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Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail: How to Get the Most out of Your Adventure

As you plan your trip to Peru and to Machu Picchu specifically, you’re undoubtedly expecting the journey of a lifetime - and frankly, there’s a lot of pressure associated with that! There are many decisions to be made regarding your trip, and the choices can be overwhelming as you’re hoping to design the perfect experience for your circumstances and tastes. One of the biggest decisions that visitors to Machu Picchu face is how they want to get there, and a lot of the times that decision boils down to a simple question:

Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail?

If you’re looking to make trekking a significant part of your Machu Picchu journey, these two trails are without a doubt your best options. Though the two trails are quite similar in a number of ways, in others they are also very different. If you'd prefer a shorter multi-day hiking option, and are not married to the idea of hiking the 4 day Inca/Lares Trail, then check out our 10-day 'Alpaca' trip. We'll hike a lodge to lodge route in the Peruvian mountains, including a visit to the breath taking Rainbow Mountain, and then, later in the trip, hike a short version of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Travelers struggling to decide between the Inca or Lares treks often turn to the internet for help, scouring forums, blogs, and tour company sites for the best information regarding the Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail debate. Of course, the internet being what it is, sometimes this research only leads to further confusion and more questions...

And that’s where we come in.

In order to simplify your decision as much as possible, we’re going to share with you our take on the Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail question. We’ll take a quick but in-depth look at each trek’s attributes, providing you with an accurate and unbiased analysis of each trail. In this way, you can make the best decision possible for your Machu Picchu adventure!

So without further ado, here is the information you need to decide the Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail question:

The Inca Trail

Certainly the more famous of the two treks, the Inca Trail is undoubtedly more widely-renowned than its lesser-known cousin. If the purpose behind your journey is simply to brag to friends and family upon arriving back home, the Inca Trail is definitely the way to go - but we hope you’d never make your decision for so frivolous a reason!

Of the two treks, the Inca Trail is definitely the more historic option. Before arriving at Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail passes through a variety of Inca ruins sites unreachable to tourists by any other means - and while Machu Picchu can famously become quite crowded with tourists, you’re sure to find each of these sites comparatively quieter and more calm.

Runkuracay Ruins Peru

Photo: Runkuracay Ruins - an example of the Inca Ruins you'll see on Peru's Classic Inca Trail

Another deciding factor for many visitors who choose the Inca Trail is the fact that it is the only way to arrive to Machu Picchu through the ancient city’s famed Sun Gate. This experience is so beautiful that it can be emotionally overwhelming, and many visitors look back to find it one of the most memorable moments of their lifetimes. It’s hard to explain the value of this experience to those who haven’t felt it themselves, but suffice to say it’s a deciding factor in the Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail debate for many visitors.

That being said, there are some potential downsides to the Inca Trail. Because of its immense fame and popularity, it’s necessary to plan your trip months - and sometimes in the high season nearly a year - in advance. 500 trekkers are allowed on the trail daily - about half of whom are guides and porters - and so it can be hard to find a spot. In addition, the result is that the trail can at times feel somewhat crowded, especially if you’re seeking a more solitary experience.

Looking back on Dead Womens Pass

Photo: The view looking back into Dead Womans Pass - one of the many stunning views on the Classic Inca Trail

If you don’t feel like waiting so long to make your trek, or perhaps if you’re simply hoping for a different experience, don’t fret!  There’s still another angle in the Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail debate.

View the Classic Inca Trail hiking tour itinerary

The Lares Trail

First of all, one good thing about the Lares Trail is that it is slightly less physically-taxing than the Inca Trail - but that’s not to say it’s without difficulty. It’s approximately 33 kilometers vs. the Inca Trail’s 44 kilometers - still no walk in the park. Both feature plenty of altitude gains and steep descents, though once again the Inca Trail beats out the Lares Trail slightly on this front.

Compared to the Inca Trail, the Lares Trail is far less of a fixture on the tourist circuit. This means that there’s no competition for passes, booking as far in advance is not necessary, and the trek will involve more privacy - from other tourists, at least.

Which brings us to another big difference between the two trails: while the Inca Trail passes primarily through ruins and uninhabited areas, the Lares Trail passes through villages and farms inhabited by modern-day Andean people, the descendants of the Incas who built Machu Picchu. During your trip, you’re bound to have many opportunities to interact with Peru’s indigenous people, making the Lares Trail a cultural experience in a way that the Inca Trail simply is not.

Local Lady and Daughter Lares Inca Trail

Photo: On the Lares Inca Trail you'll spend more time with the local Peruvian families

The primary downside to the Lares Trail is the fact that you don’t arrive to Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate.

At the end of the day, there’s no clear answer to the Inca Trail vs. Lares Trail question—it’s all about your own personal preferences and what you expect to get out of your Machu Picchu trip.

Learn more about hiking the Lares Inca Trail

Learn about the best time to visit Machu Picchu

Hike to Machu Picchu on the following Peru tours:

 

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 947 reviews)

    Best Hiking in the World

    The hikes were amazing. The guides were very knowledgeable. The views were incredible. Great restaurants in the small towns.
    Alan Lapointe Review Image
    – California, United States
    Condor, April 2018
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    Ecuador

    We had an amazing week in Ecuador. Each day was a new adventure, and the scenery was beautiful. The best part was Jhayro, our tour guide. He was knowledgable, personable, and genuine. We could tell that he wanted us to experience how special Ecuador is.
    Ryan Quale Review Image
    – Minnesota, United States
    Tapir, September 2017
  •   4.48 out of 5 (from 82 reviews)

    Peru and Galapagos Islands

    The two regions of this trip were so different. In Peru, learning about Inca history, seeing the structures that they built with minimal tools and that have survived for centuries and getting to spend time in small towns and interacting with local artisans was fabulous. The Galapagos Islands were a wildlife fest with snorkeling, kayaking and boat rides between islands and viewing sea "creatures" in the shallows and deep water. You also hiked volcanos and saw land tortoises, iguanas and the topography change as you go from lush to lava fields. Wonderful experiences
    Carol Miller Review Image
    – Illinois, United States
    Iguana, October 2016
  •   4.55 out of 5 (from 1341 reviews)

    Excellant trip! I would come back and do it gain!

    Pepo was a wonderful guide. He made the trip special and was so accommodating and knowledgeable. Honestly one of the best trips I have ever taken!
    Sandy Dockendorf Review Image
    – Minnesota, United States
    Tortuga, December 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 947 reviews)

    Latitude 53 degrees and Loving It,

    What a privilege it was to travel to Patagonia with three generations of our family. It is such a beautiful part of the world but also, so removed from the anxieties and pressures of the modern, social media/plugged-in world, and the Trump nastiness. The trekking was especially beautiful with the wild flowers in bloom and sunshine on our shoulders.

    Active Adventures organized us perfectly in the sense that our transportation, refugios, and food were efficiently and tastefully selected. Arturo was so, so nice to our grandkids. Chem was delightful and so kind. What brilliant new friends we made and how kind and inclusive they were with the teenagers we had in tow.

    We loved the ACTIVE in Adventures. We earned our good meals and good beds by stretching our limits over our two week trek. My husband and I were by far the oldest pair on the trail, but we loved it and who knows, maybe we will be back for our 60th anniversary.
    Carolyn Johnson Review Image
    – Florida, United States
    Condor, January 2017

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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