Winter Solstice in the Inca Capital – Cusco, Peru

If you’re looking for something different to during the winter solstice in Peru, check out Inti Raymi, or the “Festival of the Sun”, which is held in Cusco every year to honour the Inca God, Inti, one of the most venerated deities in their religion.

During the time of the Incan Empire, Sapa Inca Pachacuti created Inti Raymi to celebrate the new year of the Andes. The nine-day ceremony was filled with colourful dances, processions and animal sacrifices to Pachamama (Mother Earth) until it was banned by the Catholic priests in 1535.

Since 1944, a historical reenactment of Inti Raymi has been taking place in the ruins of Sacsayhuamán on June 24 of every year. The event draws thousands of locals and tourists alike, and involves celebrations involving dancing, music, colorful costumes, and food.

The procession starts early morning at Qorikancha, (the Sun Temple), proceeds toward the Plaza de Armas (the main plaza of Cusco), and heads up through the streets to the ruins of Sacsayhuamán. The actors deliver speeches in Quechua, and a faux sacrifice of llamas are made. Once the sun sets, bonfires are lit and the procession heads back down from the ruins.

How to do it:

Many tourists chose the option of buying advance tickets for the reserved seating around the esplanade of Sacsayhuamán, which guarantees a comfortable spot and a clear view of the third stage of the ceremony. The first two stages, at Qorikancha, and the Plaza de Armas, are free to attend for everyone.

The website to purchase tickets directly for the Sacsayhuamán stage is http://www.emufec.gob.pe/es/. While the tickets may be bit on the pricey side for some ($100-$140 USD in 2014), all the revenue goes to the regional government of Cusco city. Since Cusco city does not get a share of the profits from Machu Picchu tickets sales, Inti Raymi is one of the few opportunities for the Cusco city government to profit directly from tourism in the region.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing the festival by yourself, many tour companies offer packages that provide transport to and from all three sites, which includes reserved seating at Sacsayhuamán.

There are also some spots, like at the top of Cerro Suchuna at Sacsayhuamán, where you can watch the third stage of the festival without tickets. However, these spots are usually jammed packed with holidaying locals, and getting a seat can be next to impossible unless you arrive early in the morning, which means you’ll miss the first two stages of the festival at Qorikancha and the Plaza de Armas. On the other hand, if you don’t want to pay for tickets or bother with finding seating on your own you can also chose to attend the first and second stages for free, and just skip the third stage.

Where to stay:

Cusco has so many options for lodging, from the backpacker hostel up to 5-star hotel, that travellers should have no problem finding accommodation to suit their budget. Advance reservations are recommended, however, as rooms tend to fill up quickly during this time.