Hidden within the magnificent snow-capped Andes a few hours north of Cuzco is the small Quechuan community of Cuncani . It’s the starting point for the Lares trek—an amazing three-day hike through the mountains and communities surrounding the Sacred Valley with views of the snow-capped Cordillera de Vilcanota range.
The Lares Valley lies in the east of the Urupampa mountain range, traversing part of the Sacred Valley—the centre of an empire that from the 1200s stretched out from Cuzco to conquer a large swathe of pre-Columbian South America. Before the Spanish conquistadores destroyed the Inca dynasty in the 1500s, the Incas governed a territory the size of Western Europe.
As part of the Brand Team, G Adventures photographer and art director Leonardo Tamburri has had the opportunity to shoot some of the world’s most intriguing destinations. With this photo essay, Tamburri moves through the Lares Valley, not only to capture its unique landscapes, but to offer his insight into this remote and rarely visited region.
After a short drive from Ollantaytambo, we started out. The Lares Trek all the advantages of the Inca Trail—breathtaking mountain scenery and the legacy of the ancient Incas—but fewer trekkers. It seems that Lares is far enough away from the crowds that it has changed little since the days of Empire.
In order to tackle the first steep inclines and owing to the altitude, we kept to a slow pace. As we trekked, I began to get a sense of how far away from everything we truly were. The views were magnificent as we started weaving along the Cuncani valley.
Around mid-day, we made it to Quencapata and stopped for lunch—a hearty soup. The sky was so clear and the sun so warm that we felt comfortable enough to be out in short sleeves.
We camped overnight near Kuyoc. G Adventures and Planeterra work closely with nearby communities, who’ve never formally enjoyed the benefits of hosting campers in the Lares Valley. Travellers enjoy flush toilets with biodigestion system, solar showers, and the region’s first solid waste management system, while the local communities can enjoy regular access to a steady market of travellers. This photograph was taken in the morning in the crisp mountain air right after sunrise. Sunrise at altitude is like no other. Your new day begins before anybody else’s as the sky lights up over the valleys below.
We broke down camp and started walking. Llamas were the only living things we saw that morning. These cameloids played an important role in Inca culture—and still do in nearby communities today. They were the primary transportation source for the Empire, which had a vast mountain road system but no wheels.
The scale of the landscape is incomprehensible at first view. I can imagine that even the people that live in the midst of these stark and breathtaking views can never really get used to them—and even those who’ve grown up in the region still have their breath stolen away.
Of course there were plenty of rests and breaks along the way. Each one afforded an opportunity for a great photograph. Thanks to this llama, you can begin to appreciate the amazing scale of the Andean landscapes.
As we walked along, the trail afforded us great views of the nearby peaks. I noticed the sunlight dancing off the mountain peaks in the distance. In the distance, I noticed the sunlight dancing off the giant snow-capped peaks.
It wasn’t until the second day of the trek we started to encounter more locals and their livestock. Here, a mule tugs his cart up the path.
Walking uphill for about two hours, we passed farmhouses and fields. The local people, descendants of the Incas, have maintained their traditional way of life, growing an amazing variety of potatoes nearly year-round and using their llamas as transportation and alpacas as food and clothing. This little girl seemed as if she was trying to figure who we where—and what we were doing in her backyard.
One of the local women had set up her textile weaving right on this hill. Focused on her work, she didn’t seem to notice us as we hiked by. This isn’t unusual for the Lares Valley, where you’re constantly immersed in scenes of community life—including women working on looms and children heading to school.
On the third day, we started descending to the town of Pumahuanca which was markedly easier than the hike in. Here you might catch condors circling effortlessly in the sky.
Whether hiking up or going back down we had fun the whole way. Enjoying more than the views, we really came together as a group.
G Adventures offers an amazing three-day trek through the mountains and communities surrounding the Sacred Valley with views of the snow-capped Cordillera de Vilcanota range and ending with a spectacular train ride and guided tour of Machu Picchu. Lace up your hiking boots!