Legend says that the “Maker of everything” god called Wiracocha created the world and everything that lives in it. The pre-Inca culture Tiahuanaco bequeathed to the Incas this unseen deity. But, over time, the Incas began to place more importance on a visible God. Who accompanied them daily during sowing and harvesting, and warmed them. Illuminated them in their daily chores, and fecundated the earth to give its fruits to man; the Sun god. In this form, the Inti Raymi (Sun festivity) was born, the most important among festivals in Cusco during the Inc time.
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 this Sun festivity and how don’t get lost during this celebration.
Everything you need to know about the Andean festival of Inti Raymi
- The Inti Raymi
- When was it celebrated
- Inti Raymi today
- Buy festival seats
- Tips to enjoy the Inti Raymi
The Inti Raymi
The Inti Raymi consisted of rituals, dances, offerings, animals, and even humans sacrificed in honor of the Sun. The Sapac Inca (emperor) use to direct the festivity from on stage at the Huakaypata center (current Cusco main square). From there, he use to drink Chicha de Jora in front of his entourage, in the middle of music and dances. While a priest lit a flame inside the Qoricancha or the temple of the sun (2 blocks from Huacaypata). And the women and men there dressed in their best clothes and painted their faces yellow.
Animal and human sacrifices
Returning to Huacaypata, the priests used to sacrifice a black llama and opened its chest raw to remove its heart. After, they analyzed it to find out if the coming year would be fruitful or drought. Then, they burned the heart in honor of the Sun god. While the music and dances around them continued. However, if the future was not prosperous, they could resort to human sacrifices. Those sentenced were children from the 4 Suyos, west, east, south, and north of Cusco)
At the end of the festival, the Inca, his family, and relatives used to return to the sovereign palace following a path of rose petals placed by Ajllas (virgins dedicated to the worship of the Sun)
When was it celebrated?
The Incas celebrated Inti Raymi during the winter solstice (June 24) in the southern hemisphere. When the sun was farthest from the earth, and the day was the shortest of all year. For this reason, they chose June 24 to call back their luminous god, The Sun. And thus be closer to him. In addition to asking for a new year with successful harvests and production. That is more rain, more rays of the sun, and an abundance of grain for sowing. For this reason, they considered June 24 as the first of a new Andean year in the Inca calendar, too.
Although the winter solstice begins on June 21. According to the Inca belief, the Sun wasn’t moving from its place until June 24. The festivity used to last 9 days. But three days before, all the participants went through fasting, only eating white corn and a herb called Chucam. During this period, the Incas celebrated with music, colorful dances, processions, and even sacrifices in the Qoricancha (the Sun temple). 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.
1. Inca period
Pachacutec (1400 – 1471) was the most important emperor among the Inca rulers. Not only he was a great conqueror (expanding the Inca territory to the north, south, and east of Cusco), and a great designer (under his command Machu Picchu was built), but also worried about ceremonies, traditions, and rituals to his deities, special to the Sun. Therefore, he ordered the first celebration on June 24, 1412 (Inti means sun and Raymi means celebration). In this sense, he created an important Incas tradition. It was followed by the next rulers until the last one, Atahualpa Inca in 1535. One year before the entry of Spanish conquerors to Cusco.
2. Colonial times
When the Europeans invaded the capital of the Inca Empire (1536), immediately, the Catholic priests prohibited the ceremony. They claimed that it was pagan and tried to impose, as fast as possible, the foreign Catholic religion over a population accustomed to worshiping nature deities. For this reason, the Incas continued to celebrate the Sun festivity in secret, in little groups, hidden from the Spanish authorities. Until 1572, when the Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo definitely forbade festivity, traditional Inca clothing, and the Inca religion completely. And he replaced it with a festivity in honor of Saint John the Baptist. Of course, Francisco de Toledo had reasons to prohibit the festivity. At least after the rebellion of the Inca leader Tupac Amaru I (The festivity instilled Inca nationalism)
3. Republican age
Once Peru obtained its independence and many years later, in 1944, the American Institute of Arts of Cusco, after laborious research work by Cusquenean scholar and playwright Faustino Espinoza Navarro, authorized the celebration and representation of the Inca’s Sun festivity again. The writings of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (A famous Cusquenean colonial chronic and writer) were the base of this research. Garcilaso de la Vega’s books described the famous celebration in great detail in the Inca times. In this sense, that year (1944), the first reconstructed ceremony took place.
From that date until now, every June 24 of each year, more than 500 actors, dancers, and the general public held a theatrical performance of the Sun Festivity 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), 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 the Sapa Inca is worth appreciating. Also, you will see the Sapa Inca being carried on golden litter everywhere.
Nowadays, If you decide to visit Cusco on June 24 to see the awesome Inca Sun festivity, you will be able to appreciate each of these 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 Inca language of Quechua while following the procession among quaint Cusco streets. In conclusion, you will have a greater understanding of our beautiful culture and different traditions. An opportunity worth experiencing one time in life and one of the best things to do in Cusco, definitely.
Inti Raymi today
1. Qoricancha, the Sun temple
09:00 am (lasts 50 min): Every year, this festivity is beginning in the exterior gardens of the Qoricancha, an ancient temple of the Sun (Qori means gold and Cancha means temple). Now the current Santo Domingo convent. Musicians, dancers, priests, and Acllas clutter their gardens. All of them dress in colorful outfits of Incas period style. Even, some participants are dressed in animal costumes, like snakes, pumas, and condors. These animals symbolize the underworld, the earthly world, and the celestial world, according to Inca mythology. At this moment, the Inca recite a prayer to the Sun god. Also, he receives retinues of 4 select children of the 4 Suyos to be sacrificed. (The Suyos were lands of the four sides of Cusco, north, south, west, and east)
The Qoricancha doesn’t have armchairs or reserved seats located around it for viewers or visitors. Therefore, you’ll have to get up early to occupy a good area, bring a portable chair, and see the spectacle without obstacles. The later you arrive, the further behind the crowd you will be.
2. Plaza de Armas (Main square)
11:00 am (lasts 50 min): Next, the procession moves from Qoricancha to the Cusco Plaza de Armas. During the transfer, many Acllas go ahead to the Inca litter, throwing flower petals on the way, and cleaning the route of evil spirits. Also, to smooth the tread of the weary feet of royal porters. The procession continues by Pampa del Castillo Street and Loreto Street. Once arrived at Main Square, called Huacaypata or wailing square in the Inca times (this special name was due to the ancient and unmentionable ceremony that Incas realized there, in which they ended up crying), the sovereign with its priest stand right in front of Cusco cathedral and begins the Coca leaf reading ritual, to know the future of the next harvests and the well-being of the empire.
Try to arrive early and take a good spot in the surrounding areas of the Plaza de Armas (Usually, these are stone portals that surround the plaza and shelter many shops and restaurants), there are no reserved chairs. Another option to see the spectacle sitting while you enjoy some good drink or food is booking a balcony table at one of the many touristic restaurants located on the second floor of the surrounding buildings, over the stone portals. Also, getting there won’t be a problem, most good hotels in Cusco are close to the main square.
13:00 pm (lasts 90 min): The Inca, its entourage, priest, soldiers, royal porters, Ajllas, and noble people, continue the procession to Sacsayhuaman. This happens once the Coca leaf reading is finished in the main square. The Sacsayhuaman 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, with 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, they sacrifice a child chosen from one of the 4 Suyos. In addition, they offered the child’s sacrificed blood 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, begin a long procession back to the city of Cusco.
In the case of Sacsayhuaman, the Cusco municipality install seats and bleachers around the esplanade where the show is taking 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 three colors, Orange, Red, and Green. And these usually sell out in 6 months.
Buy festival seats
As we mentioned, seats for viewers are well-distributed in Sacsayhuaman. It is maybe one of the most important archaeological sites in Cusco. The visitors need to book in advance those seats if they want to enjoy the best festivity.
A. Green zone
The Green area is usually located almost behind the stage, close to the Sacsayhuaman bastions, therefore, the seats located there are the cheapest.
- Adult foreign: $100
- Child foreign or national: $40
- National tourist: $50
- Locals (born in Cusco): $40
However, if you don’t want to pay anything, you can go early and get a good space over Suchuna Hill located in front of the Sacsayhuaman esplanade, where the local population sees the spectacle totally free, to enjoy this fantastic festivity without paying anything!
B. Red and Orange zones
Instead, the red and orange zones have seats located just in front of the scenery, for this reason, the seats usually are more expensive than the green zone.
- Adult foreign or national: $150
- Child foreign or national: $75
Pay attention. The Cusco municipal celebration company (EMUFEC) makes tickets available 6 months before the event.
Credit cards or bank transfers can be used to purchase tickets.
Tips to enjoy the Inti Raymi
- Book your tickets to assist with part of the festivity located in Sacsayhuaman 6 months in advance through a Cusco city tour. 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 the festivity, 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 or cameras, not more, not iPads, drones, inter alia.
- June, in the middle of the dry season, presents rays of sunshine are hard, the skies clear, and dry winds. Therefore, carrying with you sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses, will be a great idea.
- To avoid insolation, you can carry bottles of water and drink them slowly. Also, carry a small backpack or bag to throw away your waste, Sacsayhuaman only has garbage cans at its checkpoints.
- 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 this celebration and enjoy the festivity by yourself, we suggest you get, first, a Cusco tourist map and avoid the crowd.
“THE INTI RAYMI URGES US TO CREATE DELIGHT INSIDE AND TO ENABLE OUR LIVES TO MIRROR OUR INTERNAL BLISS”
As you see, this celebration is not something to let go unnoticed. June 24 is an emblematic time when Cusco is revitalized, and its colors, traditions, and beautiful legends take shape with this fantastic celebration. 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 this celebration 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.