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The Inca Road System

Posted by Carmen Maria Guevara Protzel on Sep 21, 2019 8:15:00 AM



The Inca road system is the most highly advanced and extensive road in pre-Columbian South America. The entire road network was based on two roads – the western and eastern route. The western route followed the coastal plain, while the eastern route ran in the mountain valleys from Quito (Ecuador) to Mendoza (Argentina). Some of these routes reach heights of over 16,000 ft (5,000 meters) above sea level, connecting the regions of the Inca empire from Ecuador to Argentina. There was about 40,000 km of roadway that provided the Inca people access to nearly 2 million km² of territory.

Key Takeaways

● Construction of the Inca Road followed ancient roadways, but Incas started improving it by the mid-15th century as part of its imperial movements.

● For a straight line distance of 2,000 miles, the Incas built about 25,000 miles of roads, tunnels, bridges, and causeways.

● Way stations (resting villages) were established at every 10-12 miles.

● The use of these roads was restricted to elites and their messengers, while commoners repaired, cleaned, maintained, and catered to the travelers.


Kaity in Machu PIcchu

The Inca Road Network

The two main roads ran north-south, spreading over ancient Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. Also, there were some 20 secondary routes and numerous smaller trails crisscrossing these two main routes. Some roads led to outside Inca territory, probably to facilitate military operations or trade with neighboring peoples. Although some of the Inca roads used ancient routes built by the earlier Chimu, Tiwanaku, and Wari cultures, the Incas weren’t afraid to cross unpopulated and new terrain. The geographical difficulties did not deter their engineers as they build roads across deserts, rivers, ravines, and mountain passes up to 16,000 ft above sea level.

Materials and Engineering Methods

Have you ever asked yourselves how did the Incas were able to build their road network without sophisticated equipment?

They used only stone, wooden, and bronze tools, and the roads were not uniform in construction materials or design, as they were built in different geographical zones by the local population. The width of most roads varies from 1 to 4 meters, while some were much bigger. For example, the highway in the HuanucoPampa province was 15 meters wide. Near larger urban centers, there were 2-3 roads constructed in parallel.

NatGeo Machu Picchu

Flattened roadbeds were made by using packed earth, grass, or sand, and the roads were usually protected and edged with small stone walls, piles of stones, wooden or can posts, or stone markers. Roads that were of greater importance were finished with precisely arranged cobbles or paving stones.

As for the drainage, it was provided by numerous culverts and drains which drew off the rainwater from the surface of the roads. The excess water was channeled either under or along the road. One of the most impressive showcases for Inca engineering was their rope suspension bridges which crossed dangerous ravines. The Incas built them using grass rope or braids of reed with fiber and wooden flooring. One of the most famous Incan rope bridges measured 45 meters in length crosses the Apurimac River (and is still there to this day).

The ancient Inca empire had one of the most amazing road networks at that time,

InkaNatura offers trekking programs for everyone who wants to walk along this important piece of history.

The trip will be once in a lifetime experience.

For further information feel free to Contact us


Carmen Maria Guevara Protzel

Topics: Travel & Adventure, Machu Picchu, trekking in Peru, UNESCO

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