On my solo trip to Ireland I was looking to visit places that combined my two favourite travel activities- exploring nature and visiting archaeological sites. Inishmore (Inis Mór) fit the bill perfectly!
View from Dún Aengus fort
As one of the Aran Islands, Inishmore was a place that I could feel far away from everything while still being connected to Irish culture and heritage.
The island’s small size (14.5 km long and 4 km wide) made it easy to explore it by bike and the high concentration of both historic and natural sites meant that there was plenty to hold my interest.
South coast, near the Worm Hole
During my day trip to Inishmore I visited a prehistoric fort, reveled in cliff top views, wandered around the ruins of a stone church, hiked along the rocky coast, and discovered a unique geological feature.
Even though I only spent one day in Inishmore, I left feeling satisfied and fulfilled, with plenty of happy moments and lasting memories to look back on.
Cycling among the stone walls of Inishmore
About Inishmore (Inis Mór)
Inishmore is the largest and most easily accessible of the three Aran Islands.
The landscape is not the typical green fields of Ireland. It’s rocky and desolate, an extension of the limestone that forms the Burren, to which the Arans were joined millions of years ago.
The small patches of green you do see are surrounded by stone walls, segmenting the island into hundreds of tiny fields of shallow topsoil.
View from Cottage Road
Besides having a distinct landscape, Inishmore is also home to some large Iron Age stone structures. Little is known about the people who built them, giving an air of mystery to the island.
My Day Trip to Inishmore
My day trip to Inishmore started with a 45 minute drive from Galway to Rossaveal, where I boarded a ferry for the 40 minute sail to Inishmore.
Upon arriving in Kilronan, Inishmore’s main village, I rented a bike at the pier then set out on my ride across the island.
What to See in Inishmore
By no means did I uncover everything this fascinating island has to offer, but I did manage to discover quite a bit in only 5.5 hours. Here are the highlights from my day trip to Inishmore, along with a map of my bike route.
From Kilronan I chose to ride west along Cottage Road, cutting across the middle of the island on my way towards Dún Aengus Fort. The road makes a gentle climb then offers wonderful views of Inishmore’s northern coast.
While there were no typical tourist sites directly along the road, I did see a traditional thatched roof cottage and stopped many times to admire the lovely vistas while wishing I lived in such a peaceful location.
At the junction of Cottage Road and the lower road that runs along the north coast, I came to a cove with a small, white sand beach.
Kilmurvey Beach was nothing more than a photo op for me, but it might be a good place to go for a swim since it doesn’t have the strong currents that other beaches on Inishmore have.
Dún Aengus Fort (Dún Aonghasa)
About 30 minutes after leaving the pier I arrived at Dún Aengus fort, the most popular tourist site on Inishmore.
Dún Aengus fort is one of three prehistoric fortresses in Inishmore, all which are believed to be around 2000 years old.
The fort stands guard at the edge of 100 metre high cliff, its semi-circular dry stone walls running right up to a sheer drop to the ocean below.
There’s no wall at the cliff’s edge allowing for wide-open views of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s no safety barrier either and some daring people were sitting dangling their feet over the edge. It made me nervous just looking at them!
As big and impressive as Dún Aengus is, it was the dramatic views of Inishmore that captivated me most. From the fort I could gaze across nearly the entire island, having a nice vantage point for admiring the rugged cliffs.
It was such a beautiful day and the vistas were so breathtaking that I ended up simply sitting and taking it all in for much longer than I was expecting. There’s something soothing about watching and listening to waves crash against a cliff. It almost made me forget about the other places in Inishmore I wanted to see!
Seven Churches (Na Seacht d’Teampaill)
After Dún Aengus I rode my bike west to Na Seacht d’Teampaill, the Seven Churches. The name is a bit misleading because there are actually only two churches and a number of ruined monastic houses.
St Breacan’s Church (Teampall Bhreacáin) is the most intact building and inside you can still see an impressive arch and nave.
A small graveyard with decorated stone crosses and headstones surrounds the ruins and is worth a quick wander through.
The Worm Hole (Poll na bPéist)
The last place I set out to see was the Worm Hole, or Serpent’s Lair, a rectangular pool that has been naturally shaped from the limestone.
Water ebbs and flows into the Worm Hole via an underground channel and spills in from above during high tide.
I was intrigued by the Worm Hole’s shape, its edges so perfectly straight it was hard to believe it was formed by nature and not cut from the stone by humans.
As unique as the site was, I was too nervous to stand and enjoy it very long, worried that I’d be swept away by the crashing waves!
The Worm Hole is definitely off the beaten path and somewhat of a challenge to find, but it’s interesting to see if you don’t mind a bit of an adventure getting there.
Directions to the Worm Hole
At the junction near Kilmurvey Beach I crossed the main road and went straight towards the opposite coast.
This narrow, gravel and grass lane, was lined on both sides by stone walls and came to an end near the small village of Gort na gCapall.
I then turned right and kept going south past the T-intersection. At the two houses (one is white with green trim), I noticed a red arrow painted on the rock wall pointing right. I followed that trail until it came to a dead end surrounded by gated fields.
On one of the gates there was a No Trespassing sign but there also was an opening in the wall with a red arrow directing the way. I was a little confused about whether I should continue on.
Why would the Worm Hole be listed as a tourist attraction on the Aran Island’s website if you have to trespass to get there? I wondered. And why are there red arrows directing the way if this is private property?
Not sure what to do, I saw that other people had left their bikes here and gone exploring so I decided to take my chances.
From this point on I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt, searching for red arrows in a field of sharp-edged boulders and slippery limestone pavement. There was no path to follow and nothing discerning to landmark my route. I had to constantly be on the lookout for those painted arrows then walk in that general direction.
It was a long trek across the rocks but eventually I came to a cliff face painted with “Worm Hole 150m.” At this point you can choose to go up the ridge and view the Worm Hole from above, or walk directly to it along the coastline like I did.
If you take the lower route, be prepared for slick rocks and plenty of small, water filled holes to navigate around.
Bike Ride from Gort na gCapall to Kilronan Village
From the Worm Hole, I rode my bike through Gort na gCapall (which is just a few houses) and began making my way east back to Kilronan.
The road had an uphill climb and I ended up having to push my bike to the top. This route was worth the effort though because it offered fantastic views of Inishmore’s rocky landscape and the stone walls that crisscross the island.
View of Gort na gCapall and Dún Aengus in the distance
The uphill walk from central Cusco to Sacsayhuaman was slow going, since our bodies hadn’t adjusted to the high altitude yet, but the excitement of seeing our first Inca ruin kept us motivated to push on.
In between frequent breaks and gasps for air, I hoped that the effort would be worthwhile and Sacsayhuaman would live up to it’s reputation of being the most remarkable Inca site near Cusco.
Thankfully, it did!
At the top of the hill we were met with a stone wall built in the style the Inca were known for. Large, precisely cut stones of various shapes fit tightly together like a jigsaw puzzle, no mortar needed.
I’d heard a lot about Inca stonework and how big some of the blocks were (one stone at Sacsayhuaman weighs over 300 tons), but seeing is believing. We weren’t even inside the archaeological site yet and were astounded by what we saw.
After buying our tourist ticket we excitedly entered the fortress-temple complex, eager to explore Sacsayhuaman before the sun went down.
Our Self-Guided Tour of Sacsayhuaman
The Sacsayhuaman archaeological site is divided into three different zones- the walled fortress/military section, the parade ground, and the Rodadero which is believed to be the religious/ceremonial section.
The first area of Sacsayhuaman we visited was the 3-tiered fortifications. Built in a zigzag pattern, these 22 walls represent the teeth of a puma, Sacsayhuaman being the head of Cusco’s famous puma shape.
We spent a lot of time in the military area admiring the stonework as questions flooded our minds.
Where did these rocks come from? How did the Inca shape them? How long did it take to build?
Of course we can never know for sure, but it was fun to discuss some possible theories.
Walking further along the way we soon came to the Intipunku, a gate of impressive proportions and my personal favourite spot in Sacsayhuaman.
Passing through the terrace gateway, we followed the stone steps up a level where we could see clear across the parade ground to the Rodadero hill. It looked especially striking in the golden glow of late afternoon sun.
Continuing to walk throughout the Inca fortress, we soon came to a viewpoint overlooking Cusco. We could see all of Cusco’s important landmarks- Plaza de Armas, La Catedral, and Iglesia de La Compañia de Jesús.
After taking in the view we headed back towards the Sacsayhuaman ruins to enjoy an elevated perspective of the walls before heading down to the large parade ground.
Once on the other side of the field we climbed up the steps of Rodadero, getting to see the zigzag fortifications from afar. The sheer length of the walls was just as impressive as the blocks used to build it.
Most of the structures that once were at Rodadero were torn down by the Spaniards and later inhabitants of Cusco, but you can still see the retaining walls. For us, the best thing about this area of Sacsayhuaman was the view. It was a wonderful place to watch the sky change colour as the sun set on our first day in Cusco.
Final Thoughts About our Visit to Sacsayhuaman
Of all the Inca ruins near Cusco, Sacsayhuaman was the most monumental one we visited. The stonework alone made the uphill walk worth it, never mind the unique zigzag shape of the walls. It was a great site to observe the preciseness of Inca architecture and design, even if the location wasn’t as dramatic as other Inca ruins such as Pisac or Machu Picchu.
Since we visited Sacsayhuaman without a guide we may have missed out on a deeper understanding of the site’s significance, but the benefit was that we could explore at our own pace. Still, I wish we had arrived a little sooner so we had more time to wander around Rodadero before the site closed.
Even if you’re only in Cusco for a short stay, you should make time to visit Sacsayhuaman. It’s definitely a must see in Cusco!
Tips for Visiting Sacsayhuaman
Sacsayhuaman is on the outskirts of Cusco, but you can still walk there in about 30-50 minutes from Plaza de Armas. The uphill walk is easier if you’re already acclimatized to the altitude.
A Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket) is required to visit Sacsayhuaman. It can be bought at the entrance and used to visit most archaeological sites in the Cusco region.
Tours of Sacsayhuaman
Here is a trusted site where you can book a tour of Sacsayhuaman that includes visits to other Inca sites near Cusco (Tambomachay, Qenqo and Pukapukara- all worth seeing).
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