Inti Raymi and the Inca Festival of the Sun

inti raymi
Inti Raymi (also known as the Festival of the Sun) is the most well-known festival in Peru and brings thousands of tourists from all around the world to Cusco during these one-day festivities.

Inti Raymi is held annually around the 24th of June (the day of the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere), although exact dates vary each year.

What is the Inti Raymi Festival?

The Inti Raymi celebrations are based in Inca tradition and honors the Sun God, Inti. The Inca believed that they were the children of the sun, a divinity of the highest rank. According to oral history, up to 25,000 people would gather in the Inca capital of Cusco, including the Inca ruler, noblemen, priests and ordinary citizens in a ceremony held on the winter solstice - the shortest day of the year.

As the days grew shorter in the weeks leading up to the winter solstice, the Inca feared that the Sun God would abandon them on the day the winter solstice arrived. Without the sun, famine would ensue and so the Inca enacted a majestic ceremony, making sacrifices and imploring the Sun God to return and bring prosperity.

Before the day of the festival, those involved in the festivities would fast for weeks and in the final three days leading up to the solstice, the Sapa Inca (the ruler of the Empire) and his curacas (magistrates in the Empire) sustained themselves on a diet of only water and uncooked corn in preparation.

Inti Raymi and the Inca Festival of the Sun

At dawn on the day of Inti Raymi, the whole city would congregate in Huacaypata (the modern-day Plaza de Armas in Cusco) to receive the new sun, holding their hands up as they faced the northeast and the first rays of light arrived. From there, they would head south to the temple of Coricancha, which was dedicated to the Sun God, where hundreds of llamas – and, at times, children - were sacrificed to request a fertile year for their crops.

During the celebrations, the Sapa Inca was also reaffirmed as supreme ruler of the Inca Empire, and the sun confirmed as the supreme deity that supports harvests and keeps the population alive. According to a Spanish chronicler, Inti Raymi was the most important Inca festival celebrated in Cusco.

The Inti Raymi Festival in Cusco Today

The first recreation of the festival was organized by unknown elders in 1928 with about 100 actors. Nowadays, the Inti Raymi Festival is one of Peru’s most important celebrations and is responsible for thousands of visitors arriving in the city in June, with the festival itself taking place over a week.

The most important day of the celebrations is held on the winter solstice, when a re-enactment of this traditional Inca rituals is held. Before the date, around 500 local people are selected to play the most important roles, including the Sapa Inca, a role that is taken very seriously and as a great honor.

On the day of the ceremony, Inti Raymi starts in the morning outside the remains of Coricancha (the Temple of the Sun, which is now the Iglesia Santo Domingo) and then proceeds to the main square of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas (the Huacaypata, in Inca times). Around noon, the participants follow the Sapa Inca as he is carried on a resplendent golden throne up to the hillside Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman above the city.

Inti Raymi and the Inca Festival of the Sun

It is here where the main celebrations takes place. With the beautiful scenery of the ruins and a stunning view over the city of Cusco, the festival goers witness troupes of dancers dressed in traditional costumes, and the worship ceremony of the sun, which is led by the Sapa Inca. In a speech to the gathered people, he requests of Pachamama, the goddess of fertility, to look favourably on their crops in the coming year.

Practicalities For Seeing the Inti Raymi celebrations in Peru

The events held at Coricancha and the Plaza de Armas on June 24 are open to the general public, and viewing space is on a first come, first serve basis.

The Peruvian government also sells tickets for the viewing space at Sacsayhuaman for better seating to witness the ceremony. Visitors who don’t want to pay for seating can set out blankets on the hills around the site.

Many people often reserve spots with their blankets in the early morning hours, passing the time with a nice family picnic while waiting for the parade to arrive.

Be aware that lodgings in Cusco get booked up very quickly during this period so if you’re planning on seeing the Inti Raymi festival in all its glory, be sure to make hotel reservations at least a few months in advance.
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