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An Introduction to Quechua

Machu Picchu in Peru is considered to be one of the greatest ancient ruins ever discovered. As a result, the number of visitors has increased yearly from the low 100,00s in the 1980s, to over 1 million tourists in recent years. So, planning and preparation are essential if you are keen on visiting the spectacular Incan citadel.

Indeed, it is this rich indigenous heritage which is a fundamental part of what makes Peru the country it is today. Quechua culture and language therefore form integral part of any visit to Peru. Quechua is the term used for several indigenous ethnic groups as well as their spoken language.

On your trip to Peru, you will surely notice and come across all-things Quechua: from cultural elements to Quechua words. But also in music and dance, dress as well as local cuisine, Quechua traditions are found to this day. In fact, Quechua is still the language spoken by many elderly and different tribes in the Andean highlands.

The History

To native Quechua speakers, the language itself is referred to as Runa Simi (“the language of the people”). Although the history of Quechua people goes back to before the Inca civilization,  it was the Inca kings of Cuzco who made Quechua their official language. While the empire only lasted for about a century, the Incas spread Quechua to areas that today are Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chili. It is believed that conquests over the years have led to different dialects of Quechua in the different regions. 

The Language Today

Nowadays, throughout South America, some 10 million people still speak Quechua. 

There are multiple variations, and in most areas of Peru, people generally use a more original form Quechua. In other areas, the language has Spanish influences. Moreover, speakers of a certain dialect often even have trouble understanding those who speak another variation.

If you do visit Peru, those in rural areas often still use Quechua for everyday communication.

Top words to know

There are actually a handful of Quechua words that have been adopted into Spanish. Think of ‘carpa‘ (tent) or ‘papa‘ (potato). Whether you are planning to hike the Inca Trail or backpack your way through Peru, we have a short list below of simple everyday words for you to learn before heading out on your adventure!


My name isSutiymi
Thank youSulpaiki
Excuse me Dispinsayuway
ManQari, ghari

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