Sacsayhuaman (roughly pronounced “sexy woman” in your worst Latin American accent), is an ancient Inca fortress that sits high up on a plateau overlooking the city of Cusco and is the site of one of the bloodiest battles between the Inca and the Spanish conquistadors. Much of the Inca fort was demolished by the Spaniards during their control of Cusco, but what remains is still incredibly impressive. Visit Sacsayhuaman early in the morning for the best light and fewer crowds.
The Boleto Turistico – Your Ticket to Sacsayhuaman
Admission to Sacsayhuaman and many other Cusco and the Sacred Valley sites is included in the Boleto Turistico (adults S/.130, $42; students under 26 with ISIC card S/.70, $23). It can be purchased at Sacsayhuaman or any of the included sites:
- Near Cusco
- In Cusco
- Museo de Arte Popular
- Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha (museum only, not the Qoricancha site)
- Museo Historico Regional
- Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
- Monumento a Pachacuteq (Pachacuteq Statue)
- Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo (native art and folkloric dance)
- Sacred Valley
Sacsayhuaman is the closest Inca ruin site to Cusco, located on the northwest side of the city. Garren and I walked there in about 15 minutes from our hostel on the hill. If you’re coming from Plaza de Armas, expect it to take an extra 10 minutes beyond that. It is all uphill, and pretty steep at that, so if you aren’t up for the hike you can always take a taxi pretty cheaply. If you are acclimated and can handle the hill, it is a really scenic walk with panoramic views over the city and lots of climbing stairs alongside a stream that cascades down the mountain.
Even though it was only our second day acclimating to the altitude, we managed to make it from our hostel to Sacsayhuaman with just two quick stops to catch our breath. That was a big improvement from 3 stops the day before just to climb two blocks uphill!
We knew we had arrived when we saw a line of traditionally dressed Andean women and children with baby llamas posing for photos. I started taking photos of some young llamas off on their own in the grass, but the llama owner ran over and asked if I wanted a posed photo, which really means “Take a picture of me and my llama for a tip.” I politely declined, and we approached the ticket hut at the entrance.
I was all prepared with correct change for our tickets, and handed over my ISIC student card to get the reduced price, but I soon realized things were not going as planned. My ISIC card was handed back to me with the words “tienes veintiséis años,” “you are twenty six.” He then explained that you must be under 26 to receive the student rate. What?? I felt so cheated. Do they assume that students suddenly make lots of money when they turn 26? I tried to argue that I was, indeed, a student, and that they hadn’t publicized the age restrictions, but to no avail. I forked over the additional S/.60 I owed and sulked up the hill toward the main site. I knew I shouldn’t let it get to me, and that the $23 dollars I lost was not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it really irked me. I’m embarrassed that I let it affect my mood so much. Now I can laugh about it, (and at the time Garren didn’t hold back from poking fun at my sour mood) but at that moment it seemed like such an injustice.
In case you haven’t already opened another tab and searched Wikipedia for some history on Sacsayhuaman, I’ll give you a brief overview. Sacsayhuaman was recaptured by Manco Inca in 1536 and was used as a site to launch attacks against the Spanish in Cusco. Manco was almost successful in retaking Cusco, but the battle at Sacsayhuaman led by Juan Pizzaro and 50 Spanish cavalry squashed any last hope for the Inca in retaking the ancient Inca capital. Manco Inca retreated to Ollantaytambo (Yep, you’ll hear about that later) but most of his soldiers fell in battle. The Andean condors that scavenged the field in the days after the battle have been incorporated into Cusco’s coat of arms as a reminder of the tragedy that occurred at Sacsayhuaman.
Touring Sacsayhuaman on Our Own
Guides are plentiful at all of the Inca ruins, but we were more in the mood to wander and explore on our own. We started by walking along the long zig-zagging wall made up of the largest stone blocks I’ve ever seen incorporated into a man-made structure. The gargantuan stones that made up the main battlements were dragged from miles away without the technology of the wheel. How did they do it? Manpower. Yep, the Inca were a pretty hardworking bunch. I still can’t wrap my head around how they got those massive stones up that hill.
No mortar was used between the stones, yet they fit together so precisely that you couldn’t slide a credit card between them. The walls are designed to slant inward, which is why the foundations remain intact to this day, even when most modern buildings crumbled during the great Cusco earthquake in 1950.
We climbed the big hill opposite the long zig-zagging wall for a better view. After lots of huffing and puffing, it was well worth the effort.
photographing enjoying the view, we scrambled down the back side of the hill past a small quarry where we saw rocks being cut for restoration. We crossed the field to walk on top of the tiered battlements we had been admiring from above. As we walked along the zigs and the zags, I found a giant spider in a drainage pipe, and just had to get a picture for evidence. Surprisingly, this was the only giant creepy crawly thing I saw in Peru.
A reminder of the Spanish influence, a large statue of Jesus Christ watches over Cusco on a hill above Sacsayhuaman. We meandered over to check it out and see what the fuss was all about. Looking up at Cristo Blanco from below after walking the grounds of such a gruesome piece of history gave me the chills. The statue’s facial expression was ominous. Update: Turns out, this Cristo Blanco was erected in much more modern times – in the 1940’s – as a gift from Palestinians taking refuge in Cusco after WWII. I’m glad this hill at the top of the city turned into a place for peace after it’s less-than-peaceful past.
If you have the time, there are three other nearby sites that can easily be linked to a visit to Sacsayhuaman. You can visit them all by taking a taxi to Tambomachay and then walking downhill stopping at Pukapukara, Q’enqo, and Sacsayhuaman on your way back to Cusco. The whole trip is about 5 miles from Tambomachay to Cusco. If you don’t want to walk, a taxi will run you about S/.40 ($14) for the loop.
Hope you’re as excited as I am for the next post, which will cover one of the highlights of our trip: A cooking and bartending class in Cusco! Stay tuned!