Wednesday, 2 May 2012 2:59 PM
If walking the Inca trail has long been on your travelling wishlist, but you're not so keen on following the crowds that hike along the classic route to Machu Picchu, consider the Lares trek instead. It's an excellent alternative to the main trail.
Here are just a few reasons why you should look into this when booking Inca trail trips.
Get off the beaten track
One of the joys of walking somewhere new is the sense of discovery you get as you come across sites of interest and different landscapes – but it can be much harder to get excited if there are lots of other people following the same route.
Avoiding the crowds that flock to the classic Inca trail – despite numbers being limited – is one of the primary reasons to choose the Lares trek instead. While permits are not required to walk in the Lares Valley, it is not frequented by travellers anywhere near as much as its more famous neighbour.
Therefore, you can be confident you'll have large stretches of the track to yourself and you can enjoy visiting places that many other hikers don't even know exist.
Explore lesser known sites
While you will end your trip at Machu Picchu, this certainly isn't the only opportunity you'll have to see remnants of the ancient Inca culture. During your trek you'll have time to explore the extensive ruins of Pumamarca, which are nestled among the mountains near the village of Huilloc. You can still distinguish the fortress that once stood on this spot.
Towards the end of your break, you will also have the chance to wander around some of the sites in Ollantaytambo, a former Inca settlement that is now a thriving town. Head to its western area – called Aracma Ayllu – where you will find an archaeological site that is home to the ruins of the Temple of the Sun, which is defined by the Wall of the Six Monoliths.
In the hills around Ollantaytambo there are numerous storehouses, which were built by the Incas to hold grain harvested from the surrounding farm terraces. It is also possible to visit the nearby quarries where much of the stone used in the construction of the town's buildings is believed to have come from.
Experience the culture of Andean villages
Undoubtedly one of the biggest advantages to following the Lares trail is that you will visit remote Andean villages where traditional ways of life are very much still in use. You can witness authentic farming techniques on the terraces as you walk and will more than likely spot a few herds of llamas or alpacas in the fields.
Within the villages themselves, you can see how the region's famous beautiful and brightly coloured textiles are woven and even buy them directly from the weavers you have just seen hard at work. This is a unique aspect of the hike through the Lares Valley and one that you certainly will not find on the traditional route to Machu Picchu.
Relax in hot springs
Near the town of Lares are some natural hot springs which are said to have therapeutic properties and were allegedly used by the Incas. A soak in the warm water is the ideal way to soothe away any aches and pains you have picked up on your walk and prepare you for the rest of your journey. Sit back, relax and enjoy the stunning mountain scenery that surrounds you as you bathe in the springs.