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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

  •   4.55 out of 5 (from 1341 reviews)


    This trip was a dream come true with a BIG unexpected surprise...I swam with a whale shark. Active Adventures has thought of everything. You need to bring your clothes, quick dry is a must, and personal items. All activity amenities are supplied, including a long or short sleeve wetsuit. If you use a prescription mask in the water, bring it along. All the work is done for you. Your guide will let you know what time to be ready and off you go. Everything ran on time, no waiting for anything (once we did wait 4 minutes at the airport for the van). Even meals were ordered ahead and served within a few minutes of sitting down. We ate at many of the best restaurants. I felt like a princess. The Galapagos animals even did their part by 'posing' for great pics. We saw all the great sites while our guide educated us on the topic. Our guide, Pablo, is amazing.

    The whale shark...while boating between islands, we saw a group of dolphins. Then, we saw the whale shark. Pablo handed out mask a few of us gently jumped in the water to 'swim' with the 30ft long animal. Yes, we have videos thanks to our boat captain and one person with a go pro.

    Active Adventures does it right.
    Kim Tetzner Review Image
    – Texas, United States
    Tortuga, February 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 938 reviews)

    Challenging and Fun!

    My trip to Argentina and Chile was more than I imagined it would be. I was in awe of the natural beauty of the areas we hiked in. However, the most important thing I take home with me is the personal relationships I formed with my group, especially my leader, and now friend, Mayra Callo. She was amazing. I am a "beginner hiker" so her patience and close attention on the harder treks was appreciated! She knew so much about the area and it was a pleasure learning about South America from her. In addition, her personality made all of us feel like family, with Mayra being the Mother :) She took great care of all of us. We all had so much fun was sad to leave. Anyone who has any reservations about booking a trip should just do it! They won't be disappointed!!
    Tina Avallone Review Image
    – New Jersey, United States
    Condor, March 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 938 reviews)

    Patagonia 2016

    Trip was amazing - Harder the hikes the better the view
    Dean Clough Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Condor, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 938 reviews)

    Trip Review Condor

    The Active Adventures "Condor" trip to Patagonia and the Argentinean Andes is a "must do" adventure if you enjoy hiking around glaciers, lakes and mountains. The views are spectacular. The quality of the guides is first rate on all elements of this trip.
    Ron Nissen Review Image
    – Queensland, Australia
    Condor, January 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 938 reviews)

    Whoa! What an incredible trip!

    There aren't any words that could properly prepare you for what is in store. Patagonia was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

    Cynthia was an amazing guide, she took such good care of us! She routinely went above and beyond to ensure we were safe, happy, healthy and well fed. What a gem she was! And on top of being great at her job, she's just an awesome person, fun, smart, flexible, just the kind of person you want touring you around the edge of the earth for 2 weeks.

    The trip itself was absolutely breathtaking. No photo could do that place justice. The W trail was an amazing hike full of ever changing views (and lots of wind!). Definitely, pay the extra to do the Grey Glacier hike! It was a trip highlight!

    Get ready to take your jacket on and off more in one day than you would over the course of a month back home :) Everything they say about the weather is true. You are at the mercy of the elements, but for the most part, we lucked out with weather (and when we didn't Cynthia always had a plan B).

    I'm so glad we did this! We will definitely be touring with Active again. Those folks do a stellar job of setting you up for an exciting adventure.
    Celeste Olds Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Condor, December 2016



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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