The Qhapaq Ñan (or Inca Trail): A World Heritage Site

This month, June 2019, represents the 5th anniversary of the designation of the Inca Trail (Qhapaq Ñan) as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. What is implied by this designation, and how did it come about?

In today’s edition of El Comercio, Peru’s largest newspaper, the Vice-Minister for Cultural Heritage and Industry of Peru’s Ministry of Culture, Luis G. Cortés Carcelén discussed this very issue. Much of what I have to say here is informed by that article.

The Qhapaq Ñan was the main highway in an extensive system of roads constructed over many centuries beginning long before the era of the Incas. As it expanded creating Tauantinsuyo, the Inca Empire unified multiple pre-existing highway systems for political and strategic reasons, the Qhapap Ñan becoming the central artery along the Andean mountain range. It passes through an enormous geographic range including what is today Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.

In 2006 representatives from Peru’s Ministry of Culture (called the National Institute of Culture at the time) formed part of a team of experts working to nominate the Quapaq Ñan to UNESCO for World Heritage status. It was a multinational effort. A consortium of six countries produced a written declaration ratifying their joint commitment to preserve the Quapaq Ñan and jointly nominate it for the list of World Heritage sites.

The six Andean nations continued to work together to meet the requirements of this UNESCO designation, cataloguing both the physical evidence and cultural traditions associated with the Quapaq Ñan. The connection that multiple communities still have with the highway remains important today, and the World Heritage designation has brought international recognition to this phenomenal work from the ancient Andes.