10 Surprising Facts About Peru

Peru is a country that’s rich in history, culture, and natural wonders. It’s best known for being home to the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu and the mysterious Nazca Lines. However, there is so much more to this South American nation that may surprise even the most experienced travelers. Let’s dive into some of the lesser-known, yet fascinating facts about Peru.

1. Peru Boasts the Highest Sand Dune in the World

Far from the swimming oasis that deserts are typically pictured as, Huacachina hosts the highest sand dune in the world, Cerro Blanco. Standing at a staggering 2,080 meters (approximately 6,825 feet) above sea level, it is a paradise for sandboarders and adventure enthusiasts. Nestled in the Ica Region, the dune is not just a geographical wonder, but also a testament to Peru’s diverse and extreme topography. The dune dwarfs its visitors with its sheer size, and climbing it is an exhaustive exercise that is rewarded with exhilarating descents, either on a board or in a buggy ride.

The existence of such a mammoth dune in Peru showcases the nation’s varied landscape, which spans from the arid coastal plains to the high peaks of the Andes. This diversity is one of the reasons Peru is a hotspot for travelers seeking both cultural richness and natural grandeur. Not only does the presence of Cerro Blanco entertain adventurous souls, but it also challenges commonly held perceptions of the geographical features typical to desert environments.

2. Peru Has One of the World’s Deepest Canyons

The Colca Canyon, located in Southern Peru, is often touted as one of the deepest canyons on the planet. With a depth that reaches 3,270 meters (10,730 feet), it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. This enormous chasm is not merely a natural wonder but also a historical reservoir with pre-Incan and Incan terraces still cultivated today. The Colca Valley is also home to the majestic Andean condor, which tourists flock to observe gliding on the thermal air currents emanating from the canyon depths.

These imposing figures not only generate admiration but also offer insight into the geological history of Peru. Their formation, a result of the Nazca and South American plate tectonic interaction, speaks volumes about the earth’s evolutionary processes. Additionally, the Colca Canyon and its surrounding valley tell a tale of human perseverance and adaptation as indigenous communities have, for centuries, sculpted and navigated its harsh yet fertile landscapes.

3. The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

Situated on Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, the Uros Floating Islands are an exceptional sight. Created entirely from the totora reed growing along the lake’s banks, these islands are home to the Uros tribe, who predate Incan civilization. The ingenuity of constructing entire islands that can be moved if necessary is a remarkable demonstration of human adaptability and innovation. Living on these floating islands is an ancient practice, and it marvels those who come to learn of the Uros’ self-sustained way of life amidst challenging conditions.

The existence of the Uros Floating Islands offers a peek into a lifestyle that defies modern understanding of community living. They represent not just the perseverance of an ancient culture, but also their intimate connection with nature. Utilizing the totora reed for constructing homes, boats, and even edible products, the Uros community is a living example of sustainable living, which has found equilibrium with the surrounding environment for centuries. It alters the common perception of a ‘fixed’ habitation and prompts a reevaluation of the relationship between humans and their habitats.

4. World’s Richest Ecological Reserves

Peru is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with a multitude of ecosystems ranging from the coastal desert to the tropical Amazon Basin. This ecodiversity is exemplified by the Manu National Park in the Amazon rainforest, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park harbors some of the richest wildlife populations on Earth, including over 1,000 bird species and over 200 mammal species. This extraordinary biodiversity is crucial not only for the health of the planet but also for scientific research, as it provides insights into the evolutionary history and ecological processes of tropical forests.

The conservation efforts in places like Manu National Park are of global significance. They protect this vast genetic library, which is a vital resource in understanding terrestrial life. Moreover, the ecological reserves within Peru offer opportunities for eco-tourism that supports both local economies and environmental stewardship efforts. Tourists can engage in bird watching, hike amidst unspoiled nature, and experience the richness of Amazonian flora and fauna, all while contributing to the sustainable management of these invaluable natural resources.

5. The Capital of Peruvian Gastronomy

Lima, the capital of Peru, has earned the title of the “Gastronomical Capital of the Americas.” Peruvian cuisine’s complexity and variety have made it one of the world’s most diverse and exquisite cuisines. Restaurants in Lima, such as Central, Maido, and Astrid y Gastón, have earned their spots on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants lists. The eclectic blend of indigenous, Spanish, African, Asian, and even Italian influences has sparked a gastronomic revolution, making Lima a must-visit destination for food enthusiasts.

This culinary diversity is rooted in both the historical migrations that shaped the nation’s culture and the abundant natural resources found within Peru’s varied climates and landscapes. Ingredients like potatoes, quinoa, and aji peppers are indigenous to the region and have become staples in global kitchens. Lima’s prominence in global gastronomy highlights the outsized influence that Peruvian cuisine has had on international food trends while also boosting the local economy by attracting tourists from all over the world with its flavors and culinary innovation.

6. The Capital of the Inca Empire

Cusco, once the heart of the Inca Empire, still holds remnants of its magnificent past. Known in Quechua as the “Navel of the World,” the city was laid out in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal to the Incas. The convergence of Inca and colonial influences in Cusco has resulted in a unique architectural blend, with Spanish structures erected directly atop Inca foundations. This deep historical layering is tangible in the city’s streets and is one of the many reasons why Cusco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Inca influence is further seen in the surrounding Sacred Valley, which is peppered with archaeological sites like Sacsayhuaman, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo. These sites not only serve as a testament to the sophistication of Inca engineering but also offer living history lessons for those who visit them. The melding of the past with modern-day life in Cusco provides a vivid portrait of a civilization that, despite the passage of time, continues to influence the identity, culture, and pride of the Peruvian people today.

7. Birthplace of the Amazon River

While the Amazon River is often associated with Brazil, it actually has its roots in Peru. The Apacheta Cliff in the Peruvian Andes is where the river’s journey begins, fed by melting snow caps and converging tributaries. As it meanders eastward, it transforms into one of the largest and most powerful rivers in the world. The Amazon represents a vast network of ecosystems and serves as the lifeblood of the planet’s most potent biodiversity hotspot: the Amazon Rainforest.

This geographical fact surprises many, as it shifts the global narrative of the Amazon not only towards Brazil but also involves Peru as a critical steward of this remarkable waterway. The Amazon’s origins in Peru highlight the country’s crucial role in nurturing the early waters of the river that will eventually host an incredibly complex and fragile web of life. The Peruvian Amazon is also home to numerous indigenous communities, each with rich traditions and knowledge systems that have evolved in harmony with the jungle for centuries.

8. The Mystery of the Nazca Lines

The Nazca Plains are home to one of the world’s greatest archaeological enigmas: the Nazca Lines. Created by the Nazca civilization between 500 BCE and 500 CE, these geoglyphs depict a variety of figures ranging from animals to geometric shapes. The vast scale and precision of these designs baffle both archaeologists and tourists, who marvel at the possibility of such perfection being achieved without aerial perspective. They have inspired countless theories including astronomical calendars, ritualistic artwork, or even, according to some, extraterrestrial landmarks.

Despite being exposed to harsh natural elements, the lines have survived for millennia, protected by the arid climate and the hard, windless landscape of the Nazca Desert. Their preservation allows scholars ongoing opportunities to unravel the secrets of the Nazca culture. The lines are distinctive not only for their historical and cultural significance but also for demonstrating the intricate relationship ancient civilizations had with their natural environment and their profound geometric and spatial understanding.

9. The Country with Most Potatoes

Peru is home to the highest diversity of potatoes in the world, boasting over 3,800 different types. The Peruvian Andes are the birthplace of the potato, and the variety found here is unmatched, with colors ranging from yellow and red to shades of purple. Each type of potato has found its niche in Peruvian cooking, which is continually evolving and being rediscovered by top chefs globally. The Peruvian potato is not only a staple food but also a cultural symbol and an important genetic resource that has significant potential for global food security.

The potato’s central role in Peruvian agriculture demonstrates not only its cultural importance but also the rich agricultural traditions that have sustained and nurtured this diversity. Indigenous farming practices, such as terracing and crop rotation, that date back to pre-Incan times have played a major role in maintaining soil fertility and potato biodiversity. These ancient techniques continue to be relevant today, reflecting a deep understanding of sustainable farming that can offer solutions in a world grappling with climate change and the need for sustainable food production systems.

10. Peru’s Pisco: The Grape Spirit War

Pisco, a grape brandy produced in the wine-growing regions of Peru, is at the heart of a historical debate between Peru and Chile, with both nations claiming its origin. The Peruvian version of Pisco is distinct, often produced in traditional copper pot stills and aged in vessels that do not alter its pure taste. Heritage and national identity are strongly entwined in the Pisco conflict, with each country having its own production regulations and appellations. Pisco Sour, the famous cocktail, has become an icon of Peruvian national pride and is a must-try for visitors exploring Peru’s rich culture.

The dispute over Pisco not only reflects the passion both countries have for this spirit but also epitomizes the complexities of cultural heritage and ownership. For Peru, Pisco is a historical product that can be traced back to the colonial period when Spanish settlers began cultivating grapes in the region. It is an expression of Peruvian tradition, terroir, and the art of distillation, an amalgam that carries the spirit’s unique identity beyond the borders of its homeland and into the glasses of connoisseurs worldwide.

Book an Eco-Hotel in Peru with ETIC Hotels

Peru is a land of fascinating contrasts and hidden treasures, from unparalleled biodiversity to culinary excellence. While exploring the myriad wonders that Peru has to offer, consider staying in an eco-friendly hotel to ensure that your visit supports sustainable tourism practices. Whether you’re adventure-seeking in the coastal deserts, traversing the Andean highlands, or delving into the depths of the Amazon, there is an eco-hotel that can cater to your conscience and comfort. To book your sustainable accommodations and fully embrace the spirit of this amazing country, visit ETIC Hotels and choose an eco-hotel that aligns with your eco-conscious travels in Peru.