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:

  • Ultimate Peru Adventure - Jaguar

    10 Days  | 

    Peru  | 

    US$3999

    ACTIVE 3 - 4
    • ACTIVE 1

      What's The Rush?

      I’m not a triathlete, but I’m in decent shape and I’m not looking to experience a place just through a bus window. I’m happy to slow down on the trail, soak it in and breathe in the fresh air.


    • ACTIVE 2

      Leg Stretcher

      Sure, I own some hiking boots, they’re even worn in, but they don’t go on long trips. I like my creature comforts and I like to give a range of activities a go.


    • ACTIVE 3

      Earn Your Lunch

      I stay active on vacation so that I can eat and drink what I like without feeling guilty. I season my trips with a little fresh exercise.


    • ACTIVE 4

      Challenge Accepted

      I’ll let my trusty guides sweat the small things, so I can focus on my goal. Getting to the top, reaching the end, achieving my dreams! Sure, it’ll be tough, but the views will be worth it.


    • ACTIVE 5

      The Ultimate

      I’ve put in the hard yards and now I get to reap the rewards. I’m a seasoned adventurer, not afraid to get my boots wet.


    • Read more about the Active Range

    4.50 out of 5 (from 1974 reviews)

    Experience the very best of Peru in ten days on a multi-activity adventure you'll never forget. Hike in the footsteps of the Incas, cycle through Andean villages and explore the Amazon jungle.

 

  • Peru Lodge to Lodge Trek - Alpaca

    10 Days  | 

    Peru  | 

    US$5399

    ACTIVE 5
    • ACTIVE 1

      What's The Rush?

      I’m not a triathlete, but I’m in decent shape and I’m not looking to experience a place just through a bus window. I’m happy to slow down on the trail, soak it in and breathe in the fresh air.


    • ACTIVE 2

      Leg Stretcher

      Sure, I own some hiking boots, they’re even worn in, but they don’t go on long trips. I like my creature comforts and I like to give a range of activities a go.


    • ACTIVE 3

      Earn Your Lunch

      I stay active on vacation so that I can eat and drink what I like without feeling guilty. I season my trips with a little fresh exercise.


    • ACTIVE 4

      Challenge Accepted

      I’ll let my trusty guides sweat the small things, so I can focus on my goal. Getting to the top, reaching the end, achieving my dreams! Sure, it’ll be tough, but the views will be worth it.


    • ACTIVE 5

      The Ultimate

      I’ve put in the hard yards and now I get to reap the rewards. I’m a seasoned adventurer, not afraid to get my boots wet.


    • Read more about the Active Range

    5.00 out of 5 (from 3 reviews)

    Immerse yourself in Peru's cultural richness, explore the Pisac Ruins, Rainbow Mountain and take a comfortable alternative route to Machu Picchu, via the Classic Inca Trail.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Jaguar, November 2016

    This trip truly was an 'active adventure', and exceeded my expectations in so many ways.
    Peru is such a beautiful country, rich in history, and culture. All of our guides were superb, but Erick as our trip host absolutely made this trip worry free, a true learning experience, and SO much fun! If it's all in the details, Erick and Active covered them all and more!
    I arrived as a solo traveler and left having made friends and memories that I will treasure always.
    Thank you Active Adventures, until next time!
    Sandra Datoff Review Image
    – British Columbia, Canada
    Jaguar 2017, December 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Simply Awesome

    Incredible doesn't cover it. This trip gave a truly comprehensive Patagonia experience. Congratulations must go to whoever designed the sequence/structure. Each day presented us with a never-to-be-topped experience, promptly upped a notch the next..for the FULL trip duration!! No faults with accommodation, meals, transportation etc. Jay was absolutely awesome (I'll be running out of superlatives soon). Personable, great leader, communicator and guide. No problem ever became a problem. He and his brother Gem made this a real ILE (incredible life experience). Still don't know how he managed to arrange for the variety of weather and wildlife. For anyone thinking about doing this trip - don't think, DO. And I would recommend Active adventures!
    Justin de Beer Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Condor, December 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Better Than I Imagined!

    Visiting Patagonia was a dream of mine, forever and this amazing trip was better than I could have possibly imagined! Everything was perfect and I can't wait to travel with Active Adventures again!
    Laura Goldner Review Image
    – New Hampshire, United States
    Condor, March 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Magnificent views

    This was clearly one of the more spectacular trips we've taken because of the mountains, glaciers and beautiful weather. But it was a tough one. The W segment was a bit crowded so be ready to share a lot of the trail with a lot of people, especially at the refugios.
    Colleen Santori Review Image
    – Minnesota, United States
    Condor, December 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Outstanding Adventure with the Best Guide Ever!

    The Tortuga trip was phenomenal. From the moment I arrived, my every need was met and all with grace and professionalism. The trip was well planned, we saw and did so many things, from adventures like hiking and biking, snorkeling and kayaking, to learning all about the Galapagos in a way a book will never tell you. What brought everything off the pages of a book, and from the land in front of us was the knowledge and the passion of our guide Pablo. What a treasure he is! He could answer anything, and it was all shared with enthusiasm, passion, caring, love for this land. I felt so honored to have had him as our guide. Thank you! The food was outstanding, the accommodations perfect. I could not fault a single thing!
    Laurie Kelley Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Tortuga, December 2016

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