Impressive ruins, beautiful scenery and no crowds – Waqrapukara is without a doubt one of the best one day treks you can do in Cusco. Want something totally different? Leave behind the usual tourist circuits in the Sacred Valley and Cusco’s South Valley and head towards the Apurimac river to experience the scenic and secluded Waqrapukara ruins.
The Incan “Horn Fortress” – as the name means in Quechua – is a fascinating archeological site perched atop a rocky outcrop, where the masonry seamlessly merges with the two horn-shaped mountain peaks. Our off-the-beaten-path Waqrapukara trek starts in Huayqui and continues through stunning scenery for about 3 hours until we reach the Inca fortress. Waqrapukara is actually still somewhat shrouded in mystery, as archaeological research has only been under way for X years. Many people also say that Waqrapukara has a special energy. If you want to experience Andean mysticism and feel a real connection to the ancient past, then you can’t miss this day hike.
Waqrapukara is located in Cusco’s Acomayo province, and the trail passes through several ecological zones as you ascend about 550m from the trailhead to the site. The scenery is spectacular and unique for a Cusco trek; if you’re lucky, you might spot vicunas, or even condors! This hike is a circuit; you will walk the same path there and back.
Add another day to your Waqrapukara hike itinerary and visit the famous Q’eswachaka Bridge! This unique Inca rope bridge is rebuilt in a special ceremony every year. The Q’eswachaka bridge festival happens every June but you can visit the bridge any day of the year.
Jaw-dropping mountain vistas; the chance to spot elusive Andean wildlife; fascinating and little-known Incan ruins; a chance to have a mystical experience in the Andes! The Waqrapukara trek is a wonderful way to escape the crowds on a day hike from Cusco.
We begin our trek to Waqrapukara by car, leaving Cusco in our private transport at around 4am. A very early start to what will be quite a long day! We are heading south on a paved road, in the direction of Puno, towards a small community called Choquecahuana. This is located in a Cusco district called Acomayo. Along the way, we will pass the impressive Pomacanchis lagoon and several picturesque villages until we reach the Huascar junction where the paved road ends, and adventure begins. We continue on a hardened dirt road until we reach Huayqui (also spelled Wayki or Wayqui), the trailhead for our Waqrapukara trek (3350m/ 10,991 ft).
Before we begin the hike to Waqrapukara we’ll get to share breakfast with a local family. Then it’s time to set out! The first part of our walk takes us to Suythuwanca, which will take about an hour and a half. From here, we continue walking uphill for another 1h30 along a winding path, bordered by mountains. The views here are out of this world! In addition to these breathtaking vistas, we will be treated to fascinating ancient rock paintings along the way. Some of these cave paintings are in a great state of preservation.
Arriving at the Inca Horn Fortress
Finally, we will arrive at Waqrapukara (4150m / 13,615 ft). We’ll rest and enjoy a boxed lunch before starting our guided tour of this mysterious Inca fortress. In Quechua, Waqrapukara actually means “Horn Fortress,” from the words waqra (“horn”) and pukara (“fortress”), and it is a real sight to behold. It is the horn-like rock formations that likely give the Inca fortress its name.
Waqrapukara is an imposing archaeological feature perched on a mountain top, surrounded by gorgeous, lush scenery. We’ll have about an hour to explore this fascinating site. Signs direct us to the different areas of the site, which actually includes several structures.
When we’ve had our fill of Inca history and interesting ruins, we will return along the same path. As we walk another 2h to our starting point, we’ll have one last opportunity to take in the stunning beauty of the surrounding mountains. We’ll even have a glimpse of Mount Veronica (5700m / 18,700ft)!
Finally, we arrive at Paltacancha where our vehicle will be waiting to take us back to Cusco, arriving at about 7pm.
Total Walking Distance – 15km
Total Walking Time – 5-6h
Minimum Altitude – 3350m/ 10,991 ft / Maximum Altitude – 4150m / 13,615 ft