Lares Valley Trek, Peru
Originally, our group of six friends; Rick, Jenn, Jeff, Shayni, Scott and myself, had booked a trip with SAS Travel. It was to be a three night and four day trek on the Inca Trail, ending at Machu Picchu.
Our trip was booked six months in advance, but just a few months before we were to leave, SAS needed to make changes to our itinerary. There was a problem with the permits from the Cultural Institute for the Inca Trail.
Our new plan was to hike two days on the Lares Valley trek, take a bus and then the PeruRail train to KM 106, where we would hike up the mountain to the SunGate and down into Machu Picchu.
The Lares Valley Trek has several different routes and can be hiked in either direction.
This post is specifically about the first two days: The Lares Valley Trek.
Our group of six friends gathered in the outdoor hub of the Andes, in Cusco, Peru.
It was important to spend a day or two helping our bodies acclimate to the high altitude before we began our trek. This would make our hike easier since Cusco is at an altitude of 11,152 feet/3,399 meters.
I had been struggling with altitude sickness for two days prior due to our high altitude visit to the area of Rainbow Mountain.
The night before our departure 19 of us met with our guides; Isas our lead guide and Hernad the assistant guide.
We were given instructions and final details for our trek. It was a good time to ask questions and ease our minds of the tiny last minute details we wondered about.
Isas gave each hiker a SAS Travel draw string duffel bag to store all of our belongings while on the trek. The weight needed to be kept under 12 pounds or we would be charged an extra porter fee.
I looked forward to only carrying a daypack with my snacks, water and layers of clothing. Llamas and mules carried the rest of our gear.
Scott and I went back to our hotel and packed our duffels and daypacks, eagerly anticipating the start of the trek the next day.
At 6:00 a.m. we met our guides and boarded the bus. Our group was made up of four men and fifteen women.
An hour and a half later, we stopped at the town of Urubamba for breakfast in a small restaurant.
Eating cuy (guinea pig) is a delicacy in Peru. It was on my list of things to try. While waiting in line to use the restroom, at the restaurant, I noticed a large box in the back room full of guinea pigs. They were all pretty cute, and were different colors with big eyes. After observing them for a few minutes, I decided I wouldn’t be trying guinea pig this trip.
Most of us enjoyed scrambled eggs, bread, fruit and tea. Two of the women with us were experiencing altitude sickness, so Isas gave them a special tea to help with the nausea. I was so glad I felt better. It would have been miserable going into a hike while I felt sick.
Next, our bus took us fifteen minutes up the road to the Lares Valley Trailhead.
Gathering of Gear
Isas called us “Champions” (CHAMP-EEEE-OWNS) after we were off the bus, so we all gathered to him for our next instructions. He introduced us to our porters, cooks, and the mule and llama handlers. It was going to take a large, hardworking crew to make this trek a success.
We were given our sleeping bags and instructed to stuff them into our pre-packed duffels. This was a bit of mayhem, as some people brought too much gear and could barely fit their sleeping bags in!
The temperature was mild and the sun shining. We were prepared with different clothing layers incase it rained or became cold.
Our final task before we set off was to apply sunscreen and bug spray.
Then the guides passed out trekking poles to members of the group who wanted to rent them, but Scott and I had our own trekking poles.
The Trek Begins
As a group, we began our ascent. The elevation was approximately 9,000 feet/2,743 meters at the start with a gradual uphill to begin.
I struggled the first two hours. Maybe it was the elevation, nerves, or having been sick. I’m not sure.
The guides liked to stop often to give us breaks and to make sure everyone was drinking plenty of water. I had a hard time with the breaks, as it made it more difficult to hike again after my body cooled down.
Just before our lunch stop, we came upon an Inca complex of ruins. Isas and Hernad told us some of the history of the area, and it was a good time to enjoy a snack of fruit and nuts. As Isas talked, we lounged around trying to spot llamas and sheep on the hillside.
The trail became more beautiful with each step higher we took. Mainly, we walked along the banks of the Pumahuanca River.
After three hours of hiking uphill, we arrived at a camp set up along the river for our traditional Peruvian lunch.
Warm passion fruit juice was passed out to the hikers, while we stood next to the river to enjoy the view.
It was possible to see all the way back down into the valley, where we had started our trek.
A dining tent was set up with a long table and stools to accommodate our group of 19. We each took a seat and proceeded to be served the most amazing, family style lunch. Fried river trout, corn, cheese, vegetables and avocado were just a few of the dishes we enjoyed.
After we finished, we paid a local woman one sol/.30 cents U.S. to use a basic bathroom.
We were tired and cold and before we started hiking again, it was time to put on more layers.
Our group slowly began the next stretch of the hike, which would take Scott and I four hours.
Uphill we went, the entire way. The higher we hiked, the terrain became more magnificent. Usually, Scott and I hiked alone, as the group was spread out ahead and behind us. Scott and I do well when we hike together. He notices when my breathing becomes erratic and slows down our pace. This way I don’t need to stop very often. I used my same mantra in Peru as I did on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I took “little French old lady steps” when it was steep, so I could steadily keep going.
The longer we hiked, the better I felt, even stronger. It was never an easy, meandering trail, as it was mainly steep and rocky terrain with only a small section of mud.
At one point we saw a gorgeous waterfall across the valley, it reminded us of Yosemite National Park, but without any people.
Eventually, Scott and I arrived at our camp which was set up in a magnificent bowl of a valley at 14,000 feet/4267 meters.
The porters had set up our tents, the dining tent and the restroom tent. I went into the restroom tent and discovered it was a one foot deep hole, dug into the ground for us to squat over. I wasn’t so desperate to use it, so I went back to hang out with my friends, trying to stay warm until dinner.
Later, we were all so cold. Everyone was bundled up in all of their gear, standing in the glow of headlamps. The final hikers arrived and it was time to go in for dinner.
The Dining Tent
Body heat was wonderful as we packed ourselves into the dining tent. My nose was frozen, so thank goodness we brought gloves to keep our fingers warm.
Dinner was typical Peruvian fare, with Lomo Saltado (a kind of beef and vegetable stir fry), pasta, rice and soup. The chef did a wonderful job making sure the vegetarians and as Isas called them the “Free Glutens” had plenty to eat as well. One guest said she chose SAS Travel because they have much better food options than other travel companies.
Our diet for the trip was specifically tailored to hiking at a higher altitude. We were served nothing rich or heavy for the entire trek.
A Long Night
Everyone went straight to bed after our meal. We were exhausted.
We tossed and turned all night, freezing in every piece of clothing we brought, including our coats and beanie hats.
I must have been dehydrated because using the restroom didn’t become necessary until 4:00 a.m. At which time I wandered out of camp with Scott to find some rocks to hide behind. Yes, it was pitch black outside, but that didn’t matter.
Eventually, Isas lured us from our tents with coca tea at 5:00 a.m.
We enjoyed a quick breakfast of tea and quinoa pancakes. By 6:30 a.m. camp was almost cleared and it was time to begin our final ascent.
We crossed a creek and hiked out of the bowl, up the mountain we went.
Scott and I hiked with many people during this stretch. We had made new friends and it was fun to trade stories about our lives.
My stomach didn’t feel well, so I had to make a couple of side trips to relieve myself. This was definitely getting me out of my comfort zone.
Higher and higher we went. It became more difficult to breathe and my steps became slower.
After four hours, we arrived at the summit, Pumahuanca Pass, elevation 15,719 feet/4,791 meters.
Isas said we must wait there as a group for instructions before we began our descent on the other side.
This was the perfect time to take pictures and celebrate our success at the top of the pass. It was quite cold and windy at the top but it was nice to just take it all in and enjoy the views. Part of the mountains were obstructed by clouds, but we were still elated to have accomplished the hike.
Once Isas gave us the go ahead, we began our descent. I had wondered what was on the other side of the mountain and it didn’t disappoint.
The terrain was equally stunning going down with small lakes and rock formations. It looked like a moonscape from a movie.
Eventually, it became easier to breathe as we lowered in elevation.
One of my favorite moments was when a pack of llamas passed us by, carrying gear from another trek. It was so much fun to watch. It was not something I would see every day!
Part way down, Isas had us stop next to a lake to rest our weary feet. There was much downhill on rocks, which was tougher on our feet and knees. We ate our snacks and drank water, energized by the beauty of our surroundings.
The second hour of our descent was down narrow goat trails. It was steep and the rain arrived, so we quickly put on our gear and ponchos. Our group was quiet. Our concentration was needed on the narrow trails. We kept a fast pace, ready for lunch and to be finished for the day.
Eventually, we arrived at the property of one of our mule handlers. The dining tent was set up, and the rain stopped. Once the sun came out, we dried our wet gear.
It was an exceptionally long wait for lunch. Two hours of feeling wet and tired. Finally, all the hikers arrived and we were served vegetable soup and tea.
An Evening of Hot Springs
After lunch, amid some question of hiking to a bus or it coming into town to pick us up, we were picked up and driven to Lares Hot Springs, where we would camp for the night.
Just as we arrived and went into our tent, I came down with a migraine headache. I sat in my tent and cried. I took some medicine and drank a full bottle of water as I waited to feel better. Scott was so sweet. I knew he wanted to be soaking in the hot springs with our friends, but he sat with me until I felt better.
Eventually, we joined our friends, old and new, for a much needed soak in one of the six pools. The hot springs were open 24 hours a day and we would hear people of all ages come and go all through the night.
After we soaked and relaxed, everyone met in the dining tent for tea and popcorn. What a treat popcorn was! Delicious!
Our dinner was more of the same as before; pasta, rice, vegetables and chicken.
After dinner, we used the public restrooms with flush toilettes (yippie) which were right next to our tents. We were at a lower elevation, so it was much warmer.
Isas called us “Champions!” We gathered around him. He led a special tipping ceremony for the crew and we all put our tips in a hat to be distributed amongst the team. The service was great and they worked very hard.
Sleep arrived early as we were exhausted from our hikes the past two days.
We awoke to Isas calling “Champions! Today we hike to Machu Picchu!”
We loved the Lares Valley Trek. It was challenging, but just enough to make us feel accomplished for hiking it. Our guides were great, but they don’t necessarily only work for SAS Travel.
If you have special dietary needs, SAS Travel will take care of you.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience and would highly recommend the Lares Valley Trek. We found it to be peaceful and uncrowded, unlike the other more trekked areas.
To read more about our time in Peru, please click here.
Affiliate links for the gear we used:
- Black Diamond Women’s Trail Pro Shock Walking Pole, 63-125cm
- Hoka One One Bondi 5 Black/Formula One Men’s Running Shoes
- ASICS Women’s Gel-foundation 12 Running Shoe, Silver/Pistachio/Pink Glow, 10 D US
- Osprey Packs Questa Daypack, Black