Trekking in the Andes: The Lares Trail

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June 1st 2015
Published: June 6th 2015
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Obviously coming to Peru I was keen to go hiking, and the only trek I knew about was the Inca Trail. Lots of other people are obviously in the same position, as it's by far and away the most popular trek, now restricted to 500 people per day, with permits selling out months in advance. So based on not a lot of internet searching I selected the Lares Trail as an alternative. It's a three day hike, and on the fourth day you visit Macchu Picchu. Sounded perfect for us.

However in another of my well-documented examples of failing to read the material very closely, I had not realised just how challenging the trek would be. After it was booked and paid for, Rod, who had actually read the trip notes, mentioned to me that we get pretty high, at our highest point reaching a pass at 4800 metres. From my comfortable sea-level apartment this sounded very achievable. After all, I walked the Annapurna Circuit many years ago and we reached 5400 metres so obviously this would be a doddle. How deceptive time and memories are!

We started early on day one, with a 6.00am pick up from our hotel in Cusco, and a two hour drive to Ollamtaytambo, which was a pretty little town in the Sacred Valley. Rod and I had breakfast in a café overlooking the square, eagerly anticipating the days to come.

We were joined by our trekking companions for the next few days: Ben and Emma, a young couple (both doctors) from the UK; Aoife, another young doctor from Ireland; and Phil, an English engineer based in the Middle East. Once again Rod and I would be the oldest by at least 15 years.

Our next stop was at Calca, a small town with a thriving local market, to stock up on some recommended essentials. It was suggested that we each buy a bag of coca leaves each to chew on as we walked, both for energy and to adjust to the altitude, as well as some bread rolls and fruit to give to local children we would meet on the way. Then after about another hour of driving we finally we arrived at the start of our trek in the Lares Valley, eager to get underway.

The first day’s walking was fairly easy. We stopped for lunch and I was amazed to find that the simple clearing had been transformed, as our horses were carrying gas bottles, tables and chairs and a large tent which doubled as both a kitchen and dining room, not to mention a special bathroom tent which had been set up. Lunch was a cream of asparagus soup, rice with vegetables and a delicious trout with pesto sauce.

After another couple of hours’ easy walking uphill we finally arrived at camp. Our tents had already been set up for us and to my amusement we were soon joined by around a dozen local ladies selling bottles of beer, water, Gatorade, woollen hats and gloves and other little tourist trinkets. Lined up along the stone fence their colourful local clothes made a lovely contrast. They all sold exactly the same thing, so Rod and I tried to space out our purchases – we bought one beer from one lady, one from another and a Gatorade from yet another.

Then it was time to meet our crew: Julio, the chef who was like a magician, conjuring up delicious two-course meals using only a couple of gas rings; Timoteo the ‘waiter’ who also seemed to be in charge of setting up and running the camp site; and our horsemen – Eugenio, Lorenzo and Axel, all from local villages, who run the team of horses that carried our packs and all the gear. Each introduced themselves in Quechua and our guide Jason translated for us. Then Jason explained what was coming up the next day – an early wakeup call with coca tea and a big day of walking. It was a very early night for us.

The next day was much tougher, and it was here that I had glossed over or failed to read the fine print at all. We had a very early start at around 5.00 am and then headed up….up…..and up! We climbed from 3800 metres to 4800 metres over rough stony pathways, as the clouds rolled in. It became very cold. At one point it started to rain, then this became hail, and before too long it was snowing! I was glad of my purchase of two heavy duty ponchos in Cusco, not dreaming that I would ever need to use them.

It was a very hard day, and I was puffing and breathing hard due to the altitude, chewing on the coca leaves hoping for some energy! However despite being the oldest by a very long way Rod and I were at the front of the bunch, which was quite pleasing. Although before we could get too smug, we were humbled when Timoteo, aged 57, carrying a full pack, raced ahead of us to set up camp for the lunch site.

We walked for several hours uphill. Rod’s watch has an altitude reading, and every few minutes someone would ask how high we were, an adult version of “are we there yet?”

The walk was very challenging, but the reward for all this was the stunning scenery over the valleys, beautiful lakes, lush green mountains and snow-capped peaks. We also passed a number of local children, all very quiet and shy and whispering their names in Quechuan to Jason who would translate for us.

There were three in our group who were clearly struggling with both fitness and altitude. Poor Ben was really quite unwell, so ill that for a while he got on one of the horses, which had to be blindfolded before he could climb aboard! Being on a horse as we made our way up the narrow rocky pathways was frankly quite terrifying, and after a while he said he’d rather walk, despite feeling so terrible.

Our group soon split into two, with Rod, Phil and I forging ahead at the front with Julio as our guide. It was exhilarating to reach the high pass, although there was a very cold wind so we didn’t spend long at the top to celebrate despite the stunning scenic views, it was onwards and downwards from then on.

While it was good to be heading downhill, it was slow going as the path was very slippery with loose rocks and gravel or at times very muddy and wet. However after about six hours of walking we reached the lunch spot, which had unbelievable views over the valley. We lay in the sun and snoozed while we waited for the others, who finally arrived about 1 ½ hours later and we all enjoyed a very well-earned lunch.

From there on it was literally downhill all the way. That afternoon we had an easy walk of about 2 hours, before setting up camp in one of the most scenic, yet coldest places I have ever
Start of the Lares trekStart of the Lares trekStart of the Lares trek

Note for drivers: don't go fast, don't kill anyone, don't die. Makes sense really.
stayed in. Some of our group had been advised that they should have two sleeping bags, and at midnight when I was woken because of the cold and I had no more layers to put on, and was lying on the hard ground shivering, I am not sure I have ever been so envious of anyone else in my life. Oh for the luxury of two sleeping bags!

However apart from the cold for a few short hours, this trek was absolutely spectacular. It felt like we had the Andes to ourselves, as apart from the local children and villagers we only saw two other trekking groups. When I think about 500 people every day on the Inca trail I am very grateful that the hiking passes were sold out months ago, as I couldn’t have wished for a better experience on the undiscovered Lares trail.

As I think back to the picturesque valleys and remember the untouched villages, time and memories are still playing tricks, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. What altitude?

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Additional photos below
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Last of the road we travelled up - glad we weren't walking!Last of the road we travelled up - glad we weren't walking!
Last of the road we travelled up - glad we weren't walking!

However then again maybe we should have as a warm up!

6th June 2015

A fine breakfast
RJ I loved this blog..a simple walk in the mountains..and I pictured you looking stylish and elegant at the end. I had never heard of this trek, love the way you always find the path less trodden.
6th June 2015

Not being able to do the Inca Trail and finding the Lares Trail was another blessing in disguise, really spectacular. I can recommend it for sure!
6th June 2015

I had never heard of the Lares Trail...
but it sounds better than the others. I like that horses carried the supplies rather than porters, although I wondered why they didn't use the plentiful llamas like the Incas did. And way to show up those young people! You really are doing South America the right way. I'm enjoying your blogs as usual. Machu Picchu next!
7th June 2015

The Lares Trail was a real treat, I definitely recommend it!
7th June 2015
The Lares Trail

All hail the victors...bit of rain & hail who cares
Bravo Rachael. The Sacred Valley by the Lares Trail...brilliant. I'm looking forward to the object of this quest...starts with the letter after "L" for Lares!
7th June 2015
The Lares Trail

Yes...Macchu Picchu coming soon!
7th June 2015

Altitude ...
You never know how it is going to affect you until you get there and, it's something you can't prepare for. Coca leaves, lollies, cookies etc, do help though. The two in our group who were most affected were the two fittest! Ted and I were fairly lucky as we mostly only had shortness of breath and some light-headedness . "Puff breaks" on the Inca came somewhere between 20 and 30 footsteps, depending on the steep terrain (and when your lungs felt about ready to burst) or, when someone yelled, "Porter!!" as they all had right of way on the trail as they carried all of the gear - food, gas bottles, tables, chairs, tents - everything. No horses - except "shanks' pony" (walking) - as the trail was too steep, rocky and rugged for them . Only the occasional llama. 500 daily on the Inca may sound a lot but, most days we had the trail pretty much to ourselves as people were strung out over long distances, all going at their own pace and nightly camps were staggered for groups so, we were never in a crowd. Have to say though, that the chefs and porters all do a magnificent job and, the spectacular scenery is worth every step and gasp of breath . :) Jan
8th June 2015

You are right, the spectacular scenery does make up for a lot, and I was so iimpressed with the porters and chefs, what a fantastic job they do. I am interested to hear that the trail didn't seem crowded when you were walking it, that is good to hear. I think it's a good thing that they regulate it so strictly. It is such a beautiful part of the world it should be looked after. This has definitely been one of my favourite trips!
7th June 2015
What a lot of llamas!

Oldies but goodies!
Bravo for leading the pack, undaunted by 4800 meters and able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery--true trekkers, you are! I love the little-visited Lares Valley--it's the real Peru without all the tourist trappings, and with children greeting you shyly rather than demanding a coin for a photo. And I must admit, that lunch you described was better than my daily fare. Well done!
8th June 2015
What a lot of llamas!

I would not say I was undaunted! I was very happy to have made it to the top, it felt very rewarding. What a beautiful part of the country, I am lucky to have seen it, plus have our chef the magician along with us!
8th June 2015

Trekking ....
Yours too. :) And yes, It is up to all of us to protect these wonderful parts of the world. You mentioned being the "oldies" in your group. Ted and me too, and we've got a few more years on you yet. :) Ted was 65 at the time and me - 62. A very special moment for us will always be when we finally arrived at the Sun Gate early that morning to see Macchu Picchu sparkling in the early morning sunlight (as if that wasn't special enough) with other groups already having arrived, when a much younger man came up to Ted and asked if he minded him asking him how old he was and when Ted told him our respective ages, everyone standing around just broke into spontaneous applause and cheers and then made a guard of honour for us by raising their trekking poles for us to walk through. (Brought me to tears, I can tell you) So, come on people - just get out there and to coin a well-known phrase .... "just do it!!" If we can - you can too. :) (PS And Ted had had a massive heart attack back in '98! )
8th June 2015

Wow, what a lovely memory! I do think age is but a's up to us to stay healthy and vital so we can enjoy everything that there is on offer. Sounds like you are definitely doing that!
8th June 2015

Lares Trail...
LOVED this blog - I want more! I have been thinking that the Lares Trail would suit us more than the Inca Trail (when we eventually get to Peru), so I was hanging on your every word. I would most likely need a horse at some point too... but I would feel so bad for the poor beast :)
8th June 2015

Thanks Ren! The Lares Trail was a complete revelation to me, and I really loved it. You got to see so much of the local village life and it felt so untouristy. It was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated, however I am famous for not reading the travel notes, so I am sure you would be better prepared! I don't think you would get on the horse, poor Ben was very ill and he said it was absolutely terrifying and despite feeling terrible he would rather walk than be on the horse. I wish I could've had more time in Peru, but I loved it there. However Bolivia the same thing....I could've easily spent more time there. When you make it, go to both!
12th June 2015

Peru is picture perfect
Such a well written blog full of adventure and heart warming stories. Glad you found a great hike. The altitude can be tricky. Dave and I both took the medication and did well. One day Dave decided not to take it and lived to regret it. He went back to the drugs. We loved the Sun Gate in early morning! Mystic, magical and breath taking. The children of Peru are adorable.
13th June 2015

I was lucky, I was pretty good with the altitude, we didn't have the drugs at all. However we also had a lot of time to adjust as we had been in Bolivia or Chile at altitude for about 2 weeks prior and I think that made all the difference. The children were really adorable!

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