When you think of Peru, what comes to mind? If I had to guess, it would probably be hiking the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu. But what if I told you there was an alternative trek you could take without the hundreds of other tourists you’d find on the over-trekked Inca Trail, that offers a perfect mix between adventure, beautiful landscapes, and an inside look at authentic Peruvian life? That, my friends, would be the 4D/3N Lares Trek with Ayni Peru. From trekking an almost unknown part of the Inca trail, to admiring the classic, alpaca-covered Andean Mountains, to weaving bracelets with the women of the Patacancha village, you’ll be treated to so much of what Peru has to offer – with virtually no other travelers around.
1. Off the Beaten Path Adventure
What sets Ayni Peru apart from other tour operators is that they are dedicated to creating truly off-the-beaten-path experiences for their trekkers. They are determined to show you the real, authentic Peru; the one beyond Machu Picchu and what the guidebooks recommend. Most tour companies operating out of Cusco simply copy and paste itineraries that already exist. Ayni Peru creates itineraries and are pioneering off-the-beaten-path adventure trekking in Peru.
Domingo, co-owner and head explorer of Ayni Peru, is constantly searching for new routes where other companies simply do not go. I had the pleasure of trekking with him in Lares, and his passion for nature and his country was inspiring.
On the first day after settling into our homestay, he took us on what was supposed to be a short 1.5-hour hike up to a nice viewpoint to see the surrounding valley. Well, our 1.5-hour hike turned into 5 hours when we came across an un-trekked part of the Inca Trail about 20 miles away from where the popular trail starts. This was not part of the itinerary, but of course we had to explore it! The path was quite overgrown, with no signage or any sort of upkeep, but you could still see the stones that outlined the path for miles and miles. It was a completely spontaneous adventure and magical does not even begin to describe the feeling of walking on an ancient trail that virtually no others travelers have the opportunity to experience.
Over the next three days of trekking, more than 50% of the trek was done without a path at all, just Domingo leading us across the mountains and through the valleys. I loved his adventurous spirit and it certainly rubbed off on myself and the rest of the group. Because of these original trekking routes, we didn’t run into a single other group of travelers throughout the trip. It was solely us, the local village people, and of course lots and lots of alpacas.
2. An Authentic Cultural Experience
Amanda, the other co-owner of Ayni Peru told me from the beginning that the Lares Trek would be more of a cultural experience than other treks, but what I experienced blew away my expectations. Although there’s a lot of trekking involved (about 6hrs per day, aside from the last day at Machu Picchu) there’s a lot of time dedicated to interacting with local people and learning about their traditions and everyday life. On the Lares trek, you will have the unique opportunity to actually stay with families of the Andean Mountain community.
At our first homestay in Patacancha, we were greeted with handmade flower leis and a traditional musical ceremony. They even dressed us in typical clothing of the region – brightly woven ponchos for the guys and a wool shawl and skirt for me.
They showed us how they naturally dye the alpaca fabrics using plants and insects and invited us to choose our favorite colors to make our own hand woven bracelets. We were each paired with a woman from the village, where they attempted to teach us their intricate weaving skills – I was terrible at it, but appreciated the lesson nonetheless!
We stayed in a round clay hut with a straw roof, with an interior decorated in traditional Peruvian artwork and hand-woven tapestries. The bed was comfortable and layered with about 7 wool blankets to battle the cold mountain nights. We were even pleasantly surprised with an electrical outlet and an electric heater!
My favorite part of the homestay experience was sampling the typical food of the region. To me, a huge part about traveling is trying the food from different cultures. So much culture and tradition lives in food, so it was an incredible experience to try the homemade meals of potatoes, alpaca, fresh vegetables, quinoa soup, rice, fish, and tea made with fresh picked herbs from the mountains.
Aside from the incredible fresh and delicious food they prepared for us, I really enjoyed sitting around the dinner table with our host families and getting to know them better (especially little Hilda, their adorable daughter).
Although many people in these remote parts of the Andes only speak Quechua (the Andean Mountain language spoken by the descendants of the Incas), we were still able to communicate – mostly through smiles and laughter. Both of our host families had little children that were, like all children, very entertaining and made the experience that much more fun.
At our second homestay in Chaywacocha, we chose to camp on the property next to their house, but were still welcomed into their home to relax and enjoy meals with the family. Inside their kitchen, 20 guinea pigs were running around, along with 2 cats, a rooster, and a few dogs, and a litter of puppies.
The mother of the household carried her daughter on her back as she heated up water for tea and cooked dinner for her guests. We offered to help, but it was clear she had it under control – this is just one example of how hard these people work!
3. Classic, Andean Mountain Landscapes & a Visit to Machu Picchu
Not only does this trek offer adventure and culture, but also sweeping views of the Andes Mountains speckled with alpacas, llamas and sheep that everyone knows and loves. Freshwater lakes, plummeting valleys and high peaks dominate the landscape, and the only other people you’ll find are locals herding their animals, and women spinning alpaca wool up on the mountainside.
You can expect this type of landscape for the first three days, with a change in landscape on the fourth day when you head to the famed Machu Picchu. Although my favorite part of this trek was the exposure to Andean Mountain culture, what kind of trip to Peru would it be if you didn’t make it to Machu Picchu?!
After three days of trekking, you’ll be back in Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Aguas Caliente – the tourist city at the base of Machu Picchu. With the Lares Trek, you don’t hike into Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu like you do with the Inca Trek, but you still have the opportunity to explore this Wonder of the World.
You will arrive to Aguas Callientes by train and then have free time to walk around the town, grab dinner, and shop at the market before spending the night at a hotel (a nice one that Ayni Peru sets you up with). The next morning you’ll meet with your guide and wait in line for the bus up to Machu Picchu. You have the entire day to explore, climb up to Sun Gate and soak in the magic of this special place before needing to head back to Aguas Callientes to catch your transportation back to Cusco.
4. A Moderate Level Trek
I would categorize this hike as moderate. The first day is mostly spent at your homestay with a short trek in the afternoon, the second day consists of a 6 hour hike with a lot of incline but nothing too steep, the third day consists of a 6 hour hike with a lot of incline as well but nothing you can’t handle and the last day is spent exploring Machu Picchu.
It is not as intense as other treks, but it’s certainly not leisurely. I would recommend it to those who want to experience a trek in Cusco without too much of a challenge.
For more information regarding the 4D/3N Lares Trek With Ayni Peru, please visit their website. I received a complimentary trek with Ayni Peru in exchange for my opinions, but all opinions are my own. I recommend them on the highest level and will trek with them forever going forward in the future based on the incredible value that they offer!
Have you trekked in Peru? What was your favorite part?