The festivals that take place year round in Cusco honor a unique blend of Andean and Catholic traditions. Every June 24, the city stages the celebration of Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, and thousands of locals and visitors take to the city streets for dancing, music, and colorful cultural reenactments.
Inti Raymi is a religious celebration that pays homage to Inti, the Inca Sun deity. Held during the winter solstice when the sun is furthest from Earth (in the southern hemisphere), the celebration is a plea for Inti to return to his Inca sons, as their crops would receive no nourishment without the life-giving energy of the sun. Today’s Inti Raymi celebration honors a new cycle of life, just like the ancient festival upon which it is modeled.
During the Spanish conquest Inti Raymi was banned by authorities and the festival went underground, much like many of the Inca structures buried beneath the monuments and cathedrals built by the Spanish. But in 1944, Inti Raymi rose once again as a reenactment of the festival performed by local Cusqueño actors. The event has grown in size and popularity since then to become one of the largest and most important celebrations in the region.
The contemporary staging of Inti Raymi is more accurately an interpretation of what occurred during Inca times. It has been pieced carefully together from chronicles of the conquest and Quechua oral histories. The Inca, without a writing system, left no formal documentation of the event.
Today, thousands of national and international visitors come to Cusco for the feast, setting Cusco’s city streets abuzz with fairs, concerts and exhibitions, in the days leading up to and following the main Inti Raymi festival (held every June 24th). Over 500 actors – organized by university, professional, and neighborhood affiliation – start practicing a script and their dance moves months in advance. The grand Inti Raymi procession is quite the affair! Everyone enjoys the merriment of the occasion as actors wearing lavish costumes take part in historical recreations while onlookers watch in delight.
On the day of Inti Raymi, the main procession kicks off around 10 a.m. in front of “Qorikancha“:, the Temple of the Sun. Inti Raymi participants wearing traditional costumes – representative of the four corners of the Inca Empire – make their grand entrance as the opening ceremony unfolds. Those with event tickets watch from their seats while others find spots from outside to see at a further distance.
From Qorikancha, the grand procession continues to the Plaza de Armas and up towards Sacsayhuaman, a massive Inca fortress on the outskirts of Cusco. During this time, the Inca King and Queen are carried through the city streets on ornate thrones while dancers and live music entertain large crowds of onlookers. The main ceremony takes place in Sacsayhuaman where the Inca pray to the spirits and offer a “sacrifice” to Pachamama, their Mother Earth, in order to guarantee a plentiful harvest.
With March already upon us, June festivities in Cusco are quickly approaching. Hotels book up quickly in anticipation of Inti Raymi and event tickets go really fast (once they are released by the Cusco Municipality). For these reasons, advanced planning to experience the Inti Raymi action is a must.
Popularity of the ceremony equates to crowded conditions. It’s possible to witness parts of the Inti Raymi ceremony without tickets. But for the best views, comfort and up-close enjoyment, tickets for the main show in Sacsayhuaman are the best option.
Cover photo: McKay Savage/Flickr
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