The greatest of all celebrations of the year in Cusco is without a doubt the so-called Inti Raymi, or the ”Sun Festival”. This is a ritual that is held every year on June 24th and carries a massive symbolic importance in the traditions and history of Cusqueans. It’s an Incan ceremony, as you could easily guess. The name is in Quechua, the language of the Incas that is still widely spoken in Andean Peru. Inti means Sun – those who did the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu probably knew this already as well, as the 4th day of the tour you witness the spectacular sunrise over the ruins after you cross the ”Inti Gate”, the gate of the Sun. So, if it wasn’t clear enough yet – lol – Sun used to play a big part in the daily life and rituals of the Incas, and it is still greatly present in the life and beliefs of locals nowadays.
The Inti Raymi is the celebration of New Year’s of the Incas, which begins on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The ritual used to involve animal and human sacrifices, whose blood was shed to honor the Sun and his wife, the Goddess of Fertility, the Pachamama, in the hope for the coming up year to be thriving and prosperous.
Nowadays, things have obviously changed but the Inti Raymi preserves its unique characteristics. The main ceremony takes place in the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, not far from Cusco, at the end of a solemne procession that starts from the Qoricancha temple and stops at Plaza de Armas along the way. More than 500 actors take part in this ritual, that is entirely conducted in Quechua language.
Just like many other traditions, Inti Raymi was suppressed by the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century, and most of the temples and sacred places were severely damaged. With the re-discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911, and the consequently increasing curiousity of people coming from all over the world to learn about the fascinating empire and history of the Incas, rituals such as Inti Raymi and others were put back into life (Inti Raymi was re-introduced in 1944) and are now, other than part of the heritage of Peru, a great tourist attraction.
Every June 24th an enormous crowd gather at the three main spots where the ceremony takes place to witness this amazing event. If you are in Cusco and don’t want to miss out, make sure you get there early to secure a nice spot and don’t forget sunglasses, sun cream and a hat to protect from the strong sun glare. High season starts in June so booking your accommodation in advance is also very recommended.