Inti Raymi is one of the most important cultural festivals in the city of Cusco. The entire month of June is filled with cultural events from Corpus Christi to Inti Raymi. This month is perfect for visitors who are traveling to Cusco to truly experience the culture on a local level. Inti Raymi is known as the Festival of the Sun and takes place on the Winter Solstice every year. Historically, this was a ceremony that the Inca King would perform to ask the sun to come and be with the people for longer hours so that the people could achieve prosperity and livelihood. The Inca King would start at the Qoricancha or Sun Temple and perform a variety of rituals. After this festival, the days would become longer. This scientific phenomenon was indeed celebrated by the Inca Empire and Quechua people because of their close relation with nature and the sun. When the Spanish took control of the region, the festival was banned because it had no place in Christianity. Eventually after gaining independence, the people of Peru and the Cusqueños decided to relive this important cultural festival. Inti Raymi once again become an annual cultural event in the mid twentieth century and has gotten bigger ever since.
This year we had the opportunity to experience Inti Raymi, one of the biggest yet! In contemporary times things have indeed changed but the symbolism and cultural events are indeed very interesting. The festival is celebrated for many days before the actual festival on the 24th of June. Throughout the week before, there are many parades through the central Plaza de Armas with various organizations taking part ranging from high school students to elementary students in bands with traditional dances and music. At night there are great concerts and amazing food such as cuy (traditional guinea pig), chiriuchu (a cold dish with a little bit of everything including chicken, guinea pig, sausage, jerky, cheese, and many other items), chicha (fermented corn beer), and traditional desserts that are available for purchase in the streets. On the night of the 23rd, the grand parade takes place through the city and the Plaza de Armas. Thousands of travelers and locals alike meet in the center to watch this parade that starts around 5 pm and goes on throughout the night!
The grand ceremony begins early in the morning of June 24th. Both days are considered a “feriado” in which the majority of people do not have to work so that they can spend time with family and friends. The ceremony is now played by hundreds of actors who have rehearsed their roles for months. Inti Raymi begins with the Inca King performing a ritual at the Qoricancha or Sun Temple on Avenida el sol. From there, the King and Queen accompanied by warriors and other actors make their way to the Plaza de Armas. It is best to arrive early so that you can get good seats and a good view. In the Plaza de Armas there is a grand procession and the Inca performs another ritual to the sun and sings in Quechua. This is part of what pleases the Sun god, Inti, to help the people of the Andes. After a procession through the streets of the Plaza de Armas, the actors are transported up the mountain to nearby Sacsayhuaman, another very important Inca religious site. You walk through the charming streets of San Blas to arrive at this site and if you would like to see for free, you can sit on the hill overlooking the final parts of the ceremony. Often times watching the ceremony from the hill can get crowded so we recommend arriving as early as possible. There are seats available for purchase if you want to be closer to the action as well. They can be upwards of 100 USD but generally include lunch in addition to closer, comfortable seating. The Inca is transported from the top of a mountain with colorful smoke and Quechua music to the bottom terrace. Here, the Inca performs a pretend sacrifice of a llama as an offering to the sun god Inti. In the past, they would actually sacrifice a llama but that tradition has changed for many reasons.
After the ceremony, many people go to visit a nearby fair which has food, drinks, games, and rides for children. Also at the fair you can eat stuffed rocoto peppers, papas rellenos, cuy, chicharrones, churros, local fruits, and many other traditional Peruvian dishes. Local people also make huatia nearby, which are basically ground ovens to cook potatoes with a delicious and unique flavor. Families eat, drink, play soccer, and enjoy time with each other on this beautiful cultural event.
Since Inti Raymi is a very popular time to visit Cusco, we recommend the following:
- Book early! Hotels fill up quickly during this high tourist season, and some hotels even charge higher prices during this season. Also, arrive to the Plaza de Armas or Sacsayhuaman early to get in a good position for viewing.
- Try local Peruvian dishes, but also be careful of all of the street food. There are many vendors that set up stands on the streets and in the plazas with delicious looking and smelling food. However, unless you have a very strong stomach, you may want to skip these foods in order to avoid any possibility of getting sick and affecting your trip. We recommend dining at reputable restaurants instead, and for a full list please read our blog here.
- Bring plenty of water and keep hydrated.
- Wear a hat and put on sunblock! Many merchants will be walking around selling hats, water, and other accessories that you may have forgotten but it is important to stay healthy and prepared when being outside in the high Andes for so many hours.
If you have any questions about Inti Raymi or Cusco, Cusi Travel is always available to help. We take pride in our Quechua roots, especially on days like Inti Raymi where travelers can truly experience our historic past and rich culture.
By Tyler Reveille