Sacsayhuaman is located north of the city of Cusco, department of the same name. Exactly on the platform bounded by the Saphy River and the Chunchullmayo River. It was initially built as an Inca ceremonial temple of Hanan Cusco dedicated to the sun god. After the arrival of the Spaniards it took the name of fortress of resistance against the Spaniards. Today it is one of the most important historical and architectural sites in Peru and America. It is one of the main tourist attractions, after Machupicchu and peruvian food

What is Sacsayhuaman in Peru?

The word Sacsayhuaman has two meanings. It comes from the Quechua saqsay which means “full or satisfied” and waman is “falcon”. Therefore, translated into Spanish it would be: “satisfied hawk”. It refers to a bird typical of the Andean areas that was a deity of Manco Qhapaq, a protective entity of the first Inca considered as a sacred bird. 

Photo of Sacsayhuaman

Did you know: A second possible meaning is that Saccsa means “whipped corn” and uma means “head”. The Spanish translation would be “fortification located at the head of the hill”. It refers to the location of the archaeological site that formed the puma head of Cusco during the Inca period.

Sometimes spelled as "Saqsaywaman" or "Saksaywaman," is a massive Inca fortress located on a hill overlooking the city of Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. The site, which covers an area of approximately 33 hectares (82 acres), is an architectural marvel and an important example of the advanced engineering skills of the Incas.

History of Sacsayhuaman

Cultures before the Incas

The area of Sacsayhuaman was inhabited since older times than the Incas. The latest archaeological excavations found the presence of the Marcavalle, Lucre, Killke cultures and architectural evidence of the Chanapata culture.

In the Government of the Incas

Saqsayhuaman is located within the territory of the Qapaq Kuna that belonged to upper Cusco. They were descendants of Huayna Qapaq, Tupaq Inka Yupanqui and Pachakuti. After winning the war against the Chancas, the Inka Yupanqui or Pachakuteq Inka designed the shape of the city of Cusco. In this way Saqsayhuaman was the head of the city (puma). Then the work continued during the governments of Topa Inka Yupanqui, Wayna Qhapaq and Huascar.

The Inca Pachakuteq ordered to bring from all the confines of the Tawantinsuyu more than twenty thousand men. They worked under the system of collective state work by shifts or “mita”. They were to build the house of the Sun. Therefore, four thousand men had to work in the quarries, another six thousand of them with ropes (maromas) of leather and cabuya were in charge of moving the stones. The remaining ten thousand opened the trenches for the foundations. Others went to cut wood to make beams and props. Sacsayhuaman is an important place after the temple of Qoricancha, called “the house of the sun”. The arrival of the Spaniards interrupted this work of great importance, so Sacsayhuaman was not completed in its entirety.

After the arrival of the Spaniards

The Incas confronted the Spaniards in this site, thus carrying out a bloody battle against the Spaniards called “Battle of Sacsayhuaman”. After some time in 1559, the Ecclesiastical Council of Cusco ordered the destruction of Sacsayhuaman and it was used as a “quarry”. The constructions were dismantled and moved for the construction of the houses of the Spaniards. Mainly for the construction of the Cathedral of Cusco, which is built on what was the court of the Inca Wiracocha.  

What happened in Sacsayhuaman?

Ritual battles or “tinku”

  • Sacsayhuaman had a tradition that consisted of bloody human sacrifice that renews the earth. It propitiates the success of crops during the year. Continued by Pachacuti, called “of assault to Saqsaywaman”. 
  • The ritual events were of purifying character with the only purpose of reencountering the balance and harmony of the man with the nature. Where the blood of the defeated had to be watered to the earth or Pachamama to recover its fertility. In times of drought they realized this activity.

“The Inca Resistance”

  • The battle began in 1536 against the Spaniards in Sacsayhuaman. Where he headed the Inca Tito Cusi Huallpa or Cahuide who belonged to the Inca nobility, captain of the imperial army. 
  • He joins the army of Manco Inca, to recover and defend the city of Cusco that had been taken by the Spanish army. He was entrusted with the defense of the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, where Captain Cahuide fights hand to hand with the Almagro Hernando Pizarro. Then from one of the towers of the fortress they threw Juan Pizarro (Hernando Pizarro's brother).
  • The fight had been so intense that it lasted several days. Therefore, the ammunition began to deplete as well as the water. Where the Inca Cahuide saw that the Inca army was losing the battle. For that reason he decides to throw himself to the river Tullumayu from the top of the tower “Muyucmarca” not to fall in the hands of the enemy. 
  • After being defeated in the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. In the same way Manco Inca was forced to lift the siege to Cusco and slowly retreat through the sacred valley, until finally reaching the city of Vilcabamba.  


Built in the 15th century during the reign of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui and his successors. Sacsayhuaman was erected with huge stones, some weighing more than 100 tons. They were precisely cut and fitted together without using mortar. The fortress walls form a zigzag pattern, believed to represent the teeth of a puma, a sacred animal in Inca mythology. The main function of the site was military, as it served as a fortress and defense of Cuzco, but it also had a religious significance.

Architectural marvels of Sacsayhuaman

  • For the construction of the Sacsayhuaman temple, they first built the terraces (flat spaces). As a result, they gave support to the retaining walls. 
  • They were looking for a visible surface with the bedrock to join it to an Inca wall to give greater stability.
  • Blocks of andesite, diorite and limestone form a fabric of walls in different orientations. 
  • The regular stones and monoliths (large stones) have a fine polygonal style finish. They also use the cyclopean technique, which consists of the use of blocks of stones superimposed without any mortar.
  • On the exterior part (face of the stones) they used the technique of the padding. In fact, it consists of relief carving to improve the finish. They were used in the construction of prestige structures and warehouses.
  • Sacsaywaman is grouped into different sectors that form a single ceremonial space. Today it is ruled out that Sacsaywaman was built to serve as a fortress (military purpose). However, it was built for ceremonial purposes as part of Cusco itself.
  • The zig zag terraces were terraces of hierarchy of ceremonial spaces that form a monumental and representative image of Cusco. Related to ceremonial rites that today are incomprehensible to us.

Where is Saqsayhuaman Located?

Sacsayhuaman is linked to the historic center by the ancient Inca neighborhoods of Qollqampata (San Cristobal) and Toqocachi (San Blas). It is located at 3610 meters above sea level, north of the city of Cusco. In fact, 2 km from the central square between the districts of San Sebastian and Cusco, on a plain located on the crest of a hill bordered by mountains. 

  • What is Sacsayhuaman's climate?

It has a dry-temperate climate with an average temperature of 12°C, which corresponds to the Andes region. There are two distinct seasons. 

The rainy season: It occurs between the months of November to March.

The dry season: Between the months of April to October.

  • The plants you might see

In this area we observe the: Huaraqo, muña, Llaulli, Roque, Cheche, Chinchircuma, Tayanca, chachacomo, Queñua, Qolle, Kiswar, huayruro cusqueño, Lloque, Mayu chlica, Kuñuca, kantu, Mutuy, retama.

  • The animals that live there

The species typical of the site are: Toad, Cheqlla, Lizard; birds of the area: Huamancha, Cullcu, Tie-billed Pepitero, Serrano Partridge, Killichu, Serrano Gull, Barn Owl, Tuco, Pacpaca, Paspa, Blue Kente, Huascar kente, Quecholi, Kellopesq'o, Pichinco, Alccamari.

What You will Discover Inside Sacsayhuaman

Within the park of Sacsaywaman are located archaeological sites with intrinsic architectural features which is divided into several sectors such as:


Also known as “Illapa” platforms for representing the god of thunder. Certainly built in an east to west direction with stones one on top of the other in the form of retaining walls. The material used for its construction was limestone and diorite arranged in three levels. In addition it is in zig zag form for more than 500 m. It has an elevation between 3577 and 3587 meters above sea level with a wall width of 2.5 m (approx).  Finally it fulfilled more aesthetic functions, to give beauty to the geographic space.

  • "Tio Punku" (first bastion). It is located in the central access. It has a zigzagging shape with 23 central angles with rounded corners.
  • "Ahawanapunku" (the second bastion). Located at the height of the access door to the first wall or “Tio Punku”. Placed parallel to the first bastion, following the wall in a zigzagging way. This platform has four access openings, being the best preserved. Formed with an original lintel of construction, at 1.50 cm of height of the floor, with double jamb cover.
  • "Wiraqochapunku" (third bastion). It follows the same form zigzag platforms, parallel to the previous ones. In this way, it varies in height and size of the building blocks. 

For the entrance to these three zigzag platforms, we have three doors. The first one on the northeast side. The second in the central part, which is called “Wiraqochapunku”, which leads directly to the Muyuqmarka sector and the third by Rumipunku.

2. The Great Plaza

A large open area that could have been used for meetings, ceremonies or military parades. Every year, on June 24, the fortress serves as the backdrop for the Inti Raymi festival. A recreation of the traditional Inca festival of the sun, it attracts thousands of visitors to the site.

3. The Three-tiered Walls

The three parallel walls are made of solid stones. They are an excellent example of Inca masonry and engineering.

4. Muyuqmarka

Located in the high hills of the western end. It is formed by circular, rectangular and quadrangular enclosures. Called Muyukmarka, Paucarmarca and Sallaqmarka, where “Marka” means population and “Muyuq” is round. “Pauca” is festive, cheerful, landscaped and beautiful; while Sallaq is stony or rough. In which there were silversmith workshops, with delimited passages and perimeter walls for ceremonial use. Today known as the “solar clock” (Inca calendar). Because it allowed to determine the seasons of the year for the work of sowing and agricultural harvest.

In the archaeological excavations carried out in 2001, the following were recovered: channel foundations and large blocks of polished andesite. They are known as “set of ceremonial fountains”. Also found: 

  • Pieces of animal teeth necklaces, pieces of charcoal, animal and human bones, fragments of tongs, a silver plate, a miniature gold tupu.   
  • Several pieces of finely polished Spondylus. The most remarkable object is a fiber bracelet covered with silver flakes, quartz crystals and fragments of pre-Inca, Inka and Tiahuanaco ceramics (a vase or Quero).

It is concluded that: in this place, ceremonial offerings and human burials of ceremonial character were carried out.

5. The Rodadero or Playground

Today it is known as rodadero or tobogán (children's playground). Probably the natural rock formation with a smooth and polished surface that was used as a slide for ceremonial or recreational purposes. It is located to the north of the esplanade. Moreover, it is characterized by the presence of a rocky outcrop of diorite (type of rock). Since its form arose naturally evoking the aspect of a slide (corbaduras and striations). It presents numerous seats, walls and foundations of buildings of social function.

6. South Terraces / Cruz Moqo

Six semicircular platforms are between 170 to 200 m long and 3 to 5 m high. The material used for their construction is green diorite. The “Ayarmaca”, also known as “Killke” built these platforms. They flourished between 900 and 1200 A.D., shortly before the arrival of the Incas. Located on the south side.

Excavations carried out in this sector revealed:

  • Killke ceramic fragments (associated with the platform of the second platform).
  • Rectangular-shaped enclosures with a very fine architecture. This shows that Sacsayhuaman was probably “an important sanctuary before the arrival of the Incas”. In conclusion, the Incas made a reuse of the spaces.

7. Rumipunku

You will find a huge stone canvas arranged from north to south. It forms a stone door. Therefore it gives way to the esplanade of Chukipampa. The gates serve as control points and access to the upper spaces. 

8. Cemetery

Located to the west on an esplanade. Used as a burial complex where 41 burials of people between 20 and 70 years old were found. The burial complex housed adolescents or young people who died in the Huarachicuy ceremony. For that reason, it is a funerary area destined to the common of the population where the masculine sex predominates.

In the excavations carried out in 1999, it is observed in greater quantity the tupus (similar to the pin used as adornment by women) and pins of copper and silver of varied sizes. Also necklaces with metallic beads of bone, shell and stone, circular metallic mirrors, work instruments (rukis), or for personal use (tweezers, diggers), pets (skeleton of small animals), herbs or seeds, and small statues.

9. “The Throne of the Inka”

Also denominated K'USILLU'S HINK'INAN or the throne of the 14 Inka, located in the northeast side of the Suchuna sector. They are carved in diorite rock. Its function was ritual or ceremonial, in which it is observed a carved in rock, of form of two rows type seats. You can observe the entire archaeological complex from the site.

10. Qocha

It is located north of the longest slide. It belongs to a deposit of a lagoon already drained that forms a circular architectural structure. That is, a semicircular retaining wall enclosing a set of limestone rocky outcrop of ritual function.

11. Chincanas

Made of limestone rock that formed subway passages that allowed the water to flow through. Possibly stopped in the Qocha, where polishing works were carried out. It shows galleries in its interior as well as labyrinths of ceremonial function.


Cultural Events that Took Place

Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun

Ceremonial act of the Inka period that takes place every year on June 24th.  Established in 1430 by the Inca Pachacutec to recognize the Inca control over the subdued peoples. Celebrated in honor of the Inti (sun god) and his image the god Punchao, which was held every winter solstice. Manco Capac established the celebration at an official level. It was celebrated for the first time in the sacred hill of Huanacaure, in the time of Paullo Inka, when the civil wars between pizarristas and almagristas.

This celebration, instituted early by Capac Yupanqui, was annulled after his assassination. It seems to be the work of the solar clergy; and that it resurfaced almost two centuries later, with the Inca Guayna Capac, who took the supreme omnipotent god to the summit of the Inka Olympus, lowering the power of the solar clergy.

Inti Raymi Today

Nowadays, the Inti Raymi is celebrated in the Sacsaywaman esplanade, where the great ceremony to the god Inti (sun) is commemorated. It consisted of a colorful celebration of dresses, attire and diverse plumage worn by people from so many nations.

The costumes of the warriors stood out, glittering with gold, silver, sometimes turquoise and emeralds. The orejones and curacas appeared with their respective escorts. They dressed with blankets and rich shirts of silver, bracelets and patens on the heads of fine gold and very glittering. Their attendants dressed very finely in blankets and tunics studded with silver with bracelets, patens of the same metal and gold, offering a dazzling appearance.

Contrasting with this colorful, the Inca, although impeccably dressed, appeared in the Inti Raymi, with a totally black suit. Considering that this was the most esteemed color, since they said that its purity was incomparable. Not for this reason he would not stop wearing his royal insignia of gold, plumeria, silver and precious stones. Then to make sacrifices and offerings in gratitude for the agricultural and livestock production they had during the year.


Ceremonial act where a ritual is performed, where the practice of courage is demonstrated. It gathered young athletes of royal blood, relatives, friends and the general public. Those who came from the different suyos (regions) to the capital of the empire, called Cusco. There was great joy throughout the Tawantinsuyo because the physical effort was demonstrated. They passed tests: religious, military, social, economic, as well as rigorous fasting, enduring pain, demonstrations of courage and sleep. Disqualifying all those who were sick, weak, fearful, hungry and thirsty.

The celebration established to proclaim the young winners to be recognized by the whole Empire as lords and sons of the Sun. From then on they were to be feared and respected. The most apt were selected to later direct them to the administration of the government, peace, war, work or any other that would be important for the achievement obtained and their culture.

Did you know that: The most apt were selected to later direct them to the administration of the government, peace, war, work or any other that would be important for the achievement obtained and their culture.

Nearby archaeological sites you can also visit

  • Qenqo: Inca Labyrinth

Etymologically comes from the Quechua word K`enko, which means “labyrinth”, which was considered as a waca. Located at 3590 meters above sea level, between the Chinchaysuyo and Antisuyo, northeast of Cusco. It is located above the old neighborhood of Toq'okachi today San Blas, on the slopes of Socorro hill, at the foot of the paved road from Sacsayhuaman to Pisac, formed on a rocky sedimentary limestone.

There are natural caverns that the Inkas used as ritual galleries. Archaeological excavations were carried out in 1934 with a depth of 0.45 cm, in which bones of human remains, three silver tupus and a puma monolith (which would be the idol that was worshipped) were found. It is also known as the “astronomical observatory of Q'enqo”, which was destroyed in the “extirpation of idolatries” in the XVII century, by order of the viceroy Francisco Toledo in 1572.

  • Tambomachay: Place of Rest

Etymologically it comes from two Quechua words: Tampu = collective lodging and Mach ́ay = place that translated would be “place of rest or Tambo de la Caverna”. Located northeast of the city of Cusco, on the slopes of the hill “Cerca”, the main road to Antisuyo 8 km from Cusco and 1 km from Puca Pucara. Tambomachay corresponds to the Inca period being the home of the Inka Yupanqui, having fulfilled an important hydraulic function and a religious function as a sacred huaca of the Antisuyo, in its surroundings there are caves called “machay”, which were objects of veneration or religious magical practices.

Formed by four retaining walls attached to the hill. It has four large niches or trapezoidal niches of 2 m (average). In front of the building there are bases of a circular tower that must have had defense and communication purposes. There is also the “Baño de la Ñusta or Balneario del Inca”, composed of two aqueducts of clean water (all year round), which pours into a small stone pool, where the Inca worshiped the water thus establishing a relationship between water, the spiritual and the landscape; a circle associated with the divine and the sacred.

  • Puca Pucara: Military fortress.

Located northeast of the archaeological park of Saqsayhuaman at a distance of 8 km from the city of Cusco. Etymologically comes from two Quechua words where Puca = red and Pucara = fortress translated into Spanish means “red fortress”. The architectural structures that make up this site are semicircular limestone enclosures joined with red mud mortar that is typical of the place.

This Inca fortress is of military construction, which was a resting place of the Inca army, when the Sapac Inca visited Tambomachay, in the west you have the walls of the architectural complex that encloses a free area (as a small square), with rectangular enclosures, interior squares and aqueducts, made of stones canteadas between medium and small, distributed in an organized (urban) and functional.

  • Inkilltambo: Inca Prison

It is located on a small micro-watershed, at the southeastern end of the Saqsaywaman Archaeological Park, on the left bank of the Inkilltambo River at an altitude of 3,548m.Etymologically comes from the Quechua Inkill = garden and Tampu = tambo that translated into Spanish would be = place of rest, this site corresponds to the pre-Hispanic and Inka times. This archaeological site is made up of terraces that were built following the contour of the terrain.

Built with limestone semi-buttered limestone of simple masonry and cellular rigging, joined with mud mortar, as well as canals and water drains, rectangular-shaped enclosures of ceremonial function of cellular and rustic rigging, which adjoin with patios, passages, canals and bleachers, retaining walls. 

  • Choqekiraw Pukyo: Agricultural Terraces 

It is located in the upper part of the Kallachaca ravine in the southeastern end of the Archaeological Park of Saqsaywaman. It is conformed by terraces, the ceremonial part and subway water channels, by terraces which fulfilled two functions, the containment and cultivation.

Built with lithic (stones) of limestone type semi-edged (worked) and joined with mud mortar, simple masonry and rustic rigging, water drains (water channel systems), very thin masonry walls (wall) of medium-sized lithic elements of cellular rigging of polygonal type that is part of enclosures, wak'as, channels, bleachers, roads. This is the most important area, due to the physical characteristics of the structures.

  • Machuchoquequirao: Ceremonial Site

Formed by concentric platforms that show an open space, which could have been a place for astronomical observations, where its walls are of cellular rigging padded in limestone rock. For this reason it is considered ceremonial where offerings related to fertility and water were made.

Takeaway: Is Sacsayhuaman Worth It?

Totally, because you will be amazed by the gigantic stones that you may never see again in other archaeological sites. From beginning to end they are really impressive, even going up to the top you can get a great view of the city of Cusco. The shapes and cuts of the rocks are unique, even rocks curved as if they were plasticine. It is not too crowded. But it is recommended to hire a travel agency that can explain in detail about Sacsayhuaman.

Additional Readings:

  • Beltran Caballero (2013) “El conjunto arqueológico de Saqsaywaman: una aproximación a su arquitectura”.
  • J Vega and L.Guzman Palomino (2005) “The Intiraymi Inkaico” pages: 1-36.

Bibliographical Reference:

  • Gibaja, Arminda (1990) “ethnoarchaeological study on the offerings to the water in sacsaywaman” Archaeological Magazine N°3 INC-CUSCO.
  • Arqlgo. Ernesto Garcia Calderon (2000), annual report of archaeological research Sacsaywaman “Suchuna Qocha-Suchuna Andenes sector”.
  • Arqlga. Nancy Olazabal S (2009), archaeological research report “Muyucmarca sector”.
  • Arqlgo. L.Guevara Carazas (2007), final report of the archaeological research project Sacsaywaman “sub sector Ushno Osqollo-Llaullipujio-Inka Montera”.
  • J.Alvares Vega(2011), final report of the archaeological monitoring project of the Sacsayhuaman archaeological park.
  • J.Luis Martinez (2020) “The rebellion of Manco Inka and Vilcabamba”, bulletin of the Chilean museum of pre-Columbian art.
  • G.joseph kish(2018) “The mystery of Saqsaywaman”.
  • V.Angles Vargas (1999) “Saqsaywaman archaeological portent”.