Peru | Tipón and Sacsayhuamán

by Jim and Melanie

The day before our departure from Cuzco we visited two archeological sites – Tipón and Sacsayhuamán. There are many more sites in Peru. We feel drawn to return some day to see more of them.

Tipón Archeological Parque

We drove southeast from Cuzco about 14 mi (22 km) to the archeological site of Tipón. It sits 11,155 ft (3400 m) above sea level. Not very well known or visited by many tourists, it is important for the water control engineering of the Inca. The site is included in Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The description of Tipón by ASCE can be read here. Highlights include:

  • Inca converted the site from previous users.
  • Aqueducts brought water to the terraced site.
  • Structures routed water in different directions to provide for efficient irrigation.
  • Subsurface drainage techniques ensured long-term integrity of the central terraces.
  • Petroglyphs pre-dating Inca thousands of years exist on top of Tipón Mountain.

Our access to the site was by a narrow switchback road from the Sacred Valley below. This Google Map image shows the road and site. An interactive map link is here. The highest elevations are at the top of the image.

No written records of Tipón exist. Historians and archeologists point out the terrace arrangement appears different from other sites. At others, they appear more flowing and contoured to the land. At Tipón, they appear arranged in a more formal or ceremonial way and at right angles. The water works show mastery of techniques and still function today. Click any of the images for a more detailed view.

Panorama of the descending terraces.

Water flows into the upper terrace from a spring up higher in the mountains. It is guided by a stone lined channel ending in this graceful structure.

From here it is channeled to the lower terraces by branching and dropping to lower levels.

At the end of this video there is a multi-room building situated near the water feature at the top terrace. It might have served as a special residence for an honored person.

Video from Norman at Années de Pèlerinage travel blog where more information is given.

The light mist of the morning, along with the rectilinear design and quietly running water, imbued the site with a sense of peace. If time had permitted, most everyone in our group would have stayed longer.

Sacsayhuamán Archeological Parque

Commanding a position high above Cuzco at 12,142 ft (3,701 m), archeological records show the Sacsayhuamán site was first occupied by the Killke Culture before the arrival of the Inca in the 13th century. Both Cuzco and Sacsayhuamán are UNESCO World Heritage sites. This Google Maps view clearly shows a massive structure with zig-zag walls. Here is the link to an interactive map.

The walls are set with the largest stones we saw of all the sites we visited in Peru. The walls are also on 3 levels rising up from the large flat explanada. For our visit, we entered at the far left, walked along the top wall, and passed through the only gate in the lower wall to the explanada below. There we stood in awe beside the massive blocks of stone.

Google Maps | click for more detail

Pedro Pizarro, brother of Francisco Pizarro, described it this way:

“on top of a hill they [the Inca] had a very strong fort surrounded with masonry walls of stones and having two very high round towers. And in the lower part of this wall there were stones so large and thick that it seemed impossible that human hands could have set them in place…they were so close together, and so well fitted, that the point of a pin could not have been inserted in one of the joints. The whole fortress was built up in terraces and flat spaces.”

Much of the stonework was removed by the Spanish to build homes and churches in Cuzco below the site. The stones remaining today were too large to easily move and use. The Spanish covered the remains to prevent its use by the Inca. In the early 20th century, the site was used as a quarry and damaged by dynamite before being protected as an historical site.

The zig-zagging walls might represent lightning. From atop the walls we could see the way they were built. The right image looks along the full length of the walls. Click any images for greater detail.

The stones of all shapes and sizes were perfectly fitted and had curved pillowy surfaces. This was unlike the shaped flat stone walls at other sites.

Jim with some of the smaller stones. Even the small stones are huge!

Something about these huge stones made Melanie very happy.

Detail of the stone at the left in the previous image.

For a sense of scale, the thin rope barrier across the bottom of each photograph was 2 ft off the ground. The second image has a person at the left. Click for detail. These stones were up to 12 ft tall. According to informed sources, they were cut from a quarry some distance away and moved here where they were perfectly fitted with the others. It required much manpower and time.

Sacsayhuamán was a spectacular way to end our visit to Peru. The zig-zagging walls, built from precisely fitted, unimaginably large stones, captured our hearts and memories. Again, time at this site was much too short. It is a good argument for going back someday.

Would you like to read more about our travels in Peru? Here are links to all of our posts on Peru:
Peru | Lima | First Impressions
Peru | Textiles and Ceramics
Peru | Arts & Crafts
Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu
Peru | Tipon and Sacsayhuaman
Peru | Beer Bar – Oxen – Blessings
Peru | Hillside Homes | Traffic Woes
Peru | Everyday Life
Inca Pot | c 1500
Noon @ Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu Plus Much More


10 thoughts on “Peru | Tipón and Sacsayhuamán

  1. tierneycreates

    This was so amazing! Terry and I for fun each Friday evening watch “Ancient Aliens” on the History channel and they always talk about places like this being created with the help of extraterrestrials, ha! It is such amazing engineering by an ancient people and how lucky you two were to visit it. I enjoyed the video you all took and I will go check out the other one.

    1. Jim R Post author

      Thanks for visiting and your comments. I have my doubts about extraterrestrials. But, I am also open to the possibilities. We just don’t know. However they were built, they are marvels.

  2. Eliza Waters

    Like many of the ancient civilizations that moved huge rocks without machinery, it is downright amazing! Tipon reminds me of a site we camped at on the Inca Trail that they believed were baths for royalty. Small ‘rooms’ through which water flowed faced south and warmed by the sun, were surprising warm.


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