You’ve seen them before. They’re super colorful cone-shaped hats with big earflaps, long ties, and are adorned with intricate geometric knitted designs. They’re a favorite among indigenous Peruvians, tourists, and snowboarders alike.
A must-have souvenir for almost every Machu Picchu tourist, chullos are much more than a fashion accessory. This cold-weather garment evokes the majesty, culture, and natural vibrancy of the Andes Mountains.
Andean culture has brought us some amazing things, not least of which is the chullo. These hats are traditionally handspun, handknitted, and worked on narrow gauge needles for firm fabric, maximum warmth, and space for intricate designs. The earflaps provide full coverage from the elements.
Sure, you can purchase solid-colored machine knit hats made out of synthetic fibers. But you’ll be sorely disappointed on all counts. The patterns are culturally significant, the local artisans who make them are skilled in their crafts, and the real alpaca, llama, or vicuña fibers are as luxurious as they are practical. These eye-catching hats are definitely worth wearing in the Andes.
First and foremost, chullos are comfy. Alpacas have super soft wool that is perfect for insulating against the frigid mountain winds. Because of the structure of alpaca fibers, there are lots of teeny tiny natural air pockets that will keep your head warm. And because it’s so insulating, you can use thinner spun yarn than you could with sheep’s wool or other fibers. This makes alpaca chullos perfect for tucking in your pocket.
Alpacas and llamas are domesticated but native to the Andes, so their wool is truly local. Vicuñas, their wild cousins, are still thriving in the mountains. This national animal of Peru produces eye-wateringly expensive ultra-fine luxury fiber. The price tag is largely due to the fact that most of these animals still live in the wild. Sustainable humane vicuña wool harvesting supports both the local community and species conservation efforts. So if you have the budget, vicuña chullos are a great way to support Peru as a whole.
Whichever natural fiber you choose, forget the plain hats and look for a regionally significant style.
The geometric patterns, exuberant colors, and design of each chullo are unique to the region and the makers. This mark of heritage represents thousands of years of cultural significance. In fact, the acts of spinning wool, weaving, knitting, and producing textiles is as essential to the fabric of South American culture as the Andes themselves. Traditionally, the vibrant colors are made from local plants, insects, minerals, etc. and each color has specific associations. Green represents lush forests, yellow for riches, red for warfare, and so on.
Most chullo designs feature repeated geometric motifs, but many modern styles include images. Jaguars, plants, birds, and of course, the animals who generously gave their wool for the hat. (It doesn’t harm them any more than a haircut, by the way.)
It can be very cold and windy in the higher peaks of the Andes, and tightly-knitted alpaca earflap hats are just the ticket to keep you from catching a chill.
This distinctly mountain-friendly style gained popularity from communities living in the Andes. For the longest time, chullos were nothing more than a functional piece of outerwear. What was once a humble stackable hat has become the most instantly recognizable garment of South America. Tourism has kept this traditional style vibrant and expanding.
It wasn’t always considered fashionable in Peru, but the chullo has taken hold as one of the most popular, iconic garments of the region. Customized to the local climate, knitted from the wool of animals who live there, and covered in unique motifs indicative of local history, chullos are quintessentially Peruvian.