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Inti Raymi- The Incan Festival of the Sun

Inti Raymi- The Incan Festival of the Sun

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.

Travelers´ Tips

  • 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.