When I first heard about the Lares Trek, I knew I wanted to hike it. Sure, it may not be as famous as the Inca Trail or as sexy as the Salkantay – and sure, I’m a city girl who really loves sleeping in proper beds and watching terrible 90’s sitcoms on Netflix – but I knew I would hike it one day. So when I booked my trip down to Peru, I made sure to include it. How hard could it be?
The Lares Trek is a three-day hike through the Peruvian Andes, and it’s becoming more and more popular for people who want to do hiking in Peru but may not have been able to get permits to the Inca Trail. Don’t let the phrase “Inca Trail alternative” trick you, though – the Lares Trek is absolutely phenomenal and has a ton of cool charm you won’t find anywhere on the Inca Trail.
We started our trek in Ollantaytambo, where we stopped at a market to pick up a few things to give out to the locals we were going to meet along the way. Our guide showed us around the market and told us about all the different fruits and potatoes we saw as we went along picking up our wares. Then we were off on a nail-biting two-hour car ride along winding dirt roads to the small village of Lares to stop for lunch and a soak in the hot springs. Yes, we started our trek with a soak in some hot springs.
After dining with our crew of cooks and guides, we started our journey. The first 30 minutes were tough. The steepness of the trail made my asthma kick in and I felt my lungs scream. The altitude hit me. My brain kept saying, “You just had to eat that extra piece of cake three weeks ago, didn’t you?” But I pressed on and saw the trail change to easier, more gradual inclines with breathtaking views.
“Gringas, gringas!” (“foreigners”) we heard in the distance, as three small boys ran toward us. School was out and they were on their two-hour walk home back to their village. We stopped and chatted with them with the help of our guide, Marco (who spoke the local language of Quechuan), and exchanged some phrases. I’m useless at languages, but luckily smiles and high-fives transcend language, so I shared a ton of them over those few days. We reached into our packs and gave the boys some bread and toys and continued on our journey.
For much of the trek we hiked through beautiful scenery, met locals and learned about their way of life, as well as about native plants and traditional Incan medicine . One of the highlights was when we came across a young girl, Carmelita Rose. Our guide asked what she was doing and she simply replied, “I’m looking for my alpacas.” She ran away smiling, off to hunt for her herd. We soon caught up with her and spent about 30 minutes helping her herd her alpacas home for the night. She would whistle and make sharp hissing sounds to keep the animals in line. I tried to whistle and help, but sound that came out was akin to the wind blowing a plastic bag down an alleyway. Carmelita Rose laughed at me and started whistling at me, and I tried to whistle back which made her laugh even more. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be an alpaca herder.
The next day was a lot more challenging. One pass was 150m (492 feet) straight up. But the view at the top was worth it: A beautiful blue lake nestled in around mountain peaks, with the wind howling and snowflakes falling from the clouds. Marco played us traditional music on his wood pipes, and after a few quiet moments of reflection, we were on our way down to make camp for the next night in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We drank tea, played cards and were taught how to dance so we could warm up. I never thought I’d be salsa dancing with a Peruvian horse keeper in a tiny tent in the Andes.
The final day was a tough descent, but we were rewarded at the bottom with cold drinks, a final meal and a welcome change of shoes before the drive back to the Sacred Valley.
The Lares Trek is a fantastic trek through Peru. The breathtaking scenery, interaction with local people and complete quiet of the Andes mountains was a life-changing experience – and one I think is completely worth the challenge. And hey, if you can whistle you may even be able to pick up part time work as an alpaca herder.