Thinking of taking on a Machu Picchu trek in Peru? It's one mean feat, but comes with an abundance of rewards and is an exceptional travel experience. RGE Travel Coordinator, Katie, tells us how she got on with her own trekking adventure high up in the clouds...
I recently got back from our Machu Picchu Trek and Uyuni Salt Flats trip. This trip includes the chance to go on one of the treks to Machu Picchu and when given the chance to pick one, instead of opting for the famous Inca Trail Trek, I chose for the lesser-known Lares Trek. I knew relatively little about it before going and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect apart from long walks and high altitude, but now I’m back I’m going to tell you why you should choose this route too!
1. It’ll take your breath away (figuratively and literally) - Starting in the town of Lares, winding our way up and over the Andes through the communities of Huacahasi and Patacancha, the views I saw on the Lares Trek were unlike any others I’ve seen (sorry, Grand Canyon and Tongariro Crossing, you’ve just dropped in the rankings!). Sure, it might not have the ruins that the Inca Trail boasts, but the wide open spaces and glacier-capped mountain ranges more than made up for it. Just be aware that the altitude is no joke; the highest point on the Lares trek is nearly 4,600m metres – almost 400 metres higher than Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail. I found myself gasping for air on more than one occasion, but thankfully my guide had local herbal lotions and potions on hand to help open my airways. And trust me, when you reach that high point, a little light headedness will seem so worth it.
2. Peace and quiet - You might be aware that the Inca Trail operates on a permit basis, and there are 500 of them released a day. That means you’ll be on the trek with 499 other people. The Lares Trek, on the other hand, is still relatively unknown. So unknown, in fact, that I can count on two hands the number of other trekkers I saw during my three days of walking. It was the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Plus there were no unwanted selfie sticks blocking my view and ruining my pictures.
3. It’s not a “runner up” to the Inca Trail - Yes, the Inca Trail is the most well-known of the routes to Machu Picchu, popular due to the fact that on day 4 you get to walk through the Sun Gate, however there are a number of other routes that culminate in a visit to Machu Picchu, with the Lares Trek being just one of them. You may not get the chance to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate (although you can certainly walk up to it and back if you want!) but what you do get is a night in Aguas Calientes in a comfortable hotel with a hot shower and the chance to soak your tired muscles in the hot springs. You will also be one of the first people to enter Machu Picchu on the fourth morning, because whilst those on the Inca Trail will walk through the Sun Gate at around 8am, you’ll be on the first bus up to the ruins at 5:30am, walking through the gates by 6:05am, giving you the chance to marvel at one of the New Seven Wonders of the World before it’s seething with other tourists.
4. Pachamama - Mother Earth. We all know who she is, but when was the last time any of us really took a moment to appreciate the incredible planet we live on?! As Millenials and Gen-Z’ers we’re entirely dependent on technology. We can’t go for brunch without snapping a pic of our avocado on toast or latte art and checking in at whichever on-trend place we’re in. I’m not judging, because I’m entirely guilty of this. It was so refreshing to be able to appreciate the beauty of the Andean countryside without having to come up with an appropriately witty hashtag (gotta get those likes!). Learning about the history and culture of the countryside we were traversing from our wonderfully knowledgeable guide gave me a new appreciation for nature and the power we can absorb from it. Don’t get me wrong, as soon as I could connect to Wi-Fi I was uploading those pics, but for almost 72 hours it was nice to be at one with Mother Earth.
5. The Challenge - This one may not apply to you, but it definitely did to me! Any of my family or friends will tell you I am not the most active or outdoorsy of people (unless it involves drinking a G&T whilst pedalo-ing round the lake in Hyde Park...). When I said I was planning on doing the Lares Trek during my trip to Peru I’m sure there are several people (I’m pointing at you, mum!) who didn’t think I’d be able to do this. There were times on the trek that even I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it, but that feeling of elation and accomplishment when you reach Ollantaytambo after a 16km downhill walk (harder than it sounds; I used to have functioning joints... now I’m not so sure!) is so empowering. Travel is all about stepping outside your comfort zone and challenging yourself to try new things, and for me this was my biggest challenge to date.
So what advice would I give to anyone wanting to take on this challenge?
Train for it - I didn’t, unless you count four sessions on the treadmill and stairclimber in the gym. I think I’d have found things a lot easier if I’d done some practice walks (not that there is anything in the UK that can remotely prepare you for this!). You’ll be walking for up to seven hours a day, carrying your daypack with water, snacks, cameras, sun cream etc. etc. Do yourself a favour; put on your walking boots, get outside, and walk!
Pack for all seasons - It rained, it hailed, there was thunder, it was scorching hot, it was freezing cold. In three days I went through ALL the seasons! Invest in some base layers or under armour, a microfleece, and some good walking socks (mine cost £17 a pair, but they were temperature controlled, cushioned and super soft!). You’ll need a sun hat, a woolly hat, and really good sun cream (my Factor 50 didn’t save me from a burnt nose, and I even burned through my clothes somehow). I didn’t have waterproof trousers but I’d recommend taking some because when your leggings/hiking pants are soaked through you’ll kick yourself for thinking you were too cool for waterproof trousers.
Don’t feel bad if you’re the 'slow one' – I was definitely the slow one in my group, no doubt about it, but from the moment I discovered one of my fellow trekkers grew up in the Swiss Alps I knew there was zero chance I’d be able to keep pace! This kind of trek isn’t a competition though, so don’t be afraid to take it slowly, or 'pole pole', as our guide constantly reminded us. You’re there to enjoy yourself and appreciate the spectacular surroundings, not collapse from overexertion, so keep to a pace you're comfortable at, and just do you!
Inspired by Katie's adventure? Book your own Machu Picchu Trek & Uyuni Salt Flats experience right here, or give us a call on 01892 277040, ping us a message online, or get in touch via email at [email protected] to find out more about all our Machu Picchu treks and associated trips.