Celebrating Inti Raymi: The Festival of the Sun

Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, is one of the most important traditional celebrations in Peru, held in honor of Inti, the sun god. This vibrant and colorful festival, which dates back to the Incan Empire, is celebrated every year on June 24th, coinciding with the winter solstice. The festivities mainly take place in Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, and attract thousands of visitors from around the world. Here’s how Inti Raymi is celebrated:

Preparing Watia

One of the traditional activities during Inti Raymi is making watia, an ancient Andean cooking method. This involves baking potatoes and other tubers in an earth oven made by covering them with hot stones and soil. The result is a delicious, smoky-flavored dish that connects participants with their ancestral roots.

Celebrations at Sacsayhuaman and the Plaza de Armas

The main celebrations occur in three significant locations: Qoricancha, the Plaza de Armas, and Sacsayhuaman.

  • Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun): The festival begins at Qoricancha, where a high priest dressed in traditional Incan attire prays to the apus (mountain spirits) and Inti (the sun god). This ceremony often includes a symbolic sacrifice, as a tribute to the gods, to ensure a prosperous new year.
  • Plaza de Armas: From Qoricancha, the procession moves to the Plaza de Armas. Here, different actors representing historical Incan figures perform various rituals and ceremonies. They reenact speeches made by the Incan emperor when preparing for war and express gratitude to the sun for a new year. This part of the celebration is filled with music, dance, and a display of traditional clothing, creating a vibrant and engaging atmosphere.
  • Sacsayhuaman: The final and most dramatic part of Inti Raymi takes place at the Sacsayhuaman fortress. In this majestic setting, actors recreate battles against other cultures, such as the Huancas and Chancas. The reenactments are accompanied by traditional dances and celebrations of victory, showcasing the rich history and cultural heritage of the Incan Empire.

Public Holiday in Cusco

Inti Raymi is a public holiday in Cusco, and most stores and businesses close for the day. This allows locals and visitors alike to fully immerse themselves in the festivities. The streets are filled with people following the processions, eager to witness the various ceremonies and performances.

The Procession Route

The procession typically follows a route from Qoricancha to the Plaza de Armas and finally to Sacsayhuaman. Thousands of people line the streets, following the actors and participants, creating a sense of community and shared cultural pride. The different actors, dressed in elaborate costumes, represent Incan nobles, warriors, and priests, adding to the authenticity of the event.

Ceremonies and Rituals

At Qoricancha, the high priest’s prayer to the apus and Inti is a solemn and spiritual beginning to the festival. The symbolic sacrifice represents a deep connection to the earth and the gods. In the Plaza de Armas, the reenactment of the Incan emperor’s speeches and the gratitude expressed to the sun god highlight the importance of tradition and history in contemporary celebrations. At Sacsayhuaman, the battle reenactments and dances are a dynamic and thrilling conclusion to the festival, symbolizing the resilience and strength of the Incan people.

Inti Raymi is a spectacular celebration that offers a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Incan Empire. For those interested in exploring more of the rich history and culture of the Incan Empire, combining your visit during Inti Raymi with Machu Picchu tours and a Cusco city tour is highly recommended. Be sure to visit Peru during this time to experience the full splendor of Inti Raymi and the incredible historical sites that make this country a must-see destination.

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