Every year, in Peru, on June 24th (the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere), Cusco celebrates the Inca Festival of the Sun – Inti Raymi. Created by the Inca Pachacutec, Inti Raymi was a tribute to the revered Sun God Inti. Today, the festival attracts thousands of local and international visitors to the ancient Inca capital – Cusco – to celebrate one of the most important events of the calendar year.
History of the Inti Raymi
During Inca times, approximately 25,000 people gathered in Cusco to celebrate the Inti Raymi festival. The Sapa Incas, nobles, priests and chiefs of the Inca Empire would gather in Haukaypata to witness a parade of ancestral mummies wrapped in cloth that were brought from nearby temples and shrines. Up to 20000 llamas were sacrificed during the festivities and the Haukaypata ran with sacred blood and abundant chicha (the Inca beer). The festivities took place from dawn to dusk. There were special dances and coca leaves were read and burned in large quantities. The Inti Raymi was the biggest Inca festival of the year and everyone who attended got drunk with the spiritual communion.
The Inti Raymi was forbidden by the Spaniards during the first years of the conquest claiming that it was a pagan ceremony and that it did not comply with the Catholic religion. However, small ceremonies were held without major consequences. Later, during the colony, in 1572 Viceroy Francisco de Toledo officially prohibited the celebration along with many other Inca traditions; even the use of traditional Inca clothing was forbidden. These decisions were taken after a series of Inca rebellions such as the uprising of the last Inca ruler Tupac Amaru I, who was executed together with his family and advisors.
According to Garcilazo de la Vega, the Inti Raymi was one of the most important celebrations of the Tawantinsuyo or Inca Empire. The celebrations lasted nine consecutive days and took place in the main square of the city of Cusco, then known as the Haukaypata. Three days before the beginning of the celebrations the participants had to go through a period of purification in which they had to fast and the only food they were allowed to eat was white corn and a herb called chucam.
The participants in the ceremony were the Inca Sapa, the nobility and the Inca army. On the main day, June 24, the Inca of Sapa went up on stage in front of the pilgrims and drank chicha de jora, a corn-based drink, in honor of the Inti. Inside the Temple of the Sun or Coricancha a priest lit a flame. All these rituals were accompanied by dances and sounds of shells and musical instruments. Men and women painted their faces yellow and carried deer heads whose antlers were used as musical instruments.
According to the chronicler Juan Betanzos, children under the age of ten were brought from the four Suyus and were sacrificed. The black flames were opened with a tumi, a ceremonial knife, their organs were observed to predict the future and then they were incinerated. At the end of the celebration the Inca returned to his palace while the women threw red flowers and multicolored feathers.
Inti Raymi Today in Cusco Peru
The modern recreation of Inti Raymi still retains all its majestic glory, although without the procession of ancient mummies and the sacrifice of a single animal at the culmination of the day’s celebrations. The celebrations begin in the morning on the large open court at the front of the Inca Temple of the Sun – Korikancha.
With the arrival of the representatives of the four suyos of the Inca Empire (Qollasuyu, Kuntisuyu, Antisuyu and Chinchaysuyu), the Inca of Sapa opens the festivities with the invocation of the praise to the sun god – Inti. From Korokancha the royal entourage continues the short distance to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. A ceremonial reading of the sacred coca leaf is held to foresee the fate of the Inca Empire for the coming year.
The ancient Inca archaeological site of Saqsayhuman is where the final part of the recreation takes place. Thousands of local spectators crowd into the surrounding hills to watch the ceremony, while the main arena of Saqsayhuman has front row seats. Dressed in full costume, the Inca pronounces his last words in Quechua before the ritual sacrifice of a llama. The festival ends when the air is filled with the sound of horns, panpipes and drums.
Watching The Festival of Sun in Cusco
In this place, there are no official seats to buy, we need to go very early to see the festivities in Korikancha. The festivities take place in the gardens outside of Qoricancha which is along Cusco’s Av. sol. The locals arrive early (in the early morning hours) to have the best viewing spots.
In Plaza de Armas
Almost the entire Plaza de Armas is cordoned off for the festivities, with only one space on the colonial sidewalks around the outside of the Plaza de Armas available for public viewing. Because of the limited viewing areas in the plaza, spectators can often form crowds of 4 or 5 people deep to get a glimpse of the action. The best viewpoints are found on the second floor balconies in the many bars, cafes and restaurants that surround the square. If you plan to view the Inti Raymi from a balcony, be sure to contact the bar owner a few days in advance to guarantee your spot.
Many local Peruvians who cannot afford the high prices of grandstand seats within the Saqsayhuman grounds choose to view the Inti Raymi from two hills overlooking the festivities. One is located within the Saqsayhuman park and the other is adjacent just outside the perimeter of the park. Although the main ruins of Saqsayhuman are closed to visitors during Inti Raymi day, general entrance to the surrounding hills (inside the park) is free for all foreign and local visitors. It is noted that both hills are very crowded from early morning, many hours before the festivities take place. Be prepared with something to sit on, plenty of food, liquid refreshments and sunscreen. Arrive as early as 8am to get the best views.
The grandstand seats inside the Saqsayhuman arena are the best option to see the Inti Raymi. These seats are first quality and sold on a first come first served basis. There are two price bands for Inti Raymi tickets: Orange and blue seats (the best) which cost 140 USD per adult* and the slightly cheaper green seats which cost 100 USD per adult*, a 50% reduction applies to children under 12. To make the experience better and more informative, it is always best to go with a guide or as part of an organized tour group.
It is worth mentioning that the festivity is completely in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas, although we are given a small book where the translation is, it is difficult to know in which part of the script the festivity is.
*Prices are based on published rates for 2020.
Getting Around During Inti Raymi On June 24th
On June 24th, the entire center of Cusco is closed to regular traffic, including local buses and taxis. Only authorized tourist vehicles are allowed to transport tourists from Cusco to Saqsayhuman. If you attend Saqsayhuman independently, then you can expect to walk to Saqsayhuman from Cusco, which takes about 1 hour with the increasing crowds and street vendors you will encounter along the way.
Streets that are closed include: Avenida el Sol, Plaza de Armas, Calle Plateros, Calle Sapi and Calle Don Bosco (the road from Cusco to Saqsayhuman). Other peripheral access roads to the center may also be closed.
We recommend you to visit several places in Cusco, like Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lagoon, Sacred Valley, Salineras de Maras and other places.
Faqs of Inti Raymi 2021
The festival as we know it today, focused on tourism, began in 1944.
It takes place in 3 locations in Cusco, first in Qoricancha, second in the Plaza de Armas and third in Sacsayhuaman (with option to buy tickets)
In Qoricancha it takes about 1 hour, in Plaza de Armas it also takes 1 hour and in Sacsayhuaman it takes about 2 hours, finishing around 3 in the afternoon.
Inti Raymi is still celebrated in the indigenous cultures of the Andes. Celebrations include music, the wearing of colorful costumes, and the sharing of food. In Cusco the Inca makes a new year’s surrender and prediction of what his kingdom will be like.
The correct pronunciation of Inti Raymi is “ɪntɪ raɪmɪ”.
In the past, during the 9 days of Inti Raymi celebrations, the Incas celebrated with music, colorful dances, processions and even animal sacrifices invoked to the sun, in order to ensure good crops for the year, give thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and pay tribute to the firstborn son of the Sun, the Inca. Today they do this in 1 day.
This will depend on each person, if you have a little time, can be a very interesting holiday to see and live.
It is held in Cusco, in 2 places: Qoricancha, Plaza de Armas and Sacsayhuaman
Inti Raymi is the celebration of the Sun God, the most revered god of the Inca religion. According to Inca tradition, Pachatutec, the first Inca, created Inti Raymi to celebrate the winter solstice that marked the first day of the New Year in the Inca calendar.
During IntiRaymi the Inca, generals and actors perform various activities such as: They give a speech, sing and perform dances in honor of the sun god.
Thursday, June 24, 2021. It is celebrated on June 24th every year.
The Inti Raymi is a festival that takes place on June 24th in the Sacsayhuaman Fortress, Cusco.
In Cusco, the festival is run by EMUFEC, a municipal government company. They hire local companies, which are integrated by local people.
It is celebrated as a reminder of the most important festival that the Incas used to do. Today it is already part of the cultural traditions of Cusco and Peru.