Q’ero Culture

Subsistence farmers living between 12,000 and 15,000 feet in elevation, the Q’ero live in tiny remote villages that stay cold all year long. In these harsh and remote highlands, little has changed about daily life for five hundred years.


Traditionally the Q’ero build their small one-room homes of dry-stacked field stone. Thatch roofs are supported by tree poles they must carry long distances. The floor is packed dirt covered with dry grasses. The family sleeps on sheepskins on the dirt floor with wool blankets to cover them from the constant cold. All the family possessions might fill one wheelbarrow.


As subsistence farmers, Q’ero communities are vulnerable to starvation from crop failures due to droughts, excessive rainfall, and potato diseases. Families and village groups grow a variety of potatoes and other tubers across the steep mountains, in small plots used only once every seven years. Potatoes and tubers are harvested and stored inside naturally cold huts in order to create a year’s supply of food.

Cooking & Food

Food is cooked indoors on little fires with no chimney, filling the hut with smoke. Since villages lie above the timberline, firewood must be carried many hours on one’s back from the cloud forest below. They boil potatoes for a thin soup or roast potatoes directly on coal with dried llama dung to supplement the precious wood fuel. A cluster of roasted potatoes is served on a woven cloth. The family sits on the ground, peels the small potatoes in their hands, and eats them plain.

Textiles specialists worldwide recognize the excellence of Q’ero weavings, with their even yarns and complex, double-sided designs. Weaving is the Q’ero form of storytelling. Learn more about this integral part of Q’ero life.


Q’ero women deliver their babies at home, assisted by their husbands and a sister or mother (if living). With no prenatal care and no access to trained midwives or medical services, every birth puts the mother and infant at risk for illness or death. Demographic studies by a Peruvian agency in 2005 reported a 47% infant mortality rate in the region. Informal observation suggests this rate is declining as nutrition is improved, but the rate of both maternal and child death rates remain quite high.


Children learn the skills of their parents through observation, instruction, and practice. Boys and girls learn to farm potatoes, herd animals, gather and dry llama dung for fires, carry firewood, prepare food, and spin fiber into yarn. Girls also learn weaving as young as 10 years old. Few village children have even one toy.


Q’ero families depend on llamas, alpacas, and sheep for fiber for clothing and, rarely, meat for the family. Every day the children help parents shepherd their small herds across steep and rocky mountainsides to forage for grasses. Llamas are especially revered for their services carrying loads of potatoes on their backs. In the last decade, severe winter conditions have killed many alpacas.