As popular as the Inca Trail is, I never considered it. If I'd wanted to share a trail with 500 hikers and porters, I would have signed up for the Inca Trail. But I prefer the road less traveled, whenever possible. So I was the only person in our tour group who chose the Lares Trek. If you're headed to Machu Picchu, many tour operators offer this alternative hike through the pristine and peaceful Lares Valley. It's rated more moderate than the classic Inca Trail, although it reaches a higher elevation by about 500 meters. There are several routes through the Lares Valley, and my hike would take three days, with two nights of camping. The highest point would be the summit at Sicllakasa Pass, at about 4,750 meters (15,580 feet).
So for three days, I was a group of one, led by a guide and Garcia the mule. There was a porter who set up the tents, but we never saw him. We passed small farms, thatched-roof houses and small-scale Inca ruins. Up, up, up we went. We encountered no other hikers on the trail. On the second day, as we were nearing the summit at Sicllakasa Pass, we met a group of farmers who were transporting their goods on a pack of llamas. They had just come over the pass and were heading down toward us. They greeted us in Quechua, and seemed surprised to see me, a solo traveler with the guide. The trail was narrow and rocky there, so we coaxed Garcia away from the path to allow the group to pass. Imagine that -- a traffic jam, on the road less traveled!