This summer we got to experience the Inca Festival of the Sun called Inti Raymi. Knowing we would be gone during the solstice, we wanted to see if there was any celebration we could join in Peru, as we wouldn’t be celebrating it at home. As we looked into it and found that it was a very big celebration in Peru, we knew we had to see if we could fit it into our trip. Luckily, it fit in perfectly with our general plan for the trip. So we found ourselves in Cusco with tickets to the whole festival during the solstice.
The festival was divided into three parts: Saluting the sun and meeting of past and present at Qorikancha; Parade through main square of Cusco, showing the many costumed people in the celebration show; and the main ceremony at Saqsaywaman.
Qorikancha is located along one of the main road in Cusco and was the most important temple in the Inca Empire. Most of it was destroyed in the 16th century by the Spanish and build a church on the foundation, showing how the Spanish incorporated some of the stonework by the Incas. The first part of the festival started at Qorikancha, where we also met up with our guide for the day that morning. By the time we arrived there were already loads of people and it was hard to find a good place to see. We got our tickets for the main ceremony by our guide and along with the group found a place to stand. There was some dance on the grass in front and music, and then last the man who portrayed the Inka came out on the temple. Everything was in Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire, so we just watched as the scenes played out. As the Inka was turned towards the sun (as he was saluting the sun, I am guessing) the sun came out from behind some clouds. It was almost an hour before this part of the ceremony was over, and people started moving on towards the main square for the parade.
We decided against going to the parade, as we would be seeing the actors and dancers at the main ceremony. Instead we went to one of the other squares and found a café to have a coffee break.
Around noon we met up with our guide to take the bus to Saqsaywaman. As we drove there in a procession of busses and cars all going in the same direction, we could see the mass migration of people along the road too. Drinks and snacks being sold along the road. We arrived at the mountain Saqsaywaman, got a booklet and found our places. By this time the sun had come out more, so it was warm sitting in the sun. Then the main ceremony began. It was all in Quechua, and it was nice to see that they didn’t change that for tourist. The booklet we got as we entered the main area had the entire ceremony and the one earlier at Qorikancha written in Quecha, Spanish and English. So we could get an idea of what was going on, but in the end I gave up and just enjoyed the show. The many colourful costumes, the dances, the singing, and the acting. It was reports from the different corners of the Empire with dancing. The sacrifice of a llama (fake one) and the reading of the animal sacrifice by the high priestess. We may not have understood what they said, but the ceremony was so full of colour, beauty and feeling that it didn’t matter. You could feel how proud they were of their history and wanted to celebrate it.
On the way back, we could truly see how much of a celebration for locals. The hills around were still full of people and as we slowly (ended up taking a long detour) back to Cusco centre we saw people having BBQs, playing ball and continuing the festivities.
Tips if you are going:
- It was a great experience and something we are all glad we did. However, I would not recommend taking younger children to the part at Saqsaywaman that require tickets, as it’s a long time to sit still. Then it might be nicer to join the locals on the surrounding hills.
- We had some miscommunication with our guide and ended up nothing having any form of lunch. Our ticket did not include a packed lunch, so make sure you check that and buy something before you go to the main ceremony. Once you are there it is not possible to buy anything, as food is prohibited in the protected area.
- Also, make sure to bring a hat and sunscreen, as you will be sitting in the sun (if it’s out).