The uphill walk from central Cusco to Sacsayhuaman was slow going, since our bodies hadn’t adjusted to the high altitude yet, but the excitement of seeing our first Inca ruin kept us motivated to push on.
In between frequent breaks and gasps for air, I hoped that the effort would be worthwhile and Sacsayhuaman would live up to it’s reputation of being the most remarkable Inca site near Cusco.
Thankfully, it did!
At the top of the hill we were met with a stone wall built in the style the Inca were known for. Large, precisely cut stones of various shapes fit tightly together like a jigsaw puzzle, no mortar needed.
I’d heard a lot about Inca stonework and how big some of the blocks were (one stone at Sacsayhuaman weighs over 300 tons), but seeing is believing. We weren’t even inside the archaeological site yet and were astounded by what we saw.
After buying our tourist ticket we excitedly entered the fortress-temple complex, eager to explore Sacsayhuaman before the sun went down.
Our Self-Guided Tour of Sacsayhuaman
The Sacsayhuaman archaeological site is divided into three different zones- the walled fortress/military section, the parade ground, and the Rodadero which is believed to be the religious/ceremonial section.
The first area of Sacsayhuaman we visited was the 3-tiered fortifications. Built in a zigzag pattern, these 22 walls represent the teeth of a puma, Sacsayhuaman being the head of Cusco’s famous puma shape.
We spent a lot of time in the military area admiring the stonework as questions flooded our minds.
Where did these rocks come from? How did the Inca shape them? How long did it take to build?
Of course we can never know for sure, but it was fun to discuss some possible theories.
Walking further along the way we soon came to the Intipunku, a gate of impressive proportions and my personal favourite spot in Sacsayhuaman.
Passing through the terrace gateway, we followed the stone steps up a level where we could see clear across the parade ground to the Rodadero hill. It looked especially striking in the golden glow of late afternoon sun.
Continuing to walk throughout the Inca fortress, we soon came to a viewpoint overlooking Cusco. We could see all of Cusco’s important landmarks- Plaza de Armas, La Catedral, and Iglesia de La Compañia de Jesús.
After taking in the view we headed back towards the Sacsayhuaman ruins to enjoy an elevated perspective of the walls before heading down to the large parade ground.
Once on the other side of the field we climbed up the steps of Rodadero, getting to see the zigzag fortifications from afar. The sheer length of the walls was just as impressive as the blocks used to build it.
Most of the structures that once were at Rodadero were torn down by the Spaniards and later inhabitants of Cusco, but you can still see the retaining walls. For us, the best thing about this area of Sacsayhuaman was the view. It was a wonderful place to watch the sky change colour as the sun set on our first day in Cusco.
Final Thoughts About our Visit to Sacsayhuaman
Of all the ruins near Cusco, Sacsayhuaman was the most monumental one we visited. The stonework alone made the uphill walk worth it, never mind the unique zigzag shape of the walls. It was a great site to observe the preciseness of Inca architecture and design, even if the location wasn’t as dramatic as other Inca ruins such as Pisac or Machu Picchu.
Since we visited Sacsayhuaman without a guide we may have missed out on a deeper understanding of the site’s significance, but the benefit was that we could explore at our own pace. Still, I wish we had arrived a little sooner so we had more time to wander around Rodadero before the site closed.
Even if you’re only in Cusco for a short stay, you should make time to visit Sacsayhuaman. It’s definitely a must see in Cusco!
Tips for Visiting Sacsayhuaman
- Sacsayhuaman is on the outskirts of Cusco, but you can still walk there in about 30-50 minutes from Plaza de Armas. The uphill walk is easier if you’re already acclimatized to the altitude.
- A Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket) is required to visit Sacsayhuaman. It can be bought at the entrance and used to visit most archaeological sites in the Cusco region.
Tours of Sacsayhuaman
Here is a trusted site where you can book a tour of Sacsayhuaman that includes visits to other Inca sites near Cusco (Tambomachay, Qenqo and Pukapukara- all worth seeing).
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