- Aug 20, 2012
Inca Trail treks are legendary in many regards: the beauty of the Peruvian landscapes, the challenging ascents and altitudes, and perhaps most of all the deep sense of history and mystery that surround them. The feeling that the trekker is making a very special journey is enhanced by the fact that the number of people allowed to embark on the trail each day is strictly limited – for important preservation purposes. But the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is also, quite literally, a sacred path, once having served as a pilgrimage route. And it was by no means the only ‘Inca Trail’ – treks today might feel long, but cover only a tiny portion of the vast network of roads that once spread over 23,000 kilometres. It connected an empire that extended across today’s borders, taking in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, as well as parts of Brazil, Chile and Argentina. The Inca Roads An astonishing accomplishment, the road system of the ancient Tahuantinsuyo Empire wound through plains and valleys and over mountains. Parts of this network were built over existing routes, including roads built by the earlier Wari empire; but many parts were new and Incan innovations allowed their roads to cross difficult areas. In deserts, road-side walls were built to keep sand off, while in the Andes, steep slopes were crossed with great flights of steps – which llamas, naturally adapted to steep mountain habitats, were able to climb. These routes were used for communication, military movements, official travel and transport of goods and llama caravans, allowing the seat of power to effectively control this vast empire. As with today’s Inca Trail treks, travel on these routes was limited: anyone not on official duties had to obtain permission before they could set foot on them. The Path to Machu Picchu The route today known as the Inca Trail was originally used for pilgrimages by the ruling Inca. Machu Picchu, the ‘Lost City of the Incas’, was really a royal estate served by several trails, most of which were needed to transport servants, llamas and goods to the estate as it was not capable of supporting itself. The Inca Trail, however, was more elaborate and served as a ceremonial route. Both the route and the sites along the way are thought to be significant in terms of rituals that would be observed during the journey, before arriving at the Sun Gate. Travellers who complete Inca Trail treks can look on that same gate knowing that they have walked in the footprints of ancient Emperors. Jude Limburn Turner is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company who run several Inca Trail Treks. Operating in Asia for over 20 years, they now offer treks and tours worldwide, including destinations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central and South East Asia.