21 July – 24 July 2015
Soon after returning from our Salkantay trek we headed off for a few days on the Lares trek. Many of the tour agencies in Cusco sell this as an alternate to the Inca Trail or Salkantay treks and the photos that we had seen of it looked pretty nice. Unlike other treks in the region, where there is only one clear path, there are several routes that can be taken in the Lares area. Most start in the Sacred Valley and finish in the small town of Lares to the north. We picked the route that looked the most interesting on the map – starting at Huaran and finishing in Lares. This was also the route described in my guide book.
We caught the public bus to Urubamba at around 11 am, then (after some negotiating about the price) jumped in a moto-taxi and headed to Huaran. A Taz devil sticker was stuck proudly on the back window so we knew we were in good hands. Whenever we say we are from Australia, the standard response is “muchos kangaroos“. Surprisingly, a lot of Peruvians also are familiar with Tasmania because of the Looney Tunes character. When we explain that real Tasmanian devils look nothing like Taz, nor spin around like mad, they always look quite dissappointed.
We were feeling pretty hungry so we found some chicken and rice at one of the little road-side restaurants. Red bits of plastic hung on the end of long wooden poles out the front of these to indicate that they were selling chicha (a tradiatinal drink which dates back to Incan times, usually made through the fermentatin of maize). By this time it was after 1 pm so we weren’t quite sure that we were going to make it to the recommended campsite for night 1 (Cancha Cancha), but we headed off up the valley anyway. On our way up the valley we passed several small villages and the usual Andean sights – people tending the fields, donkeys and cows on the tracks, children asking for “Dulce?” (“lolly?”) etc etc.
I had been told there wouldn’t be much water on the trail, so I was carrying 5 litres which was feeling rather heavy on my back. I decided that was silly, since there was a very clean looking river flowing all the way down the valley, so I tipped most of it out. That night we set up camp on a flat bit of grass by the river, hidden from the track behind a large rock.
Not too much furthe up the trail we reached the town of Cancha Cancha, which is the usual camping spot for night 1. There were some pretty amazing views up to the snowy peaks and back down towards the Sacred Valley. As we headed further up the valley, a couple of local men offered us horses to carry our gear up and over the pass and looked disappointed when we said that we would be ok carrying it ourselves. The valley above Cancha Cancha was stunning, and we sat and watched as women in their colourful clothes ran around frantically after their herds of alpacas. There were quite a few viscachas (a strange Andean animal that looks a bit like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel) jumping around on the rocks as well.
We passed a couple of large groups as we climbed up the slope towards the first pass of the trek (Pachacutec Pass, 4200m). Mount Sawasiray looked pretty impressive, so I suggested that we take a detour and get a closer look. Two black and white cows were casually hanging out at the top of the ridge. They looked a little out of place sillueted against the massive glacier. Because we had left the main track to get a closer look at the glacier, I suggested we take a short-cut back over the hill and rejoin the main trail on the other side. As we headed over the saddle, the clouds came in on us and visibility was reduced to only a few metres. We headed on down the hill to try to find the main track again. We soon came to some pretty alpine lakes. At first I thought these were the ones that I was expecting to find near the main trail, although they didn’t quite match up with what was on the map. They must be them, I thought, and convinced myself that my compass must be not working as it seemed to be pointing in the totally wrong direction. The fact that we could only see a few metres in front of us didn’t help much. After consulting the map for a while longer, I realised that we were in fact at two smaller lakes that lay quite a way to the East from where I thought we were. Ooops.
Once we knew where we were it didn’t take us long to find the main trail again, but by now the sun was almost down. We skipped down the hill towards the two glacial lakes where my guide book said we could camp. We followed the river down to the second lake, and crossed a wide flat plain to the edge of the water. There were lots of horses hanging out in the mist, but we couldn’t find anyone to ask where we could camp. We settled on a flat spot right on the edge of the lake, cooked dinner and jumped into bed. While we had been cooking dinner there had been quite a few torch lights travelling across the plain as the locals rounded up their horses for the night. People were yelling to each other, but in Quechua so we had no idea what they were saying. It sort of felt like they might be yelling at us…
We turned off our lights so that we didn’t attract too much attention. As I got into bed I noticed a group of 5 torches at the far edge of the plain. They seemed to be searching for something. Must have lost a horse, I thought. But as they zig-zagged along the flats I realised they were coming towards us. I had heard about a couple of incidents of robberies on this trail, so I was a little nervous and slipped my camping knife in my pocket as I threw my pants back on and stuck my head out of the tent. I was faced by a group of 5 men. The two older guys were dressed in the traditional clothes of the area, while the three younger guys looked like they might have been guides from one of the trekking groups. They shone their torches in my eyes so I couldn’t quite work out the expressions on the faces, but it was immediately apparent that there was some kind of problem. One of the older guys shone his torch around our tent, apparently looking for something. The older guys only spoke Quechua, so the younger ones translated to Spanish for me. They told us that we couldn’t camp here, and kept saying a word that I didn’t register at first – pescador. Samara helped me out from inside the tent – “They think we are fishing in the lake!“. I assured them that we weren’t fishing and that seemed to make them a bit happier. They told us we should move to the camp at the other side of the lake, but I explained to them how we had arrived as it was getting dark and we couldn’t see anything through the clouds as we set up camp, and they agreed we could stay there one more night. “No fishing,” they reminded us and I assured them again that we wouldn’t. They seemed happy and relieved to leave us there knowing that we weren’t stealing their fish, and I felt happy and relieved knowing that they weren´t robbers.
When we awoke the clouds had lifted and we could finally take in the surroundings of our camp site. The sun had just come up and men were moving their horses around the plain. Across the other side of the lake we could see a building and the camp site where we had obviously meant to stay. Fish were jumping all over the place in the small lake. Had we been fishermen it would have been a great spot to throw a line in. The lake was surrounded by mountains and the morning light highlighted their peaks. I wanted to give the guys that came checking on us the night before a small gift to say sorry and thanks. One old Quechuan guy was returning from the hills and I thought I recognised him from the night before, but I wasn´t sure. I pulled out my Quechua phrase book and tried to ask who owned the campsite. “Si, si.” he said, pointing to himself. I offered him the rest of our coffee as a gift and he seemed very happy. He then proceeded down the valley to the next town. After that I was pretty sure he wasn´t one of the men that had visited us the night before, and that he was just wanting to score some free coffee. Which didn’t got down so well with morning-me who was hanging out for my usual morning coffee. Halfway down the track he stopped and waited for us to catch up. He pointed to my camera which hung around my neck and then to himself. I took a couple of photos, thinking he would be happy enough with his gift of coffee, but no – he held out his hand for a few coins.
We passed a series of nice waterfalls and then after the town of Quishuarani we headed up a steep, but beautiful, valley past grazing alpacas. We had lunch at the small lake at the head of the valley before making the final climb to the pass. From here, there were amazing views back across towards Sawasiray mountain and down into the next valley, where several bright blue glacial lakes sat.
Heading down into this valley was the highlight of the trek, with Andean cushion plants covering the ground under our feet. A few small houses sat down near the lakes, and some very agressive dogs chased us quite a way down the valley. At least it helped us to pick up the pace a bit – I didn´t know that we could walk that fast!
We considered calling it a day at the village of Cuncani, but it wasn´t the most appealing of places and we didn’t want to have to camp on the school’s oval with the other groups, so we continued down the dirt road to the thermal baths just before Lares. We dropped our bags at the basic accomodation there, and headed straight for the baths (10 soles, open 4am – 10pm!). There were several pools, all of different temperatures, and our muscles felt pretty happy after a couple of hours of soaking.
The next morning we wandered down to Lares and organised a ride in a collectivo back to Calca (10 soles), from where it was easy enough to find transport back to Cusco (10 soles).
Trip type: Multi-day trek without guide. Can be organised with a group through any of the tour agencies in Cusco.
Higlights: Glacial lakes, mountain passes, alpine flowers, mountain views, alpacas/llamas.
Costs: Transport to Huaran (approx 15 soles) and back from Lares (approx 20 soles).
Travel time to trailhead from Cusco: Approx 1.5 hours
Trek distance: 33 km
Trek rating: moderate (depending on how acclimatised you are already)
What to take: Warm clothes for cold nights, water purification tablets, rain jacket, camping gear, food, camera.