Look Like a Local: Andean Textiles in Peru

 A guest post by Laura Elise

Strolling down the streets of Peru, one can’t help but notice a blend of the old and the new. And I’m not talking about colonial buildings next to ancient ruins, all topped off with a local McDonald’s franchise on the corner (though you can definitely find that as well). I’m talking about the designer jeans paired with a wooly Andean sweater, and sneaker-wearing women carrying kids in k’eperinas — a colorful Andean cloth used to tote everything from firewood to squirmy infants.

Traditional clothing is big in Peru. If you visit the highlands, you’re guaranteed to see locals rocking intricate textiles with fashionable but mainly functional properties like warmth and durability. These items have even made it to the modern streets of Lima.

Traditional Highland Clothing in Peru

If you’d like to look like a local, or just take a bit of Peru home with you, you might want to shell out some soles for the following traditional items:

Lliclla / Manta

A decorative shawl worn by women, the lliclla is a lovely way to keep warm despite the highland chill. This woven cloth is usually folded in half and then pinned in the front (like a cape). It covers the shoulders and the top part of the back, but is not long enough to be cumbersome. They also make beautiful table covers.


Lliclla (photo © Maurizio Costanzo, flickr.com)


K’eperina (photo © Thomas Quine, flickr.com)


Structurally similar to a lliclla, a k’eperina is a large piece of durable cloth used to carry items on the back. Both men and women will use this as a practical tool, although those used by women tend to be more colorful and elaborate.


Probably the most mainstream item on this list, a chullo is a knitted hat with practical yet funny-looking earflaps and sometimes cute dangly stings with mini pompoms attached. Chullos likely date back to colonial times and were traditionally worn by men. Today you can buy synthetic ones in any Peruvian market for around 10 soles, although a nice hand-woven chullo made from alpaca will cost more.


Boy in chullo hat (photo © theVisionaryAgency, flickr.com)


Woman in pollera (photo © Brian Holsclaw, flickr.com)


These thick puffy skirts fall about mid-shin and can be layered for extra warmth and fashion. Exact patterns and style vary depending on town and region. And although a traditional pollera is probably a questionable fashion choice outside of Peru, a modern miniskirt version can be found in high-end Cuzco boutiques.


The Quechan version of a “man purse,” chuspas are very small bags that hang around hip level. They most likely predate the Incan civilization and probably were used to carry coca leaves, which were (and still are) chewed to help relieve altitude sickness and enhance endurance. They’re handy for carrying around pocket change and keys.


Woman selling chuspa bags (photo © Phil Whitehouse, flickr.com)

Laura Elise has been living in Lima for nearly two years. When she’s not on the road as an independent traveler, she works with SA Luxury Expeditions, a specialist in luxury Peru tours.


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