If you’ve always dreamed of traveling to South America and visiting all its wonder and mystery, our next attraction in Peru cannot be missing. Filled with fascinating ancient Inca sites, Peru is a mystery to be revealed to visitors from all over the world. In its south region called Cusco, there are many exciting ruins to explore and enjoy. Among them, the one cataloged as the second most impressive attraction after Machu Picchu, by its architectonical style. The Inca fortress Sacsayhuaman contains history, legends, mysticism, and impressive carved stone polygonal blocks of more than 100 tons of weight and 4 meters of allure. Each one forms awesome walls. And for this reason, together with the experts from Machu Travel Peru, we have prepared a small article about this awesome Inca fortress. One of the inescapable Inca sites to visit.
All about the fortress of Sacsayhuaman
- A general view of Sacsayhuaman fortress
- History of the Inca Fortress
- The architectural design of Sacsayhuaman
- Different areas of the 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
Today, its stone walls are well maintained, and along with the llama and alpaca grazing by the place, 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. Therefore, this Inca fortress is another good example of unique Inca architecture, each stone fits perfectly together, and the tallest is almost 9 meters high! The foundations are made with limestone from Yucay brought from more than 15 km away.
It is located north of the city of Cusco, at 2 kilometers from the Imperial city main square. It has an altitude of 3700 m.a.s.l. If you want to get there, you only have to follow “Suecia street” located on the northwest corner of the main square, and go straight up to get to the “Salesianos school”. From this point, turn right and follow Don Bosco avenue for 30 minutes more up to the entrance checkpoint of the archaeological park and… Well done!
B. What’s means its name?
The most important, archeological site 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 “place where the hawk is satiated”. Probably due to the abundance of this bird in the area in Inca times.
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 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 looking for their expansion too. In 1438, these northern people took advantage of the relatively calm situation and began a battle against the Incas, closing Cusco. Facing this situation, Pachacutec confronted the war and reached a great victory, clearing the way for the expansion of the Inca 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 Andean 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 the topic, this Inca fortress was built during his reign between 1438 and 1471 AD. And it was the following Inca regents who built its massive wall. Of course, its construction lasted a century until the arrival of the Spanish. When the fortress played an important role in the final defeat of the Incas by the Spanish.
1. A bloody battle
Arrived in 1533, the Spanish entered Cusco’s 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 Europeans settled in Cusco but received constant threats from the rebellious Incas that still besieged the city from its surroundings, and kept the famous Inca fortress some time more.
In this sense, Francisco Pizarro sent his brother, Juan, to recover this fortress in a last battle in 1536. The Spanish used cavalry and ladders to climb the gigantic walls and towers of the complex. Breaking the defenses of the Inca fortress against all odds. The battle was bloody, even Juan died on the spot, but the Spanish won and managed to recover the fortress.
In consequence, it didn’t take long for the Inca fortress to be dismantled little by little and its stones used for the construction of religious and colonial buildings in the center of the city. Finally, the Spanish abandoned the site, without first covering it with dust and hiding it, until its rediscovery by Peruvian archaeologists in 1934.
2. Rediscovering Sacsayhuaman
The fortress 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
The complex 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, having this awesome fortress as its head. It is also worth mentioning that the fortress contains both constructions destined to worship and residential buildings. You can also see some warehouses, aqueducts, roads, towers, and shrines. Also, 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.
1. 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. First, the colossal lime rocks were carved in the same quarries of Muyna Waqoto and Rumiqolqa situated 32 kilometers far away. Next, they situated the giant carved stones over oiled logs. These stones were tied down by thick ropes by several people who pulled them. In this form, the stones were sliding over the wooden reeds. Please note that the Incas re-carved these stones, refining them even more, in the same place of construction.
According to the chronicler Pedro Cieza de León, more than 20,000 people participated in the construction of this Inca complex, and its construction lasted a century, approx. The process 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 enclosures, Rodadero, Trono del Inca, Warmi K’ajchana, Baños del Inca, Chincana, Base de Torreones, and the doors among others.
A. The three terraces
The main walls of the fortress are built-in zigzag (like the shape of a lightning bolt or the teeth of an alligator) and with colossal stones. These stones are so well carved that they can fit perfectly with each other without the need for mortar. Also, these can weigh between 90 and 125 tons and measure 2.5 meters wide and about 5 meters high, and constitute three 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. and 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.
B. Three Guarded Towers
At the top of the Sacsayhuaman, over the three terraces previously mentioned were located three guarded towers in a straight line linked by a series of underground passages.
- Paucarmarca tower: It was further east and possibly served to store water. Also, it’s believed that was destinated the worship the stars. Probably it had a square shape, due to its foundations that are still and show this form in place. Paucar means party, beauty, and joy. While Marca means population.
- Sallqamarca tower: It was in the center and is interconnected with the other towers through underground tunnels. Sallaq means rough or stony, and Marca means population.
- Muyuccmarca tower: Among all, it is the most famous. Also called Cahuide tower, due to the Inca general Titu Cusi Huallpa (Cahuide) who jumped from the tower’s highest part to avoid being caught by the Spanish during the battle of rebels Incas against the Spanish invaders of 1536. Probably its form was circular due to its foundations found in the area. Muyucc means round and Marca mean population.
Side note: 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 the fortress. Unfortunately, only the foundations of the towers remain today.
C. The doors
Each of the gates is located in the central part of the bastions and leads to the area of the watchtowers. The gates are trapezoidal and each of the three has its name. They are named Ajawanapunku gate (Door where chicha is observed – A traditional Inca drink based on fermented corn, like beer), T’iopunku gate (Door of salt), and Wiracochapunku gate (Wiracocha gate – Wiracocha or “He doer of all” was one of the main Inca deities)
D. The enclosures
This group of enclosures leans on the slopes of Sacsayhuaman hill, south and very close to the towers zone. These enclosures were arranged in the direction of the city’s main square and were connected by trapezoidal gates. Each enclosure had long and narrow shapes. Their walls were formed by irregular polyhedra, with well-polished edges and steep faces.
E. Inca throne
The Trono del Inca (In the Spanish language) is a perfectly 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. His name translates as “Where the monkey stands” (K’usilluc Jink’ian in the Quechua language). Even, recent observations indicate that during the winter solstice, the sun’s rays fall right on this spot.
F. El Rodadero (Suchuna)
It is also another area worth visiting. Considered a natural park on the hillside. It is solidified lava flow from a thousand years ago that turned into diorite. Its natural forms are similar to sea waves. Recent investigations affirm that this place also served as a stone quarry for the awesome fortress. The Inca youth played there for hundreds of years, and today all visitors climb the stones and slide down. Sounds great, right? So, don’t hesitate, take one of the different tours in Cusco and visit them. You will not regret it!
G. The tunnels (Chincanas)
Among your list of most interesting things to do in Cusco, visiting the Chincana is a must-see point there. These giant caves are located in the same complex. There are two, one more small than the other one, and are the entrance of a sophisticated system of underground tunnels. Nowadays, the small Chincana is open to visitors, you can enter there (we recommended with a tour guide), carefully, and always, keeping a hand over one wall of the tunnel to guide themselves, due to all space being dark, the 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 to discover its exit.
Even, some legends affirm that the big one leads to the Coricancha temple of the sun through an underground passage (The Inca Sun temple) located in Cusco city. Until a few years ago, we didn’t know their precedence (Inca or some most ancient culture) or the route that these had under the Complex. Happily, the research of geologist Dr. Carlos Kalafatovich assures that the tunnels correspond to the undermining by the action of groundwater that circulated in the caves.
H. 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, and seat representations of staggered signs inter alia. Nowadays, the zone is still being researched.
The purpose of Sacsayhuaman
Today, academics discuss its function, some say that it was a center destined for 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 the complex was a ceremonial neighborhood of high-level people, due to certain zones destinated to worship of deities. Instead, others claim that the complex was a military fortress, due to its location and structure (The last one is more accepted nowadays)
A. Its role in the past
As the lines above described, its function continues to be the subject of debate among many scholars. Some historians believe that the fortress 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)
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 the Inca complex was an exclusive neighborhood of the Inca elite.
B. 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 Inca 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, as the fortress 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 the Inca complex is Q’enko, the smallest but not less interesting of the four attractions. 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 Chicha, the local beer in base to corn. 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.
B. 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 of Cusco, its name means “Red” (Puka) and “Fortress” (Pukara) From Puka Pukara you can easily walk to Tambomachay, also known as the “Baños del Inca”.
In this place, 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 and as a hunting ground for royalty. 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 about the Inca fortress is the location. 2 kilometers from Cusco. So, its access is available in 4 forms:
1. 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 Sacsayhuaman archeological park (Including Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay)
2. 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 the Cathedral of Cusco), going straight, and taking 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 the Inca fortress. From this point, you will begin to climb the hill slope until reaching the same Archaeological Park. The walk lasts 1 hour approx.
3. By car
The other form to get to the archaeological park 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 the Inca fortress, or calling some secure taxi companies like taxi Turismo (+ 51 084 245 000) or Llama Taxi (+51 084 222 000). The trip lasts 30 minutes and the cost is around 20 to 25 soles (5-7 Dollars)
4. By public transportation
If you prefer to go by bus, two different bus lines will take you uphill: the Cristo Blanco and the Huerto. Right now it costs 2.00 soles (0.50 cents on the dollar) per person to take these buses from Clorinda Bus station (Located on La Cultura Avenue, south of the main square, 4 blocks from there). But remember, the public transportation in Peru is inefficient, the minibusses are old, in a bad state, and dirty, frequently these are full of passengers traveling standing in the passageway between the seats. We don’t recommend using them.
The best time to visit Sacsayhuaman
The fortress is located around Cusco. In this form, its climate is cold and dry for most part of the year. Therefore, the complex is subdued by the weather of Imperial City. The dry season from April to November is characterized by heavy rays of sunshine, and clear skies, with temperatures around 18ºC approx. 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, but the most traditional is the one that includes the Cathedral of Cusco, the Qoricancha or Inca Sun temple and the Complex of Sacsayhuaman (Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay are included) You can book this half-day city tour or just go on your own. In case you decide on the latter, it is important to know that there is no exclusive entrance ticket to the Inca fortress. On the contrary, the ticket entrance is included in a general ticket that adds the entrances to other archaeological attractions.
The so-called “tourist ticket of Cusco” 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. Or in the checkpoint of all Cusco archaeological parks, in the schedule of operating of referred parks, usually from 07:00 am to 05:00 pm. You will notice that there are different tickets available that include the entrance to different archaeological 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: The referred Inca fortress, 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.
As you can see, the different types of “Boletos Turistico del Cusco” not only offer archaeological sites in Cusco but different museums in Cusco, too! Therefore, buying it is so recommendable. Take advantage of their reasonable prices to experience a complete tour of the different attractions in Cusco as well as the unique archaeological sites of the city.
“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, and feel the history and the mystery. Learn about the wonderful Incas, marvel at the beauty of the fortress, 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?