On the hills just above the city of Cusco are the Inca ruins of Saqsayhuamán (pronounced by some tourists as “sexy woman”). It’s possible to visit Saqsayhuamán and a few other sites in an organized “City Tour” from one of the tour agencies in Cusco. I chose to visit on my own because there is much more to see than just the walls. Admission to Saqsayhuamán is included on the Boleto Turístico.
Saqsayhuamán, included as part of Cusco’s UNESCO World Heritage listing, was an Inca military base. The Spanish conquered the base in 1536 and slaughtered the Incas that didn’t retreat. Every June 24th at Saqsayhuamán, Peruvians celebrate Inti Raymi, the Inca celebration of the winter solstice.
The most incredible thing about Saqsayhuamán are the oddly shaped stones that were fit together during its construction. Pay close attention to some of the angles used in the construction. It’s also interesting to note that no mortar was used between the stones. They are so tightly put together that not even one piece of paper can fit between them. This is a prime example of the architectural ingenuity possessed by the Incas.
As you can see below, the stones are massive. Some of them weigh as much as 350 tons and are 5m high. They are so big that it took hundreds of men to drag one stone to the site from the quarry.
At the Top
It’s worth climbing up to the top of the fortress to see the formations. You will also get an amazing view of the terraced hill across a large field of grass.
On the top, if you follow a path back towards the city of Cusco, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. At the entrance opposite the city, you might be able to see alpacas grazing.
A visit to Saqsayhuamán isn’t all about the walls. Climb the terraced hill across from the walls for a panoramic view of the entire fortress with Cusco in the background.
Walk to the other side of the hill for some interesting rock formations and an arena-like structure.
Access to the site is possible via taxi or a long uphill walk from Cusco. The walk can be difficult especially in the altitude. Also, a guard will probably ask to see your Boleto Turístico before letting you continue up to the ruins. See the map below for the walking route from Plaza de Armas. You can combine a tour to Saqsayhuamán with a stop at Cristo Blanco.