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Inti Raymi Festival
Cuzco Peru June 24 29 Cuzco Peru
Inti Raymi or the Festival of the Sun as it is otherwise known is the Inca Festival of the Sun, the mother of all pre-Hispanic festivals that celebrates the winter solstice and honors the sun god with traditional customs, parades, and dances.
Today, it's the second largest festival in all of South America, as hundreds of thousands of people converge on Cuzco from all over the nation and the world for this week long celebration that signifies the beginning of a new year.
Each day features different events, including street fairs, exhibitions and parades, every evening the streets echo with live music from the best musical groups in Peru that entice the crowds into the Plaza de Armas.
Throughout the preceding year, in preparation for Inti Raymi, hundreds of actors are cast to represent various historical figures represented in the event and being chosen to portray the Sapa Inca or his wife, Mama Occla, is the greatest of honors.
While those in Argentina and Ecuador celebrate, it is in Peru and the city of Cuzco where the real action takes place, as the city is over run with thousands of natives and tourists who come to witness the main event that takes place on June 24 at the Sacsayhuaman ruins.
The highlight of the festival is the all-day celebrations that take place on June 24, which is the actual day of Inti Raymi, the ceremonial events begin with an invocation by the Sapa Inca in the Qorikancha or square right in front of the Santo Domingo church, that was built over the ancient Temple of the Sun.
The Sapa Inca calls on the blessings from the sun and is then carried on a golden throne, to the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuaman, which is in the hills above Cuzco.
The Sapa is followed by a long procession, first the high priests dressed in ceremonial robes, then the officials of the court and the nobles who are all ornately dressed according to their rank.
They walk along the streets as music plays, prayers and made and people dance, while the women sweep the streets to clear them of evil spirits.
At Sacsayhuaman, huge crowds of people await the arrival of the Sapa Inca; he then climbs to the sacred altar where all can see him. Once the celebrants are in place in the grand square of the fortress, the Sapa Inca makes speeches, the priests and representatives of the Suyos: the Snake for the world below, the Puma for life on earth, and the Condor for the upper world of the gods. A white llama is sacrificed (but not harmed) and the high priest holds up the bloody heart to honor Pachamama, to ensure the fertility of the earth and then the priests read the bloodstains to tell the future for the Inca.
As the sun sets, straw is stacked and set on fire as the celebrants dance around in honor of Tawantinsuty or the Empire of the Four Wind Directions.
The ceremony of Inti Raymi ends with a procession back to Cuzco, with Sapa Inca and Mama Occla carried back on their thrones and the high priests and representatives of the Supas pronounce blessings on the people and then a new year begins.
If you are planning to attend Inti Raymi, some careful planning ahead of time will be needed, accommodation in Cuzco books out months in advance so book early to avoid disappointment.
Inti Raymi is an all-day event, and a minimum of 5 hours will be spent at Sacsayhuaman.
Entry to the fortress is free, and there are food and drink kiosks on the surrounds, and if you donâ€™t want to stand for that long you can rent chairs from booths around the main square.
A word of caution, every year hundred of people are injured from falls, as there are no guard rails around the ruins
If you prefer to reserve a seat, you can buy tickets, but again these should be bought in advance.
The Inti Raymi is a phenomenal cultural event to witness and would make an amazing vacation to one of the most historical parts of the world.