Every June and July, ancient Incan traditions are revived in the glorious hills of Peru.

The festival takes us back to a much simpler and mystical time. Inti Raymi is a 9-day celebration of ancient customs and traditions honouring the Incan God Inti in the city of Cusco. The festival is beautiful, with locals donning lavish clothes, banquets and an elaborate reenactment of ancient Inca rituals, and culminating in a royal procession to an ancient fortress. It’s a mix of tradition and mythology infused in a rich culture and this makes it one of a unique festival in the world.

(Credits: Torukojin)

What it’s about

The festival is focused on worshipping the Sun and all the gifts that it bestows upon the earth. The ancient Incans were ardent worshippers of celestial bodies, building their temples as close to them as they could. Most of their festivals follow similar mystical patterns. Cusco’s main plaza or La Plaza de Armas turns into a colourful and energising party.

(Credits: Torukojin)

There are many dancers with different costumes each representing a different part of Peru’s history and culture. But, during Inca times, approximately 25,000 people would gather in Cusco to celebrate the festival of Inti Raymi. As many as 200 hundred llamas would be sacrificed during the festivities and the Haukaypata ran with sacred blood and plentiful chicha (the Inca beer). There were special dances and coca leaves were read and burnt in great quantities.

What the festival is like today

Every year on June 24, Cusco comes alive. The celebrations start in the morning on the large open cancha at the front of the Inca Temple of the Sun – Korikancha. With the arrival of representatives from the four suyos of the Inca Empire (Qollasuyu, Kuntisuyu, Antisuyu y Chinchaysuyu), the Sapa Inca opens the festivities with invoking praise to the sun god – Inti. The ancient Inca archaeological site of Saqsayhuman is where the final part of the re-enactment is played out.  Thousands of local spectators crowded the surrounding hills for a glimpse of the ceremony, whilst premium grandstand seats are available in the main arena of Saqsayhuman. Dressed in full costume, the Inca delivers his final words in Quechua before a ritual sacrifice of the llamas (but you’re going to need a ticket to see this). As the festival attracts international tourists as well, so up to 20,000 make their way there.

(Credits: Torukojin)

This also means getting yourself a comfortable spot from where you can watch the parades is very important as both the hills get crowded very quickly. Go prepared with something to sit on, plenty of food, liquid refreshment and sun protection. Arrive at as early as 8 am to get the best viewing spots.

What makes Inti Raymi such a remarkable event is the fact that it is a salient pocket of culture protected from all outside influences. The Incan culture may be defunct now, but the locals still honour their traditions and rituals. Though Inti Raymi is pretty famous, there are many such festivals that the Incan culture is replete with and each and every one of them is celebrated with the same vigour and passion.