Similar to many ancient civilisations, the Incas placed great importance on the sun and moon. Solstice and Equinox dates were recognised as being very significant each year, none more so than Inti Raymi the summer solstice. Today in Ecuador these sacred dates are still celebrated with colorful festivals. This is particullarly true in indigenous communities, and tourist visitors are usually welcome to join in the fun! Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun celebrated on summer solstice, is the most well known festival in the annual indigenous calender. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about Ecuador indian culture and traditions, meet the locals, or enjoy a homestay in an indigenous community.
Read on to learn more about Inti Raymi in Ecuador. Where are the best places in Ecuador to see Inti Raymi festivities? How do Ecuadorians celebrate Inti Raymi? Which other dates and festivals are important in the indigeound calender?
The word Inti Raymi comes from the Quechua language of the Incas, Inti meaning Sun, and Raymi meaning Festival or Celebration. It is a celebration to honor Taita Inti (Father Sun). We thank him for the heat and energy that allows plants to grow, and we welcome a new cycle of life for Pacha Mama (Mother Earth).
Inti Raymi is considered the most important of the four sacred festivals (Raymi) celebrated by indigenous Andean cultures. It is held in late June, on the same date as the Pagan celebration of the Summer Solstice. This marks the longest day of the year, when the sun traces it’s longest path through the sky.
In Ecuador, Inti Raymi is also known as the Fiesta of San Juan. The Spanish conquistadores considered Inti Raymi to be a heathen celebration. So, to make it more palatable, they merged it with the Christian celebration for Saint John (Juan) the Baptist.
Celebrations take place across most Ecuadorian Indigenous towns and villages. Festivities often last one or two weeks with different events taking place. Wherever you choose to experience Inti Raymi in Ecuador, you will be able to share the immense pride that indigenous feel for their heritage and culture.
Here are a few of our top picks for unique places to experience Inti Raymi in Ecuador:
In Otavalo the celebrations begin with a midnight ritual cleansing at sacred Peguche Waterfall. A street parade then traces it way through town to the central Plaza de Ponchos. Live music and dancing continue throughout the day, and many smaller celebrations spring up in surrounding communities. This is a celebration of joy and gratitude to mother nature.
Similar traditions take place at Cotacachi town, in the northern Andes. First a ritual bath at Cuicocha Crater lake, and then with a week of colorful and lively celebrations in the streets. Cotacachi is home to a thriving ex-pat community, so this becomes quite a multi-cultural celebration with all invited. A particularly important event is the taking of the square (toma de la plaza). This is a symbolic taking back of the land that was once theirs, involving dances around the four corners of the main park in Cotacachi.
For a truly unique Ecuador Inti Raymi experience, why not try a community homestay at Tambo Jatarishun? This community is close to Cotacachi, and local familes are very welcoming to tourists. You will be treated like family, and the celebrations are great fun! Happy Gringo will be happy to help you organise an Ecuador Inti Raymi homestay experience.
The Cochasqui Tolas (Pyramids) are a fascinating pre-incan archeaological site. Located between Quito and Otavalo, they were built by the Cara and/or Caranqui people. Investigations suggest that one of the pyramids was used as a solar calendar. Carefully placed stones cast shadows on the solstice dates, indicating the best times to plant and to harvest. Here, ancestral Inti Raymi celebrations form a circular harvest offering of plants and foods, around which community groups dance and give thanks to Pacha Mama (Mother Nature).
The ruins of Ingapirca, north from Cuenca City, are the best preserved Incan Ruins in Ecuador. This is one of the best places in the country to join in with Inti Raymi celebrations. Hundreds of local indigenous congregate for folkloric dancing, traditional gastronomy, and Andean Music. The main focus of celebration, of course, takes place in the Incan Temple of the Sun.
In the south of Ecuador, between Cuenca and Loja cities, Saraguro is another interesting place to celebrate Inti Raymi. The Saraguro people are intensely proud of their heritage. Their ancestors were from the inner circle of Inca leader Huayna Capac, and brought to Ecuador by the Incas from southern Peru and Bolivia to start a new Inca colony. Thanks to this history, the Saraguros take the Inti Raymi Festival very seriously, making it a great spot for a very authentic celebration. Few tourists visit Saraguro, it is an off the beaten path destination.
Inti Raymi begins with ritual bathing (Armay Chisi), to spiritually cleanse and purify, eliminate negative energies, and renew one’s connection to Pacha Mama. Indigenous people flock to local springs, rivers or waterfalls together at midnight, to strip down and bathe in the cold waters.
No Ecuadorian Festival would be complete without a big party, and the indigenous people certainly know how to throw a good one! Local musicians play songs in Kichwa throughout the day, and everyone is encouraged to join the dance. Fortunately dance moves are an easy mix of stomping feet on the ground to get the attention of Pacha Mama, while whirling around. The dance is led by a colorful character known as Aya Uma, the spirit of the mountain. This role is played by an important member of the community, and is usually the life and soul of the party. Aya Uma is easy to recognise by his mask with two faces, representing the duality of day and night, and the hanging fabric snakes which represent Wisdom to Andean cultures. Parties often go on into the small hours, and involve strong, locally made alcohol. Tourists are often pulled into the throng of dancers, and the old adage “if you can’t beat them, then join them” definitely applies here.
Inti Raymi is at it’s roots a celebration of harvest and abundance, so naturally food plays an important role in celebrations. A community Pampamesa (meaning: Food for All) is often prepared. A long strip of fabric or ponchos are laid on the ground, and covered with staple foods of corn, potatoes and pork. There is also a plentiful supply of Chicha – a local moonshine made from fermented corn. The Pampamesa is a communal experience. Everybody contributes food, and all are welcome to join the table and eat. People eat with their hands, and are seated on the floor for a closer connection to Mother Nature.
Ecuadorian indigenous people are very proud of their clothing traditions. Each community and area of the country uses their own uniquely colored fabrics and hats. The men often wear chaps made from sheep hides, a Spanish tradition from the time when Haciendas dominated the land. Today they are used to show that it is the indigenous who once again control the land. Indigenous women wear colorful flowing dresses that swirl around as they dance, and attractive jewellery.
It will come as no surprise to learn that similar festivals take place for the Winter Solstice (Kapak Raymi), the Spring Equinox (Pawkar Raymi), and the Fall Equinox (Killa Raymi). All of these important dates based on movements of the sun were recognised by the Incas and other Pre-Incan civilizations.
Pawkar Raymi means the Fiesta of the Flowering (of the crops, like Harvest Festival in other societies). It’s a time to give thanks to Pacha Mama for her bounty, where the Andean harvest typically begins in the month of March, after the rainy winter months. Pawkar Raymi shares it’s celebration with Carnaval, and the Fiesta of Fruits & Flowers in Ambato City, also linked to harvest activities.
Pawkar Raymi celebrations begin with ritual purification, where it’s believed that single women who enter the waters will be blessed by Pacha Mama, making them fertile and granting the ability to give life. The parties that follow form vibrant scenes of dancing and merriment, and include Jucho, a fruit drink, served hot or cold, made from Capulí (capulin cherry).
Kapak Raymi, the Winter Solstice, is a time of transformation, from seed to plant after the start of the rains, and from child to adult. The celebrations often involve community rites of passage for young men, who prove themselves in games of strength, and demonstrate the knowledge that they have aquired thus far in their lives.
Killa Raymi in September is the feminine Festival of the Moon, and celebrates a time for ploughing the fields and sowing seed before the onset of the rains. It is also known as the Festival of the Corn, symbolising the fertility of Pacha Mama.
In conclusion, Inti Raymi in Ecuador is the most important indigenous festival. This festival is a wonderful opportunity for tourists to visit indian communities and learn about indian culture. Celebrations include interesting rituals, local food, and lively street parties. Locals dress up in traditional dress, and local moonshine alcohol flows. This is definitely an Ecuador experience that you don’t want to mix!