Inti Raymi is celebrated near the winter solstice on June 24th every year. It is an Incan ceremony that is performed in the native Quechuan language rather than Spanish.
We arrived in Cusco 2 days prior to the actual ceremony and the city square was already abuzz with people and bands and general merriment being made. Apparently the festival has expanded over the years to include the weeks leading up to June 24th also.
The following morning we left the hostel at around 9am to see what was going on. The plaza near our hostel was filled with costumed Peruvians staging to start the parade. Moving on to the main Plaza de Armas, the parading had already started and the plaza was filled with locals, other Peruvians and a smattering of tourists (at least it seemed like a smattering given the number of locals there were). A large stage area had been set up and was filled with dignitaries dressed in their finest – they would be marshalling the parade.
Each group in the parade was costumed in traditional gear. Most, if not all, had their own band to accompany them – they all played the exact same tune – I don’t know if it is some kind of national tune or what, but we were very familiar with it by the end of the day. They marched from the staging square down and around the Plaza de Armas, exiting on the far side of the square. From there they proceeded to the next square where each group set up their own fiesta of sorts, with beer and food, with their band continuing to play.
This continued all day. I mean all day and into the night. We returned to our hostel at 11pm and they were not finished!! I awoke at 1am and they were still at it. That’s at least 17 hours that I know of!! I’ve never known a parade to go on that long. Those dignitaries sat through the whole thing as far as I could tell! Can you imagine?
The city center literally filled up with people. Paraders continued to fill town squares to party the night away and spectators continued to enter the city core to watch and hawk their wares or set up their portable grills to feed the hungry crowd. There was no empty space to be had anywhere…10’s of 1000’s of people filled every corner. It was absolutely unbelievable! They partied all night long and what surprised me was that they all kept their costumes on the whole time. They continued to play the same tune and danced and drank the night away. There seemed to be a sense of pride and camaraderie that filled every square.
The actual ceremony was to occur the following morning. I have no idea how any of those people dragged themselves out of bed to perform the ceremony.
The Inti Raymi festival starts at the Plaza de Armas in town and then parades to an Incan site called Sacsayhuaman located about 2km from town up the hillside. We had heard that tourist tickets to the event were costing upwards of $30 so we decided we would climb the hill with the locals and watch from above the bleachers.
The ceremony had already started in the Plaza de Armas when we started trekking up the hill to get a seat on the rocky face. The place was pretty packed when we got there but we found a perch and set about waiting the next 3 hours for the festival to get to us.
The waiting was easy as there was nothing to do but people watch, and there were plenty of people to watch. As the ceremony started below us, the crowd stood to it’s feet and everyone rushed forward to get a better view. We’re on a rocky cliff people!! It got a little too close for us (see photo of postcard below – we were in a crowd just like that) We were squished, couldn’t see where the edge was and could no longer see any of the action…we decided to leave and head back into town for a little peace and quiet.
It was a great couple of days. We’re glad we came early to see it.
Here are some more pictures and you can see even more here.