The largest Inca complex in Cusco is Sacsayhuamán, a walled fortress which stands on a hill overlooking the city. It’s believed that the Incas built the city of Cusco in the shape of a jaguar, with Sacsayhuamán representing the head (and the most formidable part) of the jaguar. It may be hard to see it now, as the city has undergone dramatic changes in the intervening centuries. But it’s easy to see how the jagged outline of the walls bears remarkable resemblance to rows of teeth.
We had started the day in Písac and needed to make our way back to Cusco. Instead of taking the taxi, we decided to go local and take a colectivo, which is similar to a shuttle or minibus. It was easy to spot the correct bus, which carried a sign with the destination. Ours had originated in Calca and stopped by Písac on the way to Cusco. There was a doorman, who operated the door and either banged on the side of the bus or yelled out to signal the driver to go. He also doubled as the fee collector, and you’d pay him when getting off. There was no way the driver could have seen anything, because the bus never turned down a passenger and we were packed in like sardines. For the majority of the ride there was little room to wiggle. Our fellow passengers looked like normal people going about their business. There were a drowsing lady who must have been returning from an out-of-town visit, a few young people going to the city, a Quechua lady with her daughter in school uniform. We were the only gringos. Stuffed full of homo sapiens, the bus managed no more than 25mph lumbering up the steep hills. Even if the trip ended up taking longer—a little more than 1h— we loved it. I was a little concerned that we might overshoot Sacsayhuamán, so I had mentioned it to the doorman when embarking. The bus stopped on the spot. The best part? The fare was S/.2,50, each. That’s less than $1.
The bus dropped us off in front of the gigantic Cristo Blanco statue. It gets lit up at night in a radioactive green light and can be seen from below in Cusco. It looked a bit hokey, so we didn’t take many pictures. However, from here the view of the city is splendid.
The statue is directly across from Sacsayhuamán. We made our way down some goat path and stopped at the entrance booth to get a hole punched on the Boleto Turístico.
Even after having experienced Inca architecture for a few days, we couldn’t help being floored by the sight of immense stone blocks twice as tall as a person being aligned perfectly as if they were merely bricks in the wall. In Inca times, Sacsayhuamán was even more impressive. Unfortunately, and we heard this time and again, the Spanish demolished much of it and usurped the materials to construct their own buildings. This not only saved them a lot of work but also symbolized their conquest and domination of the Incas. Nowadays, only the stones which were too large to be moved remain. The interlocking stones allowed the walls to withstand the frequent earthquakes in this region. The superiority of Inca stonemasonry was clearly demonstrated when Cusco suffered major earthquakes, as recently as the 1950s. Colonial structures were severely damaged, while Inca walls and foundations were largely unscathed.
Across from the walls are these terraces. I clambered up these steps to get a better shot of the wall. I was gassed when reaching the stop. I’d like to think it was the thin air rather than being out-of-shape.
The legendary jaguar’s teeth.
Notice how the gap is filled in with smaller stones. While the goal is commendable, the modern “repairs” add little and indeed detract from the grandeur of the Inca original.
The linteled doorway that we’re accustomed to seeing by now.
To say that the Incas are skilled at stonemasonry is a laughable understatement.
At the top, we get a panoramic view of Cusco and the surrounding mountains.
Including a bird’s eye view of the main plaza we had been wandering around earlier that morning.
Now that the sun had gone down, we were treated to majestic and almost mystical views of the ruins.
Cusco was turning on the lights, beckoning as we walked back to the city. Once we reach the gate, it was a 10-minute walk down a steep cobblestone path to the hotel.
Postscript: We had mentally prepared for jokes about Sacsayhuamán, which sounds suspiciously like “Sexy Woman”. Sadly, they never materialized.