Inca road system
Among the many roads and trails constructed in pre-columbian South
America, the Inca road system of Peru was the most extensive. Traversing
the Andes mountains and reaching heights of over 5,000 m (16,500 feet)
above sea level, the trails connected the regions of the Inca empire
from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern
city of 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▓ of territory.
Because the Incas did not make use of the wheel for transportation, and
did not have horses until the arrival of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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
Many of the trails converge on the center of the empire, the Inca
capital city of 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 of 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 of the Andes,
with peak altitudes of more than 5,000 m. El Camino de la Costa, the
coastal trail, with a length of 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 of the Inca trails for trekking is the Capaq Nan
trail, which leads from the city of Cusco to Machu Picchu, the so-called
"Lost City of the Incas". There are many well-preserved ruins along the
way, and hundreds of thousands of 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 of the three. Passing through the Andes
mountain range and sections of 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
Concern about overuse leading to erosion has led the Peruvian government
to place a limit on the number of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of nearby mountains such as Salkantay and Veronika. After a second
pass is the site of 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.
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