Qhapaq Ñan, The Andean Road System
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, part of the Qhapaq Ñan road system)

Qhapaq Ñan is an extensive Inca communication, trade and defence network of roads and associated structures covering more than 30,000 km. Constructed by the Incas over several centuries and partly based on pre-Inca infrastructure, this extraordinary network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains linked the snow-capped peaks of the Andes – at an altitude of more than 6,000 m – to the coast, running through hot rainforests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts. It reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century, when it spread across the length and breadth of the Andes.

The network is based on four main routes, which originate from the central square of Cusco, the capital of the Tawantinsuyu, meaning “four regions” in Quechua which was what the Inca’s called their empire.

One of the most famous roads that is part of the Qhapaq Ñan road system is the Inca Trail leading to the world famous city of Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail can be walked in 4, 5 or even 2 days depending on the amount of time you have available. It is the most famous part of the Qhapaq Ñan road system ending at the Machu Picchu Sun Gate.

Exploring the ruins along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Inca Trail ruins

This Andean road system is an extraordinary road network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains used over several centuries by caravans, travelers, messengers, armies and whole population groups amounting up to 40,000 people. It was the lifeline of the Tawantinsuyu, linking towns and centers of production and worship over long distances. Towns, villages and rural areas were thus integrated into a single road grid. Several local communities who remain traditional guardians and custodians of Qhapaq Ñan segments continue to safeguard associated intangible cultural traditions including languages.

The Qhapaq Ñan by its sheer scale and quality of the road, is a unique achievement of engineering skills in some of the most varied geographical terrains, linking snow-capped mountain ranges of the Andes, at an altitude of more than 6,600 metres high, to the coast, running through hot rainforests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts. It demonstrates mastery in engineering technology used to resolved myriad problems posed by the Andes variable landscape by means of variable road construction technologies, bridges, stairs, ditches and cobblestone pavings.

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