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Beyond Machu Picchu: 18 interesting facts about Peru

contiki-group-machu-picchu

While most travellers find the idea of going to Machu Picchu the most enticing thing about a Peru trip, the South American country has so much more to offer than the iconic historical site. From its gorgeous mountainous scenescapes to the thrumming nightlife of Cuzco and the capital Lima, the nation has everything any kind of traveller could want, even those who prefer putting their feet up over putting on hiking boots. 

Not only that, but there are plenty of interesting facts about Peru that will keep visitors delighted and engaged during their visit, with almost every attraction having a story worth telling. If you’re heading to the country and want to brush up on your general knowledge while also getting some ideas for non-Inca related excursions, then read ahead to find out 18 interesting facts about Peru!

We still don’t really know what the Nazca Lines are for

The famous Nazca lines have long been a favourite of visitors to the country, with the desert drawings of various animal figures and other shapes having survived for at least one and a half millennia. However, we still don’t actually know why they were made. The best guess we have at the moment is that it was to please the Gods in the sky, but other suggestions are that they served an astronomical or cosmological purpose, or that aliens were involved. 

1. Lake Titicaca is the biggest lake in the continent

Aside from being the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,507 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca (which sits in between Peru and Bolivia) is also the largest freshwater lake in all of South America by both volume and length. Many indigenous groups still live in villages made of grass that float on the lake, so it’s a great place to learn about the culture of the country. But, be warned: in the cold winter months, it can get pretty chilly on the surface at night!

2. There are languages galore

One of the most interesting facts about Peru is that beyond the national, colonial language of Spanish, it has two other official languages: Quechua and Aymara. These languages both have roots that go far back into Peru’s indigenous past. Beyond that, there are 43 native languages spoken in the country too.

3. There’s an oasis where you can party and relax

The tiny town of Huacachina is about a twenty minute drive from Ica, but pulls a lot more tourists in than the big city. This is because it’s home to a real life desert oasis, with a lagoon right in the sandy heart of the region. Sand boarding and dune buggy rides are just two of the activities worth doing here, but it’s also a wonderful place to kick back and relax with an ice cold Inca Cola in hand.

4. Yes, they do eat guinea pigs

Different cultures eat different things, and one of the most globally recognised facets of Peruvian cuisine is the eating of guinea pigs. These are usually only eaten by locals on special occasions, but you can find them in most restaurants if you want to try. Just watch out for the bones!

5. Peru is home to one of the biggest sand dunes in the world

The Cerro Blanco is a massive sand dune in the Nazca region of the country that rises to well above 1,000m tall, which makes it almost as large as the U.K’s largest mountain, Ben Nevis. It’s a big trek up there, but once you’re there the sandboarding is like nothing else, although make sure you check with local experts as sometimes the weather makes it impossible.

6. It’s home to one of the biggest population of condors in the world

Colca Canyon in the country’s south is breathtaking enough on its own, but another interesting fact about Peru is that this region of the country is also home to a large population of Andean Condors. During a visit to the dramatic scenescape you’re pretty much guaranteed to see these huge, majestic creatures in all their glory.

7. The deepest canyon in South America is here too

Around 66 miles from Colca Canyon lies Cotahuasi Canyon, which is one of the deepest canyons in the world and the deepest in all of the Americas. Some sources claim that Colca is deeper, but this is disputed. Regardless, they both plunge beyond 11,000 feet (almost double the size of the Grand Canyon), so looking down isn’t for the faint-hearted.

8. A traditional poncho can take over a year to weave 

Traditional Peruvian ponchos are both beautiful and hardy, built to withstand the often brutal weather of the Andes, yet also delightfully patterned. The garments are generally referred to as mantas by those who wear them, and are made of soft yet durable alpaca wool. It takes a lot of care and effort to bring a manta into the world, with some of the best ones taking up to 6,000 hours to complete. 

9. There are 70,866 steps on the Inca Trail

As vibrant and stunning as the rest of the country is, there’s no doubt a visit to Peru wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Machu Picchu, especially if you Inca Trail. This legendary hike takes you through all kinds of environments and ruins, before landing you at the stunning Sun Gate.

the Inca Trail of Peru

Image source:Craig Howes

10. There’s a rainbow coloured mountain

Global warming led to the glaciers that had once covered Vinicunca to melt, revealing a multicoloured rainbow pattern, the result of a unique geological composition. The mountain, around two hours and a 5km hike from Cusco, is an incredible sight to behold, and well worth the trek.

11. It has one of the world’s largest goldmines

Deep in the northern part of the country, right in the Andes Mountains, lies Yanacocha Mine, which is estimated to be somewhere between the second and fourth largest goldmine in the world. Interestingly the native Quechua people knew of the treasure before ground was broken on the mine, calling the local river  Corimayo, or “gold river.”

12. The Sacred Valley is home to a potato park

The sheer variety of potatoes grown in Peru indicate how vital the humble crop was to Incan culture, and The Potato Park is a biological reserve in the Sacred Valley that celebrates this link. It’s also a great place to learn about local traditions in the Peruvian Andes in general, so if you want to combine gold star views and cultural enrichment, there’s no better spot.

13. There are over 4,000 varieties of potato grown in the country

Another interesting fact about Peru that involves potatoes is the sheer number of types that grow here. The root vegetable comes in all shapes and sizes, from oblong, vivid red spuds to jet black, roundly shaped ones. Try and eat as many different types as you can, because the differences will astound you.

14. Machu Picchu isn’t the only lost city in Peru

Machu Picchu is often referred to as the “lost city of the Incas,” but it’s not the only heritage site in the country that was rediscovered in more modern times. Choquequirao lies in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, and there’s an increasing body of evidence to suggest that recently discovered ruins deep in the Peruvian Amazon might be the famed city of Paititi.

15. The country is Alpaca Central

Over 70% of the world’s population of the furry camel-like creatures make their home in the section of the Andes that runs through this country, and the creatures are a vital source of meat and clothing. The wool is very much vaunted too, known for its comfort and luxury.

Craig Howes - Peru, alpacas

Image source:Craig Howes

16. It’s the birthplace of the Amazon River

The mighty Amazon river surges through South America, but an interesting fact about Peru is that the body of water has its origins in three Highland rivers in the country: the Marañón, Mantaro and Apurímac. The famous river, and the rainforest of the same name that surrounds it, is vital for the globe’s ecosystem, and home to countless species of animals, insects, and plants.

17. There are no bridges across the Amazon

It might seem strange, but there really are no bridges across the entire Amazon – and that’s the whole river, not just the Peruvian section. When you think about it, the notion makes sense though: the river is mostly surrounded by dense rainforest which is often inaccessible, so having crossing points via boat makes more sense.

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