If you’ve always dreamed of traveling to South America in all its wonder and mystery, there are many interesting places to visit on the continent. Among them, you can find Argentina with its fabulous culture, wonderful cities, and the fabulous Iguazu Falls. Or also Ecuador and its remarkable Galapagos Islands; Or why not Bolivia for the true South American Experience. But without a doubt, traveling to Peru would be the most interesting thing you can do in South America. Sacsayhuaman is proof of it.
Filled with fascinating ancient Inca sites, Peru should be on everyone’s bucket list. In the Cusco region of Peru, there are many exciting ruins in and around the fabulous Inca city to explore and enjoy. If Peru is on your bucket list, you should also visit the many other astounding destinations Peru has to offer, along with, of course, the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. For this reason, together with the experts from Machu Travel Peru, we have prepared a small article about Sacsayhuaman. One of the most amazing Inca sites to visit.
All about the fortress of Sacsayhuaman
- A general view of Sacsayhuaman fortress
- The architectural design of Sacsayhuaman
- Different areas of the fortress
- History of the Inca Fortress
- The purpose of Sacsayhuaman
- Archaeological sites nearby to visit
- How to reach Sacsayhuaman Hill
- The best time to visit Sacsayhuaman
- Cusco Tourist Ticket to visit Sacsayhuaman
A general view of Sacsayhuaman Fortress
Sacsayhuaman is located north of Cusco, at 2 kilometers from the main square of Imperial city. It has an altitude of 3700 m.a.s.l. The most important, among archaeological sites in Cusco, receives the name of Sacsayhuaman. Its name is in Quechua and its meaning varies from “satisfied eagle” to “spotted eagle”, “spotted head”, and more. Today, the academics discuss its function, some say that Sacsayhuaman was a center destined to the cult of the lightning god (Illapa in the Quechua language), because of the shape of terrace distribution (zigzag similar to rays). Others indicate that Sacsayhuaman was a neighborhood of high-level people and others affirm that the complex was a military fortress, due to its location and structure (The last one is more accepted nowadays)
Either way, its stone walls are well maintained, and along with the llama and alpaca grazing, you can admire arches, ceremonial altars, and a natural rock formation that looks like a children’s slide, which is also used by visitors as such. Sacsayhuaman is another good example of unique Inca architecture, each stone fits perfectly together, the tallest almost 9 meters high! The foundations are made with limestone from Yucay brought from more than 15 km away.
In the lower part of El Sol Avenue near the local post office, not far from the main square, you can find a painted wall showing the fight of a brave Inca from one of the three towers of Sacsayhuaman. Unfortunately, only the foundations of the towers remain today.
Sacsayhuaman was always present in the daily life of Cusquenean and Peruvian people. Outstanding facts are that the complex was rediscovered in 1934 when an important archeological zone inside the complex came to light during excavations. Also, some digs discovered structural bases of ancient buildings belonging to Killke pre-Inca Culture (Behind the complex) in 2008. Today this zone is still being researched.
The architectural design of Sacsayhuaman
Sacsayhuaman’s design is based on the shape of the head of a puma, a sacred animal in Inca spirituality. It was the Inca Pachacutec who redesigned the city to give it the shape of a lying puma. And the space where the constructions are is particularly large. The architectural design of Sacsayhuaman has many styles. The fortress building contains both sacred constructions and residential buildings. You can also see some warehouses, aqueducts, roads, towers, and shrines. And the shape of the complex can closely resemble the style used in other sacred places such as Machu Picchu. Where it was sought that the buildings and the landscape would blend harmoniously.
Terraces, the giant walls
The main walls of Sacsayhuaman are built-in zigzag and with colossal stones. These stones can weigh between 90 and 125 tons and measure 2.5 meters wide and about 5 meters high. The Sacsayhuaman fortress has three different main walls, one behind the other. These walls extend for more than 540 meters and reach a height of about 18 meters. Even, anyone, who wants to visit Cusco, has the possibility of seeing the terraces from the main square of the city. Amazing!
Each of the walls has up to 40 segments that allow an ideal defense against attackers. And its rounded corners plus the variety of interlocking shapes of its walls together with the slight inward inclination made this a perfect structure. It was ideal to survive the devastating and numerous earthquakes that occurred in Cusco in ancient times. The south side is bounded by a polished wall approximately 400 meters long. While in the west and east, they are limited by some platforms and walls.
How could Sacsayhuaman be built?
Despite the Incas being an advanced civilization, they didn’t know the wheel. So they used a technique of hard-work movement, they situated the giant carved stones over oiled logs. These stones were tied down by thick ropes to several people who pulled them. In this form, the stones were sliding over the wooden reeds. Please note that the Incas brought these giant carved stones from stone quarries situated 32 kilometers far away.
According to the chronicler Pedro Cieza de León, more than 20,000 people participated in the construction of Sacsayhuaman, and it lasts a century, approx. Its construction was slow, but the result endured over time to the present.
Different areas of the fortress
The Sacsayhuaman complex can be divided into different sectors: The main enclosure of Sacsayhuaman, Rodadero, Trono del Inca, Warmi K’ajchana, Baños del Inca, Chincana, Base de Torreones, and the doors among others.
- Three terraces: As we describe lines up, the Fortress is made up of three large terraces built in a zigzag. The walls have 22 protruding angles on each level that represent the teeth of the puma.
- The doors: Each of the guarded towers gates is located in the central part of the bastions. The gates are trapezoidal and each of the three doors has its name. They are named Ajawanapunku, T’iopunku and Wiracochapunku gates.
- Three Guarded Towers (Base de Torreones): At the top of the Sacsayhuaman, three guarded towers were linked by a series of underground passages. There is only one small entrance on each of the terraces that give access to the towers on the hillside behind and to the interior buildings.
In addition, the towers are called Paucarmarca, at the east of three towers. It has a square shape. In the center was Sallaqmarca, which was a circuit with water, while to the west was Muyucmarca, a round enclosure. While at the back of Sacsayhuaman you can see the other sites of importance. Like the Suchuna area, where there were more terraces, patios, and even a water supply system that had aqueducts.
- Trono del Inca (Inca throne): This was a perfect carved stone (shape of a seat) located to one side of the fortress, where the Inca (sovereign of the whole empire) presided over parties, ceremonies, and sacrifices on important dates.
- Warmi K’ajchana (Where women are raped): Its controversial name was assigned after 1934 when phallic cult objects were found there. The zone has natural formations of limestone rock carved to form passageways, niches, seat representation of staggered signs inter alia. Nowadays, the zone is still being researched.
- Baños del Inca (Inca Baths): The zone is located northeast of Sacsayhuaman fortress and, it was used as a resting place for the Inca’s king and to worship the water (one of the most sacred elements in the Inca’s cosmology). It receives another name Tambomachay and has two aqueducts carved in stone that transport water flow all the year to a beautifully decorated pool.
- Chincana (Tunnels): Among your list of most interesting things to do in Cusco, visiting the Chincana is a must-see pint there. These giant caves are located in the same Sacsayhuaman complex. There are two, one more small than the other one. These caves are the entrance of a sophisticated system of underground tunnels. Today, we don’t know their precedence (Inca or some most ancient culture) or the route that these have under Sacsayhuaman Complex. Nowadays, the small Chincana is open to visitors, you can enter there (we recommended with a tour guide), its exit is located a few meters beyond. In the case of the big one, entry is forbidden because lost people who tried to enter there many years ago.
- El Rodadero (Suchuna): It is also another area worth visiting. Considered a natural park on the hillside. It was solidified lava flow from a thousand years ago. Its natural forms are similar to sea waves The Inca youth played there for hundreds of years, and today all visitors climb the Dorita stones and have fun. Sounds great, right? So, don’t hesitate, take one of the different tours in Cusco. You will not regret it!
History of the Inca Fortress
It all begins in the Viracocha’s Inca age (15th century) when the population increased and raw materials lack demanded new territories to inhabit and usufruct. In this form, Viracocha entrusted the plan of expansion by the north to one of his sons, a young named Pachacutec. The north of Cusco adjoined with a Chanca’s Confederation zone (remains of towns that belonged to the extinct Wari culture and occupied central Andean of Peru). The Chancas were warrior people and looking for their expansion too. In 1438, the north people took advantage of the relative calm situation and began a battle against Inca, closing Cusco. Pachacutec reached a great victory and cleared the way for the expansion of the empire to the north.
Years later, the victorious Inca Pachacutec (His father gave him the post of Inca ruler) decided to give the city new airs and the shape of a Puma, which was a symbol of power in the Inca culture. This is the reason why Sacsayhuaman was built as the head of the Puma. By the way, today you can see this puma shape on any Cusco tourist map. Back to topic, Sacsayhuaman was built during his reign between 1438 and 1471 AD. And it was his successors who built its massive wall. Of course, its construction lasted a century until the arrival of the Spanish. Where Sacsayhuaman played an important role in the final defeat of the Incas by the Spanish.
A bloody battle
Arrived in 1533, the Spanish entered Cusco Surroundings. It is believed that the fortress was used as a military base for the Inca Manco Capac during the fight with the Spanish conquistadors. After successfully defeating them for the first time, the conquerors attacked the fortress again, breaking the defenses of Sacsayhuaman against all odds, and, in this form, they were able to record a defeat over the Incas there.
After the conquest, the Sacsayhuaman stones were reused to build the new churches and houses in the Historic Center of Cusco where the Spanish will live and impart their religious belief, Catholicism. Today the complex is a clear reflex of the skill of the Incas. This extensive complex is still standing and is a statement of the Inca power. Just as it reflects the sharp ability of the Inca architects. The complex was oriented to harmoniously combine the monumental structures with the surrounding landscape.
The purpose of Sacsayhuaman
As the lines above described, the function of Sacsayhuaman continues to be the subject of debate among many scholars. Some historians believe that Sacsayhuaman may have been a kind of sanctuary. This is because the complex contained quite a few temples. And among those temples stands out one dedicated to the Inca god Illapa (Ray). This is due to the distribution of the three principal terraces zigzag (Shape a Rays).
Its role in the past
There is also evidence showing that the enclosure was used as a kind of deposit. It is believed that the Incas kept food, ceramics, valuable textiles, precious metal tools, armor, and even weapons. Another theory affirms that Sacsayhuaman was an exclusive neighborhood of Inca’s elite. But what is known is that during the Spanish conquest, the military complex was one of the last bastions of the Incas. When Francisco Pizarro conquered Cusco, he sent his army to invade the fortress. They used ladders to climb the massive walls and horses to get closer. The campaign was successful and that was how the Spanish took the Inca fortress.
Its role in contemporary times
In ancient Inca times, the site was used for many Inca ceremonies and this is still the case today. As in the case of Inti Raymi. Every year, on June 24, Cusco celebrates the Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun, in honor of the Inca god “Inti”; a theatrical performance in the middle of the Sacsayhuaman complex where you will witness a real interpretation of the stories about the heyday of the Incas and great performances of traditional dance and music.
Archaeological sites nearby to visit
The four most popular sites around Cusco are Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay. These attract local and foreign visitors every day. It can be reached on foot, by taxi, or by bus, with the closest site Sacsayhuaman as the first destination. If you decide to walk, keep in mind that you have to go uphill, and you will notice the altitude.
Not far from Sacsayhuaman is Q’enko, the smallest but no less interesting of the four ruins. This temple presents the best examples of Inca carving found around Cusco. Looking at the giant rock, you can find artistic sculptures showing steps, seats, geometric reliefs, and even a cougar design. In the upper part are carved zigzag channels in which they have supposedly been used to pass Chica, the local corn beer. And that way they could make the most important decisions about the Empire. Inside the rock, you can still feel the spiritual energy coming from the altar.
Puka Pukara and Tambomachay
Puka Pukara is believed to have once been a military fortress, but theories also assume that it may have served only as a guard post to control people and goods entering and leaving the city. Its location offers a fascinating and beautiful panoramic view. From Puka Pukara you can easily walk to Tambomachay, also known as the “Baños del Inca”. Once there, you will see beautiful masonry with several niches and water still running through the old aqueducts. It was a bathing place for the nobility, who used the place for important ceremonies. With three stepped platforms, the first with a seat, the second with a natural spring, and the last believed to be the actual shower. The peaceful place was probably used for ritual baths. Among the many tours in Peru available to enjoy, those who visit these sites are unmissable.
How to reach Sacsayhuaman Hill
One of the best things that Sacsayhuaman is the location. 2 kilometers from Cusco. So, its access is available in 4 forms:
- City Tour: If you want to have a complete experience of Cusco, you have to take the City Tour. It is a traditional tour that includes a guide and transportation, the points to visit are the Cathedral of Cusco, the Santo Domingo Convent (Qoricancha) both inside Cusco, and the Sacsayhuamán archeological park (Includes Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay)
- By walk: If you enjoy taking the experience on your own or doing a walking tour in Cusco, this option is for you. The walking begins from the main square, taking Cuesta del Almirante Street (to one side of Cathedral of Cusco), go straight and take Cordoba de Tucuman Street until reaching Plazoleta Nazarenas. From this square, turn left, take Pumacurco street and go straight 5 blocks up, you will reach the control booth of Sacsayhuaman. From this point, you will begin to climb the Sacsayhuaman hill slope until reaching the same Archaeological Park. The walk lasts 1-hour approx.
- By car: The other form to get to Sacsayhuaman on your own is by taking a taxi (an authorized taxi from Cusco municipality is recommendable. Those that have a kind of chess checkerboard, black and yellow, on the sides) until Sacsayhuaman. The trip lasts 30 minutes and the cost is around 10 to 15 soles (2-3 Dollars)
- By public transportation: Two different buses will take you uphill: the Christo Blanco and the Huerto if you prefer to go by bus. Right now it costs 1.50 soles per person to take these buses from Clorinda Bus station (Located in La Cultura Avenue, south of the main square, 4 blocks from there)
The best time to visit Sacsayhuaman
Sacsayhuaman is located around Cusco. In this form, its climate is cold and dry for the most part of the year. However, the complex is subdued by the weather of Imperial City, the dry season from April to November; heavy rays of sunshine and clear skies, with temperatures around 18ºC approx. will accompany you. On the other hand, the rainy season, from December to March is known for its heavy rains, cold breezes, cloudy skies, and temperatures that low down until 0ºC. Our recommendation? The dry season is perfect for you in case you want the perfect photos. Walking under the rain? This unique experience only can be enjoyed in the rainy season. The choice is yours.
Cusco tourist ticket to visit Sacsayhuaman
If you are looking for tours in Cusco, you will find that each travel agency offers a city tour with various attractions in Cusco. You can book a half-day tour or just go on your own. In case you decide on the latter, it is important to know that you will need an entrance ticket (usually it is already included if you book through an agency)
The so-called “tourist ticket” can be purchased at the COSITUC office (Avenida El Sol, Nr. 103) from Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. You will notice that there are different tickets available, including different sites, which are:
- Boleto Turistico Parcial I: This ticket is 70 Soles, valid for only one day, and includes circuit I: Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay archeological sites.
- Boleto Turistico Parcial II: It is also 70 Soles, but valid for two days including the circuit II: Qorikancha Museum, Regional History Museum, Museum of Present Art, Pachacutec Monument, Museum of Popular Art, Qosqo Center of Native Art, Tipón, and Pikillacta archeological sites.
- Boleto Turistico Parcial III: As well 70 Soles and is valid for two days, this ticket includes circuit III: Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero, and Moray archeological sites.
- Boleto Turistico General: This ticket is 130 Soles, valid for ten days, and includes all the above-mentioned three main circuits and their attractions: Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puka Pukara, Tambomachay, Qorikancha Museum, Regional History Museum, Museum of Present Art, Pachacutec Monument, Museum of Popular Art, Qosqo Center of Native Art as well as the archeological sites of Tipon, Pikilacta, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero and Moray.
Take advantage of the reasonable prices to experience a complete tour of the different museums in Cusco as well as the unique archaeological sites of the city. When you travel to Cusco it is a great idea to do a City tour of the Imperial city. For this, there are many variations from budget to luxury and group or private tours. You can buy these tours online or at an agency in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
Whichever way you decide to make your tour, you will surely visit the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. If you decide to do a city tour that includes the Sacsayhuaman Fortress, take a taxi or bus from the city of Cusco. On the journey to the ruins, you will have wonderful views of the city, located in the valley below. Once you arrive, you will notice how the ruins are in an open space at the top of the valley, perfect for a nice quiet break on a nice sunny day.
“WITH AGE COMES WISDOM. WITH TRAVEL, COMES UNDERSTANDING”
When you visit Cusco on your vacation in Peru, don’t forget to spend time in Sacsayhuaman, feel the history and the mystery. Learn about the wonderful Incas, marvel at the beauty of Sacsayhuaman, enjoy the views of the surrounding mountain, and take many photos of Cusco from this wonderful viewpoint.
It is worth spending many days exploring the city of Cusco. With many excellent museums to get an idea of Inca history. Filled with great nightlife and many exceptional restaurants to rival Lima. Don’t worry, there are also many vegetarian restaurants in Cusco if you don’t eat meat. We hope together with the experts of Machu Travel Peru to have solved your doubts. So, what are you waiting for to book your vacation in Peru today?