Tambomachay to Saqsaywaman


While Cuzco is an amazing city to explore, there’s so much more to see once you get out of town. Surrounded by the Andes, Cuzco was the heart of the Inca Empire. Even before the arrival of the Inca, the Killke culture dominated this region from about 900-1200 AD.  There are countless ruins in the hills and valleys; many are yet unexplored. For historical context, check out this National Geographic article.


The archaeological site Tambomachay is only about 5 miles outside Cuzco.  A local bus heading toward Pisaq dropped us off right in front.  There are still questions as to what this area was originally used for, but most say one was as a resting place, a sort of get-away for the elite.  The spot is best known for its fountains and baths. The Inca Bath is created by two aqueducts that provide clear water year round, making the most of a limited water supply.  The engineering used to get the water from its unknown specific origin through the terraces and down to the fountains in the front is truly amazing. There are springs and caverns nearby.  The four walls that define the site are set into the hill and form part of the terraces. They display more fine stonework (intricately carved, and using no mortar), platforms and niches. My Architectural Moleskine has a great write-up on Tambomachay.


Pukapukara and Quenqo

Just down the road is Pukapukara (Red Fortress).  This area was said to contain lodging for those who accompanied the Inca visiting the baths.  It was also used as a lookout.  There were lots of smaller rooms, a clearly visible “road” and a great view of the surrounding pastures and valley.  Back on the bus headed back toward Cuzco, we stopped next at Quenqo.  This site is one of a more natural style, where the Inca left the shape of the boulders and rocks, and carved around them.  Quenqo is also known as the amphitheater, but it may also have been a court, altar or tomb.  Large parts of this area were destroyed, but there is still plenty to see.

There are two Intihuatana (hitching posts of the sun) and an area that was probably an astronomical observatory.  Near this is a zig zag duct, that slants and branches out guiding whatever liquid it held to an underground chamber.  Underneath a huge rock hill, a tunnel-like passageway was carved out.  There is a square rock that looks like an altar, tables, lots of spaces and niches for offerings, and a pit that may have contained mummies.  No one is sure, but this space was either a sacrificial chamber, or a burial chamber.  Behind the main area, we sat and talked to two students who acted as guides at the site.  Since it is low season and there still aren´t too many tourists around, they had time to sit and chat for a while until we head on to the last site, Saqsaywamán.



Here we decided to spring for a guide, and we were very glad we did.  For about an hour and a half, Pio showed us the highlights of the extensive site at Saqsaywaman (Sacsayhuaman).  His spin on things was focused on how the Inca chose ceremonial sites based on the energy of the place.  His descriptions were based on the spiritual, egalitarian nature of the culture.  He explained that the original name of the site meant something more like “a satisfied mind, or place of knowledge.”  The new name means “satisfied falcon,” changed after many local people were killed here by the Spanish, and birds satiated themselves on the bodies of the dead.  The Spanish used this site as a rock quarry, disassembling walls to build churches, residences, and buildings down in Cuzco below.  The people were also forced to cover what remained with dirt, including filling in what was a large lagoon.

Natural Rock Slide at Saqsaywaman

Our walk took us through various of the sections that still remain.  There were seats carved out in several places, where people could meditate, balance and renew their energy.  We saw more animals incorporated into different walls (a snake, duck, condor).  On a larger scale, when Cuzco was originally designed in the shape of a puma, Saksaywamán was the head.  There are 22 zigzag walls here that represented the teeth.   There is a Temple of the Sun here as well, and a large open area is still used for the Inti Raymi sun festival each year.  Another interesting spot was a huge rock that looked like it was made of solid waves.  The undulations create smooth, natural slides that kids and tourists seemed to be enjoying quite a bit.

In another area we walked through a low tunnel about 50 feet long.  It was pitch black.  Pio explained that such tunnels were probably used for communication and as places to leave offerings.  They can be found in many of the ancient sites.  Tunnels connected the palaces in the city of Cuzco as well, and those were one of the few things left intact by the Spanish, as they were very useful.

There is a pretty good description in English of these sites near Cuzco HERE, for those who would like more detail!  And HERE is a very thorough write-up on Saqsaywaman.

Click here for more photos.

Saqsaywaman Doorway

About the author

Traveling like turtles, slowly and deliberately, Tamara and Donny wander together with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust.