Inca Trail or Lares Trek?

Peru’s heavenly choices to reach Machu Picchu

Wine or beer? Cats or dogs? The Beatles or the Stones? They’re tough questions that don’t really have right answers (except for the last one, which is clearly the Stones). The same can be said of a question G Adventures gets all the time: “If I want to see Machu Picchu, should I take the Inca Trail or the Lares Trek?” It’s a hard one. Both of these classic treks lead to the same incredible destination and both are nothing short of beguiling.

The trekking

The more famous of the two, the Inca Trail has been open longer. It starts at an altitude of 2,700m (8,858 ft.) and takes you to a high point of 4,215m (13,828 ft.) at Dead Woman’s Pass.

There’s a daily limit of 500 trekking permits at one time. So while there are times when you’re trekking with no one else around, you’ll likely encounter more people at busy sections – and it does mean campsites can get busy.

By comparison, the Lares Trek is a much less discovered route – with no permit regulations – so it can feel as if you’re alone with the mountains at times. Starting at 3,200m (10,499 ft.), you ascend to a maximum of 4,600m (15,092 ft.).

Trekking at higher altitudes means you need to be aware of the effects of altitude sickness. Basically, as long as you keep your own pace and stay hydrated, you should be fine.

The campsites

Because of the permit system on the Inca Trail, camping is also regulated, meaning there are specific spots you can pitch a tent. The plus side of this is some of the sites have working toilets and showers.

Lares Trek camping is much less regulated, meaning there’s a lack of facilities. However, you also get to stay near smaller settlements, where local residents are happy to offer a small slice of village life.

The views

The Inca Trail offers the very famous and time-worn path to Machu Picchu, passing ancient Inca ruins clinging to hillsides along the way. The history learned each day is fascinating.

While you do pass ruins on the Lares Trek, there are fewer. Instead, you get plenty of clear mountain air, deep lakes and jagged peaks. It does feel very much like a part of real life in Peru.

The experience

The one thing in common on both treks is the exceptional level of service that you receive, including full-service camping, with three meals daily and plenty of snacks and water. All of the trekking equipment is in excellent condition and can be easily hired for both routes.

Equipment on the Inca Trail is carried by porters, who make for friendly company and provide good encouragement when the going gets tough.

On the Lares Trek equipment is carried by mule, giving trekkers the freedom to undertake these more challenging routes. Another part of the Lares Trek is that after the trek, you continue to Aguas Calientes and spend the night in a hotel in comfort before ascending to Machu Picchu the next morning.

It’s difficult to say which trek to choose. Each is appealing. Your first image of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate (on the Inca Trail) is unrivaled. But the views of the high peaks of the Andes from the Lares Trek should not be missed. At the end of the day, you win with either choice.

Can’t wait to trek either one of these trails? Check out G Adventures’ extensive tour options in Peru and get ready for an adventure that will both inspire you and keep you fit!