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Move Over Machu Picchu & Make Room for Waqra Pukara

Amy Kruger
July 10, 2023
12 min. read
Waqra Pukara · Peru

Think of Peru and the first thing that comes to mind is Machu Picchu, alpacas, and, of course, pisco sour. However, there is an ever-growing need to combine worldwide-known icons like Machu Picchu with mindful moments. Our team has been looking for places that can offer this sense of serenity and we have found the perfect site for moments of contemplation in solitude – Waqra Pukara.

Together with our German colleague from our Vienna office, our team in Cusco decided to explore this off-the-beaten-path attraction to gather some valuable insights for our travelers who are open to alternative travel ideas.

Our team at the impressive Waqra Pukara

Waqra what? Waqra Pukara’s unique features

We learned about this astonishing archaeological site through our social media research at the peak of the pandemic in Peru. To date, not even Promperu has detailed information about Waqra Pukara in English.

Waqra Pukara has only been declared a natural heritage site in 2017 and is therefore still unknown to most tourists. This means that it is possible to visit this breathtaking attraction without the crowds which normally form at popular sites such as Machu Picchu or Pisaq.

Drone shots reflect the amazing location of Waqra Pukara. Its name, which means horned fortress, reveals its unique shape. The towering rock is covered in ancient Incan ruins and is surrounded by dramatic cliffs with unparalleled views of the Apurimac River canyon. The canyon around Waqra Pukara is so deep, it is impossible to see the bottom. An impressive sight to any visitor.

It is believed that Waqra Pukara was originally built by the pre-Inca culture, Inka Qanchhi, as a religious center with astronomical observatories. You can feel the magic and mystique of this unique site while walking through the impressive ruins.

How to get there?

Map depicting the location of the archaeological site of Waqra Pukara

This hidden gem of the Andes lies approximately 150 km (93 miles) from Cusco and approximately 350 km (217 miles) from Puno. As you see in our map the one-way drive takes approx. 4 hours.

Many paths lead to Waqra Pukara but our insider tip is to start your hike from the charming village of Santa Lucia.

Village of Santa Lucia

To make sure you have the time to really disconnect and soak up the tranquility the site offers, we recommend including Waqra Pukara en route your journey from Cusco to Puno.

What is the best way to visit Waqra Pukara?

The start of the trailhead is about 4 hours from Cusco. After taking your time to enjoy the beauty of Wakara Puqara we recommend spending the night in Sicuani, only about an hour and a half away from Santa Lucia and an ideal middle point for your trip to Puno. The cozy and clean hotel Wilkamayu in Sicuani offers private bathrooms and hot water. The rather simple property is the perfect way to end your day of contemplation at Waqra Pukara.

Room in Hotel Wilkamayu

The next morning you have a 4-hour journey to go before reaching Puno and enjoying your afternoon at the spectacular Titicaca Lake.

In case you planned to visit Puno first, you can also flip it around and visit Waqra Pukara en route from Puno to Cusco.

Our team on the way to Waqra Pukara

Who is this hike for?

If you love pristine places untouched by mass tourism and/or have an interest in landscape photography, make sure to add Waqra Pukara to your must-see list on your next visit to Peru.

However, you might be asking yourself how hard this hike is and if you are physically suited for it. Here are our two cents on the difficulty of the climb.

Due to the high altitude of this hike at 4,140 m.a.s.l. (13,582 ft), it is really important to acclimatize before visiting Waqra Pukara. Hiking at higher altitudes is much more challenging, therefore our tip is to acclimatize at a place of at least 3,000 m.a.s.l. (such as Cusco City) for 2-3 days beforehand.

The total hiking distance is only 4 km or 2,4 miles and the roundtrip hiking time is around 2 hours. The zig-zag route is mostly flat and therefore suitable for most hikers. Keep in mind though that to reach Waqra Pukara there is a short uphill climb at the end of the trail.

Ruins of Waqra Pukara

A Helping Hand

After witnessing so many hardships since the outbreak of the pandemic, you might be looking for your chance to lend a helping hand to those in need. This hike is not only for those who want to soak up gorgeous views. As mentioned, the best way to get to Waqra Pukara is through the remote village of Santa Lucia.

This small community was almost abandoned by the authorities and still lives in a very traditional manner. The homes of the friendly locals living there are built with dried mud bricks and some basic facilities are still lacking. Locals in this lesser-known village are not visited by mass tourism yet and are keen to greet travelers passing through their town. Our tip is to take some fruit with you as you pass through Santa Lucia to distribute to the children playing in the streets.

Village of Santa Lucia

Don’t forget to pack these things

From our own experience visiting Waqra Pukara, we have put together a practical packing list of recommended things to take with you on your adventure:

  1. Comfortable hiking shoes (don’t forget to break them in before your trip!)
  2. Layered clothing including a rain jacket. In case rain is forecast, a waterproof poncho would be the most practical. You can buy one at most market stands and corner stores in Cusco.
  3. A hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses (the sun can be especially strong at high altitudes)
  4. Drinking water
  5. Light snacks
  6. A good camera for those once-in-a-lifetime photos
  7. Some fruit to distribute to the children of Santa Lucia
  8. Tips for your guide. In case you do this hike with a local guide, make sure to give them a small tip. The pandemic has been especially hard for those working in tourism in Peru!

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