Seeing as hiking and backpacking is a passion of mine and my boyfriend’s, when planning our trip to Peru we thought it only appropriate to seek out such an adventure! Trekking in the high Andean mountain ranges around Cusco, Peru has always been a dream of mine; the rich history, culture and extreme climate made it ever so appealing. Wanting to have more of a unique, culture filled experience, we steered clear of the Inca Trail and opted for a three day trek through the Lares Valley with the fourth day spent at Machu Picchu. The high altitudes and extreme remoteness made it imperative that we travel with a guide.
I’ve always tried to invest my time and money into ethical trades and practices, especially when abroad, ensuring that my contributions were directly and positively affecting the communities I travelled through. Even more so, recently with a spot light on the treatment of sherpas on Everest Mountain, I felt obligated to do some research into the company that would be guiding me through the Andes. In this research I found that in recent years, to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand of tourists wanting to hike the infamous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, companies were putting the porter’s welfare aside. With no horses allowed on the trail, many men and boys were carrying unsafe loads often in rubber sandals across high alpine terrain. Many of the porters were not being adequately compensated and had no healthcare provided for such a labor intensive job. I could not put my money into a system that takes advantage of their citizens and I certainly could not have a guilty conscience for having someone ill-equipped carry my stuff, when I am more than capable of doing it myself!
Thankfully, we came across the company Alpaca Expeditions! It’s a young company, started by a friendly Peruvian Raul, who himself used to be a porter and guide on the Inca trail. Knowing the hard work it takes to be a porter (it’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the world!) he set out to create a company that used tourism to help porters and the communities they came from. Alpaca has over 100 porters, all of which are given health insurance, appropriate trekking gear and equipment and have the most competitive wages in the field. As well, most if not all the porters come from villages that some of the treks hike through, adding a truly unique cultural experience. Alpaca offers a multitude of treks, including the Inca Trail, to choose from. All of which are priced fairly and competitively. They provide top quality equipment, meals and guides for not much more than their competitors. The deciding factor for us was knowing that this company was well invested in the practices of Eco-Tourism and I felt confident that I was directly helping those who helped me.
Our experience on the Lares Trek with Alpaca and Sabino, our guide, was truly life changing and spectacular in all ways. Every day we hiked through remote mountain villages, eagerly greeted by local kids looking for treats. Sabino educated us greatly on the Inca history and present day Peruvian culture, introducing us to locals and touring us through their hut homes. Life in a high Andean village is astoundingly different; one room mud huts with no running water or electricity, sharing your living space with chickens and guinea pigs and the nearest school or store is at least an hours trek away. The entire trek was above 3,000m (9,800ft), at one point we nearly reached 5,000m (16,400ft), however Sabino was well versed in preventing and treating altitude sickness, equipped with numerous natural and medicinal cures. Mark and I were the only ones in our group, however Alpaca will take up to 6 people per guide. Having a small group ensured we had many personal touches and experiences, like helping our horseman do some spontaneous fishing! Throughout the trek we crossed paths with only one other trekking group of five, whose porters I noted were not as equipped as ours, wearing rubber sandals and inadequate clothing.
The rest of our Green Machine Team was comprised of a horseman, Santos, and a Chef, Raymundo, who I’m more convinced is a magician. Santos took care of packing up camp after we set off trekking and having camp set up for our arrival at lunch as well as at each daily destination. Often he and the horses would race by us, obviously unaffected by the altitude. Raymundo’s cooking skills exceeded our expectations every meal! The man can cook! There was always an array of dishes at an unprecedented abundance. He even managed to build an oven on the last night to bake a cake to celebrate our accomplishment of finishing the trek!
Since the Lares Trek did not conclude at Machu Picchu, we were picked up and delivered to the town where the train leaves for Aguas Calientes (town at the base of Machu Picchu). Along the way our guide continued to expose us to Inca ruins and Peruvian traditions. We stayed the night in Aguas Calientes in order to catch a 5:30am bus (30min ride) up to Machu Picchu. For those of you who just cringed at that last sentence, let me tell you, it was 100% worth it. Catching the sun rise upon the ancient city was breathtaking, not to mention the crowds didn’t seem as bad compared to what they were when we left mid-day. Sabino accompanied us throughout Machu Picchu, again educating us on the history and significance of the world wonder.
After five hours of exploring, the heat and the crowds started to weigh on us and it was time to return to Cusco. Our time with Sabino and the rest of the Green Machine Team had concluded, but our love for the Peruvian culture had just been ignited. We were already thinking of the next trek we could do with Alpaca! Thank you Sabino, Santos, Raymundo and Alpaca Expeditions!
Whether trekking in Peru or South America is on your bucket list or you are just planning a trip abroad, I really encourage you to look into the companies you choose to give business to. Eco-tourism creates sustainable growth in communities just as the company Alpaca Expeditions has demonstrated in Peru. And of course I HIGHLY recommend the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu as an alternative to the Inca Trail, especially for those who are looking for a more cultural experience off of the beaten path. Happy travels!