Denise Van Outen, Fearne Cotton Machu Picchu Challenge: What did they really do?

More well known for their glamorous lifestyles, UK celebrities  Denise Van Outen,  Fearne Cotton, Alexandra Burke, Amanda Byram, Gabriella Cilm were all over the UK press when they did a trek to Machu Picchu to raise awareness for Breast Cancer Care.  They were joined on the trek by six ladies diagnosed with the disease, and a film crew.  Follow in their footsteps

The media said that they did the famous Inca Trail, but what did they actually do?

Here is what they most probably did plus some insights into the experience and what they might have seen on the way.

First of all they didn’t do the classic Inca Trail but rather a Lares Trek.

What is a Lares Trek?

Lares is a mountainous area outside the city of Cusco,  not too far from Machu Picchu.  There are various hikes you can do here – called Lares Treks because they start or finish in the town  of Lares.

Is it cheating not to do the Inca Trail?

Not at all.  Take a look:

Day 1: Hot springs and waterfalls

A car will have taken them from Cusco, through the Sacred Valley and up into the Andean Altiplano at heights of 3700m.  It’s a tough start on the steep zig-zag path that heads up to the pass at 420mm.  The rewards though are views of beautiful blue lakes and waterfalls as they head down to the town of Lares.   Just outside of town is the fabulous Lares Hot Springs.  The springs are operated by the community and consist of various pools.  There is one large pool you can swim in,  then three smaller pools that go from fairly chilly to ‘oh my,  I can only manage a minute’ hot.  It is a great place to camp the night but the celebs carried on that day to the small community of Cuncani . It’s clear from this Mirror article the celebs enjoyed the hot springs.

Local grandparesnt outside their home

Local grandparents

People in these villages grow potatoes and other root villages and keep llamas or alpacas to earn a living.  It is a very basic lifestyle.  Women  still weave their clothes in a traditional way.  People live in stone-built houses with thatched roves and cook on basic wood fires, and have no doubt never heard of the visiting celebs.

In the kitchen you are bound to find plenty of guinea pigs squealing .  These animals have special significance and are eaten on festival and celebration days, not a pleasant idea for the vegetarians in the group.

Young girls selling weaving Lares

Local girls sell weavings to make money for their families

Some villages in the Lares valleys have benefitted from tourism with organizations supporting local schools, and tourists buying small weavings as souvenirs, or bottles of cola,  but life is generally  hard and people are poor.  Trekkers are likely to see women and children looking after their alpacas, or men carrying goods by mule to the nearest towns for sale.

Definitely no phones, internet or other trappings of modern day living!

Day 2 : Snowy peaks and mountain communities

The ladies will probably have got up stiff after a night in a tent at altitudes.  No hot showers up here!  Some typical effects of altitude are difficulty sleeping, strange dreams and flatulence.

Camp site on Lares trek

Camp site in the mountains, Lares

A cook will have handed them a cup of hot coca tea to wake them up.  The coca leaves are enthusiastically chewed or made into tea in this area to help with the effects of altitude.  Breakfast will be hearty to prepare for the day ahead and served in a dining tent.

It’s likely that the large group of foreigners attracted the attention of plenty of local children who follow along asking for sweets.  It’s now the practice in the area that guides will advise people what to do about this and might suggest visitors give out bread or school supplies instead.

This day will have seen them pass some spectacular scenery.  The Lares area has some white giants brooding over it in the form of the snow capped peaks of Chicon and Pumahuanja and huge open valleys populated with azure lakes.

Finishing in the community of Huacahuasi  (pronounced wakawasi), the group might have set up camp in the stone shelter of a llama coral.  These corrals are a feature of the landscape here.  It is often the job of the children to bring the animals into the corrals at dusk to keep them safe from predators such as pumas.

Day 3:  High passes and lakes

This is the hardest day of the trek as it is a long day with a pass of 4200m.  Just to give an idea,  that’s more than three times  higher than Ben Nevis.

There are fewer communities here and no road transport but fabulous views of the snow capped peaks to the north covered in glaciers.


Glaciated peak, Lares

Glaciated Peak, Lares

Sleep is on the edge of a lake formed by glaciers – so definitely no swimming!   At this height, the sun is very strong.  As soon as the sun goes down, though, you’ll be putting on your alpaca hats and socks.  If your cold toes can stand it, it is worth sitting outside the tent for the fabulous views of the stars away from pollution and city lights.

Day 4; Machu Picchu at last!

Let’s give the ladies the benefit of the doubt and say they did arrive in Machu Picchu on the Inca trail; then the day went like this:

After an early start they walk downhill to where a car is there to take them down the bumpy road back to civilization. Then take a train to the practically named Km 104.

Here it is totally different terrain. It is an amazing experience to start the day in high Andean mountains with glaciated lakes, and then trek through lush cloud forests leading to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

Macchu Picchu

The final part is up 50 stone steps made by the Incas just to give that final challenge.

At the top, though, is the Sun Gate and the amazing, iconic view of Machu Picchu – a truly unforgettable moment for anyone!

After a much deserved rest and a tour of magical Machu Picchu, they could finally sleep in a hotel bed with hot showers, eat indoors in a local restaurant, and take the train back to the city of Cusco.

Are you up to the challenge?

Why the Lares Trek and not the usual Inca Trail?

  • The Inca Trail is a great hike but is very popular and some people want to be with less trekkers.
  • Because of the popularity the authorities have limited the number of tourists who can start the trek each day to around 200.   You need to apply for a permit to do the Inca Trail quite far in advance
  • On the Lares Treks you can hire horses and mules to help carry your bags – or you!  On the Inca Trail the porters carry everything on their backs.
  • The main reason many people chose a trek in the Lares area is for the chance to mix with local people and see a traditional way of life that hasn’t changed much for centuries.
  • There are less Inca runis on the Lares treks but the scenery is open and spectacular.

This sounds great but I’m not sure about all that hiking and tents

Have no fear!  It is possible to get to Machu Picchu in a more relaxed style – just hop on a train!

Coming up….what else is there around Machu Picchu for the girls?  Some top tips from the ladies at Into Latin America

Thank you to Al Toth for photos of Lares


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