Hike Peru's Lares Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
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Constructed by the Incas over 500 years ago, the Lares Inca Trail is the second most famous stretch of Inca road system – consisting of 40,000 kilometres (25,000 miles) of trail spanning north to south through Chile, Ecuador and Peru.
As the sister hike to the Classic Inca Trail (the Classic Inca Trail being the most famous hiking trail to Machu Picchu), Peru’s Lares Inca Trail is the perfect way to follow in the footsteps of the ancient Incas... but by hiking a trail less travelled, so you’re guaranteed to get a far greater connection to the local Peruvian culture and you won’t have to worry about rubbing shoulders with crowds of fellow hikers while you’re enjoying the stunning mountainous vistas of the Peruvian Andes.
Photo: Happy hikers ascending a ridge on the Lares Inca Trail, Peru
Start your hike: Your journey to Machu Picchu (via the Lares Inca Trail) will start in Peru’s city of Cuzco. From Cuzco you’ll catch a bus and travel to the town of Lares, where you’ll be taken to the Lares Hot Springs. This thermal resort is only 300 meters from the center of Lares town, and this is where you’ll find the beginning / trailhead of the Lares Inca Trail.
Finish your hike: At the end of the 3rd day of hiking the Lares Inca Trail you’ll arrive at Ollantaytambo - this is the end of hiking section of the Lares trek to Machu Picchu. From Ollantaytambo you’ll board a train to Aguas Calientes where you’ll enjoy a hot shower and cozy night's sleep at a local hotel, then hike or bus to Machu Picchu on the morning of the 4th day.
IMPORTANT: Before you begin your hike, think about what you’ll do for transport from Machu Picchu back to Aguas Calientes and Cuzco. A guided tour (like our ‘Jaguar’ trip) will take care of all of this for you, but if you’re looking at other tour operators you’ll want to make sure this is all included since the buses and trains will fill up, and accommodation in Aguas Calientes will book out.
Although you’ll hike to a slightly higher elevation on the Lares Inca Trail (4809 m / 15,777 ft on the Lares, compared to 4226 m / 13,866 ft on the Classic Inca Trail), the Lares Inca Trail is significantly less technical and is shorter in total distance to the Classic Inca Trail (33km / 20.5miles on the Lares, compared to 43km / 26.7miles on the Classic Inca Trail). So over all, the Lares Trail is commonly seen as the least physically demanding option for hiking on the journey to Machu Picchu.
Photo: Group photo of happy hikers at the highest point of the Lares Inca Trail
Most people say you need to be in relatively good physical condition to hike the Lares Inca Trail. It's not that the hike itself is extremely difficult, but it’s more a case of making sure you take all of the best precautions to prepare for the altitude. At its highest point, the Lares Inca Trail ascends to 4,809 meters (15,777 feet) which is high enough for most people to be affected by altitude sickness and/or a lack of energy due to the lower oxygen levels. So with that in mind, the worst thing you can do is to fly straight into Cuzco and start hiking the same day. It’s a good idea is to spend a couple of days acclimatizing in Cuzco, checking out the local culture and sights and even gently letting your body get used to the thin air.
Altitude sickness on the Lares Inca Trail should be taken very seriously and monitored very closely. If you’re wondering what you can do about altitude sickness while you’re on the trail, the most important thing to do is to communicate with your trip leader and travel companions as to how you’re feeling at all times. As soon as you or anyone else is feeling ill, experience has told us that taking it easy, eating lightly and drinking a lot of water are all elements that assist with remedying the sickness. Our guides are extremely well trained in the matter, and they’ll always be there to advise you as and when you need it.
If you’re wondering how to prevent altitude sickness on the Lares Trek – we’ve found that the best thing you can do is to take a couple of days to explore the city of Cuzco and take a gentle bike ride in the Sacred Valley before you begin your hike. This will get your body used to the thinner air, by staying active but at a less strenuous pace. This is why you’ll notice that the best tour operators – who have been running trips in Peru for decades, will offer a 7 or 10 day guided trek to Machu Picchu… opposed to the shorter 4 day / 3 night option. Their cases of altitude sickness are far less than the shorter trips, meaning everyone is more relaxed along the way, getting a far greater connection to the local Peruvian culture and spending more time soaking in the stunning Andean mountain vistas. It’s a simple formula that works well.
Day 1: Cusco – Lares – Cuncani
Maximum altitude : 3883 m / 12739 ft
Minimum altitude : 3260 m / 10695 ft
Distance Travelled : 8.04 km / 4.99 ml
Approximate Walking Time : 5h30
Day 2: Cuncani – Paso de Pumahuanca – Paccha
Maximum altitude : 4809 m / 15777 ft
Minimum altitude : 3883 m / 12739 ft
Distance Travelled : 15.95 km / 9,32 ml
Approximate Walking Time : 9h30
Day 3: Paccha – Piscigranja – Ollantaytambo – Train to Aguas Calientes
Maximum altitude : 4074 m / 13366 ft
Minimum altitude : 2875m / 9432 ft
Distance Travelled : 10 km / 6,21 ml
Approximate Walking Time : 4h20
For a detailed breakdown of these daily hiking distances and elevations, and to learn about the highlights along the way – take a look at the Lares Inca Trail Itinerary.
Weather-wise, the most popular time to hike the Lares Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is during the dry season that runs from May to October, when the rainfall in the Amazon basin is at its lowest and you’ll be able to make the most of Peru’s blue-sky-days. Having said that, April and November are great choices too, since you tend to get the best of both worlds when it comes to the weather and there are fewer tourists around - which is always a good thing if you ask us!
Lares Inca Trail closures
Unlike The Classic Inca Trail which is closed each year for the month of February, the Lares Inca Trail is open for hiking all year round! So if you’re committed to travelling in February, then you’ll still be able to hike the Lares.
Yes… but it’s not recommended. The Lares Inca Trail isn’t exactly one single path taking you from A to B, it’s an entire network of trails that follow a valley. Along the way it’s easy to get lost or miss a camping spot. Hiking solo means you’ll have to carry all of your own camping gear, food, boil your own drinking water, and you’re very vulnerable to the elements if you get struck by altitude sickness or you twist and ankle. There’s also the logistical issues of organizing transport from Cuzco to the town of Lares, then the connection from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu (including accommodations at Aguas Calientes and entry tickets to Machu Picchu).
So for these reasons, it’s highly recommended to join a guided hiking tour of the Lares Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu.
Photo: Peruvian Porter with his mule at the highest pass on the Lares Inca Trail
Unlike the Classic Inca Trail, you do not need to purchase hiking permits for the Lares Inca Trail. There are no daily restrictions of hikers on the Lares Trek, since there are only a handful of hikers departing each day and the majority of tourists tend to hike the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Prepare for your Lares Inca Trail hike before you arrive in Peru
Lares Inca Trail guided tours are designed for real people, both beginners to the world of hiking and seasoned adventurers alike. Your guides will tailor your trip to your ability, letting you set the pace, regardless of which end of the spectrum you are.
I’m in Cuzco, what should I do to prepare for the start of my hike?
If you’re arriving in Cuzco from a low-laying homeland and you’re thinking about hiking the Lares Inca Trail on your journey to Machu Picchu, it’s a great idea to take a couple of days to loosen up the legs after your flight, gently adjusting to the altitude of the Andes. A great way to do this is to explore the history, sights and sounds in the beautiful city of Cuzco, and join a group tour for a stunning bike ride through the Sacred Valley. While you’re in the Sacred Valley it’s well worth the short hike to explore the Pisac Ruins.
You’ll find that most tour operators will recommend this transition process, as you’ll see in trips like the 10 day ‘Jaguar’ trip in Peru.
‘Luxury camping’ is a term that’s often referred to when we’re asked about the accommodations on the Lares Inca Trail. If you’re looking for high class lodges along the way, they do exist, but you’ll pay top dollar for the experience. Everyone that hikes the Lares Inca Trail to Machu Picchu camps for the first 2 nights, then the third night is spent at a local hotel in Aguas Calientes – where you’ll enjoy a nice hot shower and stunning local food for dinner, before a good night sleep in a comfortable bed.
Photo: Camp site at the end of day 1 of the Lares Inca Trail hike
For the first 2 nights of the trek, your tents are completely prepared for you before you arrive. You’ll sleep on comfortable camping mats, and only the best tents are used. You’ll stay dry and out of the elements, setting you in good steed for a great nights sleep. Below are examples of the tents used on the Lares Inca Trail. Each morning you’ll wake to hot tea and a facewash delivered to your tent by the porters, before enjoying their freshly cooked breakfast and setting off for the day.
Photos: The bery best North Face tents used for camping during the Lares Inca Trail hike
Food on the Lares Inca Trail
All your drinking water will be supplied for you by your guides and porters. Every day you’ll enjoy delicious sit down breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Your guides will cater for any dietary requirements, and you’ll enjoy a range of homemade marmalades, dried fruits (pineapple, banana, berrys, etc), energy bars and chocolate brownies, and homemade bread.
The photo below was taken at lunch time, on our ‘Jaguar’ trip hike to Machu Picchu:
And don’t worry about the weather – if it’s raining you’ll eat in the shelter of the dining tents:
Toilets on the Lares Inca Trail
Remember, you’re high in the Peruvian Andes, so don’t expect too much comfort. But we’ll make sure your camping experience is as good as it gets. At each camp we use private camping toilets with biodegradable detergents which don’t pollute the environment. We’re constantly trying to ask fellow operators to make the same effort.
For a closer look at the day to day hiking distances, elevations and highlights, click the link below to take a look at the Lares Inca Trail guided tour Itinerary.