Inti Raymi was once the most important ancestral festival in the Inca civilization and in the "Tahuantinsuyo" region or the 4 corners of the Inca empire. Over 25,000 people used to attend this 15-day festival throughout the 15th century. Today, Inti Raymi is considered to be the second most important festival in South America, after Rio de Janeiro’s carnival, and why many people decide to travel to Cusco, Peru. Find out more about this incredible ancient festival in Cusco and why you should try to visit the festival on the 24th of June for one of the best Cusco tours on your Peru trip.
The Sun God is the main protagonist of one of the most important and traditional festivals celebrated in Peru and South America. Inti Raymi or “Fiesta del Sol”. In the ancient Inca language of Quechua, Inti means Sun and Raymi celebration. Inti Raymi was the celebration of the Sun God, the most venerated god in the Inca religion. The Inca emperor, and all the Cusco nobility, were considered natural children of the Sun and to whom they depended on for their existence.
This is why the ancient Incas paid tribute with different sacrifices and offerings. This festival was established in Cusco by the Inca Pachatutec, the first Inca, in 1430 A. C. to celebrate the winter solstice of the southern hemisphere, which marked the first day of the Andean New Year in the Inca calendar. This is the day when the sun is farthest from the Earth and it is the shortest day of the year.
In 1572, the Inti Raymi festival was prohibited by the Spanish viceroy Francisco de Toledo as it was considered a pagan ceremony and contrary to the Catholic faith. The festival was still held in secret for over 400 years, although not with the same pomp" as now, the Inca emperor wasn’t there to officiate it. In 1944, Faustino Espinoza Navarro, a Peruvian writer who promoted Inca and Quechua customs, was able to re-introduce this unique celebration to society.
The tradition continues today as a theatrical representation with mystical and spiritual undertones. The highlight of the Cusco Festivals, which take place throughout the month of June Inti Raymi attracts thousands of national and foreign visitors, who follow the pilgrimage through the streets of the historic Inca capital and can personally experience a special day of cultural activities, with the aim of maintaining the Inca legacy and tradition on their Peru trip.
About 700 people, are carefully selected including actors, dancers, and musicians who star in a series of performances that include dances, actuation, and homages to the Sun God, performed outside the Qorikancha complex, the original temple of The Sun. The procession then continues to The plaza de Armas and finalizes in an incredible actuation above Cusco at The Sacsayhuamán fortress. The Inti Raymi Festival is not exclusive to Cusco, and most Andean communities continue to give their offerings every 24th of June, in Andean countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, northern Argentina, and Colombia.
The triumphant return of the Sun on the shortest day and on the longest night renews nature and thus is a reason for joy and celebration. So the Inca and his entourage pay their respects and admiration to the Sun, the Inca says a prayer in the Quechua language and simulates a sacrifice so that a shaman can predict the prosperity and well-being of the coming year.
Use Sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat, and drink plenty of water. Usually, it’s really sunny for Inti Raymi as it is the dry season in Cusco. It may not be really hot, but due to the high elevation, the sun will burn you. Dress in layers. Usually, you do not need to take big coats with you during the festival, but it may start as a cool day, and as hours pass by (this is a full-day event), the sun gets hotter. As soon as the sun goes down, the cooler temperatures arrive once more. The event is usually finished by 5 pm o you should be able to make it back to your hotel before dark.
Try to come a few days in advance to Cusco, so that you can acclimatize and avoid altitude sickness so that you can enjoy the day to the fullest. The festival happens at an elevation of 3400 meters and can affect some people (not all). Consider drinking coca tea, drinking plenty of water, eating light meals, and walking slowly. If in doubt, contact your doctor before your trip as there is a medicine specifically for altitude sickness.
Book EVERYTHING in Advance
Make sure you have your tickets and hotel reservations well in advance, many travelers from all over the world attend this amazing spectacle and availability is usually a problem if you do not plan the trip in advance.
The main event in Sacsayhuaman is ticketed, with different pricing. The least expensive ticket costs $199 USD, and the most expensive is $249. Children pay $109 and $169. Inti Raymi has faced a lot of criticism for its high costs, overcrowding, and waste problem. One of the closest approximations states that 80,000 people watch the Inti Raymi procession through the city, and over 3,000 people attend the event at Sacsayhuaman, making it one of the most-visited Cusco excursions.
Though it is true that the event generates income for many locals, the challenge remains to carry out the event in a sustainable manner that also allows local people to enjoy the event along with visitors. Many locals living in the city and in rural areas do not have the income to attend the ticketed event of course and watch either on TV or from the hills surrounding Sacsaywaman, where a ticket is not required. Be aware that if you choose this option, often people will charge you for a space they have saved and there are no facilities, so drink little to avoid using the bathroom (there are none!) but drink enough to stay hydrated, it's a fine balance!
If you want to visit this ancient Inca Festival, we recommend that you book at least 6 months in advance as tickets sell out quickly and demand is great. Ask us here for more information about the festival of The Sun -I nti Raymi