The way to Machu Picchu – Inca Trail, Lares Trek or the train?

(Last Updated On: September 29, 2023)

The legendary lost city of Machu Picchu easily makes it to the top of every traveller’s wish list, and with views like this, it’s no wonder why. While the Inca Trail is by far the most popular route to this incredible archaeological site, the Lares Trek offers an equally memorable trek off the beaten track.  

The legendary ruins of Machu Picchu should be on the top of every traveller's wish list
The legendary ruins of Machu Picchu have to be seen to be believed

As the most popular route to Machu Picchu, permits for the Inca Trail are quickly scooped up by intrepid travellers from around the world. But don’t fret if you’ve missed out on a permit, as the Lares Trek offers an equally memorable hike through the remote Andes Mountains. Each route offers its own unique highlights, taking in spectacular views, ancient ruins and remote settlements en route.

The Inca Trail

Machu Picchu (Peru)

By far the most popular trek to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail stretches 43 kilometres from the village of Ollantaytambo to the Lost City of the Incas. Every year thousands of travellers come from near and far to make this four day trek through spectacular mountain scenery, dense sub-tropical jungle and misty cloud forest, taking in the well-preserved ruins of bygones past en route.

Led by an expert guide, and supported by a team of porters and cooks, trekkers on this route will traverse three mountain passes reaching heights of up to 4200 metres. While you will only have to carry a small day pack it is important to remember that this trail is physically demanding, but can be completed by anyone who leads a reasonable active lifestyle.

On the Inca Trail trekkers can catch their first glimpse of Machu Picchu at sunrise through the Sun Gate, when the morning mist begins to clear and the enigmatic ruins can be seen illuminated in the golden glow of first daylight – a truly incredible sight!

The legacy of Machu Picchu and the famed Inca Trail makes this one of the most sought after treks in region, and the world. To ensure the site is not overrun only a limited number of tourists are allowed to hike the trail and enter Machu Picchu every day. If you are thinking about doing the Inca Trail make sure you book long in advance to secure your place!

The Lares Trek

The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru

With spectacular views, glacial lakes, and fewer crowds, the Lares Trek is a brilliant alternative to the Inca Trail, and by no means second to it. Also fully escorted, this route reaches a higher altitude than the Inca Trail at a lofty 4600 metres, and although it may be tough, this trail is well worth the climb.

With stunning landscapes and remote settlements, the surrounds of this trail have remained largely untouched by tourism and retains much of their authenticity. Unlike the more popular Inca Trail, you will spend much of the Lares Trek in solitude, perhaps running into one or two fellow trekkers en route. Not following a trail as such, this trek feels more like a hike through the remote Andean mountains as opposed to the route of a well beaten track.  Unlike the Inca Trail, which takes in archaeological ruins en route, on the Lares Trek you may get the rare opportunity to meet traditionally-dressed Andean farmers and their families, still living in rustic thatched stone houses, for a glimpse at everyday life in the highlands.

In order to take full advantage of Machu Picchu, travellers spend the final night of the Lares Trek in a hotel in Aguas Calientes so that they can catch an early morning bus to the ancient city just in time for sunrise. Arriving well rested and before the crowds, keen trekkers can make their way to Wayna Picchu, a small mountain which offers fantastic birds-eye views over the city below. Not for the faint hearted, Wayna Picchu is a steep climb, but well worth all the huffing and puffing.

Hiking not your thing? Opt to travel by rail and enjoy a relaxing few days in Cuzco followed by a train up to Aguas Calientes where you can then travel on to Machu Picchu.