Sacsayhuaman (or “Sexy Woman” as it is commonly called) is the name of a pretty spectacular set of ruins that is only about a 40 minute walk from the center of Cusco. If you follow my Suggested Itenerary, it’s one of the first places you should go.
Now, when you typically think of ancient ruins, the image that comes to mind is of a small pile of rubble. Let me assure you that is not the case with Sacsayhuman specifically or Peruvian ruins in general. Sacsayhuaman is HUGE and it takes you a good three or four hours to even start to get the full sense of it. In all honesty, if Machu Picchu didn’t exist, Sacsayhuaman would probably be drawing just as many tourists to Peru. The place is incredible:
Although Machu Picchu is in a more breathtaking location, the stonework of Sacsayhuaman is actually superior. Much of Machu Picchu is rebuilt, but the stones that comprise Sacsayhuaman are enormous sometimes standing ten or fifteen feet tall (like the corner stones in the above picture)!
Furthermore, these giant boulders were fitted together with such precision that even now it’s impossible to slide a piece of paper between them.
When you’re walking around Sacsayhuaman, like with Machu Picchu, you have a surprising amount of freedom to move about. I suppose they figure that you can’t possibly do much damage to a fortress comprised of thousand pound stones that has already survived through several centuries. Every time I go to Sacsayhuaman, I never think of the archaeology, or the history or the significance of it (well I do, but not to the extent of most tourists I’m sure), what I think about is how cool that place is, and how it would have fulfilled every childhood fantasy I had if I had come there when I was 12 or 13. Seriously, when you get out into the Inca ruins, you always feel like you’re walking through some living replica of a village from the Lord of the Rings. It’s awesome!
At night, they even light it up (you can see a series of the lights which are buried in the ground in the above picture). It looks pretty neat. I’ve gotten in the habit of looking for it out the window of the train on the return trip from Aguas Calientes. You can see it, but only for a minute.
Despite all the trips I’ve made to Cusco, I’ve never walked up to see Sacsayhuaman at night when it’s all lit up. I’m usually too exhausted (Cusco takes it out of you, there’s a TON to do and it’s all at altitude). However, I’m going to have to make a point of doing so next time.
Sacsayhuaman overlooks a large field that is used for several cultural celebrations in Cusco throughout the year. The photos for this article were taken during about three different trips, so you can see how the landscape differs throughout the year. Isn’t it amazing how there isn’t a single season which outshines any other? The place always manages to be resplendant in some shade of magnificence.
Across the field, there is another set of interesting structures and ruins that you have to spend hours walking through and exploring. However, I don’t have time to get into them right now…look for further discussion in upcoming articles.
As I suggested in my itenerary, you can walk up to Sacsayhuaman on your first day to Cusco, but be warned, it’s a little difficult due to the elevation. If you’re a smoker or not used to physical activity, you might not want to try it until you’ve aclimated for a day or so. If you want to try it, however, just follow the route marked in green in the map below (it should take you between 45 minutes and 1.5 hrs depending on how many pictures you take):
Sorry about the quality of that map. It seems like every map that I find about Cusco looks like a placemat you get in a cheap restaurant chain like “Long John Silver’s” or something…you know, the kind of maps that say “not to be used for actual navigation” along the bottom? Well, you can use these maps for navigation becasue to get around in Cusco, all you have to do is go to a high place. Sooner or later, you’ll get high enough to see the Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas…and, as likely as not, when you’re that high, you’ll be at Sacsayhuaman anyway!
By the way, this is my 100th post! I figured Sacsayhuaman was a worthy topic and I was right! Leave some comments!