The Andean Alternative Chullo Caps

Chullo Hats, the Andean Alternative

Now that winter is coming (in the northern hemisphere), time has come to talk about small woollen hats that are popular in the Andes mountains. They are small, they are really warm, and its name is written in Quechua, the language of the defunct Inca empire. Yes, I am talking about chullo caps.

Given their origin, chullo hats (or just Chullos – check the pronunciation here) are common where the Inca empire existed: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. All of them were hand-knit originally; but nowadays machine knitting has eased and added more variety to their production.

The origin of Chullos is still a matter of controversy among scholars. Most seem to agree that Chullos are as old as the pre-Inca civilizations that developed in the Andes mountains; others state they are an Inca headgear; while others state that Chullos began being knit after the arrival of Spaniards to America (as an adaptation of a European garment, maybe a cap).

Historians may take a while to research and reach a conclusion, so let’s focus on the hat itself. Chullos are pretty, warm, colorful and so different to other caps it is worth taking a look at them in greater detail.

What Are Chullos Made From?

Peruvian chullo hat
What Exactly Are Chullos Produced Made From

Peruvian hats are all made from wool. There were not sheep in the Andes before the arrival of Spaniards in the 16th century, so Chullos are traditionally made from llama, alpaca and (rarely) vicuña wools. Now-adays you can also find chullo hats made of sheep wool, but they are still uncommon. Most of them are made of llama or alpaca wool. Using baby alpaca wool to knit them would make them finer and more valuable; while using vicuña wool would really make them a luxury item. During the Tawantinsuyo (which was the name of the Inca empire in Quechua), only an Inca and his family were allowed to use vicuña in their garments because vicuñas give very little wool, and you need to fleece many of them to get enough wool to do anything.

Why Are They So Warm?

South American climate
What Makes Them So Warm?

Because of the quality of the wool. The tighter the wool fibres are to each other, the warmer the hat will be; and the fibres of South American camelids are naturally tighter than their peers.

If you’d like to see a ranking, it would be like this:

  • Vicuña
  • Baby alpaca
  • Alpaca
  • Llama
  • Sheep

Mind, vicuña is rare and really, really expensive; so if you are looking for the finest option as a reasonable price, I would strongly suggest buying a baby alpaca Andean cap instead.

Chullos Shapes and Colors

A basic chullo covers your head and has earflaps to cover your ears too. They are either plain-coloured with a few ornaments, or really colourful. That depends on the production method and the intention of the artisan who knit it. Plain-coloured Chullos are often machine-knit, so they do not mix many colours. Handwoven Peruvian caps may be simple, or they could include symbology that represents the artisan’s town, social status, marital status or mood! Chullos are unique because of this.

Chullo hats are often adorned as well. Sometimes, artisans attach pompoms at the ends of the earflaps or the top of the hat (often both). For festive occasions, there could be many pompoms of different colours on one of the ends. They often include straps too, mainly at the end of the earflaps. Sometimes, artisans include pompoms at the end of the straps; sometimes they replace the straps with wool braids; and sometimes they just leave them as plain straps so the wearer can tie the chullo around his or her chin in cold and really windy winter days.

Beyond Tourism… a Headgear for All Winter

Ancient town of Machu Picchu in Peru
Ancient city of Machu Picchu in Peru

If you have seen a chullo cap before, perhaps it was at a friend’s house after a trip to Machu Picchu or some other Andean South American location. This has made many people think Andean caps are a tourism souvenir from a trip to the Andes mountains. That is so wrong! Peruvian hats are something you can use every day. They are headgear for all winter both in the Andes and where you live. They are comfortable, warm, easy to keep and clean, and very durable, so why not?

Where to Buy a Chullo

It depends on the quality, I guess. If you wish a chullo hat of high quality wool, I may suggest you to take a look at Tinkuy, given that they work exclusively with baby alpaca wool. For standard or more varied options, Amazon may suffice.

What to look for in a Andean hat? I would say that mainly two things: first, that you like the colour combination, and that you check closely the wool being used in your chullo. Many companies will try to mix alpaca with llama or sheep to reduce cost. You may want to avoid those ones.

Sharing is caring!