inti raymi in cusco

Although it is true that the Sun was one of the most important deities of the ancient Incas, it was not the first one. The first one was Wiracocha, maker of everything or the one that always was. According to the Incas, he created everything, the moon, the sun, the stars, and the earth among others. This Deity was inherited from pre-Inca cultures (Tiahuanaco Culture), whom the Incas conquered. But, over time, the Incas began to place more importance on a visible God, one who accompanied them during the days of sowing and harvesting, warmed them, and illuminated them in their daily chores; the Sun. In this form, the Inti Raymi (Sun festivity) was born, one of the most important festivals in Cusco during the time of the Inca Empire. And that is why together with Machu Travel Peru we have prepared a small article where you’ll learn about the history, and context of Inti Raymi and how don’t get lost during this celebration. 

Everything you need to know about the Andean festival of Inti Raymi

The Inti Raymi festivity

inti raymi dances

The Inti Raymi is a theatrical representation of an important ancient Inca festivity celebrated each June 24 in honor of the Sun-god in Peru. More than 500 participants simulate to be the Inca, its wife, bishops, virgins maids among others, in a celebration of color, singing and dancing in Sacsayhuaman, the main Inca fortress close to Cusco. 

This festival was celebrated during the winter solstice (June 24) in the Southern Hemisphere, when the sun was located farthest from the earth. When the day was presented as the shortest of all year. Some scholars affirm the Incas chose this day to call to their luminous God, who was more distant from them and accompanied them fewer hours of the day. For this reason, the date was chosen as the first of a new Andean Year, too

The Inti Raymi celebrations lasted 9 days. During this period the Incas celebrated in the most important archaeological site in Cusco with music, colorful dances, processions, and even animal sacrifices offered to the sun. Many of these sacrifices were to ensure good harvests for the year. In addition to giving thanks to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and paying tribute to the firstborn of the Sun, the Inca. 

Nowadays, If you decide to visit Cusco on June 24 to see the Inti Raymi, you will be able to appreciate each of the artists in an impeccable representation. Most of the actors and actresses who take part in the dramatization are natives of Cusco. Also, you will hear Andean songs in the ancient language of Quechua. In conclusion, you will have a greater understanding of our beautiful culture and different traditions. An opportunity worth experiencing and one of the best things to do in Cusco.

History of the Inti Raymi

inti raymi history

Pachacutec, the most important emperor among the Incas rulers, not only was a great conqueror (expanding the Incas territory, Tawantinsuyo), and a great architectural (building Machu Picchu) But also worried about ceremonies to their deities, special to the Sun, the most important for them. Therefore, he ordered the first Inti Raymi (Sun festivity) in 1412. In this sense, he created an important Incas’ tradition developed for the following Incas rulers until the last one in 1533, under the governance of the Inca Atahualpa and the entering of Spanish conquerors to Cusco.

When the Spanish invaded the capital of the Inca Empire, immediately, the Catholic priests prohibited the ceremony. Claiming that it was pagan and trying to impose, as fast as possible, the foreign Catholic religion over a population accustomed to worshiping nature deities for hundreds of years. 

For this reason, the Incas continued to celebrate the Inti Raymi in secret, hidden from the Spanish authorities until 1572 when the festivity was totally forbidden by the Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo and replaced by a San Juan Bautista festivity.

Recovering a forbidden festivity

inti raymi view

Later, in 1944, once Peru obtained its independence, and after a laborious research work by Cusquenean scholars like the philosopher Humberto Vidal Unda, the scientist Uriel Garcia and the playwright Faustino Espinoza Navarro, on the base of writings of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (A famous Cusquenean colonial chronic and writer) the first reconstructed Inti Raymi ceremony took place. 

From that period until now, a theatrical performance of the Inti Raymi has been held in three important places of Cusco, the ceremony begins in the Qoricancha (Ancient Sun temple located in the historic center of Cusco, now the Santo Domingo Convent), after continues in the main square or Huacaypata (crying place), finally it is developed in Sacsayhuaman Fortress, 2 km from the Cusco main square. This ceremony gives a real interpretation of the stories about the heyday of the Inca and particularly the performance of Sapa Inca. The Sapa Inca is the Inca emperor who is carried on a golden chariot. 

Inti Raymi continues to be celebrated majestically as a unique and incomparable ceremony that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every year. Especially to people interested and very enthusiastic about exploring the ancient Inca life.

June 24th: Stages of the main day

inti raymi main square

As we mentioned before, the Inti Raymi is developed in three different important parts of Cusco, one after another. 

  • 09:00 am Qoricancha, the Sun temple (last 50 min): Every year, the Inti Raymi begins in the exterior gardens of the Qoricancha, the current Santo Domingo convent. These can be seen full of musicians, dancers, priests, and Acllas (They were virgins chosen to serve and worship the Sun God with their sweet voices, singing Andean songs in Quechua), all of them dressed in colorful outfits of Incas period style. Even, some locals wearing animal costumes can be seen. These costumes can be snakes, pumas, and condors. These animals symbolize the underworld, the earthly world, and the celestial world, according to Inca mythology. Here the Inca recite a prayer to the Sun god and receive retinues with a select child of the 4 Suyos (lands of the four sides of Cusco, north, south, west, and east)
  • 11:00 am Plaza de Armas (Main square) (Last 50 min): Next, the procession begins from Qoricancha to the Plaza de Armas. Many Acllas go ahead to the Inca litter, throwing flower petals on the way, cleaning the route of evil spirits, to smooth the tread of the weary feet of royal porters. The procession continues by Pampa del Castillo and Loreto street. Once they arrived at Main Square, called Huacaypata or wailing square in the Inca times (Its special name was due to the ancient and unmentionable ceremony that Incas did there, in which they finished it crying), the sovereign with its priest stand right in front of Cusco cathedral and begin the Coca leaf reading ritual, to know the future of the next harvests and the well-being of the empire.
  • 13:00 pm Sacsayhuaman (last 90 min): Once the Coca leaf reading is finished in the main square, the Inca, its entourage, priest, soldiers, royal porters, Ajllas, and noble people, inter alia, continue the procession to Sacsayhuaman. This fortress is located 2 km from Cusco center. There, the real show begins with dances, music, and soldier’s choreography along the gigantic esplanade of Sacsayhuaman, everyone giving their best. The sovereign, with his wife the Colla, and his leading priests, see all the spectacle over an atrium made of artificial stones, located in the center of the esplanade. After that, the Inca recite a prayer to the Sun god and the sacrifices begin, the first victim is a black llama. The Inca and its prominent priest extract the heart from him. Seeing the spilled blood, they can predict the future of the empire. If the future is uncertain or bad, a child chosen from one of the 4 Suyos is sacrificed, and his blood is offered to the Sun God. But don’t worry, all these acts are theatrical representations of what happened once a long time ago. Finally, more dances and music continue up until the Inca ends the ceremony. Then everything ends with a procession back to Cusco.

Getting around during the celebration

inti raymi ceremony

Inti Raymi continues to be celebrated majestically as a unique and incomparable ceremony that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every year. Especially to people interested and very enthusiastic about exploring the ancient Inca life. It is in June when Cusco receives more tourists than the rest of the year. Therefore, during the month, the Cusco city tour is the activity more sold activity by travel agencies. For this reason, we’ll give you some advice on getting around through the Cusco center with total liberty, without depending on anyone.

  • Generally, 5 days before June 24 begins the celebrations, parades, and music in the historic center of Cusco. Expect to always have crowds thronging the streets.
  • The Part of Inti Raymi developed in Qoricancha doesn’t have armchairs or seats around it for viewers. You’ll have to get early to occupy a good area and see the spectacle without obstacles. The later you arrive, the further behind the crowd you will be.
  • The same recommendation is helpful to see the Inti Raymi in the main square. Try to arrive early and take a good spot around the Plaza de Armas (Usually, these are under the stone portals that surround the plaza) or you can book a balcony table in one of the many touristic restaurants located on the second floor over the stone’s portals that surrounded the square to get a privileged view of the ceremony. Happily, most good hotels in Cusco are close to the main square. So, getting there won’t be much of a problem.
  • In the case of Sacsayhuaman, the Cusco municipality install seats and bleachers around the esplanade where the show will take place. These seats are paid, usually, the prices are in American dollars, and these costs are according to the area of view. The zones are divided into colors Orange, Red, and Blue. And these usually sell out 6 months in advance.
  • However, if you don’t want to pay anything, you can go early and get a good space over the little hills located in front of the Sacsayhuaman esplanade, where the local population sees the spectacle, to enjoy the Inti Raymi without paying anything!

Tips to enjoy Inti Raymi

inti raymi priest
  • Book your Inti Raymi tickets 6 months in advance through a travel agency. In this form, you’ll get easily your entrance fees, transportation to the Sacsayhuaman, and even a guide-translator of Quechua to English (Remember that the ceremony is developed in the Inca’s ancient language, the Quechua)
  • Always be alert with your personal belongings, as we told you, in June and especially the week before Inti Raymi, the historic center of Cusco use to be overcrowded with people. Therefore, take care of your personal belonging, the pickpockets may be on the prowl. We recommend you carry only the phone, not more, not iPads, professional cameras, inter alia.
  • June is situated in the middle of the dry season, when the rays of sunshine are hard, the skies clear, and dry winds. Therefore, carrying with you sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses, will be perfect.
  • To avoid the insolation, you can carry bottles of water and drink them slowly. 
  • Wear comfortable clothes, like trekking pants and shoes, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a hat. If you have a windbreaker, it will be better.
  • If you want to take a walk by the Cusco center during the days of Inti Raymi and enjoy the festivity by yourself, we suggest you get, first, a Cusco tourist map.

“THE INTI RAYMI URGES US TO CREATE DELIGHT INSIDE AND TO ENABLE OUR LIVES TO MIRROR OUR INTERNAL BLISS”

As you will understand, this celebration is not something to go unnoticed. It is an emblematic time when Cusco is revitalized. And its colors, traditions, and beautiful legends take shape with the different celebrations. Being part of the Inti Raymi, you will be able to understand in greater depth the themes that shape the daily life of Cusco. Together with Machu Travel Peru, we hope we have been of help. If you want to enjoy these celebrations on your next vacation, you can consult with our advisors. Our team will be excited to help you make the trip of your dreams come true

Peru has so much to offer, it can be hard to know where to start. With many years of experience in the tourism sector, Machu Travel Peru is happy to help with anything regarding your trip to Machu Picchu and any tours around it. Make your Machu Picchu experience an unforgettable one!