Waqrapukara, the great fortress of horns
The Incas were known for their impressive architectural feats and engineering prowess, demonstrated in structures like Machu Picchu and Sacsaywaman. But less well-known is Waqrapukara, a fortress located in the highlands of Peru. Built by the Incas in the 15th century, this massive structure is composed of hundreds of stone towers built into a granite mountain face – earning it its moniker “The Fortress of Horns.”
Waqrapukara is located in the district of Acos in the province of Acomayo in the department of Cusco and is situated at an elevation of about 4,140 meters above sea level.
Waqrapukara comes from the Quechua words wakra, meaning “horn,” and pukara, meaning “fortress.” Together, these words create the image of a mountain shaped like a horn or a fortress. However, nowadays, the inhabitants indicate that it would not be horns but the ears of a llama because these animals are alert to everything that happens around them; for this reason, they gave it the name “Llamapukara.”
The Canchis culture initially inhabited this region between 900 to 1200 AD, and during the reign of Huayna Capac, the Incas Built the Waqrapukara fortress. The site was used for military and ceremonial purposes and was an important part of the Inca Empire’s defenses.
The site is situated at an altitude of 4,300 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest archaeological sites in the world. The Canchis culture built the fortress later occupied by the Inca Empire.
The architecture of Waqrapukara fortress is characterized by its massive stone walls and towers. The fortress also has a series of rooms and courtyards for storage, living quarters, and ceremonial purposes. One of the most notable features of the Waqrapukara fortress is its water system. The site has a series of canals and aqueducts that supply water to the fortress’s inhabitants.
In the upper part, a rocky spur is located in the middle, where you can see two enclosures separated by ample space in the center; these enclosures have passages, doorways with double jambs, and ornacinas of a functional and ornamental nature.
In the lower part, it is made up of 8 platforms 153 meters long with a height of 1.80 meters adapted to the terrain; in the west end, there are two rooms, niches, and fine rigging, and in the east end, you can see another five rooms.
The agricultural terraces at Waqrapukara were used to grow maize, potatoes, quinoa, and beans. These crops were vital to the Inca Empire, providing food for its vast population. The terraces were also used to cultivate other plants, such as coca, which the Incas chewed for its stimulant effects.
How to get to Waqrapukara?
There are three routes by which you can reach this excellent archaeological center:
- The first route leaves from the city of Cusco to the Sangarara district, then takes a detour to the car park, from there you will start the hike to Waqrapukara, it will take you 1 hour and 30 minutes to go, and it will take you a few hours to return. 2 hours and 30 minutes back since this route is 8 km. On this journey, you can appreciate the place’s fauna and the vicunas.
- The second route leaves Cusco to Acomayo; the trip lasts 3 hours by car, heading to the community of Huayqui in the Huascar branch, a 7.5 km horseshoe route, and for this reason, you will hike for 1 hour.
- The third route leaves Cusco to the detour for Acomayo as if you were going to Sicuani, from there you must take a bus to Pomacanchi, and from there, you must go to Santa Lucia, which is 1 hour away.
Tips for visiting Waqrapukara
To visit Waqrapukara, here are some tips to help you make the most of your visit:
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing: Waqrapukara is a large site with plenty of walking, so comfortable footwear is a must. Loose, breathable clothing is also recommended, as it can be pretty hot and humid in the area.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks: There are no food or drink vendors at Waqrapukara, so you’ll need to bring your sustenance. Pack enough water for the whole day and some snacks to keep your energy up.
- Visit during the week: Waqrapukara gets very busy on weekends, so if you want to avoid crowds, plan your visit for during the week. You’ll better see the site’s many features without jostling for space.
- Get there early: This ties in with visiting during the week – getting to Waqrapukara first thing in the morning will give you a few hours before the crowds start rolling in. Plus, you’ll enjoy the site’s peace before it gets noisy.
Best time to visit Waqrapukara
The best time to visit Waqrapukara is during the dry season, from May to November. The weather is sunny and dry during this time, making it ideal for hiking and exploring the ruins. The months of June and July offer the best conditions for visiting, as there are fewer crowds and the temperatures are not as hot as in August and September.
What to bring with you
- A good pair of hiking shoes or boots
- Socks and comfortable clothing that can layer
- A hat and sunscreen for the daytime
- A headlamp or flashlight for the nighttime
- Insect repellent
- Trekking poles (optional)
- A water bottle or CamelBak
- Snacks and energy bars
- First Aid kit, including supplies for blisters and snake bite
- A whistle