Inti Raymi

Procession entering Qorikancha
Procession entering Qorikancha

Today was the big annual festival of Inti Raymi, a re-enactment of an Inca ceremony to give thanks to the sun and hope for a good harvest during the year. It was an early start by my current standards. After breakfast, I made my way down to Qorikancha, where I thought the ceremony was due to start at 8am. As it turned out, it was at 9am but it was providential that I had arrived relatively early as the crowds were already large.

People were standing 3 or 4 deep around the grassy arena, so it was going to be difficult to see anything. Fortunately, there were some enterprising locals renting out chairs and stools for people to stand on so, for 5 soles, I hired a chair. I still had someone standing in front of me, on a chair, but could just about see between the branches of the bushes and arms waving cameras around in the air, hoping that the lens was aimed in the right place.

Ceremony at Qorikancha
Ceremony at Qorikancha

Inti Raymi consists of three ceremonies. The first is at Qorikancha, the second is in the Plaza de Armas and the last, a longer one, takes place at Sacsayhuaman for the entire afternoon. It is a public holiday so everyone is out and about, if not watching the ceremonies, at least having family picnics on the mountain sides

I never really discovered what was taking place in each individual ceremony. A King and Queen presided over them and there was a lot of colour and noise. At Qorikancha, the ceremony was relatively short and, just before it appeared to be finishing, I made my way to the Plaza where thousands of people were already waiting. The crowds were too much for me so I retreated to my regular cafe. However, quite a few people had beaten my to it, including a tour group who had paid to reserve a table right by one of the windows.

The ceremony in Plaza de Armas took place around the central monument
The ceremony in Plaza de Armas took place around the central monument

I had some time to wait for the next performance to begin and had a coffee in the meantime, sharing a table with a couple of Peruvian men. Once proceedings commenced, however, everyone congregated around the windows and I was fortunate in that an American in the tour group let me stand on her chair whilst she stood in front of me. That way, I could get a view of half of the Plaza and could hang out and round the side of the window, albeit a little precariously, to see the rest.

Hordes of people going up to Sacsayhuaman
Hordes of people going up to Sacsayhuaman

Afterwards, I made my way up the hill to Sacsayhuaman. It is possible to purchase seats with prime viewing here but these were $140US so I had resisted the temptation. Instead, I wandered around the hillside until I spotted a space where I thought I might get a bit of a view and there was a minuscule space on the grass for me to sit. Once settled, I started talking to a lady next to me, whom I had, surprisingly, given that there were very few foreigners in this particular spot, not registered was English. It transpired that she lived near Yeovil, (where Dad is in a nursing home), had lived in Australia and her grandfather came from Whakatane, (just along the coast from Tauranga). It is a very small world! She had been to Peru several times and had come specifically for a Summer Solstice ceremony this time. She was accompanied by a Shaman from Puno, with whom she had travelled previously, and who was going through South America opening up the chakras of various places. This was new information to me as I had never come across actually places representing specific chakras before e.g. crown, heart, throat etc.

Sacsayhuaman procession
Sacsayhuaman procession
Ceremony in full swing at Sacsayhuaman
Ceremony in full swing at Sacsayhuaman

We stayed, uncomfortably, on the hillside for most of the ceremony. In order to see the arena, I had to stand up but there were people behind me objecting to this. However, a number of people stood eventually, so I didn’t feel guilty. Sitting was not particularly easy either because of the slope and the very prickly kikuyu grass.

I watched most of the ceremony (although managed to miss the llama sacrifice) before making my way back to the city, with hordes of others. It was obvious the festival was winding down as most of the street sellers had disappeared and there was not the activity that there had been over the last few days. I was glad to arrive back as I was quite exhausted! It had been a long, hot, day.

Cusco Festival

Getting ready for the festivities
Getting ready for the festivities

My intention today was to go to Pisac and then on to Calca, where I had arranged to have a ‘reading’ with Laura, who is obviously many talented! However, the best laid plans of mice and men……… Whilst I was finishing my breakfast, one of the ladies who runs the hostel asked me what I was doing today as there was a big procession, starting now. (It was then just after 9am.) This, then, would explain why I could hear all the noise from the loudspeakers once again.

A very large Andean flag
A very large Andean flag

I got ready and made my way to the Plaza, where there were already thousands of people congregating. Having determined that the procession was going all the way round, I made my way to the stand on the far side, which seemed a lot emptier, at that stage, than the one on the side that I had sat before to watch the dancing. The central one was already full. I found a slightly precarious perch on the top of the stand, which, of course, had no back barrier, there being no health and safety standards here!

The procession started at 10am and I decided I had to leave at 12. It was still going on. Every community and dance group was represented, so there was a vast array of costumes and colour and the noise was phenomenal. As per usual, every group had its own band, all playing their own tunes. Add the loudspeakers to this, and it was deafening, but also spectacular. I don’t know how much longer it went on for but it showed no signs of finishing after 2 hours.


Negotiating my way off the stand was somewhat tricky, as it had now filled up. Even so, there were vendors working their way amongst the people selling hats, ice creams, drinks (water or gaseoso, meaning Inka Cola or some such fizzy drink) and other food. For me, however, there appeared to be no way through. Luckily, one man ended up offering me a hand, so that I could step down without injuring myself, the baby lying across the bench or standing on someone.

I had to make my way to the collectivo station but first had to have a coffee. Needless to say, I am now recognised in the cafe, having been there every day. I do try to make it a different time each day though. I would hate to become a creature of habit!


I didn’t have time to stop at Pisac after this so went straight to Calca, where I had a little difficulty, initially, finding the house. The directions I had been given were ‘from David’s house’ (which is where I had been staying), ‘look for the red and green hereria sign on the right and turn left. Walk along until you see a school, go to the end of the building and turn right. The house is about the third one along’. Simple! Except that I walked past the ‘hereria’ sign about 3 times before I spotted it. It wasn’t quite as large as I had anticipated and not on a corner, where I thought it was going to be. I found the street, but which house was it? Luckily, Laura, anticipating that I might have problems, emerged just as I was contemplating what to do.

View of Ausangate Mountain
View of Ausangate Mountain

Having spent much longer talking to her than I anticipated, my journey back to Cusco was in the dark. Thankfully, the collectivo driver wasn’t one of those that wouldn’t start without a full van, so we set off not long after I boarded, even though there were only about 3 of us in it. However, it filled up at Pisac, so all was well, and we arrived back in the city just after 6pm.

Walking from the collectivo station, I had to go up Avenida del Sol, which was absolutely jam packed with people. The festival was obviously still in progress! There were food stalls everywhere, so I took advantage and bought an ‘anticuccho’, which is liver kebab and far more tasty than it sounds. I then fought my way through the crowds to get back to the hostel. At one point, I was being pushed strongly from behind, which is something I dislike and also makes me a little fearful. There were so many people that I couldn’t have gone further or faster anyway.

Having bought a chicken kebab to supplement my already devoured liver kebab, I was thankful to arrive ‘home’. Whilst I feel that I am missing out a little on the festivities, I also do not like being in such large crowds, especially as Peruvians seem to have no compunction about pushing and shoving when they can’t get through.

Being a tourist

Plaza packed with people in the morning
Plaza packed with people in the morning

Today, the dancing competitions were obviously continuing, so I watched for a short while before going to do some of the tourist things that I still hadn’t done. I started in the Cathedral, where I bought a ticket that allowed me into a couple of other churches and a Religious Art Museum. I wasn’t allowed a free audio set in the Cathedral, which annoyed me somewhat, the reason for this being that I only had a copy of my passport and not the original for identification.

The main spectator area in front of the stage
The main spectator area in front of the stage

I cruised around the Cathedral, picking up bits of information from one or two of the English speaking tour guides, as I passed, although there weren’t many of them there today. The most famous part of the Cathedral is the large painting of the Last Supper with a guinea pig as its centre piece. There is also a massive amount of gold in the Church.

However, I have seen enough of these buildings now. They are all, it seems to me, very ornate and opulent and a stark contrast to the reality outside the door. All the while I was in the church, I could hear the very loud loudspeakers outside, which detracted somewhat from the experience.

Dancers on one side of the Plaza
Dancers on one side of the Plaza

I next made my way to the Museum and had a quick look in there (not somewhere I would have visited if I hadn’t had the ticket) and then walked up to San Blas, whose church was also included. This is a much smaller and simpler, adobe church that is considered to be the oldest in Cusco. There is still an excessive amount of gold covering the altar, however, and the principal feature, other than the altar, is a very ornately carved wooden pulpit. I sat in a pew and looked whilst the cleaner spread disinfectant on the floor around me.

Courtyard of the Museum of Religious Art
Courtyard of the Museum of Religious Art

On the way back to the Plaza, I did a bit of unsuccessful window shopping, having bought no presents for anyone. However, I quickly got fed up with being hassled by the vendors. There are thousands of shops in Cusco selling weavings, alpaca (supposedly) jerseys, hats and gloves, religious candles and icons and all sorts of other items that they seem to think tourists might want. There are also many, many people (mainly women) making a living selling llama key rings, paintings and jewellery (amongst other items) on the streets, as well as those attempting to lure people in for massages. Consequently, as you are walking around, there is a constant barrage of people thrusting goods or pieces of paper into your face, which gets a little irritating after a while.

The Plaza in the late afternoon
The Plaza in the late afternoon

I found a small cafe for lunch where a couple of Peruvian ladies sat down at my table, there being no other vacant ones. One of them was, I thought, extremely rude and kept calling to the waitress, who was attending to other customers. She then refused to eat the trout, which was the only choice left, and demanded one of the other items on the menu. Surprisingly, they actually found another portion of the supposedly run out dish.

After a lunch of soup and trout (for I did not demand one of the other choices!), I walked around the corner to the Machu Picchu Museum and spent some time looking at that and the photographic exhibition. The latter was quite small and contained black and white images of villagers in the high Andes, taken by three photographers, one of whom was the owner of the Earthship I had visited.

I walked around for a little while afterwards and then made my way back to my room. The dancing had all finished in the Plaza and the stands were decidedly empty but there were still a few people milling about as I passed by.

People milling around in the centre of the Plaza
People milling around in the centre of the Plaza