What is the Inca Trail and why is it important?

The Incas developed an extensive network of roads, covering about 15,550 – 18,650 miles (25,000 – 30,000 km), to connect their wideranging empire. The Cápac Ñan or Royal Road comprised stone paths wide enough to accommodate two or three people as well as a llama train. Hanging bridges made of vegetable fiber spanned rivers and steep stopes were surmounted with steps and ramps. So, what is the Inca trail and why is it important? The famous Inca Trail, linking Machu Picchu with the Sacred Valley, is the best – preserved of these roads. The present day trail covers diverse landscapes and passes more than 30 Inca sites. Broken up into sections, it takes four days to complete.


What is the Inca Trail and why is it important?

The Inca Trail, a 50 km sector of the stone path that once extended from Cusco to Machu Picchu, is one of the world´s signatureoutdoor excursions. Nothing matches the sensation of walking over the ridge that leades to the Lost City of the Inca just as the sun casts its first yellow glow over the ancient stone buildings.

Most travelers who arrive via the Inca Trail wouldn´t have done it any other way. There are limits on the number of trail users, but you´ll still see a lot of fellow trekkers along the way. The four-day trek takes you past ruins and through stunning scenery, starting in the thin air of the highlands and ending in cloud forests. The orchids, humming-birds, Andean condors, and spectacular mountains aren´t bad either.

The world did not become aware of Machu Picchu´s existence until 1911 when Yale University historian Hiram Bingham announced that he had “discovered” the site.

Ever since Bingham came across Inca Trail until Machu Picchu, its importance has been debated. It was likely a small city of some 200 homes and 1,000 residents, with agricultural terraces to supply the population´s needs and a strategic position that overlookes – but could not be seen from- the valley floor.

New theories suggest that the city was a transit station for products, such as coca and hearts of palm that were grown in the lowlands and sent to Cusco. Exactly when Machu Picchu was built is not known, but one theory suggests that it was a country estate of Inca ruler named Pachacuti, which means the golden age was in the mid 15th century.

The site´s belated discovery may indicate that the Inca deserted Machu Picchu before the Spanish conquest. The reason for the city´s presumed abandonment is as mysterious as its original function. Some archaeologists siggest that the water supply simply ran out. Some guess that disease raveged the city. Others surmise it was the death of Pachacutec, after which his estate was no longer needed.

Roads were crucial to Pachacutec´s program of unification. Under his reign alone, the Incas constructed some 2,500 miles (4,000 km) of tightly packed stone roads, some scaling heights of more than 16,500 ft (5,000 m).

This impresive Cápac Ñan network of roads, about 3 ft (1m) wide, connected all four regions of the empire, running from Quito in Ecuador, past Santiago in Chile and La Paz in Bolivia to Tucuman in Argentina.

There were 30,000 kilometers of engineering that connected Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile. And despite the passage of time, the routes continue to function, which is why Unesco awarded the title of “World Heritage” to these roads in 2014.

“It is an element of integration of six Andean nations, the roads unite and that is already an important element,” says the archaeologist and anthropologist José Berguerer to T13.cl.

But it is not just an engineering job, because the expert emphasizes that “it was a symbolic exercise of power, the message was strong for the Andean peoples, geography was dominated by the Inca, evidently the roads distribute the territories and the settlers.”

On the other hand, the archaeologist and expert in the Inca culture, Carlos González, attributes the importance to the engineering work because “they did not have a crane, they did not have a wheel and they traveled different geographies on foot, for example from San Pedro de Atacama to Cuzco ”

The roads served to connect the Tahuantinsuyo (Inca empire) with the Andean people mainly to “distribute to the people, to know where each Andean village was located.” What the Incas were interested in was human resources, “Berguerer explains.

For the experts in the Inca culture, Berguerer and Gonzalez, one of the main aspects that stand out when examining what is the Inca Trail and why is it important is that “Incas had a respect for Mother Nature”.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez says that the Royal Road “was a religious and symbolic ritual, it was the route of the Sun and all roads led to the sovereign, they talked with nature, the hills have life for the Inca culture and everything that surrounded them. as well”.