As Machu Picchu anticipates larger crowds in January 2024, savvy travelers should consider visiting the lesser-known marvel of Waqra Pukará in Peru.
Our unforgettable first trip to Machu Picchu in November 2020 featured fog-shrouded views, grazing llamas, and a vizcacha sighting—all with surprising solitude.
This contrasted with the usual tourist influx, which can reach over 4,000 daily, a number set to increase to 4,500 and potentially up to 5,600 on select days in 2024. This boom, a response to economic pressures, may strain the site, which saw tourist numbers fall to 2.2 million in 2023 from its pre-Covid
Waqra Pukará, translating to 'horned fortress,' is an awe-inspiring alternative. It stands 4,100m high in the Cusco Region, southeast of Machu Picchu, and offers views that surpass those at the famed World Wonder. Not widely recognized, even by locals until recently, the fortress is a hidden gem.
The mystique of Waqra Pukará extends to its origins, believed by some to predate the Incas, possibly built by the Canchis.
Archaeological evidence suggests influences from various ancient cultures, with the current structures from the Inca period. The site was likely a sacred spot for ceremonies and rituals, evidenced by triple-jamb doorways typically reserved for highly venerated sites.
Linked to the Inca Trail, Waqra Pukará's most striking features are the 'horn-like' twin peaks. Local archaeologist Oscar Montúfar suggests they resemble llama ears, animals which inhabit these elevations naturally.
Visiting the fortress involves a picturesque 10km trek from the Aqokunka trailhead that takes you past llamas, Inca terraces, and petroglyphs. The challenging hike due to altitude, paired with the canyon's beauty, offers a raw and unique experience.
Camping at Waqra Pukará contrasts with the pre-dawn treks to Machu Picchu, allowing visitors to witness the sunrise from their tent, immersed in peace and solitude.
Ongoing studies may unveil more secrets about Waqra Pukará's past, but the site currently offers an alternative spiritual experience for those looking to escape Machu Picchu's overcrowding.