Qullasuyu: The Southern Inca Trail 23

At its height, the Inca empire was divided into regions with a vast network of roads and trade routes connecting towns and cities. The classic 'Inca Trail' to Machu Pichu has become by far the most well travalled of the old imperial routes, but this is the story of the much lesser-known Inca route through the southern 'Qullasayu' region, along the spine of the Andes and down into central Chile, the southermost edge of the Inca empire.

Inca trail from Cusco to Choquequirao

Apr 10 2013

Today, a trail still connects the old Inca imperial capital of Cusco to a 'Cloud City' known as Choquequirao in southern Peru. Inca trails were as vibrant as Inca culture and from Choquequirao the route continues south, taking in the snow-capped peaks and cloud forests of the Andes, steamy jungles in the Amazon Basin and the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. Image Date: 10/20/2007

Salcantay, Vilcabamba Range, Peruvian Andes

Apr 11 2013

The old Inca trail to Choquequirao from Cusco passes through an Andean mountain range known as the Cordillera Vilcabamba, including Salcantay, the highest peak in the range. Image Date: 09/30/2011

The 'Cloud City' of Choquequirao

Apr 12 2013

Tucked away in the Andes above the Rio Apurimac, Choquequirao literally means 'Cradle of Gold' and is believed to be the last Inca stronghold in Peru before the empire fell to the conquistadors in 1572. Image Date: 09/04/2007

Terrace steps at Choquequirao

Apr 13 2013

Choquequirao showcases hallmarks of Inca architecture and features temples, plazas, terraces for water irrigation, crop cultivation areas and living quarters for common people and Inca officials. Image Date: 09/03/2007

White rock llama glyphs at Choquequirao

Apr 13 2013

Only 30% of Choquequirao has been examined by archaeologists. This has led to the site becoming known as Peru's true 'lost city' and the original Inca 'City of Gold'. Among Choquequirao's best features are the 'Llamas del Sol', Inca glyphs made from white rock and set into some of the site's western walls. Image Credit: Flickr - MI PERÚ Image Date: 05/05/2016

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Apr 15 2013

In Inca mythology, Lake Titicaca is where the creator god, Viracocha, created mankind, the sun, the moon and the stars. Today, the lake's islands and settlements are still inhabited by the Uros and Aymara people, themselves descended from contemporaries of the Inca. Image Date: 11/19/2014

Moonrise over Isla de la Luna, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Apr 15 2013

Isla de la Luna, or 'Island of the Moon', is an Inca settlement near the eastern shore of Lake Titicaca. The island is located in the Bolivian half of Lake Titicaca and Inca mythology has it that it marks the place where Viracocha, the creator god, made the moon rise into the sky from the waters of the lake. Before the Inca began expanding their empire southward, Isla de la Luna was home to the Aymara people. Image Date: 12/12/2011

Ruins of Adlahuas, Isla de la Luna

Apr 16 2013

Isla de la Luna is also home to the ruins of Adlahuas, a temple with ornately carved Inca-style doorways which housed a group of selected priestesses known as the 'Virgins of the Sun'. Image Date: 07/01/2003

Las Cuevas, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Apr 19 2013

20 kilometres east of the town of Samaipata, Las Cuevas is a waterfall on Rio Ichilo, in eastern Bolivia's Santa Cruz region. One of the southern Inca trail's many beauty spots and at the western edge of the Amazon Basin, the river gets its striking red colouration from the crimson soil of the nearby foothills of a stretch of the Andes known as Cordillera Oriental. Image Date: : 12/13/2014

Inca ritual terrace at the top level of Fuerte de Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Boliivia

Apr 20 2013

Fuerte de Samaipata, or 'Rest in the Heavens', is a huge temple complex built by the Mojocoyas people and then taken over by the invading Inca. The top level features geometric carvings of jaguars and snakes as well as two parallel carved lines called 'El Escobal', which were designed to chart the movent of Venus and Jupiter across the sky. Image Date: 09/14/2011

Plaza and Inca tombs Fuerte de Samaipata

Apr 20 2013

The southern face of the rock temple of Samaipata features five rectangular and triangular holes carved by the Inca and called 'Templo de los Cinco Hornacinas', or 'Temple of the Five Niches'. These niches acted as places of sanctuary dedicated to various Inca gods. Image Date: 09/14/2011

Pukara de Tilcara, Jujuy, Argentina

Apr 27 2013

Pukara de Tilcara is an Inca fortress which doubled up as a trade town on the on the Incas' southern trade route. Its original founders, the Omaguaca, were conquered by Emperor Túpac Inca Yupanqui in the late fourteenth century. Image Date: 01/28/2009

Quebrada de Humahuaca, Jujuy, Argentina

Apr 27 2013

Wedged between the Altiplano and Andean foothills, Quebrada de Humahuaca is a narrow mountain valley in Jujuy, Argentina. In the fifteenth century, it served as part of an Inca trade route for shipping precious metals over the Andes and back to the imperial capital of Cusco. Image Date: 10/12/2015

Storehouses at Pukara de Tilcara

Apr 28 2013

The fortress also features Inca ritual and burial sites. Túpac Inca Yupanqui also used the site to store gold, silver and zinc which was mined in the area before being sent back along the southern Inca trade route to the imperial capital of Cusco. Image Credit: Flickr - Micah MacAllen Image Date: 01/14/2006

Reconstructed Inca pyramid at Pukara de Tilcara

Apr 28 2013

Today, Pukarara de Tilcara features an Inca-style pyramid structure built to commemorate the Argentine archaeologists who discovered the complex in 1908. Image Date: 01/12/2009

Salar de Ascotán, Arica, Chile

May 2 2013

Salar de Ascotán is a salt flat in nothern Chile's Antofagosta region. Adjacent to the snow-capped Andean peaks of Cerro Cañapa and Cerro Araral, the salt flat spans 562 square miles and played an important role in the salt harvest for both the area's native Atacameños people and the later arriving Inca. (Creative Commons) Image Credit: David Gubler Image Date: 04/29/2012

Valle de la Muerte, Antofagasta, Chile

May 4 2013

'Valle de le Muerte', is located ten kilometres northwest of San Pedro de Atacama. One of the more colourful natural features of the southern Inca route, this red, sandy and otherworldly stretch of the Atacama Desert is also known as the 'Valley of Mars'. Image Date: 12/07/2014

Lasana Pukara agricultural terrace

May 4 2013

At the front of Lasana Pukara, both the Inca and the Atacameños established agricultural terraces to cultivate and harvest crops. Image Date: 02/22/2008

Desert Inca ruins of Lasana Pukara

May 4 2013

Built around the 12th century by the Antofagosta region's native Atacameños, Lasana Pukara acted as a kind of Inca bread basket in the desert, with two cellars built onto every house in the complex to store corn, salt and herbs. Image Date: 02/22/2008

Houses of Pukara de Quitor

May 7 2013

Pukara de Quitor was in important strategic Inca fortification 3 kilometres north of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Made completely from sun-baked stone and held together by mud acting as mortar, the fort fell to the invading Spanish conquistadors in 1540. Image Date: 02/04/2007

Plaza area at Pukara de Quitor

May 8 2013

The plaza at the front of Pukara de Quitor doubled up as a trading post. From here, the Inca traded their own produce with the people of the interior Amazon Basin for exotic jungle fruits including cacao, the base form of chocolate and highly prized by the Inca as a source of power. Image Date: 04/13/2002

Cerro El Plomo, Chile

May 14 2013

At 77,783 feet, Cerro El Plomo is the highest peak in the Chilean Andes. The mountain is visible from Santiago and was home to a shrine to Khuno, the Inca god of snow and ice. In 1954, the mummified remains of an Inca sacrifical victim were unearthed at the summit. Image Date: 07/25/2011

Bio Bio River, Bio Bio Alto, Chile

May 17 2013

As with all great kingdoms, the Inca could not last and by 1572 Spanish conquistadors had dismantled the whole empire. Having spanned almost the entire length of South America's Pacific coast, the Inca empire reached its southernmost point at the Bio Bio River, in central Chile, 600 kilometres south of Santiago. Image Date: 04/07/2012

Did you enjoy this story?

Be the first to receive inspiration to your inbox