Inti Raymi: The Inca Sun Festival in Cusco

Inti Raymi: The Inca Sun Festival in Cusco

The Incan Sun Festival

Each June, 50,000 spectators gather in Cusco to celebrate the Winter Solstice and kick off the Andean New Year during Inti Raymi, the Sun Festival. Honoring the supreme Inca deity, the sun, this was the year’s most important celebration in the time of the Inca Empire. Tradition holds that Inti Raymi dates back to Pachacutec, the first Inca. The celebration and rituals were repressed after the Spanish Conquest and through the Colonial period, but were reborn in 1944. Now, each year hundreds upon hundreds of actors, dancers, and musicians present a theatrical reenactment based on historical chronicles.

It all begins on June 21st, which was the first day of the Incan solar calendar and marks the winter solstice, with opening ceremonies throughout the week. You’ll see the streets fill with color and activity thanks to the numerous street fairs, free concerts, and elaborately costumed dancers. The Festival´s main day, falls on the Day of the Peasant (formerly celebrated as Day of the Indian), June 24th, which is also the anniversary of Cusco.

Getting Tickets

Acts I and II at Qorikancha Sun Temple and the Plaza de Armas are open to the general public. You’ll want to go early if you want to be able to see. (One benefit of getting your Inti Raymi tickets through an agency as part of a festival package is that you will usually get a private balcony from which to watch the celebrations in the Plaza.)

Tickets are sold for Act III at Saqsaywaman, where viewing platforms are arranged in three different zones. The cost of Act III, the central ceremony, ranges from $80 to $115 depending if you are in the Green, Blue, or Orange Platform. It’s limited to 3,859 spectators. Ticket costs include the official program/script in 3 languages and a DVD about the ceremony.

If you buy your tickets for Act III directly through the government agency with handles festivals, EMUFEC, payment is required in advance, by deposit into their account or through their online purchasing system. (Unfortunately, they’re taking their time…at the moment, the account information has not yet been published, nor the purchasing system activated!)

The 6 Day Inti Raymi Tour

Pirwa Travel offers both a shorter and longer Inti Raymi tour, the shorter of which includes the festival itself, including a packed lunch and knowledgeable guide, and ensuring balcony access overlooking the Plaza de Armas and seating at Sacsaywaman.

The longer, 6-day tour includes guided tours of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu in addition to Inti Raymi. Those of you interested in a tour package, or assistance with specific elements of your trip such as transport, entrances, guided visits, and more, can get in touch with our travel department, Pirwa Travel Service at pirwatravel@gmail.com.

Travelers’ Tips

  • June is wintertime in Cusco, but the afternoon sun scorches and the temperature can spike up quickly in the afternoon.  Prepare for the variability of Cusco´s climate by dressing in layers to put on for the mornings and evening, and remembering the sun screen.
  • Cusco fills up quickly for Inti Raymi, as it also coincides with the travel industry’s “high season”- whatever you can arrange in advance, do. Especially lodging, train tickets, Machu Picchu entrances, and treks go quickly. (The Inca Trail sold out already! Perhaps you can find spaces in the shortened 2-Day trek, or alternative treks such as Salkantay or Inca Jungle.)
  • Packed streets, visual spectacles, and well-laden tourists….violence is not a worry but pickpockets are guaranteed, so watch outer pockets and bags, carry backpacks along your front or not at all, and guard your small electronics with care- cells, camaras, and mp3s are popular with thieves as they are easy to resell and bring a good price.
  • Tickets can be bought by those who want prime seating for the main ceremony at Sacsayhuamán.  Many, however, choose to simply gather in the surrounding area and hope to catch a glimpse of proceedings while picnicking along the hills.
  • Prices for transport, lodging, and food can soar in July due to the increased demand, so plan some flexibility into your budget. (Don’t worry- none of our Pirwa hostels raise prices during high season or festivals.)

Official Program: Inti Raymi’s Central Day

Friday, 24th of June 2012

08:15   The flag of Tahuantinsuyo, represented the united regions of the empire, is hoisted by 5th Mountain Brigade

08:30   Mass & Te Deum at the Basilica Cathedral, headed by Cusco’s Archbishop

09:00   Sun Greeting at Qorikancha

At Cusco’s famous Temple of the Sun, characters representing noble figures, the chosen women, the Inca’s entourage, and the royals themselves gather for the gather for Salute to the Sun. They arrive as the sounds of traditional Andean Instruments and conch shells fill the air, and exit along flower-strewn streets when they exit en route to the Main Square (Auqaypata). This lasts for half an hour.

11:00   Meeting of the Times at Auqaypata

The Inka and his entourage enter along Inti K’ijllu Street. The Inka will formally address Cusco’s mayor from his ushnu, a ceremonial platform constructed in the center of Cusco’s Main Square for the occasion. This lasts for 45 minutes.

13:30   Main Ceremony Sacsaywaman Fortress

The central ceremony lasts an hour and a half. It begins with the reports from the 4 Suyos (Regions), the Chicha Rite, Rite of Sacred Fire, Llama Sacrifice (simulated) and divining, the Sankhu (Sacred Bread) rite, and Q’ochurikuy (explosion of popular exhaltation). Expect llama viscera, bonfires, dancing, and more.

It doesn’t stop at Sacsayhuamán- the fun will continue throughout the following days through concerts, dancing, and fairs along Cusco’s main streets. Don’t miss the vibrancy, excitement and historical charm of South America’s 2nd largest festival!

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