If you are visiting Cusco in June, there’s no doubt you’ll hear about the festival of Inti Raymi. You will likely hear about it whenever you visit, to be honest.
It was the most important of all the Incan festivals because it represented the winter solstice and was their celebration of the New Year. It used to take place in the main plaza in the city and the first one in 1412.
The ceremony included an animal sacrifice to the Pachamama (Mother Earth). After the Spanish invaded, they banned Inti Raymi and any other celebration of the like. However, in 1944, the people of Cusco decided to reenact their first performance of this celebration, which we still enjoy in this day and age.
On the 24th of June every year it is celebrated at the archaeological site of Sacsayhuaman. Tourists and locals alike gather to watch the festival take place. It’s an excellent experience to make you feel as though you are being swept back into the time of the Incas and to give you a good idea of how life was like back then.
But, why is it so important to the people of Cusco these days? Let’s see.
Bringing Back Lost Traditions
After the discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911, people wanted to learn more about this fascinating ancient culture. The construction is so awe-inspiring that they had to know more. Old traditions started being brought back and the lost city brought with it lost traditions.
Inti Raymi is one of these said lost traditions, and the local people are proud to show off their culture and where they come from.
The ceremony bases as much as possible of what it does on what we have discovered from history books. It honors a new cycle of life just as it used to, and it’s not unusual to see the sky clear right at the moment when the Inca raises his hands to the sky.
Cusco is a city that’s full of traditions enjoying many each month. Even so, Inti Raymi is one of the most important throughout the whole year. Families flock early in the morning to get a good seat with a great view of the site.
Over 500 actors are used each year and do an excellent job. It’s organized by the university, professional, and neighborhood affiliations. It takes months of practice! You’ll see that the costumes are very well made, and the ceremony actually lasts the whole day passing through 2 points in the city before reaching Sacsayhuaman.
What Happens on June 24th?
On the day itself, everything begins at Q’oricancha. They then move on to the Plaza de Armas before continuing to Sacsayhuaman. In the Incan times, these were the most important places for ceremonies, which is why they are the main spots today.
Q’oricancha means Temple of the Sun and can be visited during your time in Cusco. From here the Incas worshipped the Sun God, ‘Inti’.
It’s said that when the Spanish first set foot in Cusco, this building was the most spectacular they had seen in all the Americas. Everything was plated in gold, the garden full of beautiful flora and fauna, also made from gold with a little silver.
Imagine seeing this magnificent site with golden life-sized corns and gold-fleeced alpacas on the lawn. It must have been incredible!
As well as all this, Q’oricancha was home to many Incan mummies. They were wrapped in divine clothes and set to rest on golden thrones forevermore.
Unfortunately, upon seeing this wonderful building, the Spaniards took all the gold they could find, leaving only the stone construction that was underneath. This is what we see today. If you want to see the start of Inti Raymi from here you need to get there very early in the morning.
In the Plaza de Armas the ‘Incas’ stop for a short while to perform a part of the ceremony. The best way to see this is to get to a balcony on one of the restaurants or cafes that surround it and watch it all from there.
They end up in Sacsayhuaman where the main part of the ceremony takes place. This tends to go on for around 3 hours and is full of Incan chants and music. The whole event takes place in the Quechua language and is an experience you really shouldn’t miss!
Tips for the Day
To help you enjoy the day to the fullest, we’ve compiled a list of what to do to make sure it goes smoothly.
Book far in advance – The tickets for Inti Raymi can sell out well in advance. Not to mention the hotels, trains, and other tours that all put prices up and sell out quickly. If you plan to come in June, plan far ahead.
Get a ticket inside Sacsayhuaman if you can – Tickets are available to sit right in the middle of the action. If you can get these, do. Otherwise, you can sit on the surrounding hills, but you won’t get the same experience.
Arrive early – As earlier mentioned, people go very early to make sure they get the best spots. You need to be on the ball and do the same to guarantee a great view of the action.
Be careful of those around you – Unfortunately, due to the popularity of the day, pickpockets are also out. Keep things well tucked away in a backpack. Don’t put valuable items in pockets where they can easily get taken.
What to wear – The weather in Cusco can be very unpredictable. However, in June, it tends to be sunny and shouldn’t rain. Take a sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as you will be right under the sun. Keep hydrated and take a sweater for when the sun goes in and it gets a little chilly.
Plan Ahead and Enjoy This Spectacular Event
If you are visiting in June and will be here on the 24th, make sure you get to see this event at any of the 3 locations. It’s well worth it and will be something you’ll remember always. It’s a wonderful way to see how traditions are being kept and to give you a greater insight into the Incas and how they celebrated special events. Enjoy!
Written by: Liv Palmer