Celebrating The Winter Solstice In Peru At Cusco’s Inti Raymi Festival

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
This year, on June 21, the Winter Solstice festival will thrive in Cusco as a way to honor Inca tradition in one of the coolest festivals in the world.

Sitting high atop the Peruvian landscape at 11,000 feet, Cusco remains one of the last vestiges of authentic Peruvian culture. Once the capital city of the Inca Empire and overtaken by Spanish conquistadors in 1533, the city possesses a cultural mixture that evokes traditional Andean values with a Spanish flare, which has remained seemingly unchanged since the 1600s.

Traditional Incan religious festivals centered around nature; their most prominent figures of worship were the sun, the earth, and the mountains. So, it’s not by coincidence that the Winter Solstice was the most important day on the Inca calendar.

In fact, many pieces of Incan architecture revolved around the importance of the Winter Solstice. Windows were aligned in such a way the they would let in the most sunlight on the Winter Solstice. One sacred burial ground in the Andes was aligned with Machu Picchu and the Winter Solstice sun line, and mummies were buried to align with this annual astrological occurrence.

Cusco holds onto its Incan heritage. Many people still dress in traditional Andean style, farm in rural villages, and honor the earth in ways that modern Western society ignores. So, it’s only fitting that the Winter Solstice (Inti Raymi) festival brings the whole city out to celebrate.

For two weeks leading up to the festival, the city hosts daily parades. School kids dress in a mixture of traditional Cusco garb, from Inca to Spanish colonial. Each day, a different age group parades through the streets, performing dances to live music and songs that depict Cusco’s layers of history.

On the day of the Winter Solstice itself, thousands of people gather above Cusco City at the ancient Inca religious site: Saqsaywaman. Using only perfectly cut stones (no adhesive agent, like mortar), the Inca were able to construct a massive religious territory filled with temples. It was here that the Inca who lived in the capital would come to honor Inti, the Sun.

When the Spanish conquistadors took over Cusco, they recognized the site’s importance, so they demolished most of the buildings and used the stone to build their own Catholic cathedrals in the center of the city. However, much of the foundation of Saqsaywaman remains intact.

If you’re in Cusco this week, or next year, be sure to get outside and participate in the Winter Solstice festival, one of the strongest remaining traditions of the Inca people. And remember, though it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter south of the equator.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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