Part of the 23,000 kilometers (approx.14,000 miles) of roads built by the Incas in South America are on Peru’s most famous trekking route, and possibly one of the most spectacular in America. Every year, approximately 25,000 hikers from all over the world travel their extraordinary 43 kilometers along a stone paved road built by the Incas, which leads to the impregnable citadel of Machu Picchu located deep in the high jungle of Cusco. The trip begins in the town of Qorihuayrachina, at kilometer 88 of the Quillabamba – Cusco railway, and takes 3 to 4 days of strenuous trekking. The route consists of an impressive variety of altitudes, climates and ecosystems ranging from the Andean plain to the cloud forest. Travelers cross two high-altitude areas (the highest being Warmiwañuska at 4,200 m.s.) to complete the walk with a magical entrance to Machu Picchu through the Inti Punko or Puerta del Sol.
One of the major attractions along the route is the network of ancient settlements built on the granite rock by the Incas such as Wiñay Wayna and Phuyupatamarca immersed in an overwhelming scenario. Hundreds of species of orchids, multicolored birds and dream landscapes ideal for a route that every traveler should experiment at least once. But, why countries passed the Inca Trail?
Why countries passed the Inca Trail?
Starting from Cusco, the Quapaq Ñan allowed to tour the four “theirs of the Inca empire” (from the Quechua suyu: ‘region’ or ‘territory’) that constituted the Tahuantinsuyo:
- to the north Chinchaysuyo, occupied by groups such as chincha, chimúes or yungas and pastures;
- to the southeast the Collasuyo, occupied by Aymaras, Qollas and Puquinas;
- to the southwest the Contisuyo, occupied by groups like the conti or count, collaguas and colonists of puquina origin;
- to the east the Antisuyo, occupied by the antis (the current native populations of the Amazon).
The Quapaq Ñan allowed economic and political control of these peoples. At the same time, it allowed its integration, the exchange and state mobilization of various products, the transmission of cultural values, access to the different Inca sanctuaries and the development of common practices. Why countries passed the Inca Trail? Qhapaq Ñan was also a symbol of the imperial power of Cusco and its expansion throughout the South American geography, which included six current Andean countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
With a total of 60,000 kilometers in length, this spine skillfully built by specialists can be compared, by its dimensions, with the Silk Road or the Great Wall of China.
Inca Trail History
The roads before the Tahuantinsuyo
Several of the roads that are currently observed in the Andean area occupied by the Tahuantinsuyo had a pre-Inca origin, being built by highly complex political entities such as Tiahuanaco or Huari; other minor roads, on the other hand, were built by small ethnic groups that tried to unite cult centers or regional temples. Such is the case of the road built between the temple of Pachacamac (facing the sea) and the «apu» Pariacaca, snowy located at more than 5700 meters above sea level.
The quantity and length of the roads in the pre-Inca period was limited by the constant tensions and the atmosphere of war that the señoríos and States lived; the construction of roads was dangerous and only some stretches were executed during periods of truce. Before the arrival of the Incas, the roads were exclusively local, it is only with their arrival and centralizing power that the road network was extended to great magnitudes.
The roads during the Tahuantinsuyo
When the Incas began to conquer the rest of the peoples of South America, the domain of space for the construction of roads was entirely available to the Cuzquena ethnic group; as of this moment the road networks increased exponentially until covering an extension that possibly reached the 60,000 kilometers.
The beginning of the great road works was carried out by express order of the Inca Pachacutec. This sovereign saw the need to build roads with the aim of maintaining control over the annexed territories, in this way officials and troops could be moved more quickly.
According to Juan de Betanzos, before Pachacútec began his government, he was observed painting and drawing roads and bridges, specifying to Cuzqueños dried apricots how they should be constructed. The work of Pachacútec was continued by his successors. The Inca road network consisted of three basic elements: the roads, bridges and warehouses.
The road network was indispensable for the Inca organization, not only to move armies and officials but also for the mobilization of the “mitimaes”, the transport of harvested products in the territories conquered by the Incas (in each territory there were lands specifically destined for its production was transferred to Cuzco, these harvests were stored in the “tambos”) and the displacement of the “chasquis”