inti raymi in cusco

Legend says that the big god “The maker of everything” called Wiracocha created the world and everything that lives in it, the moon, the sun, the stars, and the ground, among others. This unseen deity was inherited from the pre-Inca culture Tiahuanaco to the Incas. But, over time, the Incas began to place more importance on a visible God who accompanied them daily during sowing and harvesting, 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 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 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 festivity

inti raymi history

The Inti Raymi is an open-air theatrical representation of the most significant Inca festivity that was celebrated each June 24 (winter solstice) in honor of the Sun-god in ancient Peru. More than 500 participants among actors, dancers, and volunteers simulate to be the Inca, its wife, Inca bishops, and virgins maids among others, in a celebration of color, singing, and dancing developed in center Cusco streets, and Sacsayhuaman, the main Inca fortress that survives in time.

1. What was the Inti Raymi?

inti raymi dances

The Inca’s Sun festivity consisted of rituals, dances, offerings, and animals and humans sacrificed in honor of the Sun every June 24. The festivity was carried out by the Sapac Inca (Inca emperor), who went up on stage at the Huakaypata (Place of lamentation in Quechua. Current Cusco main square) and drank Chicha de Jora in front of his entourage. A priest lit a flame inside the Qoricancha (temple of the sun), and the women and men dressed in their best clothes and painted their faces yellow.

The Inca, his family, his relatives (Panaca), his entourage, and the militaries participated in the celebration with dance and music. But there was also animal sacrifice. Usually, a black llama was sacrificed and opened its chest raw to remove its heart. The Inca priests analyzed it to find out if the coming year would be fruitful or if there would be a drought, then they burned the heart in honor of the Sun god. But there were also human sacrifices, children were brought from the 4 Suyos (west, east, south, and north of Tawantinsuyo) to be sacrificed.

Finally, the Inca, his family, and relatives were returning to his palace following a path of rose petals that were being placed by Ajllas (virgins dedicated to the worship of the Sun)

2. When is it celebrated?

inti raymi ceremony

As we mentioned, this festival of the Sun is celebrated during the winter solstice (June 24), when the sun is located farthest from the earth and when the day is presented as the shortest of all year. For this reason, the Incas celebrated this festivity on 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 rains, more rays of the sun, and an abundance of grain for sowing. For this reason, the date was also chosen as the first of a new Andean Year.

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 date on which he decided to celebrate the Sun festival. The festivity lasted 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 animal sacrifices in the most important site in the Inca territory, the Qoricancha in the Cusco capital (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.

History of the Inti Raymi

inti raymi priest

1. Inca period

Pachacutec (1400 – 1471), the most important emperor among the Incas rulers, not only was a great conqueror (expanding the Incas territory, Tawantinsuyo to the north, south, and east of South America), and a great designer (under his command Machu Picchu was built), but also worried about ceremonies, traditions, and rituals to his Inca 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 followed by the next rulers until the last one, Atahualpa Inca in 1535, one year before the entering of Spanish conquerors to Cusco.

2. Colonial times

When the European invaded the capital of the Inca Empire (1536), 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 Sun festivity in secret, in little groups, hidden from the Spanish authorities until 1572 when the festivity and traditional Inca clothing were totally forbidden by the Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo and replaced by a festivity in honor of Saint Jhon 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.

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. This research was made on the basis of writings of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (A famous Cusquenean colonial chronic and writer) who described the famous celebration in great detail. In this sense, this year, the first reconstructed ceremony took place.

4. The festivity in modern times

From that period until now, every June 24 of each year a theatrical performance of the Inca’s Sun festivity 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 the Sapa Inca in this important ceremony. The Sapa Inca was the emperor who was carried on a golden chariot everywhere.

Nowadays, If you decide to visit Cusco on June 24 to see the awesome Inca’s Sun festivity, 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 Inca language of Quechua while following the procession among quaint Cusco streets and plazas. 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, step by step

As we mentioned before, the Inca Sun festivity is developed in three different important parts of Cusco, one after another.

1. Qoricancha, the Sun temple

inti raymi qoricancha

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. These gardens 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 participants wore animal costumes can be seen, 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 and receive retinues of 4 select children of the 4 Suyos (lands of the four sides of Cusco, north, south, west, and east) to be sacrificed.

2. Plaza de Armas (Main square)

inti raymi main square

11:00 am (lasts 50 min): Next, the procession begins from Qoricancha to the Cusco 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 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.

3. Sacsayhuaman

inti raymi sacsayhuaman

13:00 pm (lasts 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, 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, 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, begin a long procession back to Cusco.

Getting around during the celebration

inti raymi crowd

This amazing Sun festivity 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 + the Sun temple is the activity most sold activity by travel agencies, and there are usually crowds of tourists spread out on the main streets of the city center. For this reason, we’ll give you some advice on getting around through the Cusco center with total liberty, without depending on anyone during this important day.

  • 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 during your walks.
  • The first part of the festivity developed in 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 you a portable chair, and see the spectacle without obstacles. The later you arrive, the further behind the crowd you will be.
  • The same recommendation is useful to see this festivity in the Cusco main square. 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.
  • 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.

The Inti Raymi in Sacsayhuaman

city tour in cusco inti raymi

As we mentioned, the Sun festival has well-distributed seats for viewers in Sacsayhuaman, maybe one of the most important archaeological Sites of Cusco, and these need to be booked in advance if someone wants to enjoy the best of the 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

It should be noted that the tickets are made available to the interested public, 6 months before the event is held through the EMUFEC website (Cusco municipal celebration company). Credit cards or bank transfers can be used to purchase tickets.

Tips to enjoy the Sun festival

inti raymi view
  • Book your tickets to assist with part of the festivity located in Sacsayhuaman 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 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 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 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.

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!