As I return from India’s annual Holi festival of colors it is time to prepare for another annual celebration closer to home, Peru’s Inti Raymi Festival of the Sun, that commemorates the most important day in the Inca calendar, the Incan New Year and the winter solstice, which has occurred every year on June 24 for over 500 years in Peru. You can expect to come across daytime expositions, street fairs, and people meandering and dancing in the streets throughout the weeklong celebrations.
Head to the Plaza de Armas for the sunset and free live performances from the best Peruvian musical acts. While each day is special, the centerpiece of Inti Raymi is the full day celebration on June 24, where the people of Cusco reenact the ancient festival.
The day begins with a prayer by the “Sapa Inca” in the Qorikancha (meaning “Golden courtyard” in Quechua) Square in front of the Santo Domingo church. Qorikancha was once the most revered temple in the Inca empire and was, in Inca times, covered in gold! In his oration, the Sapa Inca calls on the blessings of the sun. He is then carried on a golden throne in a procession into the hills above Cusco, to the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán. On the tailwind of the Sapa Inca are his high priests, nobles, and high court officials, fully bedazzled in silver and gold ornaments according to rank. As he is carried into the hills, women sweep the streets, clearing them of evil, and lace the streets with beautiful flowers. Awaiting his arrival at Sacsayhuamán, huge crowds form to witness the Sapa Inca climb the sacred altar. Among the most anticipated events is the llama sacrifice (don’t worry, they now use a stage prop), in which the high priest grabs ahold of the llama heart, holds it above the crowd as an offering to Pachamama, and reads the bloodlines ensuring the fertility of the Empire’s land.
Come join us as we celebrate the Incan New Year and winter solstice! June is an amazing time to visit Peru. The weather is temperate, the skies are dry and sunny, and there is an air of celebration that is unlike any other date of the year.