Discover the ancient village of Chinchero – an Incan settlement, Spanish colonial town and bustling market in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley
Anyone intent on discovering a quintessential Inca village must make a beeline for Chinchero, one of the Sacred Valley’s most picturesque, authentic settlements. Known as the birthplace of the rainbow owing to the remarkable effects that can be observed during the rainy season, Chinchero is surrounded by towering, snow-capped peaks and several large lagoons. Located between Cuzco and Urubamba, Chinchero perches high on a plain 3754 m above sea level and enjoys breathtaking views towards the mountains.
Chinchero is home to some of the richest, most fertile soil in the Sacred Valley and the network of terraces around the village are dedicated to agriculture, producing an abundance of crops, including potatoes, quinoa and fava beans, as well as lesser known local vegetables such as olluco and oca, which have been grown here since before the time of the Incas.
Burgeoning with a rich cultural heritage, Chinchero is a place that time forgot, where Inca customs and traditions proudly remain. Home to twelve native Andean communities still governed by the Incan organisation system ‘Ayllu’, the primary language is Quechua, with most inhabitants speaking Spanish as a second language.
An excursion to Chinchero, accompanied by one of our excellent private guides, is an amazing way to explore this fascinating spot and learn about the interplay between Inca, colonial Spanish and post-colonial history; a place that remains largely untouched by 21st century habits where traditional Inca customs are very much alive and thriving.
The Chinchero market, held in the town’s main square on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays attracts fewer tourists than its counterpart in Pisac but is nonetheless crammed with high quality wares , crafts and food. The “Varayoc” – the leaders of the communities that form Chinchero – are regularly in attendance at the market. Dressed in the traditional multi-coloured costumes sported by their ancestors, stallholders travel from the hills to the market to engage in the ancient practice of trueco (bartering). In addition to the sale of artisanal Inca crafts and traditional textiles, sellers come from Urubamba peddling coca leaves, coffee and fruit, from Maras to sell salt, from Yucay to trade medlars, corn, cabbage and peppers, Ayarmaka with onions, potatoes and geese and from Huayllabamba to flog rocoto and lemons.
The Túpac Yupanqui Palace
Wind your way up the stone steps from the market and you will reach the remains of what was once the palace of the Inca Túpac Yupanqui, who earmarked Chinchero as a palatial country retreat and ordered the construction of shrines, platforms, baths, aqueducts and the great royal palace, which was erected in 1480.
According to legend, in 1540 the rebel Inca Emperor Manco Inca ordered that Chinchero be set alight while he fled from the Spanish conquerors, to ensure they would be unable to supply themselves. As a result, only remnants of the original Inca settlement remain today, although the site is surrounded by Incan terracing and ruins that are worth a visit in themselves.
Iglesia Colonial de Chinchero
One of the valley’s most striking churches, the colonial church of Chinchero (known today as the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Navidad) was one of the first Catholic buildings to be built in Peru. It was constructed by Viceroy Toledo on the remains of the Inca Túpac Yupanqui Palace. Begun in 1572 and completed in 1607, the church features a mix of Inca and Hispanic architecture, a Baroque style gold leaf altar and represents one of the best examples of Cusco religious art with its vibrant floral and religious murals and motifs.
Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco
Weaving has always been regarded as being central to the Incas’ spiritual and community life and is a strong, enduring legacy of their culture. By the 1970s, however, it occurred to a group of female Quechua weavers from Chinchero that Cusqueñan textile traditions were beginning to fade. The weavers started meeting to spin and weave and began reviving ancient designs, relearning traditional techniques and selling their textiles.
The Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) is a non-profit organisation formed in 1996 that empowers weavers to continue producing traditional textiles in the Cusco region. The cultural centre supports groups of weavers in ten villages located across the Cusco region, with each community weaving association encouraged to retain elder weavers as mentors for younger generations to ensure the knowledge and knowhow continues to thrive.
The fascinating Textile Center of Chinchero is a great way to watch weavers in action. Visitors are invited to see demonstrations of the intricate weaving process, as the artisans continue using traditional techniques and methods, to create authentic, handmade textiles using only natural products, fibres and dyes.
What’s more, the centre houses a large store selling a variety of products; it’s the place to snap up a cosy alpaca jumper, embroidered bag or brightly coloured bedspread or rug, safe in the knowledge that you are supporting local artisans and a traditional way of life. Chinchero is now recognised worldwide as an outstanding city of weaving and the impact of reviving the tradition has enabled the local community to flourish.
The Incas constructed an impressive network of platforms and roads that surrounded the Túpac Yupanqui palace. While much of their labour was destroyed, an archaeological site, covering an area of up to 43 hectares, remains today. The Inca ruins of the town were excavated and restored by the Spanish Archaeological Mission between 1968 and 1970 and the site is a major draw for visitors. Recent discoveries have unearthed signs that the area was populated even before the Incas by the Killke culture, which capitalised on the fertile lands of the Sacred Valley.
Visitors to the site will be able to view terraces and platforms, Inca roads, stone banks and enclosures, water channels and temples which spill down the hillside from the church. There are various examples of elaborate seats, thrones and staircases which have been carved into the rock, whilst the terraces and open areas are a lovely spot to rest after a day exploring the town.
The nearby museum houses a number of artefacts, including furniture excavated from the ruins, numerous ceramics, objects and instruments fashioned from metal, stone and bone plus a variety of textiles. A separate area of the museum houses a collection of 17th and 18th century colonial paintings from the Cusqueña School.
Chinchero can be visited all year round, and there is plenty to keep visitors occupied. Our dedicated private guides are experts at showing our guests the very best of this alluring Andean village and after a day of exploring will be on hand to refresh you with a cool Chicha de Jora, or perhaps a Pisco Sour back at the hotel!