Sacsayhuaman is the site of ancient Incan ruins located on the edge of the historic city of Cusco at an altitude of 12,142 feet (that’s a whopping 3,700 meters above sea level). These days, it’s an active archaeological site and one of the top attractions in the Cusco area; but hundreds of years ago, it was a mighty citadel in the Incan Empire.
Today, Sacsayhuaman, Cusco which translates to “The Place where the Hawk is Satiated” in English, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can explore these fascinating ruins and enjoy stunning views of the valley below.
As you walk around the grounds, you’ll see the incredible walled complex and giant stones that make up the ancient fortifications. From time to time, the site is used for historical re-enactments and Inca ceremonies – make sure to find out if any is happening that you can attend when you are in Cusco, as it is quite a show!
In this guide to the Sacsayhuaman ruins, you’ll learn about their history and everything you need to know to have a successful visit to the site.
The History Of Sacsayhuaman, Cusco
Constructed in the 1400s by the Incan Empire, Sacsayhuaman was the biggest structure built by the Incas. Evidence that has been uncovered indicates the steep hill that Sacsayhuaman is situated on was occupied as far back as 900 CE. It was during the reign of Pachacuti that over 20,000 workers labored for 90 years to complete this massive project. Its use is still disputed. Most agree that it was most likely used as a fortress, but still, others seem to think it had more of a ceremonial purpose.
There’s no doubt that these laborers were highly-skilled in the construction of this elaborate site because the walls and the bases of the towers that remain are quite well-preserved. Much of the site was destroyed when the Spanish arrived in 1533 and they recycled the stones for use in building the Colonial buildings you see today in Cusco.
It wasn’t until 1934 that Sacsayhuaman was rediscovered after lying buried for hundreds of years.
Top Sights In Sacsayhuaman, Cusco
Although much of the original workings of Sacsayhuaman are long gone, what remains is so well-preserved that you can see for yourself just how well built it was. This is even though it was constructed so long ago and without the use of the modern tools we have today.
So what can you see at Sacsayhuaman today? Here is a sampling of some of the top attractions that make up this incredible, must-see historic wonder.
Situated on the walls, the foundations of three towers called Muyucmarca, Sallaqmarca and Paucamarca can be seen.
The ZigZag Walls
At the first bastion area, you’ll find the zigzag walls which feature the biggest of the wall’s stone pieces. These outer walls built on three levels are so well-built that even a thin piece of paper won’t go between the stones. The longest wall is over 1300 feet (396 meters) and 20 feet high (over 6 meters).
There are three main gates along the wall known as Ajawanapunku, T’iopunku and Wiracochapunku.
The Suchana, also known as the Rodadero or Slide Rock, is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a sloping diorite rock formation that visitors of all ages can slide down. There are historical accounts of Inca children sliding down the polished rock face but it was likely intended to be used as a quarry.
The Inca’s Throne
The Inca’s Throne, also called K’usilluc Jink’ian, are stones carved into the shape of benches that are located along the rock.
The Chincanas or Tunnels
The Chincanas are a series of natural underground tunnels located underneath Cusco and Sacsayhuaman. Attempts have been made to find the end of the two that remain partially accessible but to no avail. One of these mysterious labyrinths, which measures 40 feet (little over 12 meters), is open to the public and you can find it near the rock slide.
Other notable sites near Sacsayhuaman, Cusco
The region around Cusco and the Sacsayhuaman ruins is home to many other ancient ruins and archaeological sites. Koricancha was dedicated to the Sun God and today you can see the curved wall, which is the only original feature left, with the Church and Convent of Santa Domingo right above it. It’s about two miles (2.9 kilometers) away from Cusco.
The Ruins of Pisac feature a large Inca Citadel with amazing views. Also at this site are the well-preserved remnants of temples, baths and a ceremonial area. You can find this site about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from Cusco.
In the region known as the Sacred Valley, there are many more notable sites that are a bit further away but well worth the visit including Ollantaytambo, Moray Ruins, Wiñay Wayna and of course, Machu Picchu.
Practical Information To Visit Sacsayhuaman, Cusco
Entrance fee and opening hours
The Sacsayhuaman Ruins site is open from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm every day of the week.
You’ll only be able to enter the site if you purchase a Cusco Tourist Ticket. This ticket allows you to visit a number of different attractions around Cusco and the surrounding region. The full ticket costs $35 USD (130 Peruvian Soles) and gives you access to 16 sites and is valid for ten days from purchase. If you only want to visit a few sites and don’t want to pay full price for a full ticket, there is a partial ticket available that is good for two days and that costs $18.50 USD (70 Peruvian Soles).
The ticket can be purchased at the 185 Avenida el Sol or you can purchase one when you arrive at the site. Keep in mind that only local currency is accepted when you purchase this ticket on-site so bring some extra cash with you. Also, be aware that the partial ticket sells out quicker than the full one so it’s best to get it sooner than later if that’s the one you wish to purchase. You cannot purchase an individual ticket to access this site.
Read my post How To Use Cusco Boleto Turistico.
Do you need a guide to visit Sacsayhuaman?
While it certainly helps to tour any ancient site with a guide if you’re interested in learning as much as possible about it, you don’t have to have a guide to tour the Sacsayhuaman ruins. You can travel there on your own and explore the site, you can join a guided tour or you can hire a private guide to take you around. There are guides available on-site and they speak English.
If you do wish to join a tour, there are a few local companies offering tours from Cusco and one of these tours will cost between $20 and $90 USD depending on the type of tour you book (shared or private). Some tours include pick-up and drop-offs at hotels and stops at other area ruins.
How to explore Sacsayhuaman, Cusco
Make sure to give yourself enough time to really immerse yourself in this ancient site. Take your time as you walk the grounds that were once walked on by the Inca people who built the mighty walls and towers. Walk around the whole area, take in the views and appreciate the immense amount of work that went into constructing something so grand, so long ago.
It’s easy to walk around the site and impossible to get lost especially since there are signs to guide you along.
How to get to Sacsayhuaman from Cusco
The Sacsayhuaman Ruins are located only 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) away from Cusco’s City center and there are several different ways to get there.
Walk from Cusco to Sacsayhuaman
If it’s a nice day, why not walk the short distance to the ruins? The walk takes about 40 minutes and you’ll get some exercise, you’ll get some fresh air and you’ll get to see some other interesting sites along the way. Of course, you’ll save some money too! The easiest way to get there without getting lost is to leave from San Cristobal Church.
If you’re pressed for time but want to get there without any hassle, taking a taxi is the next best method of transportation to get to the Sacsayhuaman Ruins. From the city center, the ride takes about ten minutes and costs about $3 USD (10 Peruvian Soles).
From the Puente Rosario bus stop in Cusco, hop on the Cristo Blanco bus and hop off at the Cristo Blanco bus stop. From there, it’s only a five-minute walk to the ruins. This bus ride costs about $0.80 USD (3 Peruvian Soles).
On a guided tour
This is definitely the easiest option to get to Sacsayhuaman. Tours depart regularly from Cusco historic center and visit a number of sites, including Sacsayhuaman. You will be traveling in a comfortable bus and have a guide that will explain all the most important facts about the site.
When to Visit Sacsayhuaman
The dry season falls between May and October and because rain is less frequent this time of year, this is the best time to visit Cusco and the Sacsayhuaman Ruins.
In terms of the best time of day to visit, that depends on a number of factors. If you want to take your time and immerse thoroughly in the history of the site, going early in the morning will ensure you see and do everything before closing time and this is the time of day when the temperatures are cooler.
The afternoon might not be so great if you don’t like the hot sun, but this is when the site is less crowded. In the evening, you might catch a beautiful sunset and you’ll be able to get some unique photos. That’s when I went, and loved it!
What to take on a trip to the Sacsayhuaman Ruins
Since the weather can sometimes be unpredictable in the Cusco region and you’ll likely be traveling on foot or by public transit, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need when you depart for your journey to the Sacsayhuaman Ruins. So what will you need to ensure you have the best day possible?
The most important thing to have is a good pair of shoes. Don’t wear flip-flops, high heels, or anything that doesn’t support your ankles. Remember, you’ll be exploring ancient ruins where the ground can be uneven and unsettled in some places and you might have to do some climbing. Sneakers, hiking boots or something equally comfortable is best.
The next few items are equally important: water, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. These will protect you from the harmful rays of the high afternoon sun. There’s very little shade at the site and no one wants a painful sunburn on vacation!
Make sure you have bottled water as the afternoon sun can get very hot and all that walking will dehydrate you if you don’t get adequate liquids. The tap water in Peru is not safe to drink so if you don’t bring your own and find yourself needing some, you’ll have a hard time finding safe water to drink.
You never know what the weather will be like at this high altitude. It could be very hot or it could be windy and cool. Make sure to take some layers along so you can peel them off or put them back on as the weather changes. It’s a good idea to take a light wind and waterproof jacket along in case it rains.
Make sure to take along enough cash to buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket (unless you have it already) and anything else you want along the way such as food or souvenirs.
Finally, take a small daypack that fits all the necessities you’ll need for the day. You might want to throw in a few light snacks in the pack and don’t forget to take your camera!