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Crucial Explanation: Inca Trail or Qhapaq Ñan? - All Treks & Top Expeditions:
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All Treks & Top Expeditions: / About Inca Trail  / Crucial Explanation: Inca Trail or Qhapaq Ñan?
18 Nov

Crucial Explanation: Inca Trail or Qhapaq Ñan?

Bearing in mind the designation of the network of Inca roads (Qhapaq Ñan) as a world heritage site in which the famous Inca road to Machu Picchu is included, and considering the confusion that still exists with respect this issue, here is a brief explanation of the differences:

The network of roads of the Inca culture whose name in Quechua Qhapaq Ñan (Inca Trails) is one of the most amazing creations of the Inca empire and has recently been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

It is a network of roads of more than 60,000 kilometers that covers the territories of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, countries that were part of the Inca influence in antiquity. Approximately 780 in kilometers in routes and 295 sites are declared as World Heritage in the category of Cultural Itinerary.

Cusco (QOSQO) as the center of government of the Inca empire, was also the center of the network of these roads also named real. The royal roads were the most advanced means of trading in such an extensive and rich empire that today they are admired as a masterpiece, complex in highly engineered elements, and famous for having mastered the difficult and vast Andean territory.

It is important to know that the network of roads of the Inca empire (Qhapaq Ñan) is still present in the communication and exchange between communities that move around the area, thus forming a useful heritage and still constitutes the development of the peoples who have the luck of being located in its surroundings.

In Peru, a total of 250 kilometers of roads, 82 archaeological sites and 156 communities associated with the Inca route were recognized.

Then What Is The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu?..

It is the most famous route, which is located in the Andes Mountains and whose route covers approximately 42 km2, passing through various types of environments and altitudinal floors, arriving at the famous Sun Door, that in the Quechua language means (INTIPUNKU).

Section that in the antiquity began in the city of Cusco and crossed the Andean mountain range to finish in the sacred city of Machu Picchu. (Section that is not completely demarcated at present).

As a tourist route, it is the most known and valued stretch. Put in value almost 70% of the royal route. Today is visited by thousands of walkers from all over the world, the starting point for the commercial route is at Km 82 of the train track or the village called Piscacucho.

Village where all year except for the month of February, (Closed for maintenance) the walkers along with their guides and porters are prepared to start the journey that will last 04 days and 03 nights, in the course of which they will experience different magical places as well as cross one variety of ecological floors, such as, cloud forests, high sierras, cold fists, another tunnel, in addition to many beautiful Inca archaeological complexes that are found along the trek inside the Inca route. Finally the highlight of the crossing is the citadel of Machu Picchu.

Consequently, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most famous route and possibly the most beautiful of all the road networks of the empire, but it is only 3% (Aprox.) of the gigantic platform of manufactured roads that existed in the complex system of the Inca Empire.

The Most Important Places On The Route Are:


An archaeological complex whose meaning in Quechua is: “Town on the cloud” It is almost certainly a place dedicated to the production of food for the sacred class of the citadel of Machu Picchu.

Some interpreters formulate the thesis that this complex was formed from Pre Incan settlements and that they were enlarged and perfected by the Incas architects.

In the composition of its structure of approximately 5 kilometers in diameter it is possible to easily locate three defined areas, where the agricultural zones and platforms of andenería can be clearly distinguished.

Also in the central complex, about 112 dwellings, a platform that served as a ceremonial center.

This complex is within the Inca route, but on the most famous route, you will not see it but it is observed from a viewpoint located on the slope of the road.


The Inca Trail is a very popular way to get to Machu Picchu, and on the way we can not avoid visiting small and magical villages used by ancient walkers, either as places of purification as well as places of provision.

It is a mainly ceremonial complex with a small residential sector, probably also built to complement the food supply for the walkers who were heading towards Machu Picchu.

Phuyupatamarca is an archaeological site whose Quechua name means “The City among the Clouds” located on the left slope of the Urubamba river at an altitude of approximately 3600 meters.

Runkurakay :

The singularity of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu gives us many different forms of ceremonial and sustenance structures, among which we have the Runkurakay complex which is a structure that has the peculiarity of being a construction with circular enclosures; platform that unlike other Inca buildings do not emphasize the ritual or agrarian character of the construction.

This has motivated the different points of view in the interpretation of the complex; some think that it was just a resting place as a kind of Andean hotel, although apparently also had ceremonial use. Others contradict the hypothesis by its location; They say that the place served as a watchtower with a wide view of the Urubamba River and the highest passages such as the Huañihuañusca pass.

There are also those who deny this hypothesis by the presence in the complex of six enclosures with the presence of niches and ceremonial windows, where idols were generally placed that served as elements for magical rituals.

Finally Runkuracay means in Quechua language, the hut of eggs, by its semicircular style, besides the name it appears that may have been used to store agricultural products of the Pacamayo Valley.


Those who have traveled the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu have undoubtedly enjoyed the visit of the archaeological complex of Sayacmarca, which was possibly a sacred center where ceremonial rituals were held in order to purify themselves on their journey to the sacred citadel of Machu Picchu.

The first name given to this site when it was discovered is, Cedrobamba, a Quechua name meaning “Cedar Forest”, was later recognized for its unusual location and difficult access as Sayacmarca, a Quechua word meaning “inaccessible village” . This magic place is at 3700 MSNM

It stands out in this great archaeological complex, that when sunrise or sunset is surrounded or saturated with mist, the city seems to be hanging over nothing and its enclosures and the platform of the complex give the magical sensation that it is the work of very illuminated, also makes us see that the builders were great engineers and visionaries, not only for its strategic location, but also for the majestic and mystical background that surrounds.


Every part of this enigmatic complex is subtly blended with the nature of the surroundings, creating in the visitor a soft but deep hook with its almost perfect architecture. It has two sectors, connected and well elaborated, the middle platform mostly formed by agricultural terraces and structures very well armed and concatenated with perfection whit the superior buildings. The material used is granite, which is possibly from Machu Picchu.

Few archeological complexes are elaborated with so much symmetry and majesty that alone causes much impression to see it and not a few fascinated walkers of emotion have shed tears of joy and charm.

The complex is a great attraction for any traveler and is also the final prelude to visit the glory of Machu Picchu.


Magic place full of charm and a halo of mystery, where it is frequent to see cry of emotion to many walkers who arrive at this place. It receives this name for an unusual natural phenomenon that is very noticeable and that at certain dates of the year is experienced at this point (it seems that the sun is born in this place).

INTIPUNKU is a Quechua voice that means SUN DOOR, implying that the access of the sun to the citadel of Machu Picchu comes from this beautiful place. Some stories of villagers say that the INTIPUNKO is the purification gate where the sun god illuminates you and cleans your soul in order to open or refuse to enter the sacred city of MACHU PICCHU.

Another natural phenomenon that is enjoyed in this Inca complex are the clouds that cover the place at certain hours of the day, so that from this point, the view of the Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is impossible; but with the arrival of the first rays of the sun, the clouds dissipate softly, exposing the majesty of the Inca citadel.


I have a final conclusion about the importance of the road network of the Inca empire in which several South American countries are involved; dream in the day that many of these routes are recovered and cleaned for the enjoyment of those who love the walks, in addition that this could bring development to the Andean peoples where they have recognized sections very conserved of this imposing work that united commercially the Inca empire.

Was Machu Picchu A Sanctuary?

The answer of the most understood is that if it was a sanctuary, then the real road that connected it was also sacred. It was a sacred walk with stages of purification and cleanliness for the Inca walkers, even today there is a parallel with the Andean sanctuaries (Huacas) that have remained as cultural legacy, are parties and syncretic cults and are still practiced in the city of Cusco. An example of this is the feast of Qoyllurity (it is a pilgrimage of purification with stages)
Considering the history and beauty of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, it is worth walking even once in a lifetime.



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