Rediscovering the Ancient Inca Highway Network by Foot
A Perfect Storm
In mid-2015, after walking a stretch of the 2600-mile Pacific Crest Trail with David Rottblatt (who co-founded SA Expeditions with me) and against the backdrop of a perfect storm of personal and professional evolutions…I came up with an idea.
I decided to walk the Great Inca Trail, also known as the Qhapaq Ñan. But I wouldn’t just walk the Inca Road – I would be the first to give a day-by-day account, shared in real time on social networks, so the world could follow along as it happened.
This was the very beginning of a series of expeditions that in the end will last years and cover thousands of miles by foot. The journey would take us through some of the most remote stretches of the Andes Mountains, tracing the footsteps of the Inca kings of the 14th and 15th centuries who united an empire through this monumental transportation and communications network.
A Modern Expedition
To date, we’ve spent nearly 200 days in the mountains, covering more than 3,000 miles on foot. I’ve written more than 60,000 words, and collectively we’ve taken thousands of photos – the best and most important of which you will see in the resulting publication.
The digital travelogue is the culmination of our efforts to use contemporary technologies to create a daily story of a more than 500-year-old road that traverses the most remote swathes of the Andes mountains. It’s as rough around the edges as it is audacious and spontaneous; we believe it’s the only real-time, day-by-day account of walking the Inca road system ever to be published.
Our technology kit includes an Apple iPad to register daily stories (and our daily expenses), digital cameras to take pictures, GPS to map the route, and satellite internet to send our dispatches as we go. With chargers, batteries and other accessories, the total kit weighs just under ten pounds and is sturdy enough to keep going through the extreme weather and frequent tumbles of the trek.
Our Chance to Make a Difference
At their core, our expeditions are about awareness and conservation of South America’s largest and most important historical asset. Sadly, the road’s destruction continues despite the efforts of UNESCO and the governments of the six Andean countries who are valiantly working to create a cohesive plan to protect it. The handful of us who have actually walked its path for thousands of miles understand that it will take far more than any one government, industry or person to protect it... What’s needed is a multi-generational, global effort to reconstruct and reconceptualize what the Inca road is and can become. We hope that this travelogue and our ancillary efforts in creating tourism along the route are a positive force towards this goal.
The expedition is fueled by the economic engines of modern tourism in South America, where profits are recycled into the local economy to foster conservation and hopefully a more thoughtful and sustainable tourism industry of the future.
Where we go from here
Our expeditions continue on an annual basis with our goal being to walk every last inch of primary Inca road that remains. When we’re done, we will have covered more than 6,000 miles across five Andean countries: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The living record that you see in the following pages will eventually crisscross more than half a continent and reach all four corners of the Tawantinsuyu or Inca Empire.
Our efforts come at an important crux in history; a time when multiple opposing forces are intersecting. On the one hand Inca roads are being abandoned by rural communities and bulldozed over by modern development, while on the other contemporary society is finally beginning to awaken to their inherent value.
If you would like to explore the Great Inca Trail yourself, you can peruse these curated treks on the very best sections of Inca Road.