What Is Quechua? You Need to Know This for Your Peru Trip!

Quechua refers to both a group of indigenous people and a group of indigenous languages that span the Andean highlands in South America. It was the language of the Inca Empire and is still spoken today by a quarter of the Peruvian population. And I found it comforting to know that a lot of people living in the Andes mountains speak Spanish as their second language too (after Quechua), so it was less embarrassing for me to make mistakes as I learned to speak Spanish here.

Although the Inca Empire spanned various modern-day countries, its center was Cusco, so it makes sense that you still see and hear a lot of Quechua around even til this day:

  • Business names – I noticed that a lot of businesses have Quechua words like “Killa” (moon), “Kusi” (happy), and “Ayllu” (family/community) in their business names – see Peru Travel With Purpose’s Values for more on “ayllu.”
  • Tourist sites – One of the main Inca temples found within walking distance of the main plaza (part of our Cusco City Tour) is called Qoricancha, which literally means “golden enclosed space” in Quechua (“qori” means “gold” and “cancha” means “enclosed space”).
  • Street names – The road where the 12-Angled Stone is found (part of our Cusco Walking Tour) is called Hatunrumiyoc Street (literally “has a big rock” in Quechua – “hatun” means “big” and “rumi” means “rock”).
  • Signs – The featured image of this blog post is of a sign embedded in one of the sidewalks in Cusco showing the 4 directions of the “Tahuantinsuyu” (“place that has 4 territories” in Quechua – “tahua” means “four” and “suyu” means “territory”), which was another name for the Inca Empire.

If you’re curious about any other possible Quechua words you might be seeing or hearing around town, you can use this resource to translate Quechua to Spanish or English: https://dic.qichwa.net/

In the video below, a group of children in Ollantaytambo sing a couple Quechua songs:

  • Ch’ulla Kutillan Tuparanchis – This Andean song describes love during the time of the Incas. It’s sung from a man’s perspective after he meets a girl, which caused the town to start gossiping about them.
    • Ch’ulla kutilla tuparanchis – “we met only one time”
    • Ch’ulla kutilla tuparanchis
    • Chaytañataq runa rimashan – “the people are talking about that (meeting)”
    • Chaytañataq runa rimashan
  • Yaw Yaw Puka Polleracha – This song describes a typical interaction between Andean children when a child finds a girl in his cornfield.
    • Yaw, yaw puka polleracha – “hey, hey, girl in the red skirt”
    • Yaw, yaw puka polleracha
    • Imatan ruwanki saray ukhupi – “what are you doing in my cornfield”
    • Imatan ruwanki saray ukhupi
    • Click here to see the lyrics of the full song. In the second part of the song, the child says “I’ll tell your father and mother that you’re playing in my farm.”
  1. What Is Quechua?

    The word “Quechua” can refer to either the Quechua indigenous people or the Quechua languages spoken by these people.

  2. Where Is Quechua Spoken?

    Quechua is spoken primarily in Peru, but there are other dialects of Quechua spoken in surrounding countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile.

  3. Is There Quechua in Peru?

    Yes! In fact, nearly 8 million people in Peru speak Quechua, and there are some rural communities where residents only speak Quechua (not Spanish).

  4. What Does Machu Picchu Mean in Quechua?

    Historians believe that only the “Machu” part of “Machu Picchu” comes from Quechua (“machu” means “old”). “Machu Picchu” is often translated as “Old Mountain” from the belief that “Picchu” came from the Spanish word “Pico,” which means “Peak.”

  5. Are there any other native languages besides Quechua?

    Absolutely! In Peru, there are 48 indigenous languages – four of them are spoken by Andean communities. The most significant ones are Quechua and Aymara. We have a special post about the cinematic gem “Wiñaypacha,” the first Peruvian film entirely recorded in the Aymara language and set in a Quechua community.

Want to learn more about Quechua in Peru? Connect with us to join one of our tours.


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