There’s no greater satisfaction than conquering the Inca Trail, especially by the power of your happily exhausted legs. Reaching remarkable Machu Picchu is only part of the incredible journey, and as Express reader Sean Kennaway discovered there’s more than one way up in Peru…
“In October I travelled around Peru with Intrepid and as part of the trip our group was to complete the Inca Trail, the last section of the track that ends directly at Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is limited to 500 trekkers per day and I had booked the trip too late to get a permit, so I was offered the alternative Lares Trek.
After doing some research it seemed that the two treks were quite different, with the terrain and scenery varying considerably. The Lares goes through local villages so there’s the chance to interact with indigenous Quechuan people, living almost as they have done for the last few hundred years. The trek is rated by some as more difficult than the Inca Trail, so it was with a little trepidation that I decided to do Lares, and hoped I wasn’t overestimating my training, or lack thereof.
Day one we bussed out of Cuzco early in the morning through the Andes to the town of Lares. After enjoying some nice hot soup and tasty pasta we set out and stomped into the Lares Valley on a four hour hike up a gentle incline to our first campsite in a local village.
Our overnight stop was the backyard of our horseman’s property and it was nice to be greeted by our tents already erected and the dining tent ready for us. Not long after arriving the rain ominously started to drip down and we made an offering to Pachamama (Incan Goddess – Mother Universe) that the clouds would rain themselves out during the night for our second day of walking, which was supposed to be the most difficult.
Woken at 5.30am by our cook with a steaming cup of coca tea, we slowly surfaced to see what Pachamama had in store. It was an amazing morning, mostly clear, with a few clouds sitting on the distant mountains that were now covered in a fresh layer of snow. It was a beautiful sight.
Our second day of trekking took us deep into the valley. On the way we met many llamas and alpacas and some local kids with infectious smiles. The trail was nice and gradual for the first three hours, but with the peak of our trek in sight we knew that we were in for a hard slog. Luckily the weather stayed fine and we inched our way up the mountain, taking numerous rest breaks to catch our breath and enjoy the views which distracted me from the pain in my legs and back, and the lack of oxygen in my lungs caused by the 4600m (15,092 feet) altitude. The highest air I have ever breathed and the views from the top were simply spectacular!
Continuing over the other side of the pass we made our way down to our second campsite via an impossibly steep section, with the rocky ground giving way causing our feet to slip. Set in a small forest by a babbling stream, we sat around a campfire to ward off the small mosquito-type biting things and drank a welcoming coca tea to celebrate our achievement.
Day three we rose to find another beautiful day (thank you Pachamama). The last four hours were all downhill. My knees only just made it to the final stop, a small village in the Sacred Valley where we were picked up by taxi and shuttled to Ollantaytambo. From here it was a train ride to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu, to recover and prepare for our next day’s visit to the astounding Sun Gate and Inca ruins.
While a tough trek, Lares really was an incredible three days. The amazing views and opportunity to interact with local villagers on the way was a great surprise. Now the planning begins to complete the traditional Inca Trail sometime in the future and compare the two!”
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