Festivals in Peru: Inti Raymi
Elaborate costumes. Exuberant music. The second largest festival in South America.
If you’re heading to Peru next month, you’re in luck. The biggest traditional celebration in Peru takes place in Cusco on June 24, and festivities last for days. During this time, thousands of Peruvians and visitors take to the streets for dancing, music, and cultural reenactments, making it the perfect time for those interested in Peruvian history and traditional culture to schedule their Cusco tour.The celebration, Inti Raymi, dates back to when the Incas ruled Peru. The festival is a massive religious homage to the Inca Sun God held during the Inca winter solstice, when the sun is furthest from Earth. The celebration was in part a plea for the god to not abandon his sons the Incas, but to return and continue to nourish the crops, and therefore maintain the dominance of the Inca civilization.
According to historical documents, the festival lasted for 9 days and was the most important of Inca celebrations. Members of the Inca nobility and army carried out lavish processions, detailed rituals, and gifted feast offerings. Llamas were sacrificed. Faces were painted. Important people paraded through the street. It was quite the affair.
This all ended with the arrival of the Spaniards. Viewed as a pagan festival that detracted from Spanish authority and contradicted the Catholic faith, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo banned Inti Raymi in 1572. And, like many of the Inca temples buried beneath new Spanish churches and monuments, the celebration of Inti Raymi went underground.
Not until centuries later would Inti Raymi officially reemerge when, in 1944, the American Institute of Art in Cusco reinstated the festival with massive reenactments performed by local actors. The event grew in size and popularity over the years, and in 2001 the Peruvian Congress formally recognized the festival as part of the Cultural Heritage of the Nation.
Today, the event brings history to life and perfectly complements a Sacred Valley tour or trip to Machu Picchu for those lucky enough to be in town at the right time. Over 500 actors, dancers, and musicians follow a set script, based on historical accounts from Garcilaso de la Vega, compiler and author of the most detailed known records of Inca civilization.
Events begin early in the morning at the Plaza de Armas (the main square) and the ceremony starts with a call for blessing from the sun at the Santo Domingo church and the temple Koricancha. A procession of robed actors carrying an emulation of the Sapa Inca, ruler of the Inca kingdom, on an ornate throne then winds through town toward Sacsayhuaman, a massive Inca fortress on the outskirts of Cusco.
This celebration lasts all day, so visitors should come prepared for a day full of music, dancing, history, and brightly-colored crowds.