One thing that strikes you when hiking through Lares Valley toward Machu Picchu in Peru (besides the effect of the altitude on your body) is the rugged beauty of the terrain. With its varying shades of browns, tans, and greens punctuated with bright blue skies and an eerie stillness to the air, you can’t help but feel to be a mere witness in a land that keeps time by the harvest and whose secret treasures have not all been revealed to outsiders.
I’ll always remember the quiet strength, the ready smiles and, of course, the colorful clothes of the women and men who accompanied us hikers (with oxygen tanks and other supplies at the ready) through this terrain.
Their ability to quickly scramble up mountains with their horses in tow left me in awe – and inspired. Even though we couldn’t communicate in the native language (Quechua), it was evident that kindness is universal.
In general, one usually associates the wonder of Machu Picchu or the seaside city of Lima or the Amazon with Peru. But there is more, much more to this lovely country.
We embarked on a cultural adventure through Lares Valley partly because my husband wanted to hike for an entire week toward Machu Picchu, whereas I wanted some more variety in the activity options. I wanted to spend time understanding how locals live, work, and raise families, and in the end, the Lares Adventure was the perfect blend of adventure activities, cultural immersion, and comfort.
Our group consisted of solo travelers and couples aged from mid-30s to early-70s. We began our adventure with a couple of days acclimation in Cusco. In general, it’s a good idea to give yourself 48 hours to get used to the altitude. While my husband did not suffer from altitude sickness at all, I had my usual severe headache, which I knew to treat with warm quinoa soup, over-the-counter pain relievers, and plenty of water and mate de coca tea to keep hydrated.
Our first night in Cusco was at the El Retablo hotel (above photo, top and bottom, right) while our second was at the El Mercado hotel (bottom left). Both hotels are owned and managed by Mountain Lodges of Peru, but have very different styles. The smaller El Retablo caters to families of explorers who want to be a few more steps away from the center square and want unique surroundings filled with bright colors whereas the larger and more centrally located El Mercado attracted more solo and couple travelers who were about the tackle the Inca or Salkantay Trail. We spent our couple of days exploring Cusco’s churches, museums, shops and just hanging out at cafes. Glorious!
Our first adventure day began with a visit to a women’s weaving cooperative followed by the archeological site of Chinchero; afterward, each participant had the option of a guided tour of Moray Inca Archeological Site or a 3-hour hike from Chinchero to Urquillos
Lamay Lodge was our home for the first couple of nights with its welcome, communal jacuzzi with a scenic view and llamas
The next day began with one of three options including a cultural visit to the towns of Pisaq and Viacha, a bike excursion along the Urubamba River or a hike from the local community of Amaru to Viacha; our group opted for a quick visit to the local market of Pisaq followed by the hike from Amaru.
Our hike culminated in a lovely BBQ lunch including guinea pig, pork and other delicacies, all of which had been cooking in the earth for many hours
For Day 3, we had a choice to visit the town of Choquencancha or participate in one of two hikes (easy or moderate). My husband took the moderate hike and I chose to visit the town to meet with the local weavers.
Huacahuasi Lodge was our home for the next couple of nights. All of the lodges are owned by Mountain Lodges of Peru who employ local residents as well as share in the profits with the local communities.
For the next day, we were given the option to visit the local hat maker of the community and participate in a cooking class or go on an easy or challenging hike; the group collectively chose to visit the local people and market of Huacahuasi, go on the easier hike to the nearby waterfall, and still participate in the cooking class where we learned to make causa.
On Day 5, we had the option to visit the local farmer’s market, take an easy or challenging hike or go on a bike excursion through the Sacred Valley; my husband took the challenging hike while I participated in the bike excursion part of which was along the Urubamba River with the other part in a small town. That evening, we stayed at Kuychi Rumi Lodge, which is a partner of Mountain Lodges of Peru. The lodge with its expansive grounds and friendly staff is located just outside the town of Ollantaytambo, which is the typical disembarkation point for the train to Machu Picchu.
At this point, our visit coincided with both a national teachers strike and a national tourism strike, which was unfortunate as many thousands of tourists were caught up in the strikes, but not insurmountable as we all remained present in the moment and patient. Given the popularity of Ollantaytambo as the starting point for many train travelers to Machu Picchu, roads and trains were blocked by strikers causing many hours of delay before we could board the train for Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) for a night’s stay at the Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel. We arrived after sunset and after a quick dinner, retired to our room.
The next morning, we visited the awesome spectacle of Machu Picchu, which never disappoints. Due to some recent rule changes (that went into effect just 10 days earlier), there are now more visitors allowed than in previous years, but one could only spend the morning or the afternoon at the site. Gone are the days where one could just sit in awe of Huaya Picchu for hours (as I did in 2014). The visiting rules are in flux as the government determines the best balance for a positive experience for travelers while also maintaining revenue.
Time will tell if the Peruvian government will emphasize conservation and preservation over mass tourism numbers. But, if you are looking for variety, diversity and a cultural immersive type of experience along the route to Machu Picchu, consider the Cultural Lares Trek.
My trip was provided for by Mountain Lodges of Peru with a discounted rate for my husband. Views expressed in this review are entirely my own.