Qhapaq Ñan The Trail of the Incas

Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Inca Trail-El Camino Que Nos Une

The road network that crosses the Andes mountain range has been used at different times in its history for the transfer of towns, of armies of more than 40,000 people, as well as the transit of caravans of llamas for the transport of merchandise and raw materials. In addition to the distance covered by this extensive network of roads and the magnitude of its infrastructure, its construction aimed to link the hot desert lowlands of the Pacific with the humid ones of the Amazon, and with the middle zones and the cold Andean plateau crossed through the high mountain passes, some at more than 6600 meters, transporting products such as minerals and food.

Also known as the “Inca Trail,” the Qhapaq Ñan is an ancient network of roads that served to interconnect various locations within the expansive territory of the Inca Empire. The main axis of the Qhapaq Ñan is located in Cusco. From that center, all roads were born and communicated.

This road system connected all regions of the Inca state: Chinchaysuyo to the North, Collasuyo to the South, Antisuyo to the East and Contisuyo to the West. These routes exceeded 23,000 kilometers in length, reports Ilam Patrimonio, the Latin American Heritage Directory.

The Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System, was the backbone of the political and economic power of the Tawantinsuyo (Inca State). This network of roads, more than 30,000 km long, connected several administrative and ceremonial production centers, built in more than 2,000 years of pre-Inca Andean culture, it covers an extensive geographic area, from the central west of Argentina and Chile to southwestern Colombia.


Andean Trail. Source: Ilamdir.org.


Remains of the Qhapaq Ñan can be found in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. Its construction occurred with the government of the Inca leader, Pachacútec, and was continued by Túpac Yupanqui and Huayna Cápac. The road system has aqueducts, suspension bridges made of natural fiber stones, tambos for overnight control, and water sources. This communication system managed resources from different geographical spaces, allowing political and economic control of the sites it traversed.


Andean Trail. Source: Ilamdir.org.


Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System

Constructed by the Incas over several centuries and partly based on pre-Inca infrastructure, this extraordinary network covers one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains from the peaks of the Andes – at an altitude of more than 6,000 m – to the coast, running through rainforests, valleys and deserts. It reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century, when it spread across the length and breadth of the Andes.


Andean Trail. Source: Ilamdir.org.


Towns, villages and rural areas were thus integrated into a single road grid. Several local communities remain traditional guardians and custodians of Qhapaq Ñan and continue to safeguard its cultural traditions including languages.



The Qhapaq Ñan’ s scale has been recognized as a unique achievement of engineering. Its road construction technologies, bridges, stairs, ditches and cobblestone pavings provide lasting evidence of valuable goods traded along the network, such as precious metals, foodstuffs, military supplies, feathers, wood, coca and textiles transported from the areas where they were collected, produced or manufactured, to Inca centers of various types and to the capital itself. Several communities remain custodians of this vast Incan communication network.


Andean Trail. Source: Ilamdir.org.


Andean Trail. Source: Ilamdir.org.


In 2001, the government of Peru invited the neighboring countries that share in their territory the cultural heritage of the Qhapaq Ñan (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru), to generate international recognition, appreciation, conservation and protection of this extensive Inca road network and associated archaeological sites. In 2014, “the great Inca road,” was inscribed on the World Heritage List.



Andean Trail. Source: Ilamdir.org.


Andean Trail. Source: Ilamdir.org.


The Road to Machu Picchu

One of the most visited sections of the road system is the one that leads to the citadel of Machu Picchu. The route usually starts from the town of Qoriwayrachina, an old town whose ruins are found in the district of Vilcabamba. The road covers a distance of approximately 45 km and takes four days and three nights to follow. A section of mountain trail to Machu Picchu connects the important Incan archaeological sites of Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Wayna (Huinay Huayna), and Machu Picchu. This route has become popular with hikers and is best known as the “Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.”


Inca Trail Road to Machu Picchu. Source: Explorebyyourself.com.


The second day of the trek is the most intense, because it crosses Warmihuañusca, a valley located at 4,200 meters above sea level. That is the highest part and the one that demands the greatest physical demand. There are also other routes with which it is possible to shorten distances and reach the famous citadel in two or three days.


Source: Ticketmachupicchu.com.


The natural setting consists of a landscape full of tropical forests, desert cliffs and snow-capped peaks such as Salkantay or Humantay, more than six thousand meters high, extensive grandstands worked on the rocks, tunnels up to twenty meters long and several complexes archaeological sites, among which Intipata, Runkuraqay and Intipunku stand out.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu supports visitors at various camps: Patallacta, Huayllabamba, Llulluchapampa, Pacamayo and Wiñayayna. Travelers are invited on the adventure and advised to skip December and March, months of rains.


Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic

Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is committed to improving the diversity and professional development of storytellers in the media industry as representation matters and affects the stories we tell. Latina Republic makes space for and empowers unheard voices and trains the next generation of leaders in the U.S.