The Inca Trails in Peru
“Inca Trails” or road system of Inca Empire was the most extensive and highly advanced transportation system in pre-Columbian South America; the Incas built approximately 45,000 km of road system which runs through the valleys, deserts and over the mountains; most of this trails where paved with stones, at some places the trail climbs up through steps and in other places it runs through a wonderful tunnels. The network was based on two north-south roads, with numerous branches.
The best known portion of the “Inca Trails” system is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, is undoubtedly high up on many people’s “to do” lists, ranking among one of the best things to experience before you die. Hiking the Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu is both arduous and awe-inspiring. Four days of cold, pain and exhaustion dissipate as the mist lifts to reveal the emerald peaks and terraced ruins of the mystical ancient city.
Inca main road known as the “Inca Qapacñan”; eastern route ran high in the Puna and mountain valleys from Quito, Ecuador to Mendoza, Argentina. The western route followed the coastal plain except in coastal deserts where it hugged the foothills. More than twenty routes ran over the western mountains, while others traversed the eastern cordillera in the mountains and lowlands. Some of these roads reach heights of over 5,000 meters or 16,000 ft. above sea level.
The Inca 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 linked together about 45,000 kilometers of roadway and provided access to over 3,000,000 square kilometers of territory.
Situated between 500 to 800 meters or 1,600 to 2,600 ft. above sea level, this monumental road, which could reach 20 meters or 66 ft. in width, connected populated areas, administrative centers, agricultural and mining zones as well as ceremonial centers and sacred spaces.
These roads provided easy, reliable and quick routes for the Empire’s civilian and military communications, personnel movement, and logistical support. The prime users were imperial soldiers, porters and llama caravans, along with the nobility and individuals on official duty. Permission was required before others could walk along the roads, and tolls were charged at some bridges. Although the Inca roads varied greatly in scale, construction and appearance, for the most part they varied between about 1 to 4 meters or 3.3 to 13 ft. in width.
The Bridges of the Inca Trails
Along the Inca Trails there are several bridges some of them where built of stones if the river is small, others of wood. Bridges built of stone or floating reeds were used in marshy highlands. Inca rope bridges provided access across narrow valleys. A bridge across the Apurimac River, west of Cusco, spanned a distance of 45 meters. Ravines were sometimes crossed by hanging baskets, or oroya, which could span distances of over 50 meters. Bridges were sometimes built in pairs.
Chaskis (Inca messengers) and other users of the Inca Trails
Relay messengers, or chaskis, stationed at intervals of 6 to 9 kilometers, carried both messages and objects such as fresh marine fish for the rulers in the sierra. Messages consisted of knotted-cord records known as “Quipu” along with a spoken message. Chaskis could cover an estimated 250 kilometers or160 mi. per day.
There were at least 1,000 and perhaps 2,000 way stations or “Tambos”, placed at even intervals along the trails. These structures were intended to lodge and provision itinerant state personnel. Another structure found along Inca roads at precise interval is called “Qolqa”. These structures were closer together and held clothing, weapons, and various types of food.
Spanish chroniclers frequently described lengthy journeys made by the Inca ruler, carried on a litter, and surrounded by thousands of soldiers and retainers, to various parts of his empire.
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.
Itching to Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? Here are a few tips:
- The best time to visit is May through September. Sure, it’s the busy season (especially June to August), but it’s also the dry season. And trust us; you don’t want to visit during rainy season! Note that the Inca Trail is closed February.
- Make your Inca Trail reservations several months in advance – up to a year if you’re going during peak season. You can only visit with a licensed agency, and spots book up quickly.
- Choose your trekking agency carefully. Shop around and ask lots of questions: what you’ll have to carry, how many people to a tent, how many porters for the group, if there are arrangements for special diets. It’s worth paying more for a reputable agency that treats its porters well and respects the environment.
- No matter what time of year, the trail gets cold at night. Bring a warm sleeping bag and layer your clothes.
- Other must-brings: sturdy shoes, a flashlight (with fresh batteries), water-purification tablets, high-calorie snacks and a basic first-aid kit.
- Take a stash of small Peruvian currency for buying bottled water and snacks along the way, as well as for tipping the guide, cook and porters.
- If you can’t get an Inca Trail reservation, don’t despair. There’s an excellent alternative trek like Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu or lares trek to Machu Picchu.
Description of the Inca Trails to Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is considered the best trekking option in South America, because it has awesome landscapes. The total distance of the trail is approximately 45 Km. and begins at Km. 82 at a place called Pisqhakuchu. To begin the trail, you must check your permits then cross the bridge over the Urubamba River. Then you head over to the left bank of the river.
After two hours of trekking you will come across the archaeological complexes of Q’ente, Pulpituyoc, Willcaraqhay and Patallacta. Then follow the trail along the left side of the Kusichaca River in the area with the same name where you will not only see the bridge but also you will find tombs, aqueducts, terraces, roads and a wonderfull canyon. Continue until you reach the small peasant village of Wayllabamba and Inca aqueducts. One can camp here for the first night, but for comfort we recommend staying in Llullucha 4 Km further on.
The second day is more difficult as the hiker will have to climb up to 4,200 meters, crossing the Warmiwañusqa pass, the first and the highest. If you suffer from “soroche” (altitude sickness) it is best not to stop and descend quickly to the valley of the Paqhaymayu River, where you can camp.
The third day is the longest but most interesting. You will be able to visit impressive archaeological complexes such as Runkuraqay, the second pass, at 3,800 meters above sea level. This is a walled complex with interior niches that perhaps was a small place for rest, guard post and worship place. After crossing the second pass, descend to Yanacocha (the black lagoon); to then climb up a path with stone steps until you reach another cluster of buildings which attracts the attention of visitors. This spot is called Sayaqmarka a pre-Hispanic complex with narrow streets, buildings erected on different levels; shrines, patios, canals and a protecting outer wall. At the top of the buttress one can see many constructions which lead one to suppose they once were a temple and an astronomic observatory which had a permanent supply of water and excellent food storehouses.
Sayaqmarka is a place filled with mystery and enchantment. The approximate distance to Runkuraqay is 5 Km, which takes 2 hours. This complex lies at 3,600 meters above sea level. There are excellent paths and a tunnel through this complex. We recommend you camp near the Phuyupatamarca ruins or 5 Km further on at the Wiñay Wayna. The Wiñay Wayna ruins were given the name possibly because of the abundance of a beautiful type of orchid which flowers nearly year-round in the whole area.
The Peruvian government and the Viking Fund signed an agreement in 1940 to investigate the area, and sent the Wenner Gren expedition led by Professor Paul Fejos. But despite the expedition, there is no precise information about the specific function of six groups of dwellings near Machu Picchu. They are divided up into four well-defined sectors which are: the agricultural sector with many terraces, the religious sector, the fountain sector and the residential sector where the houses are located.
On the fourth day, which starts around 5:30 A.M., the walker arrives at Machu Picchu Inca Citadel at around 7:30 A.M. after 5 Km of hiking through the jungle.
Our Impressive Trekking Itineraries
Classic Inca Trail 4 days
Short Inca Trail Trek 2 days
Comfort Class Inca Trail 5 days
Patabamba Trek to Machu Pcchu 3 days