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Lares Trek vs Inca Trail – Choosing Between 2 Epic Routes

Alison Macallister

Lares Trek or Inca Trail? That is the question.

It can be intimidating trying to make a choice between two of Peru’s most famous hiking routes. How you reach Machu Picchu comes down to a matter of taste.

Ultimately, you need to look at the pros and cons of each route. In this article, I’ve compiled some unbiased comparisons to help you choose between the Lares Trek vs. the Inca Trail.

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Lares Trek Vs the Inca Trail

What Are the Main Differences?

As a summary there are four main differences between the Lares trail and the Inca trail are as follows: 

  • The Lares trek is through a valley where you pass many traditional villages. The Lares Trek is ideal for getting a taste of true Peruvian culture.
  • The Inca Trail is through remote areas. The trail passes through different biomes and several Incan ruin sites. The Inca Trail is more focused on natural scenery and history than culture.
  • The Lares Trek is only 3 days of hiking compared to the Inca’s four days. This makes it shorter (33km for the Lares vs 41km for the Inca trail) and easier than the Inca trail. 
  • Finally, there is no permit required to hike the Lares Trek, but you do need a permit for the Inca Trail.

Please Note: Inca Trail permits sell out months ahead of time. See Inca trail availability.

A Side By Side Comparison of the Lares Trek Vs the Inca Trail

Lares Trek

Inca Trail


±20 miles (33km), depending on trails you take

±25 miles (41km)

Total Days

3-day hiking, 1-day visit to Machu Picchu

4 days hiking

Average Per Day

7 miles (11km)

7 miles (11km)


Different trails in the valley with rural communities

Single pathway through uninhabited land

Highest Pass

Ipsaycocha Pass (4500m)

Dead Woman's Pass (4212m)

Starting Point

Lares, Quishuarani or Huaran

Km 82, Piscacucho

End Point

Aguas Calientes

Sun Gate at Machu Picchu

Closed Months






Routes and Difficulty

Lares Trek - Fair

Firstly, it's essential to know that the Lares Trek has multiple variations. This is because there are many Incan paths through the Lares valley. You can read more about the Lares Trek variations here.

The most popular 4-day Lares Trek is 20 miles / 33km and ends at Aguas Calientes. You will spend three days hiking and the fourth day touring Machu Picchu.

There is only one real steep part on the Lares trek - Ipsaycocha Pass (4,500m / 14,764 ft). Ipsaycocha is higher than any point on the Inca Trail. Unlike the Inca Trail, there are no stone stairways. Hiking up the pass is a steady progression on a dirt track.

You will spend more time at higher altitudes on the Lares trek compared to the Inca Trail. This means there is an increased risk of getting altitude sickness. To help you prepare, we have a list of precautions to avoid altitude sickness.

Lares Trek Vs Inca Trail

Inca Trail: Moderate

The classic 4-day Inca Trail covers 26miles / 41km through remote areas. There is only one pathway with no alternative options.

The Inca trail trek is the more difficult route of the two trails. You will be going up and down more than on the Lares Trek. You can expect to be trekking up and down around 1000s of stone steps.

Day 2 on the Inca Trail is the most difficult part of the hike. On this day, groups climb the stairs up to 4,215m (13,829 ft) above sea level on Dead Woman’s Pass.

See: How hard is the Inca trail

Costs And Availability

Lares Trek Costs

The Lares Trek generally costs between $400 and $650 per person. Most companies sell this trek for roughly $550 per person.

The trail is open year-round. Most agencies require hikers to sign a wet season policy agreement. These policies protect companies from client cancellations due to wet weather conditions.

See: weather on the Inca trail.

Inca Trail Costs

With most Inca Trail Tours, a budget Inca trail tour will cost you between $550-$650 per person. If you are looking to hike the Inca Trail in luxury, expect to pay about $1000-$2000 per person. For this price, you will get a private guide and a more cushy camp setup.

The Inca Trail closes over February. This is when the area experiences the heaviest rainfall.

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Guides And Porters

Lares Trek Guides and Porters

Most people do the Lares Trek with a guided tour, but it is possible to hike it solo.

Please Note: If you choose to trek solo on the Lares Trail, you will be carrying all your own gear. You should have some experience trekking to take this option.

Tour operators usually hire mules to do the heavy lifting. These surefooted animals carry equipment and extra baggage between camps.

Inca Trail Guides and Porters

As of 2014, hikers are not allowed to walk the Inca Trail solo. You may only do this hike through a tour operator or by working with a registered private guide.

Horses or mules are not allowed on the Inca Trail as they would cause too much damage to the environment. Local porters carry equipment and food between camps.

Read about Inca trail porter welfare and tips.

Where to stay? Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options in Cusco: 

See more Cusco accommodation options.

Accommodation and Facilities

Lares Trek Accommodation

You will be camping on the first two nights of the Lares trek. Campsites are not strictly regulated on this trail. Each company has a preference for where to set up their tents. You will likely spend one of these nights sleeping above 4,200m (13,780ft).

Some tour operators have an arrangement with the locals and can also organize homestays. This way, people in remote villages benefit from tourism.

You will be staying in Aguas Calientes for the final night. Usually, this is in a mid-range hotel. In some circumstances, you may have the option to upgrade to a luxury lodge.

On the Lares Trek, there are no bathrooms. Some companies set up a toilet tent for privacy while in the campsites.

Inca Trail Accommodation

During the Inca Trail, you will be camping all three nights. Due to high numbers of walkers, Inca trail campsites are restricted to designated areas. The highest campsite is at 3600m (18,111 ft) above sea level.

There are several available camping zones for each night. However, you will not be able to choose your campsites on the Inca Trail. Authorities allocate the most convenient sites first.

Please Note: Inca Trail campsites are crowded and noisy in the evenings. The good news about regulated camps is that some have showers and toilets.

Highlights and Negatives Of The Lares Trek Vs The Inca Trail

Lares Trek Highlights

The best thing about the Lares Trail is experiencing the authentic Andean culture. You will get to interact with local farmers and craftsmen. The lifestyle in this valley has barely changed over hundreds of years.

Hikers often get to try their hand at weaving and other traditional activities. This is a more authentic Andes hiking experience as you will see very few other tourists on the trail.

The Lares Trail passes by stunning waterfalls and lakes. These bodies of water are held sacred by local people. On the third day, you will get to soak your sore muscles in the Lares Hot Springs, which is a refreshing experience.

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Negatives To The Lares Trail

The biggest downside to hiking the Lares Trek is that it does not end at the Sun Gate. There are also no significant ruins along this trail.

Most of the Lares Trail is in the same valley. This area is inhabited by communities that practice subsistence farming. The landscape of this trail is not nearly as wild and diverse as that of the Inca Trail.

Inca Trail Highlights

Finishing the trail through the Sun Gate is the main attraction of this trail. The Inca Trail is the only route option to enter Machu Picchu on foot. Hikers often describe coming through the Sun Gate as one of the best moments in their lives

The Incan trail is the best route for seeing Incan ruins. You will pass by several fascinating archeological areas on the way to Machu Picchu. These ruins are only accessible to Inca Trail Hikers.

Another highlight of the Inca Trail is getting to see a wide variety of landscapes. The trail will take you through Andean highlands, cloud forests, and tropical forests.

Negatives To Hiking The Inca Trail

The Inca trail is a bit more expensive than the Lares Trek. This trail is also a lot more popular. You share the trail and campsites with hundreds of other tourists and porters.

There are regular checkpoints and you will need to take your passport along for this trail. These document check-points take some of the fun out of the experience.

Lastly, it is not possible to book the Inca Trail on short notice. You need to plan months to a year ahead for your trip.

Lares Trail Or Inca Trail - Which Should You Choose?

Who should Hike The Lares Trek?

The Lares is perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in authentic Peruvian culture. This is also the better option if you like peace and solitude on a hike.

Do your travel plans change on a daily basis? This trail offers the flexibility you need. This is the best alternative to the 4-day Inca Trail over the same length of time.

Another reason to consider the Lares Trek over the Inca Trail is the lack of stairs. This trek is easier for people who suffer from knee issues.

Who should Hike The Inca Trail?

Stick with the Inca Trail If you feel there is no substitute for Peru’s most famous hike. This is for those who want to lay eyes on Machu Picchu for the first time through the Sun Gate at first light.

Can you afford to plan months in advance? Do you want bragging rights to one of the world’s most famous trails? Then, go ahead and book your spot on the Inca Trail.

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Follow the footsteps of Monarchs or see life through the eyes of Incan descendants. Only you can make the choice on how to reach Machu Picchu - the Lares Trek vs. the Inca Trail.

Whichever trail you choose, I can guarantee that it will be one of the best experiences of your life.

Alison Macallister

With a degree in Nature Conservation and experience working with wildlife including the Big 5, Alison works as a guide for a 5-star reserve. She enjoys sharing her passion for all things nature-related. She enjoys hiking, horseriding, 4x4 driving and kayaking.

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