To sun-worshiping Incas, the rite of Inti Raymi, a tribute to the Sun
God Apu Inti Tayta, doubtless marked the most important date on their
calendar. The winter solstice represented both the beginning of a new
cycle and the return of the source of life to the Andes.
A re-enactment of this solstice celebration takes place every year on
June 24 in historic Cusco, the ancient hub of the Inca's vast empire.
More than 150,000 colorfully clad natives and tourists assemble in the
morning at the fabled Coricancha, or Sun Temple, where the Inca (a
local resident designated to play the part) delivers an invocation of
praise to Father Sun. Next, the royal entourage moves to the city's
main plaza, formerly the Incas' great civic square. After a ceremonial
reading of the sacred coca leaf to divine the future of the empire, the
Inca proceeds to the massive stone walls and zigzagging ramparts of
Sacsayhuaman, a cultural treasure situated on a hilltop outside of
With its commanding view, the ruined fortress remains one of the most
astonishing megaliths of the ancient world - a single rock battlement
is estimated to weigh more that 300 tons. On this occasion, the age-old
stronghold is again transformed into the focus of Incan spiritual life.
Dressed in full regalia, the honorary Inca delivers his
Quechua, the native tongue that is still spoken in Andean highlands. On
Sacsayhuaman's broad plaza, a fire is rekindled and a llama ritually
"sacrificed" - staged out of consideration for tourists. Sounds of
panpipes, drums and blaring horns fill the air. Traditional dancers
representing the four corners of the empire dazzle the eye with riotous
flashes of red and gold.
the Spanish conquest, Inti Raymi was changed to coincide with the
Catholic feast of St. John the Baptist. The modern re-creation, based
on colonial accounts of the sacred rite, began in the 1940s as a way
for Andeans to recapture the spirit and values of their ancestors.
Today, Inti Raymi is one of the largest pageants in South America, and
a source of great cultural pride to Peruvians.
The formal spectacle lasts just four or five hours, but for an entire
week Cusco radiates renewed life and energy which recalls the glories
of its Incan past.
Adventures has been designing trips around the Inti Raymi experience
for over 20 years. Discover why Inti Raymi with Southwind is listed in
New York Times Bestseller 1,000
Places to See Before You Die
by Patricia Shultz.