Peru’s name may come from the Spanish misapplication of the Quechua word pelu, meaning a river.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peru has 3,500 varieties of orchids, and it is estimated that only 50% of the species have been identified as of yet.
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.
Peru is the eighth-largest producer of coffee in the world and the fifth-largest producer of Arabica coffee beans.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By about 3,000 B.C., almost every weaving technique known today had been invented by the Peruvians.
Perhaps the only Quechua word to make it into the English lexicon is charqui (dried llama meat), which became “jerky.”
There are 10 million alpacas in the world, and three-quarters of them live in Peru.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 asperro calato (naked dog) and it has been around for at least 4,000 years. They make excellent guide dogs for blind people.
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.
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.
Peru’s Nazca Lines, a collection of more than 70 giant human and animal geoglyphs, 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.
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
The National University of San Marcos, Peru, is the oldest in the Americans and was founded on May 12, 1551.
Peru has the world’s second-greatest catch of fish, following only China.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Peruvian queñual is the highest-growing tree in the world. It has copper-colored bark that is continually peeling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peru is the largest exporter of asparagus in the world, with over 117,000 metric tons in 2012.
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.