The Inti Raymi Festival in Peru may be the closest one can come in the 21st century to experiencing the real culture of an ancient society.
We tend to be totally captivated by imagery and depictions of ancient cultures. From the heart-thumping action of Apocalypto to the horrifying, literally heart-thumping “Kali Ma!” scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the elusive nature of lost civilizations is an endless fount of fascination for any lover of history, archaeology, or just culture.
As it happens, we are living in the wrong era to experience those cultures first-hand. Modernity has reached nearly every square inch of the globe, so colorful (albeit apocryphal) stories of sacrifice rituals and the like exist only in our history books and our imagination.
While it is, of course, only a recreation of what happened five hundred years ago, the Festival of the Sun in Cusco is surely one of the only events in the world that can satisfy this curiosity about ancient societies and make you feel like you are truly witnessing an ancient culture in its heyday.
Inti Raymi Festival in Peru: What happens during ceremony?
On June 24th, 1944, Peruvian President Manuel Prado y Ugarteche paid his first visit to Cusco, the matchless Andean city that once served as the seat of the enormous Incan Empire. To honor this occasion, Cusco did something it hadn’t done for more than 400 years: it celebrated Inti Raymi.
Prior to 1944, the last time Inti Raymi had been celebrated in Cusco was 1535 — the year the Spaniards arrived in Peru. By the time the Festival would have been celebrated a year later, most of the Inca had died in battle or from diseases brought by the Spaniards, and their empire had fallen entirely before the European forces.
The Festival marks the Winter Solstice and honors Inti, the Incan Sun God. Those of you that know what winter solstice means might be confused to see it celebrated in June, but remember that Peru is in the southern hemisphere, so their winter is our summer, and vice versa.
It should be noted, too, that this is more than just a solstice festival. The winter solstice also marked the New Year in the Inca culture, so it’s sort of like a harvest festival mixed in with a New Years bash.
Inti Raymi was celebrated in the Incan civilization for more than a hundred years, starting in 1412. There were also elements of the celebration that have not been carried into the modern era, such as a three-day cleanse (basically a fast) leading up to the solstice and the mass sacrifice of thousands of llamas.
But the heart of the celebration lives on today. It is characterized by vibrant costumes, traditional music, and lots of dancing. It combines a deep respect for the cultural heritage of the Inca, while leaving nothing be desired in terms of revelry. Sounds like a pretty great time, doesn’t it?
The festival has three main parts. It begins in the morning at Coricancha, the Inca temple which the Spaniards converted into the Convent of Santo Domingo when they conquered the city. Fittingly, the day opens with a salutation to the sun as it rises, and also to Pacha Mama, or “Mother Earth,” who was also central to Inca religion.
Next, the festivities proceed to Huacaypata, an important meeting area of the former Incan capital that is now the Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s most important public square.
Finally, the festival proceeds to the Incan fortress of Sascayhuamán, a complex of ruins in the north of the city. The ceremony (centered around the “Inca” himself) ends there and gives way to continued festivities, featuring traditional folkloric groups.
In summary, it’s a day full of ancient customs, traditional music and dance, and lively celebrations. It’s an unforgettable tribute to one of the ancient world’s greatest civilizations, and a unique opportunity to truly be in touch with such a culture.
Visiting the Inti Raymi Festival 2020
If you’re interested in seeing the wonderful spectacle of Inti Raymi Festival 2020 in person, our Cusco tour packages are just what you’re looking for. Since it’s not every day you get to travel to Peru, our 8-day, 7-night package includes not just Inti Raymi, but some other destinations and experiences you won’t want to miss.
First, you get a day in Lima, “The City of Kings.” In a full day tour of the city, you’ll get to see history ranging from the pre-Incan to the colonial, as well as some of Lima’s most modern attractions. Don’t miss the opportunity to hit one of the city’s many fine restaurants — Lima has one of the best food scenes of any city in the world!
The next day, you’ll fly to Cusco and enjoy a day tour of the Sacred Valley, a gorgeous region outside of Cusco full of impressive landscapes and Incan archaeological treasures. The following day is June 24th, the
Inca ritual solstice celebration, in which you’ll have a private guide to lead you through the many festivities.
On the 25th, you’ll get a full tour of the city of Cusco, with more background and depth on many of the sites you will have seen the previous day. Then, another big highlight: on the 26th, you’ll travel by train to Machu Picchu and see one of the Modern Wonders of the World. You’ll return to Cusco after a second visit to Machu Picchu on the 27th, then transfer back to Lima and home.