Peru is a popular destination for tourists, with good reason. It’s largely a mix of indigenous and Spanish culture, with delicious food and breathtaking scenery.
Our own family is a mix of Peru and U.S, and we love Peru so much that we moved our family here for a few years. We want our kids to be fluent in Spanish and know their roots.
Most people instantly think of Machu Picchu when Peru is mentioned. Machu Picchu is unforgettable and magical experience, for sure (and you can see it in the picture below). But there is more to this special place. Here are 10 fun facts about Peru you might not have heard before.
1. Cuzco, Peru, was once the capital of the vast Inca Empire that stretched from Chile to Ecuador. At its peak it may have been the largest empire in the world, ruling over about 10 million people. (Read more here.) Because Peru has suffered economic setbacks in the past centuries, many people don’t realize it once held massive stores of gold and sacred sites for the Incas.
2. Peru has three distinct regions: coast, jungle, and mountains. Even very young kids learn this in school, and complete projects comparing the diverse regions. Each one has a distinct climate, with its own variations of food, music, dance, and language. Learn more about each region in this free printable mini-book about Peru, for kids.
3. Marinera is a folk dance from the coast. Even some very young children learn it and participate in competitions. The Marinera is a mix of Spanish, African, and indigenous cultures. Traditionally, the boy partner carries a hat, and the girl is barefoot with a handkerchief in her hand. Both wear very elegant outfits.
4. The Amazon River, in in the jungle, is home to Pink Dolphins. They are large freshwater dolphins, and becoming more rare. You can also find vicious piranhas, paiche as big as a person, anacondas, otters, and sharks. The jungle is the largest region in Peru, and you can find out all about it with this free mini-book on the Amazon rain forest.
5. In Puno, the Uru community build floating islands of straw and live on Lake Titicaca. The boats, homes, and islands are all made of straw and float on the water, which originally a way to stay safe from neighboring communities. Now most Urus live on land, but some maintain their old way of life. Many tourists visit the community every year.
6. You can go sand boarding or skiing in the desert! It can be a little bit dangerous, but many locals and tourists love this sport. Much of the coast is desert, and the slopes are so big you need sand buggies to take you to the top.
7. In some parts of the jungle, ants are a delicacy. But not just any ants! These are special ants: siquizapas in Quechua, which literally means “big bottomed” for their plump abdomens. They only appear once or twice a year, between August and October, and people know to go look for them after a thunderstorm.
The ants also come out at 3 am or 3 pm, and people wear large rubber boots to collect them. The sting of a siquizapa is very painful, but they can’t can’t get up slippery boots. To prepare them, they are lightly toasted until the wings and legs fall off, and then fried. They are quite expensive when sold here!
8. One of the biggest mysteries of ancient times is Nazca lines. They are hundreds of huge pictures drawn into the sand, and can only be seen from the air! No one knows why they were made or what they were used for, at a time before airplanes. Visitors take an airplane ride to see the lines from the air. Try this STEM project for kids based on the Nazca lines.
9. Ausangate, a mountain the Andes, is affectionately the “rainbow mountain” because of its beautiful colors. You have to hike to the mountain, on an old llama and alpaca-herding trail. Once a year, there is a festival attended by pilgrims who consider it a holy mountain. It’s not hard to imagine why this would be a special place.
10. Peru claims almost 4,000 varieties of potato. Potatoes are part of many dishes, from many centuries back. In fact, scientists in Peru recently tested a variety of potato so resilient it could grow on Mars! Sweet potatoes, corn, and yucca (another root vegetable) are also prevalent.
How many of these 10 fun facts about Peru did you know?
Comment below if you want to share some more!
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