Lares Trek - Alternative Route to Machu Picchu (or not)

I recently blogged about my 2015 trek on the Salkantay trail, which got me thinking about all my Peru hiking experiences. I've had the good fortune to have trekked most of the routes to Machu Picchu, including doing the Classic Inca Trail nine times, over the course of 16 years working and living in the country. However, now with a family and concomitant responsibility, the opportunities to head into the hills and disconnect for a few days, are few and far between. 

Local, Quechua-speaking girls, with pet dog and pig, selling international-brand soft drinks. 

I have to go back to August 2009 for the previous multi-day trek, Lares. Reassuringly, the photos reveal that I was using the same faded green hoodie then that I wore for the Salkantay trek, six years later! 

There are in fact several routes going by the name of 'Lares Trek', with varying heights and lengths. All include a stop at the remote town of Lares (3,171 m / 10,404 ft), usually on the first day of the trek, and most involve just two days of hiking in total, crossing one high pass. 

Full English Breakfast in Calca. Just missing a pot of Earl Grey tea. 

Unlike the Inca Trail, there is no need to purchase hiking permits months in advance, which makes the Lares Trek a popular option for those who want to enjoy Andean rural culture and scenery, prior to going to Machu Picchu. 

We were a small group, of just three hikers, and our route to Lares involved driving an hour to Calca (2,925 m / 9,596 ft) in the Sacred Valley, where we had (a very local!) breakfast, and then heading northwards and upwards, along a spectacular, but unpaved road.

Hot springs at Lares. 

Once in Lares, we had a dip in the (extremely hot) thermal springs, followed by lunch, and then set off hiking. We stayed the first night in Huacahuasi (3,750 m / 12,377 ft) which had only had electricity installed the year before. This was being used, mainly, to power stereos playing huayno music, which is very popular in Peru's mountain regions, and has slight Asiatic melodic influences, to my untrained ear.  

It's impossible to look bad in a bright orange, plastic poncho and grey woolly hat! 

The second day was spent ascending to Ipsaycocha Pass (4,450 m / 14,600 ft), the high point of the trek; and then descending, past the beautiful lake of the same name, to Patacancha, (3,700 m / 12,139 ft) which is famous for its traditional weaving, and where we camped the night. In fact, the Lares Trek is sometimes known as the 'Weavers' Trek', in recognition of the local textiles that are in evidence throughout. 

The Andean scenery was as spectacular as I had been hoping; the nights as cold as I had feared; but what most surprised me was the amount of interaction with the local, Quechua-speaking people, who appeared at our arrival and seemed unjaded by the attention of foreigners. Perhaps this was because they did not see so many trekkers on this route: we only saw two from the time we left Lares to our arrival in Ollantaytambo (2,792 m / 9,160 ft).

'Ollanta', as it is more commonly known, is a wonderful Inca fortress-town, where the River Patacancha meets the River Urubamba, and is now also a major hub for the train to and from Machu Picchu.

Inca terracing in Patacancha Valley. 

As we approached the town on the third day, down the stunning Patacancha Valley, the Inca presence became increasingly evident: there were small ruins such as Pumamarca, which is thought to have been a residence for Inca nobility. We had it to ourselves when we visited, except for a bull being reared for the ring ... and therefore to be as angry as possible. And the sides of the valley were lined with the terraces for which Inca agriculture is famous, which are being gradually restored by the Peruvian National Culture Institute (INC). 

Pumamarca Inca Ruins. 

Once in Ollanta, the inevitable draw of Machu Picchu was apparent, as groups of trekkers doing the Inca Trail mingled with those taking the train to Aguas Calientes. However, I was in the position of having already been there a few times, so my visit to Cusco on this occasion was to be Machu Picchu-free

So, resisting the temptation to join, I said goodbye to my fellow trekkers as they boarded the train, and headed back to Cusco ... without succumbing to Machu Picchu’s appeal! 

For more information about the Lares Trek, or any of the other routes to Machu Picchu, please get in touch