Peru With Kids: Exploring the Inca sites surrounding Cusco


Cusco Inca sites: Sacsayhuaman alpacas panoramic


Colourful Cusco is known as the Historic Capital of Peru and the centre of the Incan empire (all roads led to and from here). It was the imperial city of the Incas from the 13th century up until the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century and today is one of the most popular cities to visit on a Peruvian adventure.

In addition to its imperial past, Cusco is famous for its altitude. The city sits at a breathtaking – literally – 3,400m, which makes it a tough spot to start your trip as it can take a good few days to acclimatise. Because of this we chose Cusco as the final destination on our Machu Picchu Tour. Given how many Incan sites we had visited already on our holiday (this, this, thisthis and of course this!) I wasn’t sure how my children would react to yet another tour and four more sites! Fortunately, however, the great outdoors, the gory stories and legends, the amazing views and, of course, the alpacas held their attention.

The following four sites can all be accessed by foot from the centre of Cusco but the walk is not an easy one, particularly at this altitude. Given that we were travelling with 7- and 6-year olds, we chose to hire a car and driver, which worked out very well.

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Cusco Inca sites: Playing in the steam at Tambomachy, Cusco, Peru
Playing in the steam at Tambomachy


Our tour began at Tambomachay (loosely translated as “hidden place”), an Incan site which some believe was once a spa….. or a water temple… or defensive post. Like many Incan sites there is much speculation as to its original purpose, but no one really knows for sure. Here, water flows from a spring at the top of the hill down through a series of channels and aqueducts, from one level to the next. Incredibly the stream of water has always remained consistent and never run dry. Apparently Cusqueña beer (the local brand), gets their water from here. It’s a very peaceful spot and the kids played in the stream while we lay on the grass and listened to the sound of trickling water.


Cusco Inca sites: Tambomachy, Cusco, Peru



Puca Pucara (or Puka Pukara)

Cusco Inca sites: Pucapucara, Cusco, Peru


Just a few minutes away from Tambomachay sits Puca Pucara, a military outpost once used to defend Cusco and the Incan Empire. Also known as the Red Fortress, owing to the reddish colour of its rocks, this site occupies one of the most beautiful spots with spectacular views. That’s the thing with Incan ruins, just when you think you’ve seen the “best” one, you visit another that is equally mind-blowing.

Interestingly, the walls here are built using irregular shaped rocks in what our guide described as something of a slapdash manner, lacking the uniformity of many of the other sites in the area. This has led some historians to theorise that Puca Pucara was built in something of a rush. In any case, the site has a magical quality to it. The children ran around and then lay on their backs spotting shapes in the clouds.


Cusco Inca sites: Views from Pucapucara ('The Red Fortress'), Cusco, Peru
Views from Pucapucara (‘The Red Fortress’)


Cusco Inca sites: Finding patterns and shapes in the clouds
Finding patterns and shapes in the clouds


Cusco Inca sites: Chatting to the guide at Pucapucara
My daughter has a chat with our guide at Pucapucara


Cusco Inca sites: (Left) Pucapucara: I spy a flower! (Right) The leaves used to make muña tea
(Left) Pucapucara: I spy a flower! (Right) The leaves used to make muña tea


Cusco Inca sites: Pucapucara, Cusco, Peru



Q’inqu (or Qenko or Quenco)

Cusco Inca sites: Q'ingqu, Cusco, Peru


Q’ingqu – meaning ‘zigzag’ or ‘labyrinth’ in Quechua – sits some 6km northeast of Cusco and was the third stop on our tour. This is one of the largest holy places in the region where religious ceremonies, sacrifices and mummification took place. The temple is carved out of a huge rock and little tunnels and passageways run throughout the site. It’s thought that this maze-like structure is where the site got its name from, that or the zigzag channels that are carved into the rock. Our guide explained that Incan priests used to pour llama blood (usually that of a black llama) into the channels as part of a ritual to determine how next year’s crop would perform. Our children were horrified! We neglected to tell them that child sacrifices most likely took place here as well.


Cusco Inca sites: Q'ingqu
Q’ingqu, Cusco, Peru. Right: the slab where a black llama or possibly even a child would have been sacrificed to the gods – shudder!



Sacsayhuaman (or Saksayhuaman)

Cusco Inca sites: Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru


The last stop of the tour was also my favourite. Sacsayhuaman (which sounds rather like ‘sexy woman’, a joke that you hear every tour guide sharing at the site’s entrance) is a walled complex that sits high above Cusco. Sacsayhuaman was thought to have been a religious complex during Incan times although its elevated position also meant that it was well placed to defend the city.


Cusco Inca sites: Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru
Sacsayhuaman, or ‘Sexy Woman’ as the guides love to tell you!


Sacasayhuaman is an example of incredible Incan engineering. Although only the outer walls of the original city remain today (the Spaniards carried off much of the stonework for their own building projects) what is left is still astonishing. Humungous limestone boulders form the walls or ramparts of the site  (the largest boulder weighs about 70 tons!) and made us feel like Gulliver in Brobdingnag. The Incas brought these rocks from a quarry called Sisicancha, 3km away, although no-one knows how they were transported. The Spaniards thought it must be the work of spirits. The walls are constructed without mortar or cement and yet the stones fit so beautifully together that it’s impossible to even slide a blade of grass between them. It’s as if the stones were made of Playdough.



Cusco Inca sites: Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru
The mind-blowing Inca walls at Sacsayhuaman


I spy!

The Incas would often incorporate flowers and animals into their stone formations. To keep our children engaged, our guide asked them to find the flower, the llama and the snake. It took some time! (Click on the video clip below for a quick game of I spy…!)




After a steady climb to the top of the hill we were rewarded with magnificent views of Cusco. Cameras at the ready…


Cusco Inca sites: The view of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman, Peru
The view of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman


Cusco Inca sites: The view of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman
The view of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman


Getting to Sacasayhuaman

You can walk to Sacasayhuaman from the centre of Cusco in about an hour, but given the altitude (at 3,701m it’s 1,300m higher than Machu Picchu!) and the steep climb, I recommend taking a car, particularly if you have kids.


Rock Slides

I later discovered (but only after leaving Sacsayhuaman) that there are rock slides behind the main ruins. Our guide did not mention these during our visit, possibly for conservation reasons but most likely because she thought them too dangerous for our kids. I found lots of videos of these slides on YouTube, including the one below. Would you be brave enough?!


Above: Video by Tim sliding down the rocks at Sacsayhuaman.


As we were leaving Sacsayhuaman, my daughter spotted a pack of alpacas and bolted in their direction for one last chinwag.


Cusco Inca sites: sacsayhuaman alpacas
Hanging out with friends.


Cusco Inca sites: Sacsayhuaman. Hug an alpaca


The amazing, awesome, mind boggling Inca Sites of #Cusco #Peru Click To Tweet


Family Guide to Peru

To view all our blog posts and videos in the Peru with Kids series see our Family Guide to Peru.


You May Also Enjoy the Following Posts:

A Journey to Machu Picchu

How to Plan, Book & Budget a Family Holiday to Machu Picchu, Peru

A Family Guide to travel in Peru

10 Things to do with Kids in Cusco, Peru

10 Things to Do with Kids in The Sacred Valley, Peru


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