17 Facts About Peru You Probably Didn’t Know

facts about peruPeru is one of the most fascinating countries in the world with breathtaking natural landmarks and a distinct culture. From the mysterious Machu Picchu to the humble ceviche, there’s tons to do in Peru.

If you are planning a trip to the Land of Incas, perhaps a lesson in Spanish will hold you in good stead. Try this quick start course on Spanish to get started.

On that note, let’s take a look at 17 of the most incredible facts about Peru.

  • Fact 1: The capital of Peru is Lima.

It was established in 1535 by legendary Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Lima has a population of nearly 9 million and ranks as the fifth largest city in North and South America combined.

  • Fact 2: The National University of San Marcos in Lima is the oldest continuously functioning university in the Americas.

It was founded in 1551. Harvard University, the oldest university in United States, in contrast, was founded only in 1636.

  • Fact 3: Mashed potatoes, French fries and chips – all of your favorite snacks owe their origin to Peru.

This is where the humble potato was first domesticated. When the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire, the first thing they exported to Europe was the potato, where it was quickly adopted as a cheap, easy to grow food crop.

Today, the world produces a whopping 374 million metric tons of potatoes each year. The average person eats nearly 73 lbs of potatoes annually. McDonald’s alone buys 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes each year in the US for its restaurants!

  • Fact 4: Corn has long been the staple diet of Peruvians.

Today, Peru produces more than 55 varieties of corn in a wild range of colors, from the staple golden-yellow to striking purple, white and even black.

  • Fact 5: Guinea Pigs may be adorable, docile pets in the US, but in Peru, they are an important source of food and feature heavily in Peruvian folklore.

Don’t be surprised if you see Guinea Pig meat (called cuy locally) on sale in Peruvian restaurants!

  • Fact 6: Peru has the second largest segment of Amazonian rainforest.

In fact, nearly 60% of the country is covered by rainforest. It is second only to Brazil.

  • Fact 7: Peru has been home to dozens of cultures throughout its history, though none were as impressive or as extensive as the Incas.

At its peak, the Incan empire was the largest in pre-Columbian America (i.e. Americas before the appearance of Europeans).

Remarkably, the Incan Empire was based almost entirely in the Andean mountain range, where both construction and farming were extremely difficult. Yet, the Incas created some of the most impressive cities known to man. Francisco Pizarro, who conquered the Incas, had this to say about the Incas:

“We can assure your majesty that it is so beautiful and has such fine buildings that it would even be remarkable in Spain”

This city was built in the 1450s but was abandoned after a century. It lay undiscovered for nearly 400 years until Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in the wilderness of the Andes in 1911.

  • Fact 9: Peru has three official languages – Spanish, Quechua and Aymara.

Both Quechua and Aymara were derived from ancient Incan languages. Today, roughly 84% of the population speaks Spanish, 13% speaks Quechua, while just 1.7% speaks Aymara.

Heading over to Peru? Pick up some beginner’s Spanish to make the most of your journey!

  • Fact 10: Peru celebrates its independence from the Spanish Empire over three separate days, collectively called Fiestas Patrias (“Patriotic Holidays” in Spanish).

These three days are called the ‘Countrymans Day’ (June 24), the ‘Peruvian Independence Day’ (July 28) and the following day (July 29) to celebrate Peru’s armed forces and national police.

The Fiestas Patrias are among the most important national holidays in Peru and the whole country shuts down in celebrations.

  • Fact 11: Peru is a surfer’s paradise, thanks to the twin towns of Chicama and Mancora near Trujillo city.

Chicama boasts the world’s longest left-handed wave measuring 4km, while Mancora lays claim to hosting the largest left-handed point break in the world. If you enjoy surfing, you can’t not visit this surfer’s paradise!

Heading to Chicama for a surfing trip? Then check out this course on Spanish for surfers and students!

  • Fact 12: The Grand Canyon may be vast, but the Cotahuasi Canyon near the city of Arequipa is actually the deepest canyon in the world.

With a depth of nearly 3, 535 meters, it is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon!

  • Fact 13: Peru is extremely rich in natural mineral reserves.

It is the third largest producer of all-important copper, fifth largest producer of gold, and leads the world in silver production. It is also the third largest producer of tin and zinc, and ranks fourth among lead producing countries.

  • Fact 14: Instead of a margarita or a martini, try our Peru’s national drink, Pisco Sour for a change.

This cocktail consists of a grape brandy popular in South America, called pisco, along with lime juice, syrup, egg whites, Angostura bitters and ice.

This cocktail is said to have been invented by an American bartender, Victor Vaughn Morris, in the early 1920s in Lima, though similar drinks have been made in the country since the early days of the Spanish conquest.

  • Fact 15: The currency of Peru is called ‘Nuevo Sol’.

It was adopted in the 1980s after the government was forced to abandon the Peruvian inti due to hyperinflation. Hyperinflation at the time was so bad that when Nuevo Sol was officially adopted in 1991, it was sold at a rate of 1 Nuevo Sol for 1,000,000 intis.

Today, the Nuevo Sol is a stable currency usually trading at $0.30-$0.40 for 1 Nuevo Sol.

  • Fact 16: Lake Titicaca located along Peru’s border with Bolivia is the largest lake in South America It is also the highest navigable lake in the world with a surface elevation of 3,812 meters.

Large though it may be, Lake Titicaca is significantly smaller than the lakes in Great Lakes in North America. Lake Superior, for instance, has a water volume of 12,000 km3 while Lake Titicaca’s volume stands at just 898 km3.

  • Fact 17: Thanks to the abundant rainforests and 90 distinct microclimates, Peru counts among the 10 most biologically diverse countries in the world.

It is home to 25,000 plant species – 10% of the world’s total – and close to 5,000 species of fish and animals. It ranks first in the world in terms of distinct fish species (2,000 species, or 10% of world total), second in bird species (1,736 species) and third place for both amphibians and mammals (332 and 460 species respectively).

In fact, the Manu National Park in south eastern Peru recently set a biodiversity record after more than 1,000 species of birds, 1,200 species of butterflies and 287 species of reptiles were found in the park.

So there you have it – 17 incredible facts about the enchanting land of Peru! But before you hit the road and head to Lima, try taking a few Spanish lessons first to better understand the local culture. Check out this course on conversational Spanish to get started!