OFF-THE-BEATEN PATH. If you are like me, you might want to see Peru from a more unique angle. Remember, by visiting what seem the “most popular” attractions, you are likely setting yourself up for endless crowds. Instead, consider looking for places that are more ethnic and less-traveled.

MY CHOICE. Instead of trekking the Inka Trail, go on the Lares Trek. It is longer and more physically demanding than the Inka trail, but on the way you will walk through the most secluded villages of Peru and meet the indigenous Quechua inhabitants that speak a language known by very few. Lares Trek is much more charming and picturesque, and you will most certainty get a more authentic experience. It felt like I was thousands of miles away from civilization, surrounded by nothing but the mountains, lakes, limestone houses and, occasionally, trotting lamas and alpacas. We did not see a single hiker that wasn’t a part of our group.

         The Lares Trek turned out to be one of the most phenomenal experiences I have ever undertaken. It is a three-day, two night hike through the Peruvian Andes. You start in the town of Ollantaytambo, where you can pick up a few treats for the children you might run into during your hike, as well as some food for the other indigenous people you encounter. Not only is this considered a courteous gesture, but seeing the children’s eyes sparkle when they receive a present or treat is very heart-warming. Then, you get a little treat yourself: you stop at the hot springs to energize and relax before the big ascent.

         Day one is usually an easy preparation for the intensity of the steep and cold climb that follows on day two. Everyone in our group (about 12 people) was hiking at their own pace. Albeit difficult at times, it is overall manageable if you pace yourself and take short breaks. The hike took approximately three to four hours. The highest point we reached during the first day was 3,250 m.  The air is thin, but you get used to it pretty quickly. The night I spent in a tent wasn’t bad at all. I had two sleeping bags and wore a lot of layers that night and managed to stay surprisingly warm (even though I am one of those people who feels cold when it drops under 26° C.)

      Day two was far more challenging. The slopes get steeper, distances longer, altitudes higher and temperatures lower. This time we climbed for five to six hours and everyone felt exhausted. Very few people managed to sustain a conversation or take pictures, because instead, we were focusing on keeping our heart rates down, drinking water and moving along. The last hour was the most difficult, as it started raining and afterward the rain turned into heavy snow. Once we reached the summit at 4,465 m (16,000  ft.) we had a well-deserved shot of rum before beginning our descent. Nothing felt better than skipping down the trail after an intense hike.

      I have to say that the company fed us extremely well. Be it possibly the extreme hunger and exhaustion that made the food taste so great, but the cooks did a great job. We were fed three times a day with full meals and hot beverages (no alcohol, of course, due to the altitude!) and snacks and fruits in between meals.

      The second night was less than comfy. Since our camp site was at a much higher altitude, the temperature dropped below 0ºC (32ºF). After having put all my clothes on and crawling into two of my sleeping bags, I still wasn’t able to doze off even. I felt the cold running through my bones all night, but the excitement of having an easy and fun day ahead took over fairly quickly and helped put me to sleep.

         Day three felt like a breeze with an easy stroll down. We walked through fairytale-like meadows and ran into some more free running lamas on our way. But that same evening, after a two-hour train ride, we were at out hotel in Aguas Calientes enjoying a hot shower, and later, a delicious dinner.

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