Inti Raymi: Peru’s Festival of the Sun

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Every June 24th, a colourful festival with ancient roots takes place in the Andes. Inti Raymi dates back to the days of the Inca, and is a celebration in honour of the sun god Inti, the most revered deity in the Inca pantheon. Inti Raymi, which means “Festival of the Sun” in Quechua, was considered the most important ceremony for the Inca. Today, the huge scale re-enactment of the event features hundreds of actors and thousands of visitors from all over the world, and is the largest event taking place in Peru every year. 


The origins of Inti Raymi

Inti Raymi 1

Inti Raymi celebrations in Cusco. Source: Pexels

Since its beginnings, Inti Raymi took place annually in Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire. Celebrated on the winter solstice, the event was held at the beginning of a new agricultural year, and at a time when the sun was at its weakest and was thought to need support. During the festival, the Inca emperor would perform rituals and give offerings to Inti in order to ensure a plentiful harvest and overall prosperity for the coming year. The main event of the festival was the procession of the emperor from the Temple of the Sun to the main square, surrounded by priests and nobles. 

The celebration wasn’t just for royalty. All the Incas got into the feasting, with music and dance, as it was believed that the more joy and energy they exhibited, the more the Sun God would bless them with fertility and prosperity. In the 15th century, around 25,000 people would attend the festival, and it lasted up to 15 days.

The Spanish conquistadors were, among other things, known to spoil a good time. They banned the festival when they arrived in the 16th century. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later, in 1944, that the Inti Raymi festival was revived. It is now celebrated every year in Cusco again, with locals dressing in traditional costumes and performing the rites of the festival. 


How is Inti Raymi celebrated


Inti Raymi Parade. Source and credits: lawtonjm, Flickr

Attending the Inti Raymi festival is a truly memorable experience. Celebrations start at dawn at Qorikancha, an Inca temple that the Spanish conquistadors built a church on top of. With the dramatic Andes in the background, Cusco’s nearby main square fills with vendors selling food and handicrafts, while local musicians play pan flutes and people perform traditional dances. 

Now a theatrical spectacle, hundreds of locals dressed in traditional costumes re-enact the old festival, including the offerings to the Sun God and the procession of the emperor and his wife to Sacsayhuaman. The colourful costumes—including woven aya huma masks, intricate headdresses, and gold jewellery—especially make you feel like you have been transported back to Inca times. 

Once the sun goes down, fires are lit to keep the festivities going with eating, dancing, and live music. The vibrant energy is phenomenal, and enough to make you believe the sun god will certainly be persuaded into doling out prosperity in the coming year. 

Inti Raymi is one of the oldest and most important festivals not only in Peru, but in South America. Thousands of visitors attend every year, from throughout Peru and abroad. Seeing the festival for yourself will give you a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage of the Andes, and how the great Inca Empire lives on to this day.   

If you’re in your 30s and 40s, join us in Peru this June to witness this year’s Inti Raymi festival. Take part in our 13-day tour of Peru, and add the Inti Raymi add-on to round off your Andean adventure.


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