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Inca road system

From Academic Kids

Among the many roads and trails constructed in western South America, the Inca road systems in Peru are the most extensive yet constructed on the South American continent. Traversing the Andes mountains and reaching heights of over 5 km (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.

These trails were used by the Inca people as a means of relaying messages and transporting goods. The messages were carried via quipu, books, and oral methods. Messages could be carried by chasqui runners at a speed of 242 km (150 miles) per day. These would work 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 30,000 kilometers (18,640 miles) of Inca trails. The inns provided food, shelter and military supplies to the 300,000 bureaucrats 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 effective access across valleys with intricate steps carved up and down to the bridges.

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. However, the Incas did not make use of the wheel as many western civilizations had. It was also not until the arrival of the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century that horses were used for transportation. Traversing the trails on horseback proved to be difficult and treacherous for the Spanish in their attempts to conquer the Inca Empire. Unaccustomed to the high altitude, weakened by the cold, and frequently ambushed by their enemies, many conquistadors lost their lives on the Inca trails.

Main routes

The Inca constructed roads that integrated their entire empire. The most important of these was the Camino Real, with a length of 5,200 kilometers (3,230 mi), which began in Quito, Ecuador, passed through Cusco, and ended in what is now Tucumᮬ Argentina. The Camino Real traversed the mountain ranges of the Andes, with peak altitudes of more than 5,000 meters. El Camino de la Costa, the coastal trail, at a length of 4,000 kilometers (2,420 mi), ran parallel to the sea and was united 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 that leads from the city of Cusco to Machu Picchu, the "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-day trek each year.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is actually three routes which all meet up short of Inti-Pata, the 'Sun Gate' and entrance to Machu Picchu. The three trails are known as the Mollepata, Classic and One Day Trail, with Mollepata being the longest of the three. Walking through the stunning Andes mountain range and sections of the Amazon rainforest, the Trail passes several well preserved Inca ruins and settlements before finally ending at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain. The two longer routes require trekkers to ascend beyond twelve thousand feet above sea level, which can result in AMS or Acute Mountain sickness, also known as altitude sickness. Due to recent erosion, gradually wearing down the ancient stone trail, numbers of trekkers are set to be cut back significantly in the near future.

The four day, or Classic Trail, starts from one of two points; Km 88 or Km 82, which are on the Urabamba river and are 88km and 82km from Cuzco. The first day is a relatively easy start to the journey, covering no more than 8 miles and can be covered in a few hours. Following an undulating path across bare slopes and through sections of forest, the Trail passes by the Inca ruins of Llaqtapata, a site used for crop production and which has remained well preserved.

Day two is the hardest of the four days, the ascent to Warmiwanusca or Dead Woman's Pass, which, at 12,500 feet above sea level, is the highest point on the Classic Trail. After following a river along a gentle , undulating path, the village of Wayllabamba is reached. From there the gradients become much steeper and trekkers enter the thick jungle. Here, you walk on original Inca stonework as you climb uphill for 4-5 hours, finally ending up just short of the actual pass.

Day three is another tough, but enjoyable day starting with the final climb to Dead Woman's Pass. The views from the top are stunning, giving excellent views of nearby mountains such as Salkantay and Veronika. Descending down into the valley beyond, then heading up to a second, lower, pass, you come across the restored site of Runkuraqay, a small Inca watchpost. After the second pass is the marvellous site of Sayaqmarka, perched atop a sheer cliff. From here you can see the start of the massive Amazon rainforest, stretching away to distant Brazil. After Sayaqmarka comes several hours of walking through thick cloud forest and jungle, filled with tropical flowers and colourful orchids. Reaching a third and final pass at Phuyupatmarka, you get a first glimpse of Machu Picchu mountain, roughly eight miles away.

The final day is another easy day, mostly descending back down into the valleys and passing through more colourful jungle and cloud forest. Winay Wayna is an impressive and well preserved Inca site, climbing a steep sided mountain where the One Day Trail meets up with the main route. Two to three more hours walking through cool jungle culminates in reaching Inti-Punku, the 'Sun Gate', from where Machu Pichuu city is finally visible. Although Machu Picchu is the highlight of the Inca Trail,it is not the only thing of note. Numerous other Inca sites, stunning views, wildlife and colourful flora fill the whole Trail, making for an unforgettable experience.


Further reading

  • Inca: Lords of Gold and Glory. Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1992.
  • Andean World: Indigenous History: Culture and Consciousness by Kenneth Adrien.
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