• Heather Jasper

A Pedacito Of Inti Raymi, Cusco, Peru

Updated: Jun 19

Inti Raymi is the biggest celebration of the year in Cusco, Peru. It links ancient Inca civilization with modern Quechua culture and connects Peruvians with their ancestors’ traditions.

Me in front of Pachacutec
Me in front of Pachacutec

In 2021 Inti Raymi not only had the distinction of being part of the bicentennial celebration of independence from Spain, but it was also the first Inti Raymi during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, all Inti Raymi celebrations were canceled, and they were still very restricted in 2021.


One of my favorite things about Cusco is how holidays and festivals from many different cultures are celebrated. Due to its Spanish colonial history, all Catholic holidays are observed as well as most Saint’s days.


This alone means that I hear fireworks in Cusco almost every day of the year. Add to that “foreign” holidays like the American version of Halloween, Irish St. Patrick’s Day, and Caribbean Mardi Gras.

My favorite part is all the indigenous Peruvian holidays, most of which are rooted in Quechua (and Inca) culture, but not all. The Peruvian government counts 55 indigenous groups and 47 indigenous languages still alive today.


Since Cusco was the capital of the Incan Civilization,* the dominant culture and language here are Quechua, though the same attitude that welcomes Halloween also welcomes Aymara and Shipibo holidays, along with many more. People in Cusco love to celebrate anything and everything they can.

With the bicentennial of independence from Spain in 2021, Cusco was determined to forge ahead with the celebration, despite the ongoing pandemic. In Quechua, Inti is the sun and Raymi is a festival or celebration.


Inti Raymi is normally a multi-day party with events at the Qoricancha, which used to be the main temple for the sun, and at Sacsayhuaman, a giant Inca fortress that looms over the city of Cusco.


More events are held at the Plaza de Armas, where the fountain is covered with fake stones to look like an Inca construction, rather than a colonial fountain with swans and tritons. Only the statue of the Inca Pachacutec, facing both the cathedral and Sacsayhuaman, rises above the imitation Inca stonework.

Inti Raymi begins at dawn on June 24th every year with a procession into the Plaza de Armas. I arrived at the plaza just after 6 am, hoping to get in before the police sealed off the area. Due to the pandemic, Inti Raymi celebrations were not open to the public this year.


However, I arrived while the military personnel was taking selfies with the statue of Pachecutec. They were killing time as they waited for the police to seal off the streets leading to the plaza.

Soldiers with Pachacutec
Soldiers with Pachacutec

I chatted with the soldiers for a bit, took photos with them, and then asked if I could stay just a bit longer. I wanted to see the first rays of sun hit the freshly polished statue.

I noticed that only one hotel on the plaza had people on the balcony and as soon as I got my photos of Pachacutec in the first rays of Inti Raymi sun, I headed directly there. I made my way upstairs and ordered a coffee to have on the balcony.


I was right on the corner where the procession entered the plaza, with a perfect view of the Tahuantinsuyu flag as it was carried into the plaza by dignitaries dressed in full Inca regalia.


Next came a platoon of military and another of police. Tahuantinsuyu* is the Quechua name for the Incario, which stretched from the city of Pasto in Colombia, through all of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru to halfway down Chile.

Soldiers in the Cusco plaza
Soldiers in the Cusco plaza

The ceremony was on national television, and I could see several drones filming the event, which took place on the steps of the cathedral. They began with a moment of silence for the Peruvians who have died of Covid-19.


Then, there were speeches, the Peruvian national anthem in Spanish and the Tahuantinsuyu anthem in Quechua. I stayed on the balcony until the last of the military and police had marched out of the plaza.


Inti Raymi was first celebrated in the 1430s under the reign of the Inca Pachacutec. It was banned by the Spanish, along with almost everything that was culturally important to the Andean people they colonized.

Plaza De Almas, Cusco, Peru
Plaza De Almas, Cusco, Peru

In 1944 Cusco brought Inti Raymi back and since then thousands of Peruvian and international tourists come every year to witness this bond between modern Peruvians and their Inca ancestors.


After Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Inti Raymi is the biggest celebration in South America and in a normal year draws thousands of tourists. Here’s hoping that Inti Raymi 2022 will again fill the city with visitors.


*English, Spanish, and other European languages and cultures tend to refer to the Incan Civilization as an empire. However, the structure of the Inca government and culture was very different from historical empires in Europe and Asia.

Pachacutec Statue, Cusco, Peru
Pachacutec Statue, Cusco, Peru

Napoleon had an empire and the Ottomans had an empire but they were vastly different from the Incan civilization. In Peru, many historians use the term Incario and increasingly the term Tahuantinsuyu. If you would like to know more, I highly recommend the book

Historia del Tahuantinsuyu.

 

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