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3 Great Alternatives to Machu Picchu in the Cusco Region of Peru

Waqra Pukará means “horned fortress” in Quechua, and the name couldn’t be more fitting. Two stone spires tower over the end of a ridge, giving it natural horns. Built high on a promontory, it looks down a canyon far grander than the narrow valley that you’d see beneath Machu Picchu.

Here, the Apurímac River flows more than 3,000 feet below. The peak and the horns are natural, so until you get close, you may not notice the architecture built into them. Once you see the stairs leading up to the site, you’ll also recognize terraces and doorways built into the cliffs.

The site is not as well preserved as Pisac and has not benefited from the restoration that Machu Picchu has received. However, the extraordinary Inca design accentuates the natural geology just as impressively as either of the other sites. 

Waqra Pukará is also said to be the site of Inca drama, although there is no official interpretation of the Inca’s oral history. Local guides tell the story of Tito Cosnipa, who fell in love with the Inca’s daughter. The couple eloped to Waqra Pukará, a ceremonial center for pilgrimages, but were pursued by soldiers. It is naturally defensible, and Tito Cosnipa fought valiantly before the Incan forces won. In recognition of his bravery, rather than put Tito Cosnipa to death, Huayna Capac sent him north to conquer what is now Ecuador.