Undoubtedly, one of the most important religious festivals of the Inca era was the Inti Raymi or “Festival of the Sun,” celebrated every winter solstice in honor of Apu Inti or the Sun God, the supreme and powerful entity of the Tawantinsuyo.
Today, it is one of the celebrations of great tourist interest, for which entry and tours to Inti Raymi are booked months in advance. This is because it is an Inca tradition that still prevails over the years. The celebration takes place in the presence of the Inca emperor, showcasing the encounter and blending of cultural and natural richness from each Suyo (state or region). It also features representations of various dances, sacrifices, and offerings to the Sun God.
Inti Raymi Festival in Cusco
According to Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the Inti Raymi festival was one of the four most important celebrations of the Inca era. This celebration lasted for 15 days, with the last emperor’s presence recorded in 1535.
Later, in 1572, Viceroy Francisco Álvarez de Toledo prohibited the celebration, considering it a pagan festival not well-regarded by the Catholic Church. Despite this, it continued to be held clandestinely as a protest against the extirpation of idolatries.
In 1944, the mestizo from Cusco, Faustino Espinoza Navarro, composed a historical reconstruction based on the chronicles of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Since that date, the celebration became a public event held every June 24. Initially established as “Indian Day” by President Leguía in 1930, over the years, President Velasco declared it “Peasant Day” in 1969. To this day, the “Inti Raymi” Sun Festival remains one of Peru’s main tourist attractions.
Inti Raymi in Inca times
During the Inca era, this celebration was known as Wawa Inti Raymi (Festival of the Child Sun), as it was one of the grandest celebrations held at Huacaypata, now the Main Square of Cusco. It involved the participation of curacas (local leaders) and vassal lords, reaffirming their loyalty to the emperor.
This grand festival was highly ritualistic, requiring careful preparation. Participants abstained from eating for three days before the celebration, consuming only a little raw white corn, herbs like chucán, and pure water. Fire was not allowed in the entire city during this time, and people refrained from sleeping together. The Acllas (Virgins of the Sun) were responsible for preparing corn cakes.
On the main day of the celebration, the Sovereign and his relatives, barefoot and squatting, awaited the sunrise with open arms. They kissed the air, welcoming the Apu Inti. After the entire ceremony, they proceeded to the Qoricancha temple, where each Curaca (local chief) presented offerings from their respective regions. After the procession, they returned to the main square to sacrifice a llama. The fire for this ritual was lit using the gold bracelet of the priest as a mirror. The meat was then distributed to all present, accompanied by the sacred drink, chicha. For the people, this festival marked the beginning of a new year, expressing gratitude to Apu Inti for the abundant harvest of potatoes, corn, and other foodstuffs.
Inti Raymi Today
Today, in the city of Cusco, the ancient capital of Tawantinsuyo, this celebration takes place as a theatrical manifestation, considered ceremonial and traditional, evoking our national identity. It also symbolizes the values and memories left by our ancestors.
This spectacle is aimed at both tourists from different countries and the local residents who participate in the celebration. The festivities begin at the Sacred Temple of Qoricancha, where a small invocation ceremony to the Sun takes place. The procession then moves to the Plaza de Armas and, finally, to the main celebration on the esplanade of Saqsayhuaman.
At the esplanade, to the rhythm of music played by delegations from the four suyos (regions), dressed in typical Inca attire, ñustas (princesses), coyas (queens), and pallas (attendants) parade in undulating fashion to accompany the Inca sovereign, who is carried on a litter. The legendary litter was made of gold and silver. The Inca stands, extending his arms, paying homage to the Sun or Inti, raising ceremonial golden cups filled with chicha. PERU GRAND TRAVEL takes you to experience the full-day Inti Raymi festival.
This contemporary version of the Inti Raymi festival was the initiative of Humberto Vidal Unda, with the Quechua script written by Faustino Espinoza Navarro, who portrayed the Inca sovereign for many years.
The new Inti Raymi is now part of Peru’s most important celebrations and those of the city of Cusco. It has gained great fame as a festival of national identity that transcends Peruvian borders.
Reasons Not to Miss the Inti Raymi Festival
Certainly, Cusco is one of the most visited cities by enthusiastic travelers eager to explore this wonderful city. Here are the reasons why you shouldn’t miss the grand Inti Raymi festival:
- You can witness one of the biggest festivals held in the city of Cusco, commemorating the traditions of the Incas that persist to this day.
- During this time of year, a large number of tourists from different countries visit, providing an opportunity to interact and exchange experiences and anecdotes with each of them.
- You can delight in the magnificent performance of each Cusco artist playing an assigned role, assuming their roles in typical Inca costumes, mostly made of sheep’s wool and alpaca, just as our ancestors used.
- Throughout the ritual, you’ll hear Andean chants in Quechua, dedicated in worship to the Sun God.
- You can visit the three most important venues where this festival takes place: The Temple of Qoricancha, the Main Square, and the Esplanade of Saqsayhuaman with its enormous stone blocks—a perfect setting for the Inti Raymi festival.
- Likewise, you can taste our great gastronomic variety, including typical dishes from the Andean region of Cusco.
- Enjoy traditional Inca dances and contemporary customs in our city.
- For a more comfortable viewing experience, it is recommended to obtain the entrance ticket to the Saqsayhuaman esplanade well in advance or hire the services of a travel agency for better excursion organization.
- For your personal care, it is suggested to wear protective clothing for both sun and cold, as the main stage is exposed to any climatic changes.
- Wear comfortable clothing for the day, as these are generally sunny days. Bring a warm jacket for the evening chill.
- Be prepared with snacks and hydrating drinks, as the ceremony lasts for approximately 7 hours.
- Be vigilant about your personal belongings, as in any place in the world, there are unscrupulous individuals looking to take advantage of the large crowds at the esplanade.
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