Well, it’s almost time for Inti Raymi, the largest festival in South America. This ancient Peruvian celebration of sun worship that goes back to before the days of the Incas. Inti Raymi has been the most important date in the Cuzco calendar for more than 500 years. The Incas try to please Inti and Pachmama in the hope of a good annual harvest. It also coincides with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
Lasting several days, the most important is the 24th June when old rituals are re-enacted as they did centuries ago. Carefully chosen actors (a great honour) play the Sun King and wife Mama Ocllo. A procession of Inca priests and nobleman carry the king up to the religious site of Sacsayhuaman. Here there is a fake ritual sacrifice of a llama to ensure a good crop during the coming season. Later, a large bonfire is lit, and the procession returns to the centre of Cuzco.
Sacsayhuaman are the ruins of a once large Inca temple and fortress outside of Cuzco built as high as possible to be closer to the sun. The first recorded Inti Raymi was in 1412, though evidence suggests it would be older than this. There was a pause for more than 300 years after the Spanish banned it, but it was reinstated in the mid 1940’s. The chariot used to carry the Sun King was originally made from solid gold.
Proceedings begin with a speech from the Sun King in Quechua, an ancient language still used by millions of people across the Andes. There’s still time to book up accommodation for the popular festival, but you’ll need to be quick to avoid disappointment. If you’re lucky enough to get tickets for the event, there are several places to watch it from. The first is at the gardens of the temple of Qurikancha. Arrive early if you want to get a good spot. You can also catch a glimpse of the festival from the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s main square. You can still stand in the colonial arcades that encircle it. Again, you’ll need to get here early if you don’t want to be behind crowd of 5 deep. Those in-the-know book tables on the second floor of the plaza’s restaurants where they can get a prime view while dining. For the main event at Sacsayhuaman you can buy tickets for the grandstand or arrive early to watch from one of the adjoining parks.
Wherever you decide to position yourself, be sure to bring everything you need for the day. The crowds make it difficult to move around the city and there is no public transport. Pack a picnic and plenty of water, nab one of the spots in the park early in the morning to soak up the atmosphere with the locals. If you want to make the most of the experience, we can arrange for a guide to join you who will explain the history of the event and the speeches.
The festival is best combined with a visit to Machu Picchu a few days earlier. Take the train service through the spectacular Andean scenery, or hike the 4-night Inca Trail led by experienced guides. Note that you will need to book up your Inca Trail several months in advance.
Would you like to take a once in a lifetime adventure to Machu Picchu and enjoy the festivities and ancient ceremonies at the Inti Raymi festival? Start planning your adventure by contacting one of our Peru experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or email us here. Just be quick, you haven’t got long before the Inca festival kicks off.