Peru Culture & Style

Peru, officially the Republic of Peru, is a country in western South America, bordering Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil to the east, Bolivia to the south-east, Chile to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

In addition to being known as the cradle of the Inca empire, Peru harbors many indigenous ethnic groups, making it a major historical and cultural site.



The Inca Empire dominated western South America from the southern boundary of modern Colombia, to the northern regions of Chile and Argentina. In fact, only the emperor was called “Inca,” which meant a “god on Earth”. The empire originated from a tribe based in Cusco, which became the capital. Pachacuti was the first ruler to considerably expand the boundaries of the Cuzco state.

The Inca empire was defeated by Spanish conquistador’s superior firepower, and their greed for gold. Francisco Pizarro landed on the Peruvian coast in 1531 at an opportune moment, since the Incan Empire was in the middle of a civil war. Two brothers, Huáscar and Atahualpa, were engaged in a struggle for power for their recently deceased father’s empire. Pizarro’s forces captured Atahualpa and held him ransom, demanding a roomful of gold for his release. But after his followers complied, Pizarro murdered Atahualpa by garrotting him. In 1535, Pizarro established the new capital, Lima, which became the Viceroyalty of Peru, royal seat of power for Spanish South America for two centuries.

Peru declared its independence from Spain on July 28, 1821 thanks to an alliance between the Army of José de San Martín, and the Army of Simón Bolívar. Its first elected president, however, was not in power until 1827.


Like its rich national history, the popular culture of contemporary Peru is the result of a fusion of cultures, constituted primarily from the cultural legacy of the Incas and the culture of Spain. This cultural mixture has been further enriched by the contributions of so many other cultures of the world that have come to call Peru home throughout its history; from African slaves, to non-Hispanic Europeans, and even East Asians.

Prior to Spanish colonization concentrated almost entirely upon the production of fine pottery, metalwork, stonecraft and textiles. The Spanish subsequently introduced their version of urban planning, with cities laid out in checkerboard fashion, and constructed mansions, churches and monasteries which slavishly mimicked Spanish renaissance or the rather Spanish early baroque. The mountain town of Machu Picchu and the buildings at Cuzco are excellent examples of Inca architectural design.

Over time, these European styles increasingly showed signs of a native Indian influence, leading to a style known as mestizo. At first sight, Peruvian culture may seem brutally divided between indigenous and colonial societies – the mountains and the city. Like generations before them, most live in Lima, where a European visitor will feel a comfortable familiarity in the cafes and supermarkets.

Peruvian music is almost entirely folk music. Spanish is the main language. In the highlands, most Indians are bilingual, but speak Quechua as their mother tongue. There are about 70 other languages, and in remote parts of the Amazon, Spanish is rarely spoken.



Peru is known world wide for its weaving techniques and its vivid, colorful patters. Most traditional peru women weave their own traditional attire. Each weaving project requires the making of a new loom.

The classic Chinchero manta shows areas of pattern contrasted with unpatterned areas of plain color. Village weavers speak of the plain unpatterned areas of a manta as “pampas,” which in the Quechua language refers to high unplanted stretches of land. Mantas are usually woven in two sections, requiring that Nilda make a separate loom for each half. The two halves are then stitched together to make a whole manta.

For at least two thousand years Peruvian weavers have experimented with every weaving technique known in the world. Many village weavers still know and use a great variety of techniques and designs of their ancestors. In some villages, like Chinchero, weaving traditions are still strong, despite changes rapidly being introduced. The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco meets and works with the younger generation in Chinchero and other villages, encouraging young people to learn their weaving skills, and preserve their valuable weaving tradition for the future.

In Inca communities the toad represents an animal who lives a double life–on land and in the water. The croaking of toads in November or December introduces the beginning of the rainy season. Toads are associated with rain and growth.

Traditional Dress


In Peru’s rural areas, the way people dress makes an important distinction, as a result of the blend of pre-Hispanic influences with the European clothing that the natives were forced to wear during the colonial era. Today the Quechua and Aymara peoples of the Andes continue to weave.

In the highlands above Lima, the skirt is decorated with red and black embroidered edging, while in Junín, as in Cajamarca and Cuzco, women no longer use black skirts. Underneath their skirts, the women use layers of petticoats made from cotton which can be embroidered with gold and silver threads, featuring superbly-crafted drawings along the edge.

Cloth remains at the center of the spiritual life of the community; special bundles of cloth are kept and revered as embodiments of their ancestors. Underneath their skirts, the women use layers of petticoats made from cotton which can be embroidered with gold and silver threads, featuring superbly-crafted drawings along the edge.

The Peruvian poncho dates back to the seventeenth century and apparently is a variation on the unku used by men at the time. The heavy ponchos used in Cajamarca keep out the rain and are as long as those used in Puno, where they are died scarlet during festivals. In Cuzco, ponchos are short and feature elaborate geometric figures against a red background.

In the jungle, both men and women from some tribes wear the cushma, a loose tunic stitched up on both sides and embellished with dyes and geometric figures typical of the region.

Traditional dress tends to be capped off by woolen or straw hats, sometimes in various colors. But in the coldest reaches of the Andes, the highlanders tend to wear the chullo, a woolen cap fitted with earflap decorated with geometric motifs.

The youth of today in Peru has been slowly laying off their traditional garbs for more westernized versions of clothing. There are many movements in the country to preserve the heritage by having cultural festivals and education tourists as well.

The Llama


The llama is a large camelid that originated in North America and then later on moved on to South America. The term llama is sometimes used more broadly, to indicate any of the four closely related animals that make up the South American branch of the family Camelidae: the true llama, the vicuña, alpaca, and guanaco. They were used as a system of transportation for the Incas.

Differentiating characteristics between llamas and alpacas are that llamas are larger and have more elongated heads.

Alpacas also have a more luxurious wool than llamas.

Peru Today

Above all, Peru is the most varied and exciting of all the South American nations. Most people visualize the country as mountainous, and are aware of the great Inca relics, but many are unaware of the splendour of the immense desert coastline and the vast tracts of tropical rainforest . Dividing these contrasting environments, chain after chain of breathtaking peaks, the Andes , over seven thousand metres high and four hundred kilometres wide in places, ripple the entire length of the nation. So distinct are these three regions that it is very difficult to generalize about the country, but one thing for sure is that Peru offers a unique opportunity to experience an incredibly wide range of spectacular scenery, a wealth of heritage, and a vibrant living culture.