Peru Facts
Peru Facts

71 Interesting Facts about Peru

Jill Bartholomew
By Jill Bartholomew, Junior Writer
Published February 10, 2017
  • Peru’s name may come from the Spanish misapplication of the Quechua word pelu, meaning a river.[21]
  • Spaniards may have brought potato starts from Peru to Europe as early as 1562. Ancient Peruvians domesticated the potato as far back as 8,000 years ago. Today, it is the world’s fourth-largest food crop. There are over 3,000 different varieties grown in Peru.[12]
  • Peru was officially declared the world’s biggest producer of cocaine in 2013 by the United Nations. Peru’s cocaine industry takes in about US$1 billion per year in under-the-table money and employs some 200,000 Peruvians.[5]
  • Peru is the sixth-largest producer of gold in the world. According to Thomson Reuters, Peru produced 162 tons of gold, worth over US$6.3 billion in 2010. Fourteen percent of Peru’s government revenue is provided by gold.[18]
  • Peru grows over 55 varieties of corn, and consumers can find it in colors ranging from yellow to purple, white, and black. Ancient Peruvians used corn for bartering and as a form of currency as well as for food.[18]
  • Little Known Peru Facts
    About 65 million guinea pigs are consumed in Peru every year
  • About 65 million guinea pigs are consumed in Peru every year. The guinea pig, or cuy, dates back to Incan times, when commoners would dry out guinea pig skin and use it in soups and stews. Every July, the Incas would sacrifice 1,000 guinea pigs along with 100 llamas, to protect their crops from drought and floods.[6]
  • Peru has 3,500 varieties of orchids, and it is estimated that only 50% of the species have been identified as of yet.[1]
  • The pisco sour is Peru’s national drink. It is made using pisco (grape) brandy, lemons, sugar, egg whites, and ice and is finished with Angostura bitters. It takes almost 13 pounds of grapes to make one bottle of pisco. The word pisco means “bird” in Quechua.[17]
  • Peru is the eighth-largest producer of coffee in the world and the fifth-largest producer of Arabica coffee beans.[4]
  • Peru is home to the highest sand dune in the world. Cerro Blanco is located in the Sechura Desert near the Nazca Lines and measures 3,860 feet (1,176 m) from base to summit.[19]
  • Peru has some of the best surfing in the world. Chicama and Pacasmayo both claim the world’s longest ridable wave (1.5 miles/2.2 km long).[19]
  • Peru’s Cotahuasi Canyon is reported to be the deepest canyon in the world. At 11,004 feet (3,354 m), it is almost twice as deep as the U.S.’s Grand Canyon, which is 6,000 feet (1,800 m) deep.[17]
  • La Festival del Gastronómico del Gato (Gastronomic Festival of the Cat) is an annual tradition in the Peruvian town of La Quebrada to commemorate the arrival of Spanish settlers who were forced to eat cats when they first arrived. Each year, at least 100 cats are barbecued and consumed, although a judge recently banned the festival.[7]
  • Many believe that Ernest Hemingway based his novel The Old Man and the Sea on Peru’s Cabo Blanco coastline—but, in truth, he got the idea in Cuba. He did spend 45 days in Cabo Blanco in 1956, drinking whiskey and pisco sours, as he and director John Sturges filmed the movie of the same name there.[5]
  • Peru, Peru. My heart's lighthouse.

    - Morrissey

  • The National University of San Marcos, Peru, is the oldest in the Americans and was founded on May 12, 1551.[17]
  • Peru has the world’s second-greatest catch of fish, following only China.[19]
  • Chili sauce and hot spices were banned from prison food in Peru in 1973 on the grounds they might arouse sexual desires in the inmates.[22]
  • Peru’s national animal is the vicuña, a small camelid like the alpaca or llama. It has the finest wool for weaving and it comes in 22 natural colors. Clothing made from its wool, considered the world’s most luxurious fabric, can cost several thousand dollars.[5]
  • Camu-camu fruit (Myrciaria dubia) grows in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Brazil and has the highest vitamin C concentration of any food, about 60 times that of an orange.[8]
  • The world’s worst soccer riot occurred in Peru in May 1964 during a Peru vs. Argentina match in Lima, after an unpopular decision by a referee. In all, 300 fans were killed and more than 500 injured.[17]
  • Peru has over 1,800 species of bird, and over 50% of the migrating birds in the Americas fly over Peru at some point each year.[17]
  • The sacred city of Caral-supe, a few hours north of Lima, is thought to be the oldest site occupied by humans discovered in the Americas. Its 1,546-acre (626-hectare) site dates back 5,000 years.[17]
  • Mt. Huarascán is the highest point in Peru and is part of the western Andes. It is also the fourth-highest peak in South America. The Andes Mountains are the second-highest mountain range in the world, after the Himalayas.[17]
  • Interesting Peru Facts
    In Peru, friends and family traditionally give each other gifts of yellow underpants on New Year’s Eve for good luck
  • In Peru, friends and family traditionally give each other gifts of yellow underpants on New Year’s Eve.[16]
  • The Peruvian queñual is the highest-growing tree in the world. It has copper-colored bark that is continually peeling.[17]
  • Peru is located in the tropical Andes, which contains about a sixth of all plant life in less than one percent of the world’s land area. It is home to 84 of the world’s 114 life zones.[17]
  • German mathematician and astronomer Maria Reiche began studying the Nazca lines in the 1940s. She believed they were sophisticated astral charts and part of a huge astronomical calendar used by the native people as a way to commune with the gods.[17]
  • Peru’s official languages are Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara, but some Peruvians speak Asháninka, and there are a large number of minor Amazonian languages as well.[17]
  • Peru holds the world records for the maximum number of birds sighted in one place (650) and the greatest number seen in a single day (361); they were recorded in the Reserva Nacional de Tambopata and Parque Nacional del Manú, respectively.[17]
  • A method still used in Peru today, the Inca developed the earliest type of freeze drying by leaving potatoes out at night to freeze in the frost. When the water evaporated during the day, a dry potato pulp remained, called chuño.[17]
  • The Incas had no formal system of writing. Instead, they developed a system of record-keeping using a complicated system of knots called quipus. Made out of wool or cotton strings fastened at one end to a cross cord, each quipu was different from the other in size or color. Each simple or compound knot and its size and color represented details of crop measures, thefts, debt, and even events.[17]
  • Peru’s national dance is the coquettish marinera. It mimics the mating ritual of a bird. A female dancer marks the beat with a white handkerchief held above her head and shakes the folds of her skits, while a suitor struts around her.[17]
  • The ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by explorer, professor, and archaeologist Hiram Bingham who was acting as leader of the Yale Peruvian Scientific Expedition. An estimated 1.5 million tourists visit Machu Picchu each year.[17]
  • By about 3,000 B.C., almost every weaving technique known today had been invented by the Peruvians.[19]
  • Interesting Peru Weaving Fact
    Weaving in Peru has been a way of life for thousands of years

  • Perhaps the only Quechua word to make it into the English lexicon is charqui (dried llama meat), which became “jerky.”[5]
  • There are 10 million alpacas in the world, and three-quarters of them live in Peru.[5]
  • The Huari, or Wari, people have been jokingly referred to as the “Mormons of the Andes” because they built their empire through persistent evangelization rather than force. They paved the way for the Incas.[5]
  • The warm-water equatorial current, El Niño, is named after El Niño Jesus (Baby Jesus) because it arrives on the coast of Ecuador and Peru every year around Christmas. One of the worst years for El Niño was in 1983 when torrential rains began in Peru’s north on January 4th and didn’t stop until the middle of July.[5]
  • John Wayne met his third wife, Peruvian actress Pilar Pallete, on a movie set on the edge of a Peruvian jungle in 1952. She was married to the Duke for 27 years and was the mother of three of his seven children.[14]
  • The coca plant (Erythroxylum coca) has been used for thousands of years in the Andean world, mainly for its medicinal properties and religious significance. Coca leaves have been used as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst and they are particularly effective against altitude sickness. The effects of the coca leaf were discovered in Europe during the 19th century, when a promising German grad student, Albert Niemann, was able to isolate the active ingredient of coca, which he named cocaine.[5]
  • In 1885, the Coca Cola Company in Georgia began making a wine with coca leaves that was converted into a soft drink known as Coca Cola. By 1903, public outcry over the ill effects of cocaine forced the company to remove the coca leaves from its recipe for the drink, and it became more or less the soft drink millions enjoy today.[5]
  • Bullfighting is a popular sport in Peru. Francisco Pizarro, the Spaniard conquistador who discovered Peru, brought the first lidia bull for fighting to Lima himself, holding the first bullfight in 1538. The permanent bullring in Lima was built in 1768 and it is the third-oldest bullring in the world, after the ones in Madrid and Seville, Spain.[6]
  • Interesting Peru Plant Fact
    Peru is home to the Puya raimondii, the world’s tallest flowering plant (Pepe Roque / Creative Commons)
  • Peru is home to the Puya raimondii, the world’s tallest flowering plant. A bromeliad, relative of the pineapple, it can take up to a century or more to bloom. In full bloom, each plant flaunts up to 8,000 white flowers resembling lilies. It blooms only once in its lifetime and then dies.[20]
  • Peru’s tradition of surfing goes back 2,000 years. Archaeologists have found friezes depicting humans seeming to surf in sites along the Peruvian coasts.[17]
  • In 1885, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days and nights by using the “white wonder drug” of cocaine, which is distilled from the coca plant found in Peru.[9]
  • The Incas took astronomy seriously. They were the only ancient culture in the world to define constellations of darkness as well as light. Some of Cuzco’s main streets are even designed to align with the stars at certain times of the years.[20]
  • At its peak, the Incan Empire was larger than imperial Rome and boasted 24,855 miles (40,000 km) of roads. A network of chasquis (runners) kept the kingdom connected, relaying fresh-caught fish from the coast to Cuzco in 24 hours.[20]
  • The origin of the name “Andes” is uncertain. Some historians believe it comes from the Quechua anti, meaning east, or anta, an Aymara-derived term that signifies “copper colored.” Interestingly, the mountains don’t stop at the Pacific Coast—there is a trench 62 miles (100 km) offshore that is as deep as the Andes are high.[20]
  • At one point in the mid-1800s, Peru was the world leader in terms of guano (bird droppings) production and export, as countries like France and England saw the value of the guano as a natural fertilizer.[2]
  • The Amazon River is the longest river in the world. It rises high in the Peruvian Andes at Nevado Mismi and ends in the Atlantic Ocean over 3,278 miles (6,000 km) from its source. At its mouth, it is a massive 186 miles (300 km) wide. The mighty river was named by Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana during his epic voyage in 1542.[2]
  • Some places in the coastal desert of Peru are so dry, they have received just 1 inch (3 cm) of rain in the past 30 years.[19]
  • It is thought that early farmers in Peru grew five species of hot peppers, which were transported over the years to Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Christopher Columbus, who was searching for black pepper, may be responsible for their English name.[19]
  • Interesting Asparagus Fact
    Peru is the world’s largest exporter of asparagus, with over 117,000 metric tons in 2012
  • Peru is the largest exporter of asparagus in the world, with over 117,000 metric tons in 2012.[23]
  • Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi), also known as yagé, is a rainforest vine with hallucinogenic properties that is used to promote knowledge and healing under the guidance of a shaman. The vine has been used for centuries by Amazon tribes in Peru as part of traditional celebrations and initiations.[19]
  • The Quechua still practice trial marriage in Peru, where women and men choose partners and can end their relationship when they so wish. The woman is free to marry again at any time, and the children resulting from the union are regarded as belonging to the community instead of the couple.[6]
  • It is estimated that the time it takes to spin, dye, and weave a traditional Peruvian poncho is around 500 to 600 hours over a period of as much as six months. Peruvians are generally given one poncho upon entering adulthood, and it is expected to last a lifetime.[6]
  • Before a Peruvian couple can marry, they must enter a period of sirvinacuy (to serve one another), during which the woman works with her mother-in-law and the man with his father-in-law. This is seen as a test of their readiness for marriage. During this time, they may sleep together under the same roof, usually with the man’s family, and the couple usually doesn’t marry until they conceive a child, showing their union is fruitful.[6]
  • Shamanism has been popular in Peru for over 3,000 years. Since most of the Peruvian population cannot afford or don’t have access to doctors or Western medical care, many people, especially natives, turn to a shaman’s healing art, or curandero, a rural spiritual healer. Most shamans use hallucinogenic drugs, such as ayahuasca. Former President Fernando Belaúnde Terry’s family formally employed a shaman.[6]
  • When Spanish conquistadors plundered gold from the Incan empire, they melted it into bars and sent it back to Spain. This set into motion the practice of “grave robbing.” Huaqueros are grave robbers who specialize in finding huacas (forgotten graves or burial sites) and selling the gold and other artifacts found inside to the first buyer.[6]
  • Mario Vargas Llosa may be Peru’s most famous intellectual and novelist. He even entered the 1990 presidential election, but lost. His first novel, The Time of the Hero, deals with the Military College of Lima’s cruel and authoritarian regime. The Peruvian military burned the book. Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature.[6]
  • Sapo is a popular local game in Peru that is played in picanterias (small, local restaurants) and is as common as pool in the U.S. Sapo, meaning frog, uses a large metal frog mounted on a table. Players throw brass discs as close to the frog as possible. The highest score is obtained when the disc is thrown into the frog’s open mouth.[6]
  • The condor (Vultur gryphus) is the world’s largest flying bird, standing up to 4 feet (1.2 m) high with a wingspan of 10 feet (3 m). Despite weighing up to 27 pounds (12 kg), the bird can fly for hours without using its wings. Native to the Andes, it was considered a sacred bird by the Incas, but is now listed as “vulnerable” by the World Conservation Union.[17]
  • Interesting Condor Fact
    The Andean condor is a national symbol of  Peru

  • Ancient Peruvians would often bury food with their dead, believing that it would help sustain them on their journey to the next life. The Aymara, around Lake Titicaca, still stuff coca leaves in potatoes and bury them as a sacrifice to the Earth Mother, Pachamama.[6]
  • The people we call Incas called themselves Quechua, which is also the name given to the language they spoke. In Quechua, “Inca” means “lord” and was the word used to describe their leader. When the Spaniards took control of the Incan Empire in the 16th century, they used the word Inca to describe all people living in the empire. In reality, the empire was made up of many different peoples who spoke at least 20 different languages.[13]
  • In 1986, the Kennel Club International declared the Peruvian hairless dog a distinct breed and a national treasure by the Peruvian government in 2001. In Peru, the dog is known as perro calato (naked dog) and it has been around for at least 4,000 years. They make excellent guide dogs for blind people.[5]
  • In Peru, weather in the desert can be very different, from the sun beating down on lots of sand. Between May and November, the coastal desert is covered in a thick sea fog called garúa, which does not move for weeks at a time. This occurs when cold seawater meets the dry, desert air.[15]
  • The national tree of Peru is the cinchona, and at least six species grow in Peru. The tree gets its name from the Countess of Cinchon, wife of the viceroy of Peru. In 1683, she came down with malaria, but she recovered after being treated with a tea made from the bark of the cinchona tree, which contains quinine. Quinine is an important medicine in treating malaria.[15]
  • Interesting Peru Nazca Line Facts
    Peru’s Nazca Lines, a collection of more than 70 giant human and animal geoglyphs, were first noticed from the air in 1927
  • Peru’s Nazca lines were first noticed from the air in 1927. Strung along the high desert plateau between Nazca and Palpa, this collection of geoglyphs—comprising more than 70 human figures and animals and 10,000 lines—remain one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries. Some say the lines represent a giant astronomical calendar, ceremonial center, or even alien landing strip.[17]
  • Peruvian-born Mario Testino’s photographs of Princess Diana, taken shortly before her death in 1997, were used as her official “portrait” by newspapers and magazines throughout the world to commemorate her life.[15]
  • Soccer star Teófilo “El Nene” Cubillas may be Peru’s greatest athlete. In 1970, he scored five goals in four games in the World Cup. By the end of his career from 1966 to 1991, he had played in 513 games and scored 303 goals. He received only one yellow card for foul play during his entire career.[15]
  • In some parts of the Andes in Peru, friends and family still gather for a child’s first haircut. The child is dressed in simple clothes, and each adult may cut a lock of hair. Each guest then presents the child with a gift, usually a small sum of money, which is saved for later in life.[15]
  • Important Dates[3][6][10][11][15][20][23]
    8000 BCEarliest evidence of humans in Peru is found in hunter-gatherers near Huánoco in the central highlands and in Toquepala in the south that dates back to this year.
    3000 BCThe ceremonial center of Caral-supe, first settlement in the Americas, is built. Potatoes, squash, corn, lúcuma fruit, and quinoa begin to be domesticated.
    900The Chavín culture reaches its peak.
    1000 BC–AD 500The Nazca culture flourishes on Peru’s southern coast.
    200The Tiwanaku begin their 400-year domination of the Lake Titicaca region.
    AD 100–700The Moche rule the coast of northern Peru.
    700–1000The Huari (Wari) conquer much of Peru.
    850The Chimú begin development of Chan Chan, outside of present-day Trujillo, which becomes a sprawling adobe urban center.
    1200Mythical foundation of Cuzco by Manco Cápac. Incan Empire rises in southern Peru.
    1438–1533The reign of Túpac Inca Yupanqui. The Incan Empire reaches its peak. Machu Picchu and Saqsaywaman are built.
    1525Incan Emperor Huayna Cápac dies, probably from small pox, leaving the Incan Empire fatally divided.
    1532Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro lands in Tumbes with 168 men, meets Incan emperor Atahualpa, and captures him.
    1533Spanish execute Atahualpa, then march to Cuzco. Manco, another son of Huayna Cápac, is installed as a puppet ruler.
    1535Pizarro founds Lima.
    1538Diego de Almagro, Pizarro’s original partner, leads an opposing faction. Civil war breaks out. Almagro is defeated and garroted.
    1541Pizarro is assassinated by Almagro’s son.
    1551The National University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas, is founded.
    1781The Spanish crush a rebellion led by the last Incan emperor, Túpac Amaru II.
    1820General José de San Martin invades Peru, helped by the recently formed Chilean navy under British command.
    1821José de San Martin declares Peru independent, but true independence from Spain doesn’t come until Simon Bolivar’s forces defeat the Spanish three years later in battles at Junín and Ayacucho.
    1826The last Spanish forces depart from El Callao. Peru descends into a period of anarchy.
    1840First guano and nitrate and fertilizer contract with Great Britain.
    1845Ramón Castilla is elected to the first of four consecutive presidential terms. He brings a measure of stability to Peru.
    1854Castilla abolishes slavery and “Indian tribute” taxation.
    1869Spain recognizes Peruvian independence.
    1877Foreign debts bankrupt Peru.
    1879–1883Chile declares war on Peru and Bolivia over the Atacama desert. Peru loses and has to cede its southernmost region of Tarapacá to Chile.
    1911U.S. historian Hiram Bingham arrives at the ruins of Machu Picchu, and his “discovery” of the city is chronicled in National Geographic.
    1924Victor Raul Haya de la Torre founds the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA).
    1941Peru enters a seven-week war with Ecuador.
    1955Women get to vote in Peru for the first time.
    1968General Juan Velasco Alvarado seizes control of government in a coup, starting a 12-year military dictatorship. Quechua is made one of Peru’s official languages.
    1970A 7.7-magnitude earthquake in northern Peru kills almost 80,000 people, leaves 140,000 injured, and another 500,000 homeless.
    1980Guerrilla group Shining Path takes its first action, burning ballot boxes in the Ayacucho region. Fernando Belaúnde Terry becomes the first democratically elected president in 12 years.
    1983In one of the most high-profile massacres of Peru’s internal conflict, eight international journalists are murdered in the town of Uchuraccay.
    1985The first APRA government takes office under President Alan García Pérez.
    1987Archaeologists uncover the rare, undiscovered tomb of the Moche warrior-priest known as the Lord of Sipán.
    1989Alberto Fujimori is elected president.
    1992Fujimori suspends Peru’s constitution and dissolves congress.
    1996Members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement take almost 500 hostages in Lima.
    2000Fujimori is forced to resign, amid allegations of corruption. He flees into exile in Japan.
    2001Alejandro Toledo becomes the first president of indigenous descent.
    2003Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Act releases its final report on Peru’s Internal Conflict, estimating 70,000 deaths.
    2005Construction begins on the Interoceanic Highway, opening overland trade routes between Peru and Brazil. Fujimori is arrested in Chile, after arriving there from Japan.
    2006Alan García Pérez is again elected as president.
    2007Chile extradites Fujimori to Peru; he goes on trial for the murder of 25 people killed by an army death squad during his rule.
    2009Fujimori is convicted and is sentenced to 25 years in jail for ordering killings and kidnappings by security forces. Peru apologizes for the first time to its citizens of African origin for centuries of “abuse, exclusion, and discrimination.”
    2011Populist former army officer Ollanta Humala is elected president.

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