Qhapaq Nan - Inca Trail

Qhapaq Nan, the Grand Route of the Incas, wins World Heritage Status

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An ancient Inca trail spanning six countries has just been awarded World Heritage Status, UNESCO announced on Saturday. Qhapaq Nan, as the trail is known, is a huge network of roads once used by the mighty Inca Empire that extends over more than 30,000 kilometres. The World Heritage listing includes 273 component sites along the route, which were selected to highlight the social, political, architectural and engineering achievements of the network, along with its associated infrastructure for trade, accommodation and storage, and sites of religious significance. The announcement was made at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha (Qatar).

Qhapaq Ñan, otherwise known as the Main Andean Road, was the backbone of the Inca Empire’s political and economic power, connecting production, administrative, and ceremonial centres which were constructed over more than 2,000 years of pre-Inca Andean culture. The Incas of Cuzco achieved this unique infrastructure on a grand scale in less than a century, extending their vast network across what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Map of the Qhapaq Nan Inca Trail

Map of the Qhapaq Nan. Source:  UNESCO

“The cultural landscapes of Qhapaq Ñan form an exceptional backdrop on which living Andean cultures continue to convey a universal message: the human ability to turn one of the harshest geographical contexts of the American continent into an environment for life,” writes UNESCO.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is famous around the world and thousands of tourists flock to the region to walk the trail each and every day.  However, the trail that many tourists know is just a small sector of the thread of Inca paths that held this great empire together, physically and organizationally.

Inca trail to Machu Picchu

The section of the Inca Trail that leads to Machu Picchu is world famous. Source: BigStockPhoto

Unlike Roman roads, where the aim was to build flat and wide, the Inca trails had a different purpose. Along the route, the Incas took their highly-valued llamas, which could carry heavy loads, provide them with meat, milk, dried dung for fuel, and wool to weave into textiles. The llamas are high-altitude animals, which are happiest over 13,000 feet, and while they can descend for short periods, any road carrying them must deviate frequently to higher ground in order to give them pasturage. Thus, the Inca trails can be found twisting perilously up and down across mountain peaks.

Inca trail with llama

The Inca constructed their trails to be suitable for their highly-prized llama. Credit:  Ashala Tylor.

Inclusion on the list has significant economic implications as a listed site is eligible for financial assistance towards preservation and the coveted status is also a powerful draw for tourists.

Featured image: A section of the Qhapaq Nan. Photo source.

By April Holloway


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