Trekking the Lares Highway Above Calca

Yesterday I changed my plans literally at the last moment. Instead of getting off the colectivo in Pisac, I decided to go farther down the Sacred Valley to Calca and hike up the Lares “highway”.

Despite the advantage of being a smooth, paved road almost the entire way, this is a steady trek that goes uphill the entire way and passes not only some beautiful country, but also Inca ruins, interesting modern ruins, and goes through multiple Andean villages where people go through daily lives in many ways much as they’ve done for centuries.

The trip to Calca on a colectivo costs only 4 soles ($1.20 USD) for the 70-minute trip. (Most colectivos charge an extra sole on the weekends.) I got off in the middle of the city and started walking up the valley. Since there is only one road leading out of the city in that direction, you’ll eventually be funneled to the Lares highway.

I use Google Maps on my cell phone to save time, but you can simply look for Av. Grau and go north. It will change its name to Av. Calca, but it’s still the main road out of town.

It’s not the most beautiful road for a short stretch, but there’s a good chance of meeting local folks along the way.

On the edge of town the road surprisingly turns into a dirt road for about 1 km. It’s a dusty stretch of road that makes you wonder what you’re getting into, but it’s short lived and soon you’ll be back on the paved road heading north.

One very important note: you are walking along a reasonably busy road. There is a lot of colectivo and taxi traffic going back and forth between Lares. Those coming back down the valley are often traveling very fast and like to hug the edge of the road on the curves.

Be very aware of traffic and there is usually little or no room on the roadside. I prefer to walk facing oncoming traffic so I can see what’s coming. I frequently step off as far as I can when I see a vehicle coming to give them all the room they might need just to be safe. Never walk wearing headphones. Drivers usually give you a tap on the horn to let you known they’re coming, but they don’t slow down. It’s your responsibility to stay out of their way.

It’s a fascinating hike once you get out of the city. The views are spectacular and you’ll likely pass numerous local people walking along the road. A smile and a friendly “hola” goes a long way with them. (Keep in mind that some older campesinos in the mountains speak very little, if any, Spanish and tend to me shy.)

There’s even a large Inca cemetary on the south side of the road not too far outside of Calca!

A few kilometers up the road you’ll come upon what’s left of the old Calca Hydroelectric plant on the left side of the road. It’s mostly abandoned, but there does appear to be a family living on the property complete with a few dogs who will bark a lot, but seemingly have no interest in doing anything more.

Just past the hidroeléctrica, you come upon the ruins of Calispuquio. It’s not a particular large or impressive site, but it is spread out along the winding switchbacks of the highway so there is a lot to see.

Below the ruins of Calispuquio is a path that is likely the remains of an Inca road.

Once you get to the ruins, I recommend taking the path below the old walls to the left as this appears to be what’s left of an old Inca road. There are innumerable remains of old walls, some buildings, and Inca agricultural terracing above that is still used today.

I recommend taking any short cut you can find. Local people do not walk along the winding switchbacks and the paths are easy to find which will save you a lot of time and effort on your way up.

Soon after the ruins you will start passing through a series of small pueblos along the road beginning with the largest, Acchar Baja. I found the people to be very friendly here and eager to talk. If you take the time to start a conversation, you’ll quickly make new friends!

A little past the last small community of Llanchu, you come upon the Hot Springs (Baños Termales) at Manchacancha. While this site has been used for centuries, it appears that new construction is turning it into a modern facility.

Just passed the hot springs, I decided to turn around as I had already hiked up about 2600′ from the valley floor to an altitude of about 11,200′. To be honest, I was a little lazy as I accepted to offer of a bored cab driver to drive me back down the valley to Calca for only 2 soles. My feet were hurting and I was looking at a couple of hours of downhill hiking, so it was the best decision I made all day!

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