Trekking to Lares Hot Springs in Peru

by Nora on June 9, 2014

Had I known I’d be sleeping at icy campsites, and pushing my body’s ability to cope with altitudes over 15,400 feet, I might have had second thoughts about the three-day trek from Urubamba (in the Sacred Valley of Peru) to Lares hot springs, 20km away on the other side of a mountain range that we had to climb over.

But I’m glad I didn’t think about it too much beforehand, as not going would have been an even bigger mistake.

 

My fearless leader was Miguel, who had already introduced me to some magical spots in Peru, including Huchuy Cosqo, Machu Picchu, Kinsa Cocha, and more. The ultimate motivation for this chosen trek: to soak our sore muscles at the end of it all in Lares hot springs.

 

Day One – Following the River

Hiking up from Urubamba, we followed a river up, up, and up some more, threading a valley to the river’s very source – a series of little lakes and lagoons way up in the Andes.

 

The first half of the 3-day trek follows this river, up, up, and up some more

 

Part way up, we can see where we’re headed, threading the valley, as far as we can see (and much further)

 

An Old Way of Life

Passing through the remote community of Badacancha, I was amazed at how many people in Peru live as they did hundreds – even thousands – of years ago. This small community has no road to it, and is a two hour walk to the nearest road. The 10 families who live here largely sustain themselves on the land, tending their gardens and animals and living in stone houses that look hundreds of years old.

 

This woman and child collected a small fee (10 soles – about $4) from us to pass through their community and camp further up the valley. Badacancha community consists of about 10 families, has no roads, and is largely sustainable.

 

One of the riverside houses in Badacancha

 

 

The Donkey Trail

Although we were relatively alone on the trail, we did have company; we passed wranglers with their horses/donkeys/mules/llamas regularly (or rather, they passed us), carrying goods and tending to the needs of various groups camping and trekking back and forth along the trail. Despite occasionally passing these groups, we were quite isolated in our Andean paradise.

 

Mules and horses are commonly used along the Lares trek to carry camping equipment and supplies for the journey. The wranglers (who are accustomed to the high altitude) leave camp with the horses long after the trekkers, pass them along the way, and arrive at the next camp with hours to spare.

 

From our camping spot, we can see how far we’ve come in the first day….from the very bottom of the valley over 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) below.

 

 

Camping and Chilling (Literally)

Our first night’s camping spot – chilly but beautiful

 

We camped at 4,300 metres (over 14,000 feet) and immediately felt the chill when the sun disappeared behind the mountains that surrounded us. The following morning the tents were covered in ice and I felt the effects of the thin cold air.

 

After a (very) chilly night, we awoke the next morning to find everything covered in a thin layer of ice. The further up we walked, the thicker the ice got.

 

Day 2: Over the Pass, and Pushing Through

Day 2: From the campsite…onwards and upwards

 

Stamping my feet to (unsuccessfully) ward off the cold, we began the next day’s trek heading ever-higher towards the snowy Sillacasa pass at 4,700 metres (over 15,400 feet). Although I’ve never felt the effects of the Andes’ high altitudes (even at Kinsa Cocha which was almost as high), my heart pounded with each step and frequent rests were required.

 

Climbing ever-upwards, this is the snow-sprinkled Sillacasa pass which we crossed to get from one valley to the next, at a staggering altitude of 4,700 metres (over 15,400 feet).

 

The view from Sillacasa pass of the next valley; reminiscent of Lord of the Rings

 

At the pass, we watched wranglers adjust the horses’ loads so they could maintain their centre of gravity for the steep descent.

 

From this point onwards the tough work was done; it was just a knee-wrenching descent of 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) into the next valley and onwards to Lares, where the hot springs awaited.

 

I’m smiling because I don’t have to climb up any more….it’s all downhill from here.

 

Rounding a corner, we could see our lunch spot way down in the valley, where the wranglers already had potatoes frying, veggies boiling, omelets sizzling, and fresh lemonade waiting.

 

I love it when the horses pose for photos

 

Three Days….Into Two

“Okay, we have two choices,” started Miguel after lunch. “We can camp tonight at a beautiful spot about an hour before Lares hot springs, or we can push through and camp at the hot springs tonight.” The sparkle in his eye at the mention of “hot springs” and “tonight” in the same sentence revealed his preference, and to me it didn’t make sense to camp only an hour away. I wanted to celebrate the hard work of this trek with a hot soak….as soon as possible.

And so we pushed through, totalling nine hours of walking for the second day, including a 400 metre ascent followed by a 1,500 metre descent.

Down and down we went into the next valley. We followed the valley floor around the corner and further on to Lares hot springs.

 

We had to pay another fee (5 soles – about $2) to pass through the Cuncani community; a widespread community of about 30 families. Although they still live largely sustainably, their lives changed when a road from Lares was built to Cuncani, giving them a whole new level of access to the rest of the world (for better or worse).

 

 

Lares Hot Springs

The decision to push through and finish the trek in two days was a sound one, I thought that evening, while soaking in the hottest of the four naturally hot pools that range in temperature from warm to scalding. I barely remember passing out in my tent and I slept for an unbelievable 11 hours before waking up and heading right back to the hot springs for another soak.

Our efforts on the second day were rewarded with a much-needed soak in Lares hot springs that night, a good night of sleep, and another soak in the hot springs the next morning.

 

If the dirt colour of the water turns you off, join the club. But having been to natural hot springs in Panama and Sulphur Springs in Grenada, I wasn’t surprised by the opaque brown water, and it smelled much less of sulphur than other hot springs I’ve visited in places like New Zealand and Canada.

 

Getting to Lares Hot Springs

You don’t have to trek for 2-3 days to reach the isolated valley of Lares (although if you’ve got it in you, I’d recommend it); there are buses from the town of Calca, but I have been warned that it’s a nauseating two-hour journey full of twists and turns. Indeed in returning from Lares hot springs after our trek, we took a car, and although the scenery was a stunning cross between Scottish Highlands and the set of Lord of the Rings, I can see how being in a cramped bus hurtling up and down the bumpy narrow dirt switchbacks might leave a little something to be desired.

Although it wasn’t easy, I loved earning that long soak in Lares hot springs with a three day trek.

 

What’s the most rewarding trek you’ve ever done?

 

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric West June 9, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Nora,
I usually read from an RSS feed so I don’t get over to your blog to comment often, but I wanted to tell you that I have really enjoyed your posts from Peru. The pictures and stories are great, and I particularly enjoy your stories of personal triumph, pushing yourself to succeed even with the challenge of your injuries. Thanks for sharing these, they are truly inspiring.

Reply

2 Nora Dunn June 10, 2014 at 10:21 am

Thank you so much, Eric! My three months in Peru are drawing to a close, and reflecting on what I’ve done in this time, I’m pretty pleased. It has been a great adventure!

Reply

3 rebecca June 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm

incredible! lucky girl I would love to of seen all that, specially the people of villages living the way they did years ago. However the icy cold tents does not spark my “let me! let me!” button. How did you sleep?! Did you even manage to sleep? Bet it was all worth it, the trekking pictures look great

Reply

4 Nora Dunn June 10, 2014 at 10:26 am

Hey Rebecca,
I don’t like the cold, and I’ve been on a permanent mission to avoid winter since I started traveling in 2007….so far quite successful. My time in Peru has tested my dislike for the cold in a general sense (even in the Sacred Valley the altitude is so high that it gets quite cold at night), but like you say – it has totally been worth it.
As for how I slept: the first night, not so well. But the second night after the hot springs – like a baby! 🙂

Reply

5 MikeOWave June 9, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Your new camera is dramatically better than the old one.

Reply

6 Nora Dunn June 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

@Mike – TELL me about it! 🙂

Reply

7 Frank June 10, 2014 at 4:03 am

Great adventure Nora! Sooo jealous.

Have shared it on our FB page.

Keep up the adventuring 🙂

Frank

Reply

8 Nora Dunn June 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

Thanks, Frank! Peru is awesome. The adventures continue…

Reply

9 Jeanette Todd June 11, 2014 at 1:58 am

What an awesome place to camp out. If it was me I would trek all the way to the hot springs and enjoy the view rather than sitting on a bus. I really like your adventures here.

Reply

10 Nora Dunn June 14, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Thanks, Jeanette! I was just speaking with somebody yesterday who took the bus to Lares….and puked enroute….I think the trek is best! 🙂

Reply

11 Shivani June 26, 2014 at 11:20 am

Thanks for sharing a beautiful and adventurous trip to Peru. It was really thrilling and the part of getting ice layer on the surface in the morning was best. The blog is really amazing. Even, We provide information on travel places from Pune, be it beaches, hill stations. Check the link mentioned in the signature for more information.

Thanks,
Shivani
http://punefirst.com/travel/

Reply

12 Nora Dunn June 26, 2014 at 11:23 am

Hi Shivani,
Thank you – and yes, although I don’t particularly enjoy the cold, that ice picture was fun to take!

Reply

13 Christine July 14, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Thank you for posting this link. Seven years ago my husband and I rented a motorcycle and road to Lares without knowing what was in store for us. Our 8 day hike was washed out so we decided to rent a motorcycle and took the recommendation to take the route to Lares.

I have seen one or two articles dis the hotsprings, but they are fantastic and the locals are very friendly as long as you are polite.

We still love talking about staying in the dirt floor hut under warm hand woven blankets for one night of our honey moon in Pery/Equadore.

Lares is worth the visit for all those who love adventure and do not need the prince/princess treatment.

Reply

14 Nora Dunn July 15, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Hi Christine,
I’m glad you made it to Lares, and on a motorcycle no less! Very cool. Glad you found it as special as I did!

Reply

15 Mark Mulligan August 5, 2014 at 10:18 am

Nora, so glad I found your blog! We are going to be in Peru 9-5 to 9-21 and are planning to do this hike, so excited! Your description and pictures are excellent, great preview to what it’s like. Wondering what your level of fitness is and just how hard this hike is. My wife hurt her back a few months ago and is recovering, hoping to really get better before we leave. Is this trek for only the very fittest? She’s really worried right now about being able to make it. Thanks for your input!

Reply

16 Nora Dunn August 5, 2014 at 10:25 am

Hi Mark,
I would probably rate this hike as “moderate” in difficulty. You don’t need to be super-fit to do it (I have some messed up knees), but the altitude can be tough to deal with and it’s a long hard slog. If you have trekking experience in the mountains, you’ll be fine. Trekking poles make it much easier if you’re worried. Enjoy! It’s awesome. 🙂

Reply

17 Mark Mulligan August 5, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Thanks Nora, this is great information, much appreciated. So happy I found your blog, checked out a lot of your other posts, love it! May you walk in beauty 😀

Reply

18 Nora Dunn August 6, 2014 at 6:17 am

Thanks, Mark!

Reply

19 Angela January 24, 2015 at 11:01 am

This blog was a great find! I will be going to Peru in March and am wanting to end my trip with THIS trek in April. These are some wonderful pictures! Who was your guide/company that you booked with? Was this a private trek? Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

Reply

20 Nora Dunn January 26, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Hi Angela,
So glad you enjoyed this post, and are interested in doing this trek! I did it with Allpamama Journeys (http://alfredoiturriagasj.wix.com/allpamamajourneys) and a guide-turned-friend named Miguel. You can do it with a variety of tour companies I believe, but I’ve done lots of treks with Miguel and I highly recommend him.

Reply

21 Mark Mulligan January 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Angela,

We did this trek in September 2014 and absolutely LOVED it, definitely one of the high lights of our trip. Strenuous for sure, but so worth it for the sheer beauty. Our guide, Erich Nordt Orihuela, owns an expedition company called Peruprofundo, http://www.peruprofundoadventure.pagevamp.com/index Top notch organization, they took very good care of us and are very nice. You can find Erich and Peruprofundo on Facebook as well. Not sure how this hike will be in April, as Nora explains, your topping out over 15,000, so weather has a big effect! When we did it, an unseasonable storm rolled in with lots of hail and lightening…a little freaky but added a lot to the experience!

Also, we have dear friends, Inti and Ananda, who own a center in Yanawara (near Urubamba). The center is located right at the beginning of this trail, so it’s a great spot to spend the night at prior to beginning the hike. Please let them know that Mark Mulligan referenced you to them! http://www.inti-shaman.com/en/the-centre.html

Bien Viaje…Enjoy your trip!

Reply

22 Orlene Hagedorn November 10, 2015 at 10:41 am

I found your blog as I was searching for information on the best hike of my life – the one just described. We did it without the help of cooks! I did the Inca Trail afterwards and was , by comparison, disappointed. As a life-long hiker, this hike, which was in 2010, will always stand out. Thank you for your blog, as I needed some details about the trip which I had forgotten!

Reply

23 Nora Dunn November 10, 2015 at 10:48 am

Hi Orlene,
Glad you enjoyed this hike as much as I did! Indeed, there are all kinds of hikes in Peru that parallel if not surpass the beauty and majesty of the Inca Trail. It’s a mecca for hikers!

Reply

24 Rae July 28, 2016 at 8:01 am

I really enjoyed reading your blog and seeing your pictures! My friends and I are going to Peru in September and were considering the same hike you describe above. Mind if I pick your brain a little? Maps: where can we get them specifically for this hike or care to share? How well marked is the trail? Water, how many water points are there? I know you’re following the river for the beginning but once you get into the mountains was there water available consistently or just one or two points (we have water tablets for purification, never fear)?

Reply

25 Nora July 28, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Hi Rae,
Great questions! (For which I’ll have some shoddy – but hopefully helpful – answers):

Maps: I don’t know. There are a few routes, which are known by locals and guides. If I were you I’d try an online search and see what comes up.

Is the trail well-marked? Not really. It’s a pretty well-worn trail, but there are spots where it’s tough to find/follow. Even my guide mentioned going way off-trail once after the pass when it was cloudy one day.

Water: We camped by the river for our first night, and I don’t remember much water (if any) on day 2. We just carried what we needed for the day.

Hope this helps! Enjoy your trip. 🙂

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: