Henry our guide from Alpaca Expeditions meets us at our hotel in Cusco for our Lares trek briefing the night before. It is a private trek with only the two of us. We are not trekking to Machu Picchu so will do the typical Lares trek in reverse. This way the trek ends at the Hot Springs in Lares. We did Machu Picchu and Lares 10 years ago but it is Lares that has brought us back to Peru. Lares is off the beaten path, and the culture, scenery and serenity cannot be compared to the crowded Machu Picchu trek. Henry gives us a map and explains our route and routine. He tells us how far and how high of altitude the trek is during the next three days. His talk about snowy peaks, turquoise lakes and Llamas makes us excited and later we can’t sleep!
Lares Trek – Day 1 – Cancha Cancha
The trek starts from the village of Huaran which is 2700 metres high. Here we meet the rest of our team from Alpaca Expeditions. Wilbur our cook and his assistant Samuel shop at the market for fresh fruit and vegetables for the trek. We buy books, pens and colouring pencils for the school children and bread for the families who live on the Lares trek.
Wilbur and Samuel prepare our first delicious breakfast as everyone gets prepared. Horses and colourfully decorated llamas wait patiently around to be packed with light bundles. Pablo our horseman and Leandro our llamero come from the Quiswarani village. They travelled with their horses and llamas all through the night to join us. Among the horses is Tornado the emergency horse who carries the oxygen and stays with trekkers at all times in case of an emergency. The original plan was for us to have four llamas but they get upset when separated from their herd. So much to our delight, the complete herd turns up!
Our personal gear is carried by the team and we also employ two porters, Adolpha and Stanis Lo from the local village to carry our camera bags and water. This lets us concentrate on the trek and also gives work to the locals.
We trek about 9 km alongside the Cancha Cancha River, steadily making our way uphill to our first camp in the village of Cancha Cancha, which is at an altitude of 3750 metres. Henry, Adolpha and Stanis Lo walk at our pace and the rest of the team go ahead. On arrival at the village in the afternoon, our tent and flush toilet are set up, coca tea is made and warm water is ready for washing and refreshing.
Over dinner, Henry chats to us about the day’s events and tomorrow’s 14 km trek. It will take us over Condor Pass, at 4680 metres it is the highest pass on our trek. Henry reassures us that we will take it slow and steady. The meals are delicious and beautifully prepared, and there is no way we can finish the huge portions. Before we retire to our tent for the night Samuel makes mugs of piping hot chocolate which keeps us warm and hydrated.
It is freezing cold here and at less than -4°C, it is the coldest camp on our trek. When I snuggle up in my sleeping bag I keep my gloves and beanie on as it’s so cold. The snow starts falling as we drift off to sleep, too tired to even think about tomorrow’s trek over the high pass.
Lares Trek – Day 2 – Condor Pass
Warm water for washing and hot coca tea is delivered to our tent at 6.00 am. In the dining tent, scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, tea and coffee are served. Within half an hour after breakfast, the team, horses and llamas are all packed up and ready.
As we walk through the village of thatched stone houses, we hand out books and pens to the children and bread to the adults. Wrapped up in our thermals, boots, gloves and beanies we notice the children’s feet in thin open sandals. It’s a beautiful but harsh landscape and life is tough here. These authentic villages practice the Inca lifestyle and speak Quechua, the language of the Incas.
It begins to get challenging about halfway to the pass and we feel the altitude. The path is steep, snowy and muddy. My heart thumps loudly and hear Ray’s breathing behind me. Henry tells us we are doing great and encourages us to stop regularly for a rest and sips of water. Ray has a watch that gives a reading on the altitude and I ask him how high the altitude is. I am pathetically disillusioned when he replies we are only at 4100 metres. That means there is still 580 metres to go. I am so hopeful that the watch is wrong and malfunctioning.
We overtake the only other trekkers on the path which gives us some more confidence and a burst of energy as the snowy peak beckons us. It is not long before we celebrate and share the highest point in front of the majestic mountain of Pitusiray which is 5700 metres and one of the most spectacular, serene and heaven-like views in the Andean Mountains.
On a high after our achievement, we make our way down to the waiting team who has set the dining tent up near a blue lagoon. It amazes us how Wilbur and Samual can cook up a storm as they only have this little space sectioned off in the dining tent. They cook with only a gas burner, a few local ingredients and a couple of pots and pans! Breakfasts are a choice of eggs, pancakes, bread, quinoa and fruits such as avocados, pineapple and yoghurts. Lunch and dinner are always four courses, starting off with a fresh and creamy vegetable soup. Not to mention crackling hot popcorn for happy hour in the afternoons. On our last night, they even baked us a delectable carrot cake!
We have time to rest and relax after lunch, before the short trek to Quiswarani village where our camp is for the night. For the second night in a row, we retire to our tent in sheer exhaustion.
Lares Trek – Day 3 – Quiswarani Pass
Today the walk is 12 km and over the Quiswarani Pass, which is at an altitude of 4350 metres. We pass rosy-cheeked children walking the paths near the village on their way to school and locals from the villagers who care for and herd their goats, sheep, llamas and alpacas.
Because we are acclimatising to the altitude we make the pass in good time today. It is nowhere near as difficult as the trek to the Condor Pass on the previous day, though it did require a lot of effort!
The contrast of the snowy mountain peaks, blue lakes and waterfalls against the harsh brown landscape is dreamlike. It is adorable to see the bums of our llamas as they look out at the view and cross the pass. The llamas and horses need to move through swiftly because it is a narrow path and the slightest misstep could cause a fall.
The views of Lares Valley on the way down are spectacular and from the path, we see some of the team who have gone ahead to set up the dining tent in the distance near another blue lake. Our stomachs grumble and we can’t wait to get there!
After lunch, Henry tells us because we’ve made such good time we can do a few extra kilometres and camp at the hot springs in Lares for the night. This is tempting to everyone as the itinerary has us camping in the village of Cucani and trekking to the hot springs in the morning. Soaking in the hot springs for the night makes us all enthused and everyone quickens their pace.
We trek the extra 8 km following the river valley and arrive at the open-air thermal springs just on dark. On arrival we shower and relax in the hot springs. To step from the icy air into the warm and steaming water is pure ecstasy and muscle aches feel instant relief. Later the aroma of Wilbur’s cooking drifts down and entices us out. It’s a mood of celebration as we have a few drinks and shout sodas and beers for the team.
Lares Trek Information
We did Lares trek privately with Alpaca Expeditions a local company that put back into the community. Their many social projects in Peru include improving the living conditions of the locals and children in the villages on the Lares trek. They treat their porters and the rest of their staff the best in Peru and supply the right equipment, wages and medical insurance to all of the team.
Their guides are the best. Henry kept our spirits high when the trek got challenging and showed nothing but patience, support and a sense of humour. He was very perceptive to what we wanted from the trip. He explained the local customs and treated everyone on the trek with respect. Thank you Henry!