Landing at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport can feel like landing in a different world for foreign tourists. There’s new flavors, a distinctive culture, different language, and there’s always the crush of taxi drivers jumping to offer travelers a ride to Miraflores.
Peru is an exciting destination for travelers from around the world, and if you’ve decided to set foot in our culturally and geographically diverse country, it’s good to learn a bit more about your destination. After all – Peru is much more than just that famous citadel near Cusco. Here’s a short list of fun and, perhaps, unusual facts about Peru –
1. The Inca Empire dominated for Less Than 100 Years
Despite the inseparable link between Peru and the Inca culture, many other civilizations preceded it. It wasn’t until 1438 that the empire had fully consolidated its control throughout western South America. And when Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors reached the empire in 1526, it spelled the beginning of the end for the mighty Incas. .
Civilizations like the Chimu culture, the Moche culture, the Chachapoyas (Cloud People of Peru) were some of the many others that preceded the Incas in the millennia before. Lima’s Larco Museum in Pueblo Libre gives a fascinating account of the many civilizations that thrived before the Incas dominated Peru for a relatively short period of time.
2. Lima has Famously Cloudy Skies but Little Rain
A low fog hangs over Lima many months of the year, with the exception of summer (December to April). But don’t let that stop you -- Lima is the second driest capital city behind Cairo. Locals refer to the grey sky as ‘La Panza de Burro’ or the Belly of the Donkey. A light mist sometimes spits on the city, but months can pass without any measurable rainfall.
3. Peru loves their Fruitcake
What would Christmas in Peru be without Paneton? Every Christmas season Peruvians fawn and gorge on their favorite brands of Paneton – a spongy, sweetbread very similar to a fruitcake. It’s an odd tradition for a country that virtually worships their tasty gastronomy, but the Christmas tradition of Paneton has stuck (often with a cup of hot chocolate) and is even available year round now in many Peruvian supermarkets.
4. Cuy is more Novelty than Tradition
Many travelers to Peru come with the idea that cuy is a national staple of the Peruvian diet. This is true in some regions of the southern Highlands, but cuy is largely missing from menus in Lima and throughout the rest of the country. That’s because for the majority of Peruvians cuy has never been a traditional meal – especially in coastal Peru and the jungle of Peru. There’s so many tasty things to eat in Peru, that it’s wonder that cuy has captured the foreign traveler’s attention.
5. Tiny Juaja was once the Capital of Peru
Lima, the City of Kings, has always been the focus of culture in Peru since the Spanish arrived. But for a few years in the 1800s, tiny Juaja (population 16,000) was the country’s capital after independence. Near to its larger neighbor Huancayo, Juaja was a place of leisure in the Highlands for the Spanish. Now it’s hard to imagine this off-the-beaten-path city could have been the capital (though daily flights still fly between Lima and Juaja today).
6. Peru is one of the Safer Countries in Latin America for Travelers
Peru’s rising economic fortunes have spelled increased safety for foreign tourists. With a falling violent crime and gun crime rate and a murder rate (7 per 100,000) over the last two decades, violent crime is a lessening concern for tourists. How safe is Peru exactly? While theft and fraud are common crimes, few thieves risk robbing tourists in a violent manner especially in public and touristy places.
As always in many Latin American countries, keeping your wits about you is the most important component to staying safe. Not venturing out alone, at night, while drunk, or with flashy clothes and accessories in non-touristy areas helps to ensure safe travels in Peru.
7. Graphic Erotic Art was a Staple of Peru’s Moche & Chimu Cultures
A visit to the best-known museum in Lima, the Larco Museum in Pueblo Libre, might make you blush. That’s because the museum houses the famous erotic art of the Chimu culture. Mostly pottery, the Chimu’s depiction of a variety of sexual acts is striking in its detail and imagination. Don’t worry the kids can grab a bite at the Larco Museum restaurant or enjoy the garden as you quickly make the rounds.
8. Christmas Dinner begins at the Strike of Midnight
Yes, Peru does celebrate Christmas and in many of the same ways as in other parts of the world. But a Christmas tradition of Peru is to begin dinner at midnight (or sometimes later). Fireworks typically erupt at midnight as well throughout the streets of Lima. A gift exchange usually follows and, of course, dancing. If you’re counting, that means for many Peruvians Christmas Eve doesn’t end until sunrise.
9. 22 Airports and Counting
Getting to Cusco via plane used to seem like one of the few options for tourists to get around Peru from Lima. Times are different in 2018, and 22 airports now fly daily to airports. Many of these are small with minimal services, but from tiny airports in Jaen, Tacna, and Juaja to larger airports in Cusco and Arequipa there’s now a way to get to nearly every corner of the country in just a few hours.
What other Peruvian fun facts or unusual facts about Peru have you heard?