Each year on June 24 (winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere) Cusco celebrates the Inca Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi). The Inti Raymi was established in 1430 and lasted until 1572 when the Spanish prohibited it as they considered it a pagan ceremony but it continued to be celebrated secretly. In 1944, the festivity became public again and is carried out as a historical re-enactment.

During Inca times approximately 25,000 people would gather in Cusco to celebrate the festival. Today, the ceremony thousands of national and foreign tourists come to Cusco to attend the Inti Raymi Festival which is one of the most important events of the year.

The modern day re-enactment retains much of the semblance as the original ceremonies with about 700 people that include dances, performances and musicians all dressed in traditional clothing. The ceremony is a progressive celebration that lasts all day and takes place in three separate location.

The celebration starts in the morning in front of the Inca Temple of the Sun. After representatives from the four regions of the Inca Empire enter, the Sapa Inca (Emperor of the Inca Empire) opens the festivities with praise to the sun god.

Photos of this ceremony are shown below.

When the first ceremony is finished the entire assembly moves a short distance to Cusco’s Plaza de Armas where a ceremonial reading of the sacred coco leaf takes place to forecast the fate of the Inca Empire for the coming year.

Photos of this ceremony are shown below.

The final part of the ceremony is held at the Sacsayhuaman fortress. This ceremony is the most important of the day and lasts approximately four hours. This event is attended by thousands of spectators crowded on the hills to watch. It is hard to describe how many people come to this event so I have included two photos showing the area before the event and during the event.

At this ceremony the Sapa Inca and the entourage of representatives of the four regions parade into the massive complex. This happens with beating drums, horns blowing and stacks of hay are set on fire that fill the area with smoke.

The highlights of the event are where the Inca pay their respects to the sun, the Sapa Inca simulates sacrificing a llama and a shaman predicts the prosperity, health and happiness for the coming year.

Photos of this ceremony are shown below.

The three ceremonies are the main events of the festival but the entire city of Cusco is swarming with people as they gather in the city plazas, streets are crowded and people have picnics on the hillsides.

The Dust on My Shoes

The purpose for my trip to Peru was to see Machu Picchu but I arranged the timing of my trip so that I could attend the Inti Raymi Festival and I am glad that I did because attending the festival was amazing.

The festival was a re-enactment but it was more than a play on a stage. Because it was a re-enactment, it turned the experience into being able to visualize a culture that existed hundreds of years ago. Going to a museum and seeing artifacts or walking around in an architectural site can be amazing but it is hard to visualize the culture. Attending the Inti Raymi festival brought the culture to life and let me see a glimpse of a ceremony that would be unimaginable without seeing with my own eyes.

I can still remember the drums beating, the horns blaring and watching the smoke fill the air. The actual event must have been incredible! I can imagine the pomp and circumstance that must have been associated with the representatives arriving into the stadium and the entire town must have been consumed with excitement.

I have been to several festivals during my international travel. I always have expectations of attending those event but the event almost always exceeds my expectation. Consider scheduling your trips so you can experience a major cultural event!

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