The Incan slide at Sacsayhuamán, or Why your tour group and guidebook suck

Having poked around Sacsayhuamán, Todd and I head for a bouldery hill just across the site’s broad, grassy field. It looks like a sweet spot to relax and take in the whole of the extensive Incan ruins and the views of Cusco far below.

Nearing the hill’s top, we hear the type of screaming laughter that forms the vocal track at any amusement park. Curiosity pulls us to the far side of the hill, where we find a giggly family of Peruvians scrambling up toward us. This hillside here is steep and ridged, looking like ocean waves turned to stone mid-crash. The Peruvians reach the top, quickly sit down, lift their hands—

          —and down they go. Fast.

I want.

Peruvian prepares for the Sacsayhuamán slide, Cusco, Peru photo

A Peruvian prepares to tackle the Sacsayhuamán slide

I love to slide. Whether it’s the hidden slides on San Francisco’s hills or the bloody slides on the tubing river at Vang Vieng, Laos, I can’t resist a fast descent on my butt.

Slides are the perfect adventure travel activity for folks who, like myself, battle a fear of heights. On a slide, I know that I’m not falling uncontrollably into a void, I can feel a solid surface beneath me, and if I apply more friction I can slow my descent.

Well, usually slow my descent.

The Sacsayhuamán slides, Cusco, Peru photo

The Sacsayhuamán slides

None of the guidebooks — like the Moon Peru and Lonely Planet Peru we travel with — include the slides, or the tunnels we later discover, in their entries on Sacsayhuamán (I later check Fodor’s and Rough Guide: zilch). Most take up precious space to mention the lame tour guide joke about the pronunciation of Sacsayhuamán sounding like “sexy human,” but can’t bother mentioning my new favorite thing in Peru.

Somehow even more bothersome, during the time we linger near the slides — watching other people mentally tussle up their bravery — no tour groups, large or intimate, make the stop. And, while just over the hill, hundreds of people explore Sacsayhuamán, only a couple dozen find the slides on their own.

I get ready to slide at Sacsayhuamán, Cusco, Peru photo

I get ready to slide at Sacsayhuamán near Cusco

“Are you going to do it?” I ask Todd.

He looks up at the very, very tall slide. He kicks the pile of potato-sized pointy rocks at the foot of the slide. He looks back a woman who has just slid down, limping a little bit as she walks away.

“Uh, no.”

“I’m doing it.”

“Of course you are,” he calmly says, visions of my slide-caused bloody lip on his mind (or more likely my endless retelling of that story since).

Already at warp speed on the Sacsayhuamán slide, Cusco, Peru photo

Already at warp speed

I didn’t expect the slide to be so, well, slippery. Thousands if not millions of butts have worn and polished deep channels in the rock over hundreds of years. No cardboard sham, no lubricating waterworks, no push is necessary. It’s really as simple as sitting on the slope and lifting my hands.

I scream and laugh the whole way down.

All fun slides must come to an end, Sacsayhuamán, Cusco, Peru photo

All fun slides must come to an end

Have you found something awesome in your travels that wasn’t in your guidebook? What was it and how did you find it?