Puca Pucara is an Inca archaeological site, which is only 10 kilometers by road from the city of Cusco. It has walls, stairways, squares and terraces that must have formed a military gathering center. Most tourists visit this place as part of the ‘City Tour’ Cusco that also includes a visit to the Coricancha, Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo and Tambomachay temples.
All about Puca Pucara
What is Puca Pucara?
Puca Pucara is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city of Cusco. Due to its location on the top of a mountain, it would be an old military compound that would have served as a meeting point for the Inca troops. In addition, due to its proximity to Tambomachay, the Inca’s troops would have gathered there while he rested in the so-called ‘baths of the ñusta’. Most tourists know this site as part of the so-called ‘City Tour Cusco’.
What does your name mean?
The word ‘Puca Pucara’ comes from a Quechua word that means ‘Red Fortress’. This nomination is due to the reddish hue that its walls and platforms acquire during the sunset. Until today Quechua, the language of the Incas, continues to be used by the majority of Cusco’s inhabitants.
Puca Pucara is at the highest part of the mountains located, to the north and on the outskirts of the city of Cusco. From the main square of the city, you only have to travel almost 12 kilometers to get there. The archaeological site is surrounded by mountains, rivers, and other archaeological sites such as Tambomachay.
Route to get from Cusco
Most people arrive at Puca Pucara as part of the ‘City Tour Cusco’ route, which also includes a visit to the Cathedral, Coricancha, Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo and Tambomachay.
People who want to get to Puca Pucara on their own must take a taxi from the Plaza de Armas in the city of Cusco. This route will cost you approximately 15 Peruvian soles (5 US dollars). Another option is to take public transport such as the ‘Señor del Huerto’ buses. The cost of the service to the archaeological site is 1 Peruvian sol per person (0.3 US dollars).
History of Puca Pucara
The construction of Puca Pucara is still a mystery. According to some chronicles, these enormous constructions were built by the communities prior to the Incas that inhabit this territory. Other research suggests that this fortress was built in the Inca expansionist era and that it served as a hunting ground for the nobility, such as the Inca Pachacutec (1418 – 1471).
Regarding the function of Puca Pucara, most researchers agree that it was a kind of fortress and strategic point close to the main roads to Cusco. However, its relationship with Tambomachay (an archaeological site located nearby) would indicate that it was also a sacred temple. Ceramic remains were found there. From there you have a privileged view of the Huanacauri, Pachatusan and Ausangate mountains, considered sacred by the Incas.
In colonial times, Puca Pucara would have been the scene of wars between the Spanish and the Incas. However, the site did not suffer major damage, as it did in Sacsayhuaman. The investigations in the place still do not give with the true objective and history of the archaeological site. Meanwhile, many peasants consider it a sacred place that deserves respect. Every day, Puca Pucara receives hundreds of tourists as part of the so-called ‘City Tour Cusco’.
Puca Pucara archaeological site
The archaeological site of Puca Pucara has squares, stairways, walls, aqueducts and terraces. These structures were built with pre-existing calcareous stone in the place. Like most important Inca constructions, its walls are perfectly carved and embedded. The researchers have divided the place into three levels or walls with specific functions.
- The first wall – It is made up of a terrace whose walls have high quality lines. At the entrance there are gardens and small squares where a trapezoidal one stands out whose entrance is through a set of stone steps. At this level there are also housing areas, some deteriorated by time.
- The second wall – Above the first wall, and following the set of stairs on the west side, you can see a finely carved terrace with gardens and minor buildings. Three trapezoidal enclosures stand out, and not rectangular, as was the main characteristic of these Inca constructions.
- The third wall – Following some irregular stairs, you will reach the third wall whose buildings have been destroyed by the passage of time. These constructions were made with less care compared to the rest of the buildings on the first two levels. From there you have a privileged view of the snowy mountains that surround the place.
For some chroniclers, Puca Pucara was a place closely linked with Tambomachay. While the Inca relaxed in the baths of this place, his entourage made up of soldiers and priests rested in the fortress of Puca Pucara. Other versions indicate that both places were spaces where the Inca could go hunting. Now they are two of the archaeological sites most visited by tourists in Cusco.
How much does it cost to go?
The way more visitors get to know Puca Pucara is through the famous ‘Cusco City Tour’ that lasts half a day. The price of this tour is approximately $ 70 per person. The tour also includes the entrance to the Cathedral of Cuzco, the Inca temple of Coricancha and the archaeological sites of Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo and Tambomachay.
Some visitors prefer to go to Puca Pucara on their own. For this, the best option is to acquire the so-called ‘Cusco Tourist Ticket’ whose cost is 70 Peruvian soles per tourist (approximately 22 US dollars). This ticket also includes the entrance to Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo and Tambomachay. It can be purchased on Avenida El Sol 103, in the center of Cusco.
Schedule of the visit
Puca Pucara is open to tourists every day of the year from 8 am to 5 pm.
What to bring
- Raincoat in case of rain.
- Hat or cap.
- Comfortable clothing preferably with a windbreaker jacket.
- Identity document or passport.
- Photographic camera.
- Additional money in cash (in case you want to buy a craft).
Puca Pucara has a temperate climate, hot during the day and cold at night. In the mornings and afternoons, the heat reaches 22ºC. (71.6ºF). Due to its location on top of a mountain, gusts of wind (10 km / h approximately) are also common. At night the cold can drop to 1ºC. (33.8ºF). January, February and March are the months with the most possibility of rain. May, June, July and August are the least rainy months.
Images of Puca Pucara
Puca Pucara is part of the famous Inca road network called ‘Qhapac ñan’. These royal Inca roads reached an extension of up to 30 thousand kilometers through regions of the current countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and Chile. The route that connects to Puca Pucara is somewhat destroyed although its structure is still distinguishable.
Some versions maintain that Puca Pucara served as a ‘tambo’ or food storage center. Due to the existence of the ‘Qhapac ñan’, this version has more support since the ‘tambos’ were necessary in the places near this road network of Inca roads. There the ‘chasquis’ or messengers rested and provided themselves with food before continuing their way to the city of Cusco.
Puca Pucara is 3,580 meters above sea level (11,745 feet). At that altitude it is normal for the visitor to feel some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, which are: nausea, fatigue, agitation. To overcome this, it is recommended to drink plenty of water (especially coca tea) as well as avoid alcoholic beverages and fatty foods.
Qenqo is close to other Inca archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, and Tambomachay. If you are traveling on your own, a good idea is to visit these places, which are included in the ‘Cusco Tourist Ticket’. Remember that the ‘City Tour’ already includes all these sites.