Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Alternatives: The Lares Trek (Weavers Way)

One of the most fascinating all round treks in Peru takes you through the Lares valleys near Machu Picchu. These alternatives to the Inca Trail offer an outstanding combination of fine trekking, mountain scenery, and unforgettable real life experiences with local Andean people.

There are a number of alternative treks around Machu Picchu and Cusco; all excellent in their own ways, so why would you chose the Weavers Way, more commonly known as Lares?

The Inca Trail is full; or you’ve already done it
Probably the main reason people chose an alternative trek in the Cusco area. Only 500 people per day can start the Inca Trail and that includes all guides and porters. In the high season around May to September places go fast and many visitors to Peru and Machu Picchu find that they are not able to do the Inca Trail, but would still like to do a beautiful high Andean trek. Lares is therefore a good option.

To Get Away from the Crowds
The Lares area is still much less visited than the busy Sacred Valley and Inca Trail. Lares is not just one trek but the name of a series of mountains and river valleys around the town of Lares. You can therefore choose the trek that suits you. The most popular route starts in Lares town, and goes over the mountains to Patacancha and then down to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Machu Picchu.

For a more authentic experience, though, you could take the route up to Cancha Cancha and finish in Lares town. On the Cancha Cancha route you can easily spend 4 days seeing only a few locals. It is generally a surprise to arrive in Lares town at the end of the trek and meet your first tourist!

For Gorgeous Mountain Scenery
The Cancha Cancha trek starts in greenery and gradually ascends to the high Andes, past turquoise lakes, snow capped peaks and large open valleys. When the sun shines down it is just breathtaking.

For any Lares trek you will have to cross passes of around 4, 000m (13, 120 feet)affording spectacular views of mountains such as the snow covered Pumahuanja at 5, 318 (17, 443 feet). The Lares area is characterized by wide, glacial valleys and Andean paramo, or moorland.

Lower down in the valleys and as you descend to the lower elevations near the Sacred Valley there is more greenery. People here make a living from growing potatoes, corn and quinoa or keeping alpacas and llamas, much as they have for generations.

For a Real Taste of Daily Life and Culture
Despite its proximity to the busy city of Cusco and the tourist Mecca of Machu Picchu, the Lares area still features a very traditional way of life. Enter the valleys and step back in time.

On your trek you are likely to meet children perched on the mountain sides tending their llamas. At the end of the day they will herd the animals up and take them down to the corrals for the night. Other chores include looking for firewood to cook the evening meal, or weaving small belts and scarves. You might meet locals on the trail carrying goods on horseback; the only form of transport in this area.

People speak the local language of Quechua and women wear a distinctive king of round red hat. Houses are as they would have been 100 years ago; stone built with a thatch on top. If you want to really see how people live in the Andes then one of the Lares treks is an excellent choice.

Hot Springs
Where possible, every trek should of course end with a soak in natural hot springs, surrounded by mountains and with pools of different temperatures to suit all tastes. Locals regularly come to the hot springs in the afternoon but because of the distance from Cusco, at night there will be very few other people there. Finish your trek at Lares hot springs. They are not so easy to get to, and even harder to leave.

To Travel Responsibly
Part of travelling responsibly means having close contact with local communities; with people who then benefit from your visit. In the Lares area you will have ample opportunity to interact with local people, share experiences and learn about each others’ lives. Locals produce fine hand-crafted weavings you can buy directly from the weaver.

Importantly, any decent agent or operator for the Lares area will contribute something to the local communities there. Check their credentials before you book.

Trekking adventure Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail is doubtlessly Peru’s most popular trekking route.

Suggested for the physical fit only it runs for a minimum of 40km and reaches 4,200 m.a.s.l. The stone-paved trail, discovered in 1960 and part of the more than 23,000 km of roads built by the Incas across South America, crosses a notable range of natural landscapes and eco-systems, from thick tropical jungle to the bear, unwelcoming rocks of the Andean mountains. Actually it’s likely the most beautiful walk in South America. The Trail takes 3 to a couple of days of troublesome hiking, and can be started at Chillca ( Kilometre 76 of the Cusco-Machu Picchu train line ) or, most frequently, at Qorihuayrachina, Kilometre 88 of the train line. The first day is comparatively easy, and includes along the route the Inca ruins of Cusichaca, Q’ente, Pulpituyoc, and Llaqtapata, a site employed for crop production stayed well saved. The 2nd day is the hardest of all, often because the ascent becomes more steep. The trail follows original Inca stonework that climbs uphill, ending a little shy of the exact Warmiwauska or Dead Woman’s pass, at 4,200 m.a.s.l. The crossing of the pass opens day 3, after camping in the Pacaymayo valley.

From here it’s downhill.

The Trail descends into the valley and heads to the revived position of Runkuraqay, a miniscule Inca watch post, and then to Sayaqmarka, perched on top of a sheer cliff, from where one can see the start of the giant Amazon rainforest, stretching to Brazil. The final day is another straightforward day, frequently descending and passing thru lush jungles and cloud forests before reaching Machu Picchu, Peru’s most critical holiday maker site, thru the Inti Punku or Gateway of the Sun. Before going for the trail, you need to spend at least 48 hours in Cusco acclimatising, as it features some hard hiking, including 1 or 2 hours above 3,500 m.a.s.l. Otherwise, Acute Mountain illness ( altitude illness ) could make your first few days pretty uncomfortable. In the summertime season, from June to August, you must book far ahead -at least three months-, as the quantity of trek authorizes issued is constrained to five hundred every day ( including tour guides and porters ). Other trekking routes : The Royal or Holy Trail Just before arriving to Aguas Calientes, at km.

104 of the train rails, this trail takes the direction to Phuyupatamarca, climbing up patios and stone steps. After two hours of hiking you arrive to the recently discovered and superbly Wiay Wayna ruins. Found on a steep mountain slope and looking over the Urubamba stream, Wiay Wayna is a pleasant example of Inca terrace design. The name means ‘forever young ‘ in Quechua but masters still disagree on the meaning : some consider it refers back to the ornamental orchids that populate the environment, while others say the name alludes to the Inca rites and rites celebrated in the complex. The trail then converges in the Inca Trail, arriving to Machu Picchu thru the Sun Gate, Inti Punko. A permit is necessary for this route.

Purification Trail Part of the Inca Trail system, this route has been recently discovered by archaeologists. 107 of the train line track ( 3km upstream from Aguas Calientes ), near to the hydroelectric exit pipe. The name, Purification Trail, alludes to the descending pools formed by the stream that runs next to the trail. Putucusi Hike This deadly and demanding 3-hour hike ( round trip ) involves a great reward : the provoking view of the Machu Picchu landscape.

Putucusi ( ‘happy mountain ‘ in Quechua ) is a round-shaped mountain that reaches 2,600 m.a.s.l. At the apex, and is located across the valley from the Inca castle. This is a demanding hike ( only possible in the dry season, March to Nov ), which involves steep ladder climbs and greasy scrambling. Some ladders, stacked into the wall, even go up for 20 meters in nearly a 90 degree desire. Suggested for people with a good level of physical fitness only.