Published: March 17th 2009March 3rd 2009
We did a four-day hike to Machu Picchu from Cusco. Instead of walking the traditional Inca Trail, which is filled with other trekkers and must be booked months in advance, we did an alternate route called the Lares Trek. It starts in the small city of Lares, in the mountains.
We (Simon, Lorenzo, Blaise, and us) were picked up early from our hostel and driven several hours to Lares, where there were hotsprings to start us off on our hike. We had lunch, then walked for three hours to our first campsite in a 'low' pass in the mountains. This walk was not easy, not because of the terrain so much, but mostly because of the altitude. Cusco (and Lares) is at about 3500m above sea level, which can make a person out of breath simply by climbing some stairs or running a few blocks. The higher you go, the more it becomes difficult to breathe! Also, we sometimes felt vaguely nauseous or tired, having a bit of altitude sickness. For this, we occasionally chewed coca leaves, and drank tea made of them every morning - it is surprising how well they sort you out.
Our campsite that first
day was the most beautiful campsite imagineable, overlooking the valley we had just walked up on one side, and close to a glassy-smooth lake on the other. The lake fed a stream running past our tents to a waterfall crashing down into the valley. From time to time brightly-dressed local girls or women (Quechuans, post-Inca people of the area) drove herds of sheep and llama across the footbridge. It was very cold - we were glad of our alpaca mitts and hats bought in Cusco.
We were woken up early with coca tea in our tents the next day, and ate a frigid breakfast before starting out. For each meal on the trip, we were served in the eating tent by the cook, who prepared fantastic three-course meals complete with desert and tea. We were very spoiled, which we were not prepared for, but it gave us lots of energy for the hike. This second day, we hiked six hours straight uphill (!) to the highest pass of the trek, 4700m (500m higher than the Inca Trail, ha!). This gave some gorgeous views, and the chance to relax before heading down into the next valley. At the end of
the day, we camped in a grassy clearing beside the path and some rushing rapids. It was much warmer down in the valley!
We ended up being rather faster hikers than the guide had calculated, and so didn't have to walk much on the third day. (It wasn't actually a very hard hike, except for the altitude shortness-of-breath thing.) We ended up the small town of Huaran and were shown a local project that the guide was involved in, in rejuvenating the town's collectively-run farming centre, and building a school and other facilities for local children. The link to the site for this organization is http://cusco-native.com
; apparently they have been the worksite for World Youth International in the past, and are currently accepting internation volunteers to work and learn. Part of the site details the project in Huaran that we visited: http://cusco-native.com/index.php?id=81
We then took a bus to Ollantaytambo, which has an old ruined city shaped like a llama. From here we took a cute little train to Aguas Calientes. It's crazy - the train company was bought a few decades ago by a private company (a terrible decision on the Peruvian governement's part), and so now there
The biggest bird in the world. We visited a charitable organization that raises the birds in captivity, in an effort to help them not go extinct.
are separate prices for locals and tourists. The tourist cost is around $US40 (the local price is several soles - maybe $US2). Tourists can't take the local train, and locals can't take the - much nicer - tourist train. Rediculous! Anyway, we stayed in a super fancy hotel, which was included in the tour (we didn't know how fancy that would be, either. Ironic since we picked the cheapest tour on the web!). The guide also treated us to a nice, regional dinner, but shooed us off to bed at 9pm so we could sleep well for our 4am wake up. The next day we spent visiting Machu Picchu!
There are more photos below