Throughout the month, the city will be decorated with the rainbow flag of Cusco and folkloric dance parades will take place daily between the 10th and 20th of June. We’ll be publishing the day-to-day program next week, but did want to share the highlights right away. From the Inti Raymi Festival to the Night of Light & Sound, these are the biggest events for Cusco’s Jubilee month, celebrated this year from May 29th through July 03rd:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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!
For the last year Cusco has been anxiously preparing for the festivals of this June and July. As the faithful are setting off on the Qoyllur Rit´i pilgrimage and beautification projects are underway in Machu Picchu Pueblo, the streets of the Imperial City are already starting to fill with costumed dancers and musicians for Intí Raymi, the Festival of the Sun. (We wrote about the celebration in an earlier post.) The Festival´s central day, the 24th of June, falls on the Day of the Peasant (formerly celebrated as Day of the Indian) as well as Cusco´s Anniversary. The celebrations won´t end until they reach their climax on July 7th when Peru celebrates the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu.
Official Program: Friday, 24th of June 2011
This day not only kicks of Intí Raymi, which we wrote about in an earlier post, but is also the day Cusco celebrates its anniversary. No expense has been spared, so be sure to make it to the Imperial City in time!
08:15 The 5th Mountain Brigade hoists the rainbow flag of Tahuantinsuyo
08:30 Cusco´s Archbishop heads Mass and the Te Deum at the Basilica Cathedral
09:00 Act I of Intí Raymi
It all begins with the Sun Greeting at Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun, as various characters of importance in the time of the Inca empire gather for the Incan Emperor´s Salute to the Sun. Expect the air to fill with the noise of traditional Andean Instruments and conch shells as the streets are covered with flowers for the procession to the Main Square
10:30 Meeting of the Times at the Main Square
From his huaca, Incan altar, the Inca formally addresses the Mayor of Cusco
13:30 Central Ceremony at the Fortress of Sacsayhuamán
The main part of the celebration includes the Chicha de Jora rite, a (realistically faked) black llama sacrifice, and the fire rite. There will be dancing, jubilation, divining from llama blood and viscera, and sacred bonfires.
The dancing, music, and overall celebrating won´t stop at Sacsayhuamán, fairs and concerts will continue throughout the day in the main streets of Cusco.
It´s a lot to get to in one post, so check out our earlier posts on Qoyllur Rit’i and Intí Raymi for some fascinating information about some of the celebrations, and check back here soon to learn where to go and what to do for the big Machu Picchu Centennial.
Inti Raymi (Quechua for Sun Festival) honors Inca theology´s supreme deity, the sun. The celebration begins on June 21st, which was the first day of the Incan solar calendar as well as the winter solstice. This is New Years Day- the Inca Edition. During the time of the Inca Empire, this was the most important ceremony of the year. Tradition holds that it dates back to the first Inca, Pachacutec, although its observation was forbidden by the Spanish during the time of the conquest. Since its rebirth in 1944 Cusco has presented a theatrical reenactment of the opening ceremonies based on the chronicles of Garcilazo de la Vega. Come watch Cusco come alive as more than 50,000 spectators witness and more than 500 actors, dancers and musicians perform. After the opening ceremonies festivities continue throughout the week, with elaborately costumed dancers, street fairs, and free concerts.
A Trip Through Time
The week´ s events are kicked off at the impressive Temple of the Sun, Qorikancha, by the ceremony proper. Cusco travels back in time as characters representing the most important function aries and nobility of the Incan empire appear among the music of the conch shells, quepas, and tamborcillos, culminating with the appearance of the Inca, who calls on the blessings of the sun. Afterwards the procession directs itself along flower-strewn streets towards the Plaza de Armas (Cusco´s main square), where a large huaca (Incan altar) has been constructed for the coca ritual, where a priest divines the will of the Sun: good fortune, but conditional upon the sacrifice of a llama. The entire coterie continues on to the fortress of Sacsayhuamán just outside the city for the main part of the ceremony. Here the Inca will perform the chicha de jora (fermented corn drink) rite, a (realistically faked) black llama sacrifice, and the rite of fire. Actors dance around burning stacks of straw while priests divine the Incas future from the llama blood and viscera, and from the smoke released when the heart is thrown into the main, sacred bonfire. When the I nca shows satisfaction, the place erupts in jubilation. A fter the main day of ceremonial events, the fun continues through fairs, dances through the streets, and free concerts which fill the streets.
- This is t he 2nd largest festival in South America and rooms get scarce- just this once, you´ll want to book in advance.
- More than any other time of year, the streets of Cusco are packed with people- dancers and musicians in the streets and spectators crowding the sidewalks- this is the time to be especially wary of pick-pockets counting on your distraction.
- 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.
- Expect prices to soar in keeping with the demand…train and bus tickets, rooms, food- everything costs more. (Don´t worry- Pirwa´s prices will stay the same throughout the festivities.)
- June is wintertime in Cusco, but the cold tends to be limited to the morning and evenings, and the afternoon sun can still scorch. Prepare for the variability of Cusco´s climate by dressing in layers and remembering the sun screen.