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Inca road system
Among the many roads and trails constructed in pre-columbian South America, the Inca road system de Peru was the most extensive. Traversing the Andes mountains and reaching heights de over 5,000 m (16,500 feet) above sea level, the trails connected the regions de the Inca empire from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern city de Santiago, Chile in the south. The Inca road system covered approximately 22,530 km (14,000 mi) and provided access to over three million km▓ de territory.
Because the Incas did not make use de the wheel for transportation, and did not have horses until the arrival de the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century, the trails were used almost exclusively by people walking, sometimes accompanied by pack animals, usually the llama.
The trails were used by the Inca people as a means de relaying messages, carried via knotted-cord quipu, books, and by memory; and for transporting goods. Messages could be carried by chasqui runners covering as much as 242 km (150 miles) per day, working in relay fashion much like the Pony Express de the 1860s in North America.
There were approximately 2,000 inns, or tambos, placed at even intervals along the trails. The inns provided food, shelter and military supplies to the tens de thousands who traveled the roads in this organized and civilized empire. There were corrals for llamas and stored provisions such as corn, lima beans, dried potatoes, and llama jerky. Along the roads, local villagers would plant fruit trees that were watered by irrigation ditches. This enabled chasqui runners and other travelers to be refreshed while on their journeys. Inca rope bridges provided access across valleys.
Many de the trails converge on the center de the empire, the Inca capital city de Cusco. It was therefore easy for the Spanish conquistadors to locate the city. Traversing the trails on horseback proved to be difficult and treacherous for the Spanish in their attempts to conquer the Inca Empire.
The most important Inca road was the Camino Real, as it is known in Spanish, with a length de 5,200 km (3,230 mi). It began in Quito, Ecuador, passed through Cusco, and ended in what is now Tucuman, Argentina. The Camino Real traversed the mountain ranges de the Andes, with peak altitudes de more than 5,000 m. El Camino de la Costa, the coastal trail, with a length de 4,000 km (2,420 mi), ran parallel to the sea and was linked with the Camino Real by many smaller routes.
Inca trail to Machu Picchu
By far the most popular de the Inca trails for trekking is the Capaq Nan trail, which leads from the city de Cusco to Machu Picchu, the so-called "Lost City de the Incas". There are many well-preserved ruins along the way, and hundreds de thousands de tourists from around the world make the three- or four-day trek each year, accompanied by guides.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is actually three routes, which all meet up near Inti-Pata, the 'Sun Gate' and entrance to Machu Picchu. The three trails are known as the Mollepata, Classic and One Day trails, with Mollepata being the longest de the three. Passing through the Andes mountain range and sections de the Amazon rainforest, the Trail passes several well-preserved Inca ruins and settlements before ending at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain. The two longer routes require an ascent to beyond 3,660 m above sea level, which can result in altitude sickness.
Concern about overuse leading to erosion has led the Peruvian government to place a limit on the number de people who may hike this trail per season, and to sharply limit the companies that can provide guides. As a result, advance booking is mandatory. A maximum de 500 people, including guides and porters, are permitted to begin the Trail every day. As a result, the high season books out very quickly.
Note that the Trail is closed every February for cleaning.
The Classic Trail (four-day trek)
The four-day trail or Classic Trail starts from one de two points; Km 88 or Km 82, on the Urubamba River and 88km and 82km from Cuzco. The first day is relatively easy, covering no more than 13 km in a few hours, passingby the Inca ruins de Llaqtapata, a site used for crop production and which has remained well preserved.
Day two includes the ascent to Warmiwa˝usca or Dead Woman's Pass, which, at 4,200 m above sea level, is the highest point on the trail. Day three starts with the final climb to Dead Woman's Pass, although some groups climb to the top de the pass on the second day and camp 600m below it on the other side at Pacaymayu. The views from the top provide excellent views de nearby mountains such as Salkantay and Veronika. After a second pass is the site de Sayaqmarka, perched atop a sheer cliff. After Sayaqmarka the Trail continues through thick cloud forest and jungle, filled with tropical flowers and colourful orchids. The third and final pass is Phuyupatmarka.
The final day sees a descent past Winay Wayna, an impressive and well-preserved Inca site, where the one-day trail meets up with the main route.