By Marinel De Jesus
I knew it was only a matter of time before I did a trek in the Lares region of Cusco. After all, I’ve based myself in Peru for the past few years while doing research on the trekking tourism industry in Cusco and designing community-led tours that elevate the roles of women and indigenous communities via my mountain trekking social enterprise, Equity Global Treks, and non-profit human rights organization, The Porter Voice Collective.
Lares is a town in the Calca province of Cusco in Peru. It’s part of the Sacred Valley and is known for the Lares hot spring that attracts tourists who visit Machu Picchu and the surrounding valleys. The trek by the same name has increased in popularity among hikers in recent years. But the Lares trek has different variations to it that take hikers to remote mountain passes and Andean villages along the way. The Lares trek can be completed in 3, 4, or 5 days.
A group of us decided to start in the Pumahuanca section of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley and end in Lares over a period of three days. On the first day, we enjoyed decent weather for hiking. It was sunny with a few clouds and wind in some sections of the trail. We started at 3800 meters and walked all the way up to 4200 meters, where our camp for the night was located. Each of us carried a full pack. Mine weighed around 15 kilos. Climbing at that altitude combined with that much weight proved quite a challenge for all of us but nonetheless, we made it to our camp before sunset as planned. Our camp was near a ridge where I was able to capture a colorful sunset to end our day. That night we enjoyed our dinner around a campfire with the star-filled sky as our company.
The second day of the trek proved to be more difficult as we had to walk up the high pass at 4800 meters. The going was slow, given the steepness of the terrain. We had to climb a total of 600 meters over 3 kilometers to get to the pass. Luckily, we managed to get a horse and a driver to help us with our load that day, so I could climb up with a much lighter load. After reaching the pass and taking some photos, we started the 900-meter descent all the way to our camp for the night in the mountain village of Cuncani.
Along the way, the trail was dotted with high-altitude lakes that were typical in this part of the Andes. Unfortunately, as soon as I started my descent from the pass, it started raining which didn’t stop until nightfall. At some point, we even had hail and wind which reduced the visibility on the trail considerably. It was a reminder that we were trekking during the rainy season, so weather conditions such as this were to be expected. Soaked in my hiking clothes while walking, the only comfort during this time came from seeing some wild alpacas and llamas along the way. My pair of AKU Trekker Pro GTX gave me the confidence I needed to navigate the treacherous muddy and slippery terrain. It kept me going safely no matter how challenging it got on the Andean trails.
After about 4 to 5 hours of walking, we managed to arrive at the village of Cuncani where about 100 Quechua-speaking families reside. While farming remains the primary source of income, the people in this village work in tourism as horse drivers for tour agencies. We made arrangements to set up camp next to the house of our horse driver, Aparicio, that night but with the inclement weather, the driver and the horse arrived an hour later than anticipated. Luckily, Aparicio’s house was unlocked and we were able to keep dry inside the house while we waited for our horse to arrive. That night our group cooked and ate indoors given the rain and the near-freezing temperature. I was able to have a chat with Aparicio about tourism in the area, which is seemingly minimal as they have yet to have hospedajes in the village for tourists. If anything, tourists merely pass through Cuncani by walking as part of the Lares trek.
Our third day was rather easy and short. We woke up much later and took our time cooking our breakfast. At around 10 am, we decided to start our walk toward Lares town, which only took us two hours on a beautiful winding trail that afforded us views of the valley below. En route to the town, we passed by the Lares hot spring. From the hot spring, tourists usually continue on to visit the Incan mountain town of Ollantaytambo and then onward to Machu Picchu. In our case, we took a public van to take us back home. The drive of about two hours back was quite scenic - in fact, it is one of my favorite drives in the Sacred Valley.
The Lares trek lives up to its reputation as an equally beautiful alternative trek to the classic Inca Trail. It’s perfect for those who seek solace and wish to avoid the crowd, as the Lares trek takes you to authentic Andean villages and hot springs within the world-class mountainscapes of the Andes mountains.