Inti Raymi, the Sacred Valley’s Festival of the Sun


Inti Raymi, the Sacred Valley’s Festival of the Sun

Festivities at the Peru's sun god festival, Inti RaymiFestivities at the Peru’s sun god festival, Inti Raymi

Father’s Day may be over, but the residents of Peru’s world famous city of Cusco are getting ready to honor the daddy of the Inca world–the Sun God “Inti”–during the annual festival known as Inti Raymi held every year on June 24.

Occurring on the Winter Solstice of the Southern Hemisphere, the celebration brings together thousands of worshipers from Peru who join those travelers fortunate enough to time their Peru vacations with this ancient Inca ceremony with roots dating as far back as the 13th century.

Considered the most important ceremony of the Inca Empire, the rituals that take place during the event are re-created thanks to the oral histories and memories of local people which have kept the traditions alive for centuries.

The Inca religion, which is focused on a worship of nature, saw the sun as the most important aspect of daily life. Though he was second in importance to Viracocha, the creator of civilization, Inti the Sun God received the most offerings–most especially from farmers who depended on the sun for their harvest. The ruler of the Inca people, Sapa Inca, claimed divine heritage as a direct descendant of Inti.

This devotion and faith to the deity led to the creation of Inti Raymi, which means “resurrection of the sun” in Quechua. Back then, preparation for the festival began with a fast of three days. People fasted from nourishment, as well as refrained from sexual activities and were also not allowed to light fires.

Preparations were carried out in Aucaypata Square, which today is located in Cusco’s main square and was larger than it is today. Inca priests and nobility gathered here, all dressed in their most elegant-wear. Once the sun arrived–a special representation consisting of a golden sculpture–Sapa Inca offered two golden tumblers. Right afterwards, he, the priests and spectators made their way to Qorikancha and called for the blessings of the sun god with yet more offerings.

They then made their way back to the square for the ceremony in which they sacrificed a llama. Today the sacrifice is only simulated, but then, the High Priest had to kill the completely black or white llama by using the ceremonial knife known as “Tumi”. Things got a little gory then when the priest had to open the animal’s chest and pull out its heart and viscera. He then foretold the future by looking at these entrails before lighting a sacred fire. His fellow priests would continue the ceremony by offering Sanqhu–a holy bread–made of corn flower and blood from the sacrificed animal.

The ceremony marked the end of the year and the beginning of the new one. And so began the celebration and feast, where attendees drank, danced and reveled for several days.

With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, Inca traditions and practices were quickly repressed and the Inti Raymi celebrations were outlawed by the Viceroy of Francisco de Toledo who decreed them to be pagan and contrary to the Catholic religion. The last festival with the Inca Emperor’s presence was in 1535.

Today, the celebration itself is a one-day event held on the day of the winter solstice, according to the Pacha Unachaq–the sundial used by the Incas. However the days leading up to and after this special day are filled with events such as street fairs, concerts, exhibitions and more, all in Cusco city. The big day falls on the 24th for Inti Raymi which is considered the second biggest festival in Latin America, trailing right behind Rio’s Carnival.

Sacsayhuaman at the Inti Raymi festival, Peru For LessThe view from Sacsayhuamán at the Inti Raymi festival, Peru

For the past half century, the festival hasn’t taken place in its original location in Cusco’s main square, but at the archaeological complex of Sacsayhuamán (Sacred House of the Sun) located a few minutes away from the city center. Thousands come to witness the ceremony, and more than 500 actors take part in the reenactment of the rituals.

Once all spectators have reached the Sacsayhuamán fortress and Sapa Inca has made his way from Qorikancha to the hilltop, the nobility, priests and of course, Sapa Inca, all give speeches in the native language of the Incas, Quechua. The ceremony ends with a procession back to Cusco, where Sapa Inca and his wife and sister, Mama Occla, are carried back down on their thrones, proclaiming the beginning of the new year.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you plan to make it to next year’s Inti Raymi festival:

The festival is an all-day event, with at least five hours spent at Sacsayhuamán. Entry is free and you’re able to rent chairs, but if you want a reserved seat, you must do so in advance.

This article by Peru For Less’ Diana Olano originally appeared on the Living In Peru website:

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About Author

Peru for Less is a group of travel experts who live, work, eat, and breathe all things South America. Their inspiration stems from a deep appreciation for the beauty and diversity that make this continent so special.

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