Lares Trek vs. The Inca Trail

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The Lares trek vs. the Inca Trail. Which one to take a classic dilemma many trekkers in Peru will face. Both treks are two of the best treks in Peru. The Inca Trail is the classic Peruvian trek and is one of the most famous multi-day treks in South America. The four-day route follows an ancient mountain trail, offering splendid views and passing various Inca ruins. The trail crosses three high passes, the highest of which is the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass (4212 m), before finally arriving at the world-famous ruins of Machu Picchu. However, the Inca Trail is also the busiest and is always fully-booked months in advance

For those searching for something more authentic, the Lares trek offers the chance to walk a route far less commonly attempted than the classic Inca Trail. The Lares trek is shorter and considered a  little easier although it reaches higher altitudes than the Inca Trail. This trek offers spectacular mountain scenery of waterfalls and lakes and is commonly combined with a visit to Machu Picchu on the final day. This trek also passes through several traditional Andean villages and offers the chance to meet locals and learn about their way of life, something not possible on the classic Inca Trail.

Below we give you a breakdown of the Lares trek vs. the Inca Trail.

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Lares trek vs. the Inca Trail: Highlights and lowlights

Inca Trail highlights

  • The ‘original’ trek to Machu Picchu
  • The only trek that takes hikers right to the gates of Machu Picchu on foot
  • Stunning Andean vistas and mysterious cloud forests
  • Chance to cross the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass at 4212 m
  • Several sets of Incan ruins along the way

Inca Trail lowlights

  • Crowded trail due to its popularity
  • Well-developed trail and not a “real” wilderness experience
  • Can be expensive

Lares trek highlights

  • Less busy than the Inca Trail
  • Particularly beautiful trek featuring waterfalls and mountain lakes
  • Chance to see local villages and experience traditional way of life
  • Moderately hard trail with only one significantly high pass, the Ipsaycocha Pass at 4450 m
  • Visit Machu Picchu on the final day (from Aguas Calientes)

Lares trek lowlights

  • Does not actually end in Machu Picchu, the last night of the trek ends in Aguas Calientes, after which you can visit Machu Picchu on the following day.

Lares trek vs. the Inca Trail: Trek facts comparison

Camping along the Inca Trail
Both the Inca Trail and the Lares trek require camping along the scenic routes
  Inca Trail Lares Trek
Difficulty Hard Moderate to hard
Duration Four days Four days
Remoteness Remote mountain trails Passes through villages
Maximum altitudes 4,200 m 4,450 m
Accommodation Camping Camping
Best seasons April – October April – October
Permit required Yes No

Who should choose the Inca Trail?

For some people, it is important to do the ‘real’ Inca Trail and none of the alternatives makes a satisfactory substitute. If you think there is only one trail to Machu Picchu and no visit to Peru would be complete without walking it, then obviously you should opt for the Inca Trail. Remember to book well in advance since places are limited and tickets sell out months beforehand.

This is also the only trek that truly finishes at the ruins of Machu Picchu. All other alternatives require participants to travel to Aguas Calientes for the final night followed by a visit to Machu Picchu on the next day. It is true that catching the first glimpse of the world-famous ruins through the Sun Gate after four days of tough trekking is hard to beat and is something none of the alternative treks can offer. If this is how you want to see Machu Picchu for the first time, there is no other choice.

If you decide you want to attempt the classic Inca trail, there are some things you need to bear in mind. It is by far the most popular and busiest of all the trekking routes in the area. You should not expect solitude or peace and quiet on the trail as you will be trekking with many other trekking groups. The campsites along the route are all busy and there are plenty of places to buy drinks and snacks. You should not expect a wilderness experience like in the pristine Andes far from the crowds.

The classic Inca Trail is also highly regulated, numbers are strictly controlled and documents must be shown at various checkpoints. This can detract from the overall authenticity of the experience. If you are hoping for a true taste of the wild Andes, the Inca Trail might not be the best option.

Lares trek vs. Inca Trail offer beautiful and rugged mountain scenery
Trekkers stop to admire the rugged mountain scenery on the Inca Trail

Who should choose the Lares trek?

If you want to complete a trek in the Sacred Valley and it is not important to you to arrive at Machu Picchu itself on foot, then the Lares trek offers a more rewarding and authentic trekking experience. The Lares trek is suitable for those with limited time since it is shorter than some of the other alternative treks to the Inca Trail. Only two nights are spent in tents while the third night is spent in a hotel in Aguas Calientes. Trekkers will return to Cusco after a visit to Machu Picchu on the fourth day.

This trek is slightly less challenging than the Inca Trail but still not an easy trek. What makes the Lares route unique is that it passes through several traditional mountain villages where the way of life has changed little over the centuries, giving participants the chance to meet local people and even try traditional craft activities such as weaving.

The Lares trek is one of the less commonly attempted alternatives to the Inca Trail, which means it will give participants a much more authentic wilderness experience. The Lares trekking route takes trekkers off-the-beaten-track and along paths where fewer tourists venture while still not straying too far from civilization.

Lares Trek is one of the best treks Peru has to offer
The small town of Ollyantambo is the start location for Lares trek 

Lares trek vs the Inca Trail: Which one to choose?

Both the Lares trek and the Inca Trail are highly rewarding in their own ways. When comparing the Lares trek vs. the Inca Trail, the ultimate decision will depend upon your preference of a classic trail or something more original. You should also think about whether you want to arrive in Machu Picchu on foot or whether you are happy to visit the day after your trek, from Aguas Calientes. If you want to catch your first sight of Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate on the last day of your trek, then you should choose the Inca Trail. If you are willing to forgo this experience in return for a more novel and authentic trekking experience, the beautiful and lesser-known Lares trek is a good option.

Published by Sofie, updated on August 7, 2023

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