Peru has a lot going for it. Dramatic landscapes, a fascinating history dating back thousands of years, fusion cuisine, and traditional cultural practices like festivals are all major pull factors to this South American location.
Peru also has amazing architectural features like Machu Picchu, and plant and wildlife species found nowhere else on earth, such as the intricate Peruvian sundew.
All of this combined makes Peru one of the most interesting places to volunteer in South America.
Here are some of the most interesting facts about Peru!
General facts about Peru
1) There are three official languages
But these are only the tip of the linguistic iceberg in this South American country. Once you travel towards the Amazon Jungle, the people local to this region speak an additional 13 languages. Impressive, right?
2) The capital city of Peru is Lima
Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Lima in 1535 to serve as the seat of power for the Spanish conquistadors (the Spanish colonists of the 16th century). Today, Lima is the only city in Peru with more than one million inhabitants.
Most visitors to Peru will skip Lima in their excitement to get to Cusco, and Peru’s main attraction, Machu Picchu. But with so much on offer to travellers, it would be a mistake to miss out on sight-seeing around Lima.
3) The population of Peru is over 32 million
There are more than 32 million people currently living in Peru. This population is made up of a combination of groups from different cultures and backgrounds that have inhabited the land for over five centuries.
Machu Picchu facts
Built in the 14th century, Machu Picchu lies more than 2,000 metres above sea level. The weathered Inca city was “lost” for over 400 years when it was taken over by Westerners, and is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1) Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World
Intrepid travellers flock to Machu Picchu every year to tackle the Inca Trail and admire this architectural feat created by the Incas. In 2007, the site, often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas” was voted in as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, in a campaign by the New7Wonders foundation, only adding to its appeal and attracting more tourists than ever.
2) Machu Picchu is an astronomical observatory
Archaeologists are fascinated by how the 14th century Incas understood the alignment of the stars so well. The civilization built each sun temple and the sacred Intihuatana stone to line up with the sun for each solstice.
3) No wheels were used to build Machu Picchu
It’s believed that hundreds of men pushed rocks up the steep mountainside to build this wonder. This feat is made even more impressive considering some stones weigh more than 55 tons.
Peru natural wonders facts
1) Peru has the highest sand dune in the world
The Cerro Blanco sand dune is the highest in the world, towering over the Sechura Desert at 1,176 metres.
The sand dune is located 14 kilometres east of Nazca, so excursions to see it are usually organised from there.
When you arrive at the dunes, you can hire a dune buggy or sandboard, and spend hours sliding down one of the largest natural wonders in the world.
2) Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest lake
Located between Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca has an elevation of 3,485 metres.
But that’s not the only thing that makes this natural wonder special.
Jacques Cousteau, a French conservationist, found ruins of an ancient city underneath its surface. Today, the descendants of the Quechua people, who lived in this city, live on 120 self-made floating islands in the lake.
3) The deepest canyon in the world is in Peru
The Cotahuasi Canyon has a depth of 3,232 metres.
To put that in perspective, that’s twice the depth of the United States’ Grand Canyon.
If you want to visit this natural attraction after your volunteering program in Peru, all you need to do is head to the nearby city of Arequipa.
4) Peru is home to the mysterious Nazca Lines
First brought to public attention by a Peruvian archeologist in 1927, these lines in the desert plateau between Nazca and Palpa are considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries.
Some people believe it’s an ancient alien landing strip, while others think it forms part of a sophisticated astronomical calendar.
Interesting facts about Peru’s food
Did you know that Peru is considered one of the top foodie destinations in the world? Michelin star chefs from all over the world fly to Lima and Cusco to learn how to master their trade.
Need more proof about Peru’s gastronomic clout? Since 2012, the country has been named the World’s Leading Culinary Destination by the World Travel Awards.
1) You can eat over 3,000 varieties of potato in Peru
The potato is a superfood, containing almost every kind of vitamin you need. It’s birthplace? Peru.
2) Peru is home to one of the best superfoods in the world
Ever heard of the camu camu fruit?
It grows in the Amazon rainforest and has a higher concentration of vitamin C than any other food.
If you’re feeling a little jet lagged after arriving in Peru, stop by the local supermarket and give your immune system a much-needed boost!
3) Guinea pigs are food, not pets
If you’re volunteering in Peru during an important cultural festival, keep a lookout for cuy.
Cuy is a traditional dish that’s made from roasted guinea pig. The animal is served crispy and complete with head, legs, and eyes.
For the adventurous eaters that try this delicacy, it’s a healthier choice than llama meat, and it contains a great deal more protein.
4) Pisco sour is Peru’s national drink
Pisco sour is a Peruvian brandy that is mixed with lemons, sugar, water, egg whites, ice, and bitters.
Invented in the early 1920s by an American bartender, you can also try a version of the drink (called chilcano) that’s made without the egg whites.
Peru wildlife and flora facts
1) Peru has the world’s largest bird
The giant Andean condor is native to the Andes mountain range in Peru. It weighs 12 kilograms , stands 1,2 metres high and has a wingspan of up to 4 metres long.
Despite its massive size, it’s able to fly for hours without flapping a single wing. The bird was considered sacred by the Incas but has unfortunately made its way onto the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Many farmers in Peru hunt the condors as they believe the birds will kill their livestock. Another factor threatening their survival is pesticide poisoning in the food chain.
2) Peru is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world
One of the most interesting facts about Peru is that it has 90 different microclimates. No wonder the country boasts an abundance of wildlife and plant species.
The best place to go to grasp the sheer range of its diversity is the Manu National Park. It holds a biodiversity record after recording more than 1,000 species of birds, 1,200 species of butterfly and 287 species of reptiles in 2016.
3) The tallest flowering plant grows in Peru
The Puya raimondii stands at a height of five metres. It can take between 80 and 150 years to flower. Once it does, it can produce over 30 thousand white blooms.
The plant is only found in the high Andes, growing at an elevation of 3,000 to 4,800 metres above sea level.
4) Peru’s national tree is the Cinchona
The tree gets its name from the Countess of Chinchon. The story goes that the wife of the Viceroy of Peru came down with malaria in 1683. She was given tea made from the bark of the Cinchona tree, and made a full recovery.
The bark of Cinchona trees contain an ingredient called quinine, and it’s still used today as a medicine for treating malaria.
Travel to Peru and make an impact
Want to see one of the world’s most fascinating and diverse countries?
Sign up for one of our volunteering programs in Peru and make an impact at the same time.