Reaching Machu Picchu: The Inca Trail or Lares Trek?

February 18, 2015 Alistair Butchers

Of all of us that work for G Adventures around the world, few are as qualified to answer this question as Alistair Butchers, Innovation Manager for Active and Family product. So we asked, and he answered.

Wine or beer? Cats or dogs? Sun or snow? The Beatles or the Stones? They’re tough questions that don’t really have right answers (except for the last one, which is clearly the Stones). The same can be said of a question we get all the time: “If I want to see Machu Picchu, should I take the Inca Trail or the Lares Trek?” Well, both of these classic treks lead to the same incredible destination and both offer beguiling ways to reach it.

The trekking

Feel alone with the mountains on the Lares trek.

Feel alone with the mountains on the Lares trek.

Inca Trail. The Inca Trail is undoubtedly the more well known of the two. Opened years before the Lares Trek, it’s become very popular with travellers the world over. Starting at km 82 at an altitude of 2,700m (8,858 ft), you climb up to a high point of 4,215m (13,828 ft) at Dead Woman’s Pass.

There is now a limit of 500 daily trekking permits, so while there are times when you’re trekking with no one else around, you’ll likely encounter more people at busy sections, and it does mean campsites can get busy.

Lares Trek. By comparison, the Lares Trek is a much less discovered route so at times, it does feel you are alone with the mountains. Starting at 3,200m (10,499 ft), you ascend up to a maximum of 4,600m (15,092 ft).

Trekking at higher altitudes means you need to be aware of the effects of altitude sickness, and while there’s no way to know if you’ll be affected, as long as you keep your own pace and stay hydrated, you should be fine. There are also no permit restrictions for the Lares Trek, but also nowhere near as many trekkers either.

It’s hard to say which of these routes is harder. You are dealing with more ascents and descents on the Inca Trail, while walking at a higher altitude on the Lares Trek. Both bring unique challenges of their own.

Further reading

The Campsites

Lares Valley Community Campsite

Lares Valley Community Campsite.

Inca Trail. Because of the permit system on the Inca Trail, there are more regulations on this route. This means campsites are also regulated, and that means there are specific spots to pitch a tent. The plus side of this is that some of the sites have working toilets and showers – cold showers, but a refreshing wash nonetheless.

Lares Trek. Lares Trek camping is much less regulated, meaning there’s a lack of facilities after the first night in a Planeterra-supported campsite. What this is replaced by is the atmosphere of staying near small settlements, where local people are happy to see you and offer a small slice of village life.

The Views

Expect to see the Wiñaywayna ruins on the Inca Trail.

Expect to see the Wiñaywayna ruins on the Inca Trail.

Inca Trail. The views you see on each trek offer something very different. The Inca Trail offers a time-worn path to Machu Picchu. This means passing ancient Inca ruins clinging to hillsides along the way. The history each day is dense and fascinating.

Lares Trek. While you do pass ruins on the Lares Trek, there are nowhere near as many and are much less of a factor in the hike. Instead, you get plenty of clear mountain air, deep lakes and jagged peaks. The sense of remoteness is prevalent here, although you do pass through villages and farms on the way. The Lares Trek very much feels like a part of the living experience of Peru, instead of making a way through ancient history.

Further Reading

The Experience

Machu Picchu lies in wait for you.

Machu Picchu lies in wait for you.

The experience itself is difficult to compare. The one thing in common on both of the treks is the exceptional level of service that you receive including full-service camping, with three meals a day and plenty of snacks and water. All of the trekking equipment is in excellent condition, and can be easily hired for both routes.

Inca Trail. Equipment on the Inca Trail is carried by porters, who make for friendly company and provide some good encouragement when the going gets tough.

Lares TrekEquipment on the Lares Trek, however, is carried by mule rather than porter, giving trekkers the freedom to undertake these more challenging routes. Another part of the Lares Trek experience that makes a difference is that after the trek, you continue to Aguas Calientes and spend the night in a hotel in comfort, before ascending to Machu Picchu the next morning.

An experience that stands out on all trips to the Sacred Valley is a visit to the Parwa Restaurant. Built with the help of Planeterra, this place works within the local community to provide delicious meals using produce from the surrounding areas.


And so, if I had to choose, which one would I take? This isn’t as easy as picking England’s newest hit-makers from the 60s. I’d say it’s too difficult to choose because both appeal to me in very different ways. The first image of Machu Picchu you get from the Sun Gate (on the Inca Trail) is unsurpassable; however, the views of the high peaks of the Andes while on the Lares Trek can’t be missed. At the end of the day, I’ll let you choose which you prefer.

Getting There

Be it the mysterious history of the Inca Trail or the jaw-dropping nature of the Lares Trek, we’ve got you covered! See Machu Picchu your way, but by all means, see it.

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