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Fascinating Facts About Peru

We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.

Peru is one of Latin America’s most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason. The country offers spectacular scenery (it's home to Machu Picchu, after all), abundant wildlife, rich cultural traditions, and delicious cuisine. Peruvians will extend a warm welcome if you’re aware of these fascinating facts about Peru when they meet you.

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There Were Dozens of Pre-Incan Civilizations

The Temple of Cao Viejo of the Moche civilization
Credit: Andreas Wolochow/ Shutterstock

Although they were responsible for some of Peru’s most famous sites, the Incas are far from the most ancient civilization to call modern-day Peru home. Before them came a whole host of civilizations: the Moche, Chavín, and Wari, for starters. Many left a legacy as rich as the Incas. The Chimú gave us Chan Chan, thought to be the world’s largest adobe city. Another northern people, the Chachapoyas, built Kuélap – a lofty fortress befitting their nickname, the People of the Clouds. Further south, the Nazca culture thrived in Peru’s Ica Valley and left what have become a mysterious series of lines in the desert.

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The Constitution Recognizes Many Official Languages

Aerial view in Lima, Peru
Credit: willianjusten/ Unsplash

Over 80% of the population identifies Spanish as their native tongue. However, article 48 of the Constitution of Peru recognizes that there are many languages and dialects spoken across the country, stating: "The official languages of the State are Spanish, and wherever they predominate, Quechua, Aymara and other native tongues, in accordance with the law."

Many of those other languages are spoken in the Andean and Amazon regions of the country. To find out what’s spoken where, check out this map.

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Two of Its Canyons Are Deeper Than the Grand Canyon

Colca Canyon landscape
Credit: patostudio/ Shutterstock

The scenery in this part of South America will steal your breath, from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the seemingly endless Amazon jungle, which covers around 60% of the country. But when it comes to jaw-dropping vistas, Peru’s two deepest canyons are unmatched. The most famous is Colca; at 10,730 feet deep, it beats the Grand Canyon by quite some margin. Deeper still is nearby Cotahuasi Canyon. Harder to reach from Arequipa, the trek to the bottom follows a path from the village of Quechualla that takes six to seven hours. Few make the trip, but those who do will never forget it.

5

The Country Shares the World’s Highest Navigable Lake With Bolivia

Lake Titicaca with boats docked near huts
Credit: Cinar Yilancioglu/ iStock

Lake Titicaca forms a section of the border with Peru and Bolivia. Five rivers — the Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Suchez — empty into the lake, along with another 20 or so smaller streams. Dozens of islands dot the water. The best known are the Uros Islands, nicknamed the "Islas Flotantes" or "floating islands," as they are formed of layer upon layer of compacted totora reeds, which grow in swampy areas. Catch a boat to Taquile Island or Amantaní, and you’ll find firmer ground. Taquileños are proud of their weaving tradition, and men are expert knitters. Amantaní also relies on tourism for its main source of income, welcoming tourists for a taste of island life.

4

Peru Grows More Than 3,000 Varieties of Potato and 50 Types of Corn

Woman carrying satchel of potatoes
Credit: Davis Dorss/ Shutterstock

The first potatoes were cultivated in South America on the shores of Lake Titicaca as much as 7,000 years ago. For centuries before that, they grew wild. Upwards of 3,000 varieties — likely even more — are still found in the country today. Types like the papa amarilla or papa tarmeña, for example, are well suited to the tasty dish causa Limeña, a cold potato entree layered with yellow chili peppers. Something that’s more of an acquired taste for the tourist palate is chuño. It’s made by exposing a frost-resistant, bitter variety of potato to the frigid Andean winter nights and then the hot daytime sun.

Tastier are the 50 or so varieties of corn that are grown. Cobs in an array of colors — black, white, yellow, even purple — brighten up any market visit. White choclo is a popular street snack served with cheese; purple maiz morado is used to make chicha morada, a flavorsome unfermented drink. A third variety, chullpi, is toasted to make a snack known as cancha.

3

The Country Is Home to Real-Life Paddington Bears

Close-up of a spectacled bear
Credit: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/ Shutterstock

Michael Bond’s endearing character Paddington, named after the London train station in which he was found, was a spectacled bear. In real life, this species is the only remaining bear native to South America. The name comes from the characteristic white rings around the eyes that stand out against the brown-black fur. Spectacled bears live not just in Peru but across the Andean region, shy creatures which prefer the isolated, cloud forest to more accessible locations at lower altitudes.

2

Surfers Come to Peru to Try the World’s Longest Left-Hand Wave

Group of surfers in Lima, Peru
Credit: Olga Tarasyuk/ iStock

The north of Peru is a mecca for surfers who come for the Pacific swell in laid-back towns like Máncora and Huanchaco. But those seeking something more extreme will be drawn to Chicama, home to the world’s longest left-hand wave (a wave that breaks to the left from the point of view of the surfer). The Guinness Book of Records recognized Peruvian Cristobal de Col in 2012 for achieving an impressive 34 turns on a single Chicama wave. If you’re keen to see if you can beat him, the best swells can be found from May to September.

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It’s One of Only a Handful of Countries Where the Lucuma Tree Grows

Lucuma fruit cut open
Credit: Ildi Papp/ Shutterstock

Ask any homesick Peruvian what their favorite ice cream flavor is, and the chances are they'll tell you it's lucuma. Fresh, this fruit is almost impossible to find outside Peru and a few neighboring countries such as Ecuador and Chile, though you can get your hands on lucuma powder or frozen pulp. It’s deserving of the superfood epithet that some food writers have bestowed upon it: high in beta-carotene, iron, fibre, zinc, calcium, and antioxidants. Dubbed the “Gold of the Incas,” lucuma was a favorite with the Moche people long before the Inca. Imagine a fruit with the sweetness of butterscotch and you're on the right track. It’s perfect not just for ice cream but also for milkshakes and desserts.

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