Inti Raymi and Cusco's Top 10 Festivals
| Cusco & Sacred Valley
Known as the cultural capital of Peru, Cusco and the neighboring Sacred Valley host incredible festivals and celebrations all year round. From the well-known Inca Sun Festival Inti Raymi to the lesser-known local favorites such as Virgen de Carmen in tiny Paucartambo, there’s something for everyone to experience in and around Cusco. Whether you’re looking an event to plan your trip around, or are trying to see what you can catch while you’re in Peru, read on for the best festivals in Cusco so you don’t miss anything.
Inti Raymi - Cusco’s Most Famous Festival
When: June 24th
The most famous of Cusco’s cultural festivals, the “Inca Festival of the Sun” is one visitors don’t want to miss. The ancient Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman at the top of the city are turned into a stage for Inti Raymi, upon which hundreds of locals in elaborate costume put on a pageant. Inti Raymi costumes are meant to represent the roles of Inca priests, nobles, virgins of the sun, soldiers, and the coveted role of Inca Pachacuti.
Inti Raymi history dates back to the Inca Empire, during which it was the most important of four ceremonies celebrated in Cusco. Sapa Inca Pachacuti created Inti raymi to celebrate the New Year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere, as well as to share the mythical history and origins of the Incas. The first Inti Raymi in history was in 1412, with the last under Inca rule in 1535. After that, it was banned by the Spanish and Catholic priests under the colonizer’s rule.
In 1944, a historical reconstruction of Inti Raymi took place, and since then it has been held on June 24th every year, in front of locals and foreigners alike at the Sacsayhuaman ruins just two kilometers from the location where the Incas originally celebrated it.
The Inti Raymi festival at Sacsayhuaman requires tickets bought in advance, but visitors can also witness the Inti Raymi procession throughout the city center of Cusco that works its way from the Temple of the Sun to the Plaza de Armas in the morning. Indigenous cultures throughout the Andes also celebrate Inti Raymi more informally, with music, costumes and masks, and plenty of food, but these are usually community celebrations not as open to the public.
10 more festivals in and around Cusco not to be missed:
1. Reyes Magos, Ollantaytambo
When: January 6th
Every year the picturesque little town of Ollantaytambo hosts this festival in celebration of the Three Wise Men who brought the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh after the birth of Jesus. The festival, also called the Epiphany, is when many Andean communities celebrate Christmas, and is commemorated with religious parades in the streets.
2. Carnival, Cusco & the Sacred Valley
When: February (7 weeks before Easter)
Carnival is a popular religious festival that takes over much of Latin America, and Cusco is no exception. Festivities throughout the Sacred Valley are colorful and lively, full of traditional dancing, music and food.
Carnival takes place throughout Cusco, but Pisac is known for its local competition in which various dance groups perform to earn prizes and the winning title.
Events generally begin the Sunday seven weeks before Easter Sunday, and continue into the following week in various communities.
3. Senor de los Temblores, Cusco
When: March/April (6 days before Easter Sunday)
Spanish for “Lord of the Earthquakes”, Senor de los Temblores is a statue of the crucifixion of Jesus found in the Cathedral de Cusco. It is the patron saint of Cusco, believed to have prevented any further disaster after the 1650 earthquake. On Holy Monday, the Monday 6 days before Easter, the Senor de los Temblores is taken in a procession through the streets of Cusco, during which it is showered with flowers.
4. Easter, Cusco
Largely Catholic Cusco is a very important holiday in Peru and especially Cusco, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion on Good Friday. It also marks the end of the Lent. The date each year varies, depending on the equinoxes and moon phases. Religious celebrations take place in churches, with larger events in the main city of Cusco.
5. Santisima Cruz de Senor Choquekillca, Ollantaytambo
When: May/June (50 days after Easter)
El Senor de Choquekillca is the patron saint of the quaint town of Ollantaytambo, and the Sunday before Qoyullur R’iti is when the fiesta in his honor begins. Celebrations include dances, processions, and even a cockfight and bullfight.
6. Qyllur R’iti, Ausangate
When: May/June (A few days before Corpus Christi)
Meaning ‘Snow Star’ in Quechua, Qyllur R’iti is said by some to be a pre-Inca fertility rite. The Catholic Church says that it is a festival to honor the Lord of Quyllur R’iti, but local descendents of indigenous peoples in the Andes maintain that it is a celebration of the stars. Held at the base of a glacier, this festival only attracts the most devout pilgrims, some from as far as Bolivia, as it is extremely cold, hard to access, and often confusing to the uninformed visitor. Local communities bring troupes of dancers, all of whom perform throughout the festival under the full moon.
7. Corpus Christi, Cusco
When: May/June (60 days after Easter Sunday)
Literally meaning the “Body of Christ” in Latin, this Christian festival is another that is widely celebrated throughout Latin America. It is held in honor of the Holy Eucharist, and is celebrated with parades, food, religious ceremonies and flowers.
8. Virgen de Carmen, Paucartambo & Pisac
When: July 15th - 17th
Two cities in the Sacred Valley are known for their lively Virgen de Carmen celebrations. Little Paucartambo is a small but quiet town the rest of the year, but it goes wild for this festival. One of Peru’s biggest street parties, locals come from all over the country to drink and revel in the streets. Traditional dancers perform in colorful costumes, and few foreigners can be found.
Pisac’s celebration also include procession and parades, full of music and costumes. Less of a wild party. Pisac is a good family alternative.
9. Independence Day, Countrywide
When: July 28th
Peruvian Independence Day is a great time to visit. Fireworks cover the country, with big parties and parades in cities such as Lima and Cusco.
10. Santuranticuy, Cusco
When: December 24th
Christmas is a huge holiday in Peru, and Cusco’s biggest holiday festival takes place on Christmas Eve in the main square. Artisans visit from all over the country with handmade religious decorations and nativity scenes. It also creates a center spot for families and visitors to mill before the mass that evening, and is a great spot for trying traditional Christmas snacks and drinks.
Just a start on some of Cusco’s best festivals, this list hardly includes them all! No matter when you visit Cusco and the Sacred Valley, you can be sure to find some special events in the culturally-rich region, as well as many different ways of celebrating each one. From Inti Raymi to Carnival, Cusco is a great destination in Peru for festival lovers. Contact Us for more information about visiting Cusco and the Sacred Valley during one of their festivals.