‘Unreal, this is breathtaking!’ I tried to announce at the 4800-metre summit of the Lares Trek as I marvelled at the scenic valleys, snow capped mountains and turquoise lakes around me in all directions.
I couldn’t though; the altitude had literally left me breathless.
The Lares Trek is one of the lesser taken hikes around the Cusco region of Peru. Organised folks will painfully hand over their dollar for the Inca Trail far in advance while those looking for a comfortable ride will simply hop on the train to Machu Picchu.
If, however, you want a slice of adventure travel served up with a side of local culture, The Lares Trek is your perfect ticket.
Day One: Acclimatise to Cusco
Cusco City, the capital of the Cusco region, is the beginning of any great adventure around these parts.
At an altitude of nearly 3400 metres above sea level, it’s also a handy place to acclimatise to the fact it’s harder to breathe. With a climb of over 1400 metres ahead of you, time here is recommended even if you are on medication before your arrival.
The city centre itself is compact, charming and calming even with traffic cops maniacally controlling the roads in all directions. The impressive grand architecture of the Plazas and the lively markets make for an ideal first day.
Later in the afternoon, you’ll have the chance to meet your new amigos who will be your hiking buddies and see (or smell) you at your worse over the coming days. After a quick bite to eat and the obligatory awkwardness of trying, and hopefully not forgetting 14 peoples names over a Pisco Sour, it’s time for an early night.
Day Two: Locals, Llamas and learning
A quick pit stop to look back over Cusco Valley will have you wondering how they can build houses just so high up the side of a mountain. Then it’s onwards to The Sacred Valley, the heart of the Inca Empire.
Being a sucker for meeting the locals and stumbling through a conversation I was especially excited to visit the two G Adventures community projects.
The first, in a small hillside village away from the main tourist drag, provided a fascinating insight into how the brightly coloured ponchos and hats of Peru come to be. The different wool used here, sometimes Alpaca, sometimes a mix, are dyed using natural ingredients in boiling water. Plants, berries and leaves all contribute to the different palates that make the perfect Poncho.
Projects like these are so important in my opinion, taking the tourists to the locals as appose to making the locals come to the visitors allows for wealth to be spread a little bit better over developing countries.
The second project was a restaurant that G Adventures had built in the middle of nowhere. The food was outstanding, the team were friendly, and the wild boar that chased me into the calm river outside has now been forgiven.
Between The Sacred Valley, Cusco and Machu Picchu you have the centre of the Inca Empire which around five hundred years ago may well have been the biggest empire in the world.
The famous Inca Trail takes in more of the Inca ruins on the hike, but I appreciated the fact we had our slice of history here. Due to this the trek was more focussed on the sheer beauty mother nature has dropped over this region by the bucket load.
The culture and history of the fifteenth century fascinated me as much as the modern day life in the Andes. If you want to know more about local life and the Inca times, then check out my post ‘Prints of Peru‘ here.
The first archaeological site we visited was above the village of Pisac. Approaching the grand agricultural terraces climbing the mountain, with the ruins of a fortress perched at the top, you can’t help but wonder just how this construction occurred all those years ago.
Ollantaytambo village was my favourite. With small cobbled streets and tiny local bars branching off from the main square, it’s somewhere I could have happily whiled away a few days.
The well preserved Inca ruins here are even more impressive, and although damaged by the Spanish, the views from the terrace looking back down on the village were undeniably ‘gram worthy. The towering mountains surrounding the site have cleverly crafted rock houses built into the cliff sides.
Seriously, I reckon these people were superheroes to construct this stuff.