calientes will leave you speechless before rising early the next morning to bus up to the main entrance.
If there is one thing I can guarantee at the end of this trip, it’s that you'll be planning your next trip back as soon as you get home.
Ready to take on the Lares Trek? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Peru — including the Lares Trek — here.