(The other of course is the Classic Inca Trail.)
The 4 day Lares Trail gives you a chance to not only explore the local wilderness, but also to get a taste of life in many local indigenous settlements along the way. This lesser worn, less 'touristy' trail takes you through Andean villages and is, as many say, the best way to enjoy an authentic taste of Peruvian village culture.
If you're wondering what points of interest you can expect to encounter along the Lares Trail on your way to Machu Picchu, here is a sneak preview and example itinerary for the Lares Trail.
Quiswarani community is the first small village you'll encounter along the trail. This section also follows along the fringes of powerful raging Andean rivers and takes you up to spectacular views from the first high Andean pass along the way. You will also stroll up to the beautiful Queuña Qocha lagoon and along to Huillcapunku Pass (4,400 metres) where you can sit and soak in the impressive views of snow-capped peaks including Mount Veronica 'Huacay-Willca', Mount Sawasiray and Mount Qollqe Cruz 'The Silver Cross'.
From here you continue to Hualcajasa Pass (4,400 metres), which sits above the home of the Cuncani Community at 3,650 metres. This remote village is one of many small communities inhabited for almost 500 years by people who descend directly from the Inca, and practice a way of life that's hardly changed over that time. Here you will meet villagers who may be just as curious about you, as you are of them, as many of them rarely encounter foreign faces. This gives you a unique opportunity to sample the sounds, scents and customs of daily life here.
If you are traveling with a tour company, when you reach Cuncani, you'll likely be greeted with a hot cup of Coca tea, a refreshing local beverage that helps your body to acclimatise to the higher mountain altitude.
Start your next day in Cuncani with another hot cup of Coca tea. If traveling with a tour group, your guide will probably give you a run down of the history and archaeology of the area. You will hear about local customs and traditions, ancestral farming secrets, food preservation techniques handed down through generations, and the significance of local weaving patterns. If you're lucky - you may even hear about some local Inca legends.
From here it's a gentle trek down to the Chancachaca Valley (3,500 metres) to enjoy beautiful views of the Lares Valley, an area dotted with stone houses and enclosures spread out along the valley floor. We'll amble on to Huacawasi (3,700 metres), another quaint Andean community where you can stop for lunch and a refreshing drink.
Next comes the feast after the entree - the hike to Ipsay Qasa Pass (4,500 metres). Here you can fill your senses once again with magnificent clear views of Mount Mantanay standing at an impressive 5,600 metres.
Later we'll continue on to Ipsay Qocha Lake, yet another pretty spot where you can stop for a familiar and soothing cup of, Andean tea. While you're there, see if you can spot a trout or two in the lakes' calm water...
Ipsay Qocha Lake to Aguas Calientes. The next community you arrive at is Patacancha. Here you'll find children dressed in colorful traditional clothing herding llamas and alpacas. You can be forgiven for thinking you've been sucked into a postcard when you see the local Patacancha and Willoq people clothed in their traditional cultural dress. This region is known, even more so than other communities, for the local's adherence to a customary dress code of sorts, and traditional pastimes. In the Valley of Ollantaytambo you'll also encounter exquisite natural color weavings embellished with Andean iconography and local designs, something the area is famous for.
Everywhere you look, you'll see snapshots of the local Willoq village folk known for their famous red ponchos. These people were among the first Inca Trail porters when Europeans first started coming to the region. Most locals only speak Quechua, the native language of the Incas.
Next is Ollantaytambo; a very pretty town, with cobbled streets and thatched houses. One might think it was left over from a movie set - if it wasn't for the hustle and bustle of activity as people run their daily routines along these alleyways and streets. Here you'll also see llamas, alpacas and of course the areas' famous terraced crops lining the hillsides in distinctive patterns. From here it's a scenic train ride to Aguas Calientes (otherwise known as 'Machu Picchu Town'), the gateway to Machu Picchu.
Awake for an enlivening walk up to the citadel of Machu Picchu for a sunrise view of the ancient city. From here you can explore the many mysteries of the ruins, and ponder the rich history of the site in the surrounding nooks, crannies, tombs and architecture. If you feel energetic, you can opt to climb Huayna Picchu, the tall proud peak overlooking Machu Picchu. Yes it is as it sounds, a steep and precarious 90 minute hike to the top, but the effort is so worth it. Take a moment to let the view soak in, while sitting atop Huayna Picchu looking down in every direction at spectacular views of the site and the valley below.
So there you have it - a sneak peek at some of what you can expect on the Lares Trail. There is so much to see and absorb along either the Lares Trail or Inca Trail. To read more about tour options for the Lares or Inca Trails, click here.
Other pages that may be of interest: