Chinchero is the most traditional population of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is a purely Inca city. Its inhabitants live in almost intact Inca constructions, in the same place where their distant ancestors lived and formed the greatest and prosperous civilization of America. It is the capital of the district of the same name, which belongs to the province of Urubamba. It is one of the most representative towns of Cusco in general and is known for its archeology and handicrafts.
Currently, Chinchero has a population that exceeds 15 thousand, composed of twelve indigenous communities that maintain the system of ayllus, although they no longer correspond to the system of organization in force before the Spanish conquest. These communities, following the system of organization of the Tahuantinsuyo, directly name to their maximum authority: the varayoc. Chinchero is one of the few places where the traditional form of marketing of bartering is preserved.
According to Luis E. Valcárcel, Chinchero was a foundation of the Inca Tupac Yupanqui, a palatial residence in a rural environment. The Inca erected shrines, baths, platforms and the great royal palace in 1480. The chronicles state that the ruler died in dark circumstances. Some believe that he was poisoned by his favorite princess, Chiqui Ocllo, although it could also be the coya Mama Ocllo, who resented the preference of the Inca for the son of his concubine. In the struggle for power, all the supporters of Chiqui Ocllo, including the princess, were exterminated. The son of the Inca, Capac Huari, was confined for life in the prison of Chinchero.
Towards 1540, the rebellious Manco Inca, in his flight towards Vilcabamba, set fire to Chinchero so his enemies could not take advantage of the supplies there.
Location and Geography
The capital is the town of Chinchero is located at 3,754 masl. 28 kilometers from Cusco in the province of Urubamba, District of Cusco, and before reaching the Sacred Valley of the Incas (and the Urubamba River) lies the village of Chinchero on a high Andean plateau which gets very cold from dusk until dawn.
The important Inca ruins in the area were excavated and restored by the Spanish Archaeological Mission between the years 1968 and 1970. These investigations gave origin to several volumes published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain.
The town of Chinchero, where the stone is the main protagonist, is strategically located at the junction of three roads that connect Cusco, Yucay and Pumamarca. During the Tahuantinsuyo it was located on the road that led directly towards Machu Picchu. This route started from the neighborhood of Carminca (currently the Santa Ana neighborhood), followed the slopes of the Senca hill, passed near the Piuray lagoon and continued until Maras
How to get to Chinchero?
Usually one arrives at Chinchero on the way back to Cusco (Sacred Valley Tour). It is an hour’s drive from Ollantaytambo, and about 40 minutes from Cusco, by way of asphalted Cusco-Urubamba (Sacred Valley of the Incas) to 30 Km.
The land terminal is located on Grau Avenue first block, approximately 45 minutes.
The terminal is located at Av. Grau second block, approximately 30 minutes.
Entering Chinchero requires a unique tourist ticket ($10), since all Chinchero is located on Inca ruins. Visiting hours are from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The fair and the market – Barter Market
The colorful handicraft fair of Chinchero can be enjoyed at its fullness on Sundays in the Plaza de Armas, in front of the colonial church. From early in the morning sellers come, mainly from Chinchero, but also from nearby villages, to sell their handmade products.
There are smaller fairs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There, sheep, llama and alpaca wool, handicrafts of all kinds and native musical instruments are sold there. This market is carried out in front of a strong Inca wall with twelve large trapezoidal niches. The market, which is an age-old tradition, takes place at the end of the village and is one of the few where a primitive system of buying and selling, called “bartering”, is still practiced. The local people will exchange products of the area for other products, utensils and articles brought from neighboring regions.
There are sellers from every region who arrive at very early hours of the morning. You can typically find the following at the market:
The Chincherinos sellers mainly offer potato, chuño and white chicha, but also hog pork and even chancaca.
From Urubamba, vendors of coca leaves, coffee and lemons.
From Maras you can find coca, bananas, coffee, mote, oranges and asnapa.
From Yucay people come with loquats, corn, coca leaves, cabbage and rocotos.
From Ayarmaka they bring onions, tarhui, potatoes and geese.
From Huayllabamba there are rocoto and lemons.
Most buyers and sellers are women. In addition, the merchants are mostly the same producers, although the presence of intermediaries from different regions such as Cusco, Maras, Urubamba and Yucay is noticeable.
The Church is made up of Inca stone structures, which were used as the foundations of colonial construction and shaped the design. Its entrance door leads to Plaza de Armas and is located on one of the side walls. The interior walls and ceiling are covered with mural paintings with watermarks and religious motifs.
On the side wall is a large picture that represents the Virgin of Monserrate towards the center, with an interesting view of the town. The canvas was painted in 1693 by Francisco Chihuantito. The church only opens on Sundays for the morning mass.
“The silhouette of the Catholic church is a parallel to the Inca niches of the square and the whole ensemble emerges as a progressive ascent, totally in the breadth of the horizon. We do not know the historical origins of the decision to place the church of Chinchero there and not elsewhere. But whatever it was, it was, evidently, the best aesthetic and technological solution, the only one possible to create without destroying the beauty already performed by the Inca andeneria.” – Pablo Macera, historian.
In the sector where the church can be seen today, are formidable walls of polyhedrons assembled to perfection that form retaining walls giving shape to the platforms. In addition, large rooms with windows remain. In the town square there is an Inca wall made up of twelve niches (2.1 m high x 1.1 m wide, 0.9 m high and 0.7 m deep ). The niches have a modern eave that covers and protects them from above. The structures built on these terraces have mostly disappeared, but a portion of the walls still forms part of the large church.
The murals of the temple of Chinchero also express the great importance that the region had. The murals on the outside emphasize the Virgin of Monserrate, the procession of the cacique (leader) Pumacahua and the defeat of Tupac Amaru. It is interesting that in the ceiling the fight between two mythological beings is observed: a puma bites the neck of a dragon or Amaru. These are the heraldic emblems of the rival caudillos.
Pumacahua, in ordering the mural to be painted in his own town, wanted to emphasize the ancestral character of the struggle in order to quell the rebellious moods of the settlers. The allegories of the puma and the dragon are not simple decorations, but, as Macera points out, they made it easy to identify the protagonists of the drama with the memory of their surnames: the puma of the cacique of Chinchero Mateo Pumacahua and the great dragon was the chief of Tinta José Gabriel Condorcanqui, Tupac Amaru II.
The House of Mateo Pumacahua
The cacique Mateo Pumacahua was born in Chinchero in 1748, in the bosom of a noble indigenous family. During the eighteenth century he was the most powerful Indian chief of Peru. Although he initially identified with the Spanish regime, Pumacahua turned to the indigenous cause in 1814, during a major revolution led by the Angulo brothers. The unsuccessful revolution ended with the death of its leaders. Pumacahua was tried and beheaded in Sicuani and his remains were dismembered and exhibited in Arequipa, Cusco and other regions.
Style of Dress
Many of the inhabitants of Chinchero dress in the style of their ancestors. Not only during the Sunday fair, to attract the attention of tourists, but in every-day life, jealously preserving its tradition. The adult man wears the typical montera, especially on Sundays and holidays. He also wears ponchos of sheep wool, vests and pants of bayeta, as well as multicolored chullos. On his feet he wears ancestral sandals, made from either leather or rubber.
The Chinchilla woman, has for generations inherited the art of spinning and woolen weaving. For this reason, she retains her traditional dress proudly. She is dressed with llicllas (kind of dark blankets decorated with red and green filigrees and a pin at the height of the chest), vests and black cloth pulleys, fastened to the body with belts or chumpis. Her hair is styled into fine braids and they wear colorful monteras (a woven strap decorated with a heavy layer of (predominantly white) beads, that ties the hat under the chin).
The Piuray Lagoon
Located at kilometer 27, this lagoon supplies water to the city of Cusco from the Tahuantinsuyo. It was the Incas who brought the waters to the imperial city through subterranean aqueducts.
The inhabitants of the city of Chinchero practice different types of dances among which are the Wayllascha, Black Qapaq, Chilean Aucca, Capac Chuncho, Capac Colla, the Contradanza and the Kachampa. There are also folk groups such as the Ukukos and the Huaman Brothers.
The people of Chichero practice the Catholic religion and have a great devotion to Our Lady of Montserrat, now the Virgin of the Nativity that is in the main altar of the temple. She is the patroness and mayoress of life in the district and her feast day is celebrated the 8 of September.
An exquisite way to discover something more about the cultures of the towns is to try their dishes. Chinchero offers the visitor one of its most distinguished cultural elements: Its typical dishes.
In Chinchero, you can enjoy the tasty stuffed rocoto, different from other places, the puchero, the rabbit or guinea pig, the kapiches cheese, the chuñocola, olluco with meat, kapchi and lawa. All accompanied by the refreshing local beer, brandy or chicha, according to your taste.
Customs and Traditions
The town of Chinchero retains a traditionally religious spirit that reveals the syncretism of Spanish Catholicism and the Andean man’s worldview.
Religious Festivals in the 14 Communities and 36 sectors:
January 1: Varayoc Pledge of Communities
February: Carnivals (landmark, recognition of boundaries of communities)
April: Holy Week
May: Cuy Candle Cross
June: Lord of Qoyllor Rit’y
June: Corpus Cristi
27/29 August: Handicraft Agricultural Fair
September 8: Virgin of the Nativity
September 9: District Anniversary
The town of Chinchero retains a traditionally religious spirit, which reveals the syncretism of the religion brought by the Spaniards and the spirituality of the Andean man. Its main celebrations revolve around its patroness, the Virgin of the Nativity, and the Lord of Coyllur Riti. The fiestas involve the whole town and are characterized by their unique color.
The Coyllur Riti (June 14, 15 and 16)
Nearly 50 thousand Peruvian and foreign pilgrims arrive on foot to worship in the place of Sinacara to the lonely Lord of the Coyllur Riti. This pilgrimage is the hardest in all of Peru. The devotees ascend until 5,000 m.s.n.m. and withstand minimum temperatures of -4 ° C.
After the pilgrimage to the Coyllur riti, the dancers participate in the celebrations of the Corpus Christi of Chinchero. This busy religious festival begins on Thursday with the celebration of the feast Mass. Afterwards, the procession of the Saints takes place, in which the Mamacha Natividad, San Isidro, San Miguel, San Antonio, the Purified Virgin, are paraded, among others. Once the parade is over, the professional dancers compete in a colorful parade. Each group exhibits their best choreography and their most colorful costumes before a qualifying jury. In the afternoon, we start the cacharpari, when mayordomos entertain visitors by offering drinks and the traditional Chiriuchu.
Virgin Nativity (September 8)
This is the most important festival in Chinchero, being the feast day of the patroness and Mayoress of the district, Our Lady of Montserrat. The celebrations begin with a mass in honor of the Virgin Nativity. Towards noon a traditional procession is performed, where her image is accompanied by dances and colorful comparsas. In the afternoon there is a beauty contest, and at night there are serenades, music and fireworks.
The Cruz Velacuy (2nd and 3rd of May)
As in all the Andean peoples, the Inca huacas or shrines were replaced by crosses. The festival of the Cross in Chinchero begins on May 2 with the Velada de la Cruz, in the midst of songs, prayers and music. The next day, the crosses are lowered from their altars to be taken to mass by their stewards.
The main economic activity in Chinchero is agriculture. 55% of the farmers are dedicated to growing potatoes, 15% to cereals, another 15% to smaller tubers, 10% to legumes and between 2 and 3% to other crops. Today as before, Chinchero is considered the granary of Cusco. In their lands the production of sheep and cattle is emphasized, although the llamas brought from the punas must be mentioned and bulls are much sought after to plow the land. The area has very important water resources such as the lagoons of Huaypo and Piuray.