Machu Picchu is a site that gathers crowds, with thousands of tourists visiting on a daily basis. Trails wind up towards the mountain peaks over some incredible views of the rugged, ancient landscape. The Inca Trail is the popular tourist route we all know about, but there’s more than one way to get there. One alternative to the Inca Trail is the Lares trek, if you’re hiking Machu Picchu, both these trails offer exciting views and are equally as challenging to get through. Here is your guide to the Lares trek vs Inca Trail.
Distance: 34 kilometres
Altitude: 4,550 metres
The Lares trek is by no means an “easier” trek compared to the Inca, it has a similar difficulty rating, making it an excellent alternative to the Inca Trail if you want to avoid the crowds. Despite its proximity to Cusco and other touristic spots, the area of Lares features a very traditional way of life. You’ll be taken off the beaten track through the spectacular Lares Valley. On the road less travelled, you have the opportunity to take a step back in time and experience a rural traditional life, as you pass through remote mountain communities.
You’ll likely witness locals carrying goods on horseback, which is the only form of transport in the area. If you’re looking for a more cultural experience, then the Lares trek is an excellent alternative. You will have the opportunity to visit and interact with the Andean communities, share experiences and learn about each other’s lives. This trek offers a real insight into the lives of the people of Cusco.
THE TREKKING TERRAIN
Lares is characterised by its wide, glacial valleys and Andean moorland. As you descend to lower elevations near the Sacred Valley the area is much greener. As with all treks to Machu Picchu the paths will be rocky, so it is recommended you wear hiking boots to protect your feet and support your ankles. You also need to prepare for the sometimes icy temperatures at night. There will be times where the elevation is higher, and you will often walk up sloped hills, so bear that in mind to avoid any injuries.
This area is much less visited than other treks to Machu Picchu, which means you likely won’t find it very crowded. The Inca Trail is known to get booked out well in advance of its peak season, so it’s great to have this trek as an option.
Distance: 45 kilometres
Altitude: 4,200 metres.
Everyone has heard about the Inca Trail, because it is one of the most popular trails to Machu Picchu. However, it is only one part of the huge network of paths winding their way up the mountain.
The actual Inca Trail doesn’t start until day two or three of our adventure, as the original has been restored in most other parts. Day two is a tough day with a steep climb and plenty of steps, but you will be rewarded with stunning views into the valley when you reach the top. The declines can be steep, and hard on the knees. On day three, you’ll climb up and down with a view of the lakes and beautiful ruins below.
THE TREKKING TERRAIN
The trekking terrain is difficult and challenging you will have to walk very carefully. In the beginning, the terrain is quite flat but will gradually steepen. The terrain on day three is the most different from the other days, with plenty of lush greenery. Otherwise, you can expect rocky, uneven surface on your ascent. We don’t recommend you attempt the Inca Trail if you suffer from vertigo as there are many high spots with narrow walkways.
It can be quite crowded during peak season, and places usually fill quickly. There will be days when you don’t see any people, depending on the season you go, but there may be times when you see other tour groups along the way.
What our team says…
JOHANNA – INCA TRAIL
“Walking along the Inca Trail was one of the most majestic things I have ever done, and it made me fall in love with trekking even more.
An old family member of mine did the trek about 5 years ago, and I was so captivated by what she had been through, trekking at a high altitude, and seeing those beautiful ruins and views. She told me it was hard, and that she had to take it very slow, as breathing at that altitude was very tough. I couldn’t really understand what she meant until I actually arrived in Cusco. You step out of the plane and straight away the air is so thin that walking up a set of stairs is ten times harder than back home. However, with two acclimatising days in Cusco, the Inca Trail felt achievable.
Despite going at the busiest time of the year, it never felt overcrowded. You’d definitely come across different groups along the way, but everyone walked in a different pace and to be honest, it was nice to meet other people than just my tour group (which consisted of just me, my dad, and staff). It gave me a chance to talk to them about what they were doing here, if they’ve done any other trails that could go on my bucket list – and a chance for me to rest and breath!
I’m not going to lie; day two on the steep ascend and the peak at 4,200 metres was very long and tough. But once I got to the top, the feeling of what I had just achieved together with my dad was amazing. Overall, I didn’t find the trail too hard as everyday is so different, and you see so much along the way that you forget how hard it actually is.
If I was asked to do this trek again tomorrow – I would go in an instant. That’s how incredible it was.”
IMOGEN – INCA TRAIL
“When I decided to tackle the Inca Trail after hearing so many incredible stories, I didn’t really know what to expect apart from a difficult climb and a step back in time.
We departed from Cusco on the morning of the trail in what felt like the middle of the night. Arriving at the start of the trail was very exciting with a real busy buzz of activity from all the porters, trekkers and leaders, and not forgetting a donkey or two. Every turn and step revealed a stunning view or ancient ruin buried on the hillside, it was quite amazing. I had a lovely group of 15 people that came from the USA, UK and Germany. We all helped each other to climb the trail each day with encouraging words and advice.
Every night we gathered in the tent for the most incredible three course meals prepared by our phenomenal porters and chefs. I really don’t know how they carry such huge bags up the mountain especially as they seem to run most of the time! The second day was the most challenging in terms of climbing as there were a lot of steps and it was almost all uphill! But we all made it and cheered each other when we reached the top.
The final day required us to be up and out of our tents by 3am! We then sat in the dark waiting for the gates to open. When they did, it was a mad rush of people trying to get to the top first. After a fast hour and half climb, we made it! Machu Picchu was a marvel with so many nooks and crannies to explore. I loved every minute of this adventure!”
We hope our guide has made the decision a little easier, but your Machu Picchu trek will be amazing no matter how you choose to get there!
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