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The classic Inca Trail Vs. The Lares Trek: Routes, Itinerary, Permits and Experience

Updated on April 14, 2013

So, you’ve made the ultimate choice to take the leap and travel to Peru, to the mighty wonder that is Machu Picchu. But now you are either stuck between a hard choice; do you decide to trek the traditional Inca Trail or the alternative Lares Trek, or do you have no choice; there are no permits left for the Inca Trail…

The Inca Trail combines beautiful mountain scenery, lush cloud forest, subtropical jungle, magnificent Inca ruins and an opportunity to meet welcoming Peruvian village dwellers, but then again the Lares trek too, can offer you this.

The Inca Trail

The Inca Trail Trek is 82km, and is spread across 4days, trekking high up into the mountains and passing the Inca ruins of Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Winay Wayna, before finally arriving at Machu Picchu (through the sun gate) for sunrise. The start of the Inca trail is at a trailhead “km82” of the Machu Picchu railroad.

Day 1. The first day is relatively easy, with 12km being walked, followed by a night of camping

Day 2. Is more challenging, with steeper terrain. The highest pass is trekked on day 2 (Dead Women’s Pass – Warmiwanusca), and at 4200m/13,776ft offers spectacular views of snow peaked mountains and valleys. Again, the night is spent camping. Walking distance: 14km

Day 3. The second and third highest passes are trekked, also offering equally spectacular views. A large Inca stairway cut from granite will lead to the final camp site. Walking distance: 14km

Day 4. An early morning hike will take you across a steep mountainside passage, before crossing the magical sun gate, which artistically frames the city of Machu Picchu.

A permit is required for the Inca Trail. You cannot trek this trail if you have not obtained the required permit.

The Lares Trek

Situated in the beautiful Lares Valley and hidden within the magnificent snow-capped Andes, the Lares Trek is so far off the beaten track that it has changed little in over 500 years. The area has been largely untouched by tourism and therefore retains its authenticity, offering a glimpse of the way life used to be in Peru. The trek consists of 2 nights camping (instead of 3 during the Inca trail), and the last night in a hotel before catching a bus to Machu Picchu on the 4th day.

Day 1. Takes you to the township of Calca (2900m above sea level). Wcawasi is the starting point of the trek, and following an ancient trail, you will arrive at Sondor (4220m above sea level) where you will camp for the night.

Day 2. On this day you will trek up to the first high pass at 4520m above sea level. Following on, you will trek to a second high pass, also at 4520m above sea level, where you will see spectacular views of Aruraycocha Lake. The second night of camping will be spent at 3800m above sea level.

Day 3. An early morning trek takes you to the town of Ollyantaytambo, where you will board a train which will take you to Aguas Calientis (Machu Picchu Town), and it is here you will stay the night.

Day 4. An early start again, boarding a bus which will take you to the entrance of the long awaited city of Machu Picchu.

Comparison between the 2 treks

  • Both treks do NOT lead to the same place, the Inca trail will end at Machu Picchu itself on day 4 (at the sun gate) whilst the Lares trek will end at Ollyantaytambo on day 3, where you will board a train which will take you to Machu Picchu town (Aguas Calientes), where you will stay the night. The next morning you will get a bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu.
  • The Lares trek starts at a higher altitude than the Inca Trail, at 4220m above sea level. The inca trail trek starts at 2500m above sea level. If you already feel you have acclimatised in Cusco, then the altitude should be no problem for you, however some people do have problems with the altitude on the Lares trek.
  • BOTH trips offer a similar opportunity to see beautiful scenery, wildlife and very friendly Peruvian villagers. “Same same – but different”
  • Both trips will offer the same high quality guides, cooks and porters who will cater for your every need.
  • The Inca trail is often very busy at peak times during the year. It is a well trekked route, in comparison with the Lares trek, which is slightly more off the beaten track.


Take plastic bags with you, an essential if it starts to rain. Bags can put on your feet, to stop them getting wet, inside your bag to stop your possessions getting wet, and inside your tent (which are not always fully waterproof) to stop you getting wet!

· Take sensible footwear, especially in the winter when there may be snow.

· You not need to bring a sleeping bag from wherever you are coming from, they can be hired from Cusco (or from the company you have booked your trek with for about US$12). It is advisable to bring a liner for your sleeping bag though.

· The trek company will also provide you with a duffle bag – which the porters will carry for you over the three or four days, leaving you with only your day pack to carry.

· Toilet paper and torch are very handy for those dark nights camping!

· The cooks will provide wonderful meals and snacks, however, if you are hungry type of person, bringing snacks is advisable!

Whichever trek you decide to do, try not to dwell on it too much. Yes – you’ve probably only got one opportunity to do it, but both treks offer an exceptional experience…so ENJOY!

This is a video of what happened at the start of my Lares Trek! after this, it was all smooth - thankfully!

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    • Luno2012 profile image

      Luno2012 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you! Yes, it certainly is beautiful out there :)

    • OutsideTheLines profile image

      OutsideTheLines 6 years ago from Tulsa, OK

      I love traveling and these look like some great destinations! Beautiful landscapes, interesting culture, and lots of outdoor exploration...what more can a man ask for? Awesome hub :)