While resting atop a quiet mountain pass, overlooking the sweeping valley below spotted with deep blue lakes, my hiking companion and I had to agree that the Lares Valley was one of the most stunning places we’ve visited. We later chatted with our guide about how improbable it seemed that such a lovely place wasn’t overrun by tourists. He reminded us that the Inca Trail wasn’t too far, and of course, drew the vast majority of travelers.
But if you’re looking for a quintessential Peruvian trek, without the crowds, this is definitely the trip for you. I recently did this trek with a small group of family and friends– here’s a glimpse of our experience.
DAY ONE: Easy hike for weary travelers
We started this hike right after completing the very challenging Choquequirao to Machu Picchu 9-day trek, so while we didn’t need to acclimatize, an easier hike was definitely needed. We drove from our lovely hotel in Ollantaytambo (El Albergue) to the Lares Valley to start our hike. The drive gave us some unexpected views and, despite our weary legs, we became giddy for the upcoming hikes. At the top of a particularly high pass, we stopped just passed a stone chapel adorned with brightly colored flags, the only building for miles.
We finally stopped in Quisuarani, a quaint and quiet village, to begin our trek. Almost immediately, we ran into locals herding llamas and horses across the peaceful hillside. Sweeping mountain views surrounded us, and without any trees to speak of (more on that later), you were always in sight of valleys and mountains layered into the distance.
Very soon into the hike, we saw some local women on the hillside who watch over their grazing animals and weave throughout the day. The patterns and skills were astounding, putting to shame most of the tapestries and scarves sold in Cusco. The women are dressed in bright reds from head to toe, so you can always pick-out the spots of red against the grassy, bare hillsides. We bought a couple tapestries, which I thought were underpriced considering the skill and quality of the textiles– no bartering necessary here.
We made a good push (3.5 hours) to the first pass at 4200 m and the view was certainly worth it. In addition to the lovely splashes of red, thanks to the weavers, we saw a multitude of smalls lakes in both valleys perfectly reflecting the sky. We stopped to admire the scenery (and enjoy a good rest). Of course at that point, a local jogged breezily after his donkeys, barely breaking a sweat as he passed us. Very humbling.
We continued down the other side of the pass, where there were many lakes and waterfalls. The winding trail was nice of the knees, but we did need to keep watch for loose rocks. Out guide pointed out a small field filled with vascachas, small mammals which looks like a bunny stuck with a squirrel’s tail (basically, one of the most adorable animals alive).
Of course, we had to take a million waterfalll photos as well.
We took our time on the way down, stopping for lunch en route, and made it to Cuncani in the early afternoon. If you walk straight from the pass to Cuncani, it would take you about 2 hours. By the time we reached the village, the small drizzle and overcast clouds, disappaited quickly. Our van was waiting for us and took us to the Lares hotsprings (about 45 minutes away on dirt roads).
I was sort of expecting undevelopped hot springs, but they were developped and very nice. Much cleaner with bigger pools than many of the hot springs we have in Montana. There are nice waterfalls built-in for taking warm or cold showers and three main pools of different temperatures. The little complex also houses a shop for the weaving cooperative and you can buy amazing textiles for very decent prices. So while it was more developed than I expected, the hot springs were very pleasant and extremely well-maintained.
After our long soak, we were driven to Huacahuasi where our tents were set-up on the village’s soccer field, as per usual. Lots of trekkers just do the hike from Cuncani over the short pass to Huacahuasi. We were just pooped from our previous trek, so the hot springs break was lovely. The night was chilly, so we were dressed with fleece jackets and stocking caps inside our dining tent. After dinner, we had some beer and hot chocolate which made the tent feel quite cozy, a fitting end to a great day.