the many roads and trails constructed in pre-Columbian
South America, the Inca road system (El Camino
Inca) 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
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 22,500 km (14,000 mi) and provided
access to over three million km² 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 and by memory; and for transporting goods.
Messages could be carried by chasqui runners
covering as much as 240 km (150 mi) 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.
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 Cuzco.
Therefore, it was 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
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 Tucumán, 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.
trail to Machu Picchu
of the trail is of original Incan construction.
By far the most popular of the Inca trails for trekking
is the Capaq Nan trail, which leads from the village
of Ollantaytambo 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 12,000 ft (3,660 m) above
sea level, which can result in altitude sickness.
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.
Classic Trail (four-day trek)
four-day trail or Classic Trail starts from one of
two points; km 88 or km 82, on the Urubamba River
and 88 km and 82 km from Ollantaytambo. The first
day is relatively easy, covering no more than 13 km
in a few hours, passing by the Inca ruins of Llaqtapata,
a site used for crop production and which has remained
Day two includes the ascent to Warmiwañusca
or Dead Woman's Pass, which, at 4,215 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 Wiñay Wayna,
an impressive and well-preserved Inca site, where
the one-day trail meets up with the main route.
- How fit you need to be
trek you do not need to be an Olympic athlete nor
a mountaineer but it is important to be relatively
fit and in good physical condition before you start
the Inca Trail. A few weeks of training, prior to
arriving in Peru, will enhance your experience.
Try to spend an hour a day on the road. Walk upstairs
rather than taking the elevator, if possible, walk
or cycle when you would normally drive or ride a
bus, take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood.
Better yet, go on hikes in your area.
able to run a few miles each day without issues
is probably the best single physical activity you
should consider. Other advice we heard was to spend
time on the stepper; we can't argue with that.
While you are training you can also be breaking
in those new trekking boots that may otherwise give
you blisters on the first day of the trail.
Arriving in Cusco a few days early is also highly
recommended. High altitudes affect everybody in
different ways, even a marathon runner may feel
debilitated. When in Cusco, go visit some ruins
in the surroundings, have a little jog, you will
probably notice heavy breathing. This is due to
the thin air at altitude, not your lack of fitness.
a day or two of aclimatization, you'll learn how
much food your body can handle in a day, whether
coca tea helps, or if acetazolamide is appropriate.