Some of the most interesting and sought-after pieces in The Galeatea Collection are created by our artisans from Peru. So, why not take a peek at some well-known and not so well-known reasons why Peru, the land of the Incas, has retained much of its mythical feel and reflected in the designs from this region of the world? Peru, the ancient heart of the great Inca Empire, is a country with an amazing history. Take a few minutes and discover why.
Peru is a top destination for travelers interested in landscape and culture. But it also has a modern, urban side that looks to the future rather than the past. Peru is a large country, and encompasses an array of dramatic landscapes that include high mountains, sandy beaches, and the sweltering jungle. Peru has one of the greatest biodiversities in the world, due to the presence of these dramatic geographical features as the coast, Andes, and Amazon River.
Image: Lima Coast
Peru is located on the West Coast of South America, south of the Equator line with 80 world ecological habitats. Andean peaks surround one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu. Lush tropical rainforests, Amazonian jungles, sandy beaches, deserts, remote farmland and fishing villages make up the Peruvian landscape.
Fun Fact: Peru has 2,414km of coastline with a wide variety of beaches that are becoming increasingly popular for Peruvians and tourists.
Peru, the ancient heart of the great Inca Empire, is a country with an amazing history that can still be seen in the communities today. The country has a diverse population, which includes the Quechua Indians (descendants of the Incas), mestizos (a blend of Indian and European) ancestors, and people of Spanish ancestry. All of these influences can be seen in the Colonial architecture still very present in remote villages and modern cities.
Image: Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca
In particular, the cultural capital of Cuzco offers a glimpse into the country’s proud history, as the center of the Sacred Valley and the explorer’s base for the lost city of Machu Picchu. Peruvian culture is a masterful mix of Hispanic and native traditions. The Quechua and the Aymara are the two main native cultures of Peru, both of whom speak their native languages. These Inca descendants have successfully preserved and developed their proud cultures and this can be seen in how they weave into also aspects of their lives, including their art, architecture, music, food, etc.
Along with the stunning Inca ruins near Cusco and the great city of Machu Picchu, Peru is home to the Nazca lines etched on its coastal deserts, the Colla burial chullpas near Lake Titicaca, the enormous adobe city of Chan Chan, the great Moche adobe pyramids and burial sites near Trujillo and Chiclayo, and the massive stone citadel of Kuelap near Chachapoyas. These cultures left no written records, just mysterious and beautiful works in gold, silver, textiles and stone.
Image: Ruins in Machu Picchu
But ancient ruins are only a fraction of the story. Roughly half of Peru’s over 30 millions people are of indigenous origin (45% of the population); often living in remote mountain villages, they still speak the Quechua or Aymara tongue of their ancestors, and many of their beliefs and customs are a mixture of traditional Andean ways and the culture imposed by the Spanish conquistadors. There are also more than 50 ethnic groups who live in Peru’s Amazon region, some of whom still shun contact with the outside world.
Fun Fact: The city of Arequipa is a little known treasure; the "white city" is named after the color of the light gray natural volcanic stone from which it was built.
Image: Cathedral in Cuzco
Peruvian food is different in each region across the country, so what they eat depends on where they live. Cuisine from the coast is based on seafood. Ceviche is Peru’s classic seafood dish and can be found throughout the region, from local markets to high-end restaurants serving it with their own little twist. Dishes from the Amazon use fish available in rivers and lots of tropical fruits. Andean cuisine is based on potatoes and meat. Thousands of years ago potatoes, maize, quinoa and the meat of llamas and guinea pigs were the only resources in the Andes. Today Peruvians combine those staple foods with others introduced by Europeans to create tasty and unique dishes. Corn, or Choclo, as it’s called in Peru, remains a main staple of the daily diet. The country has more than 30 varieties, in every color and size imaginable. Some ancient cooking methods are still used today such as pachamanca, a hole dug in the ground and covered with hot stones where meat and potatoes are cooked.
Fun Fact: Peru grows over 55 varieties of corn, and it can be found 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.
Image: Traditional Peruvian Dish- Lomo Saltado
The influence on Peru’s culture is based on a set of beliefs, customs and a way of life inherited from the native Incas, Spanish conquistadors and settlers. Immigrant groups such as Africans, Japanese, Chinese and Europeans have also contributed to the society, blend of cultures and ways in which Peruvians live. Whatever their ethnic background, the importance of family and religion can be found in all areas of the country. Often, generations of a family live together where the younger look after the elderly and the elderly pass along traditions of workmanship and living.
The route to most villages in the Peruvian Andes is a narrow, graded-earth road, bakes concrete-solid under the fierce sun of the dry season, and awash with torrents of rain, slick with mud, narrowed or closed by rockslides, during the rains.
The villages reached by these roads are mostly inhabited by Quechua-speaking descendants of groups once ruled by the Incas. These resilient people have adapted, whenever it was inevitable or advantageous, to the alien Spanish culture forced on them, creating a distinctive version of the ardent Catholicism of their conquerors, and incorporating introduced crops and livestock into their agrarian repertoire.
Image: Oasis near Nazca Lines called Ica
In the rural areas and in the mountains of the Andes, houses are typically made of adobe bricks or stone, with packed-earth floors and thatch roofs, and an occasional flash of corrugated steel indicating some source of cash income. The open rafters inside are blackened from years of cooking over an open hearth or clay oven in the corner.
Communities often consist of farmhouses scattered about the mountainside, whose center is a soccer field, and perhaps a schoolhouse and chapel. The landscape is stitched with precarious stone walls, built more for removing rocks from the soil than for setting boundaries.
Fun Fact: Peru has over 1,800 species of birds. The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is the largest bird in the world that flies when combining both its wingspan and its weight. From one wingtip to the other, there can be a distance of up to 10 ft 10 in.
Image: Traditional Peruvian Weaving Loom
Spanish peasant costumes of the 16th century were adopted, and in derivative forms are still worn to this day. The fundamental outline of the highland rural life today more resembles that of a medieval European village than the lifestyles of the Information Age.
As in so many other elements of Peruvian life and culture, art in Peru has been an important part of its communities for thousands of years. Many skilled artisans continue the traditions handed down through generations today. Native Amerindians still spin cotton, llama, alpaca and sheep wool into yarn and weave the yarn into cloth that is used to make clothing and other textiles. Weaving has distinctive colors and patterns distinguishing particular villages.
By the beginning of the Common Era, virtually every textile technique to be invented was already in use in Peru. The first Europeans met natives using weaving techniques to make roofs, bridges, armor, slingshots, accounting devices, and of course cloth, woven from cotton, llama, alpaca and- as the highest privilege- the finest vicuna wool. Soldiers were paid in cloth, and the coded symbols in the tunics of the nobility displayed a rich store of social and cultural information. Woven fabrics were also exchanged for other products or offered as presents to the conquered people.
Fun Fact: There are over 10 million alpacas in the world, and three-quarters of them live in Peru.
Many of Peru’s crafts have pre-Columbian origins, yet have incorporated new designs and contemporary motifs. Long before the Incas, Peru was a land of craftspeople. Fine weaving found in the funeral bundles at Paracas, gold pieces worked by the Chimu people in northern Peru, and startlingly realistic Moche ceramic pay testimony to a people for whom work done with the hands was always important. In the Inca Empire, specially chosen women dedicated their lives to such tasks as weaving delicate capes from the feathers of exotic birds. Metallurgy was also a high-status occupation long before the Spaniards arrived in the New World.
Handicrafts played multiple roles in indigenous cultures that had no written language. Moche ceremonial cups were not simply for drinking: they told stories- depicting everything from festivities to daily events. The patterns on clothes woven in the highlands have unraveled some of the secrets of how the Aymara people lived.
The designs used in some clothes depicted the status of the wearer; other garments were used only for special celebrations, and still others had woven into them motifs that were important to the community. After the Spanish conquest, handicrafts began to fuse the old and new ways, as Indian woodcarvers whittled statues of the Virgin Mary dressed like a campesina, or angels with indian faces.
Some handicrafts are found all over the country, but in different colors and designs, such as the popular wall-hangings displayed in outdoor markets. Other items come from only one community or region. The decorative gilt-edged mirrors sold in Peru generally originate in Cajamarca; authentic ceramic Pucara bulls are crafted in Pupuja, near Puno; real Yagua jewelry comes only from the jungle area near Iquitos.
Chile has its lapis lazuli and Colombia its emeralds, but the item most associated with peru is gold, with silver and copper running close seconds. Although much of today’s artesania is more practical than illustrative and is geared toward tourists, some items still tell stories. Colors in the textiles and knitted goods on Taquile, the distinctive weavers island in Lake Titicaca, can indicate the wearer’s marital status or community standing. Some colors are used only on certain holidays. Everywhere you go on Taquile Island you will see men knitting the distinctive woolen hats which they habitually wear. Legend has it that the rainbow Kuyichi, angered by the Taquile people, took away their color and left them in a world of grays and browns, but the people used their fingers to weave color back into their lives.
Other handmade crafts include wood carving and jewelry, especially gold and silver. Wood carvings range from functional to elaborate furniture to colorful wooden altars with carved religious and everyday scenes and figurines. Pottery is crafted to reflect ancient Moche and Nazca patterns and designs.
Fun Fact: It is estimated that the time it takes to spin, dye, and weave a traditional Peruvian poncho is around 500 to 600 hours over a period of as much as six months. Peruvians are generally given one poncho upon entering adulthood, and it is expected to last a lifetime.
Peru has a long and rich history. This can be seen in all aspects of the Peruvian life. And in the creations that Peruvians proudly make available to the world in exports and for purchase. Peru is definitely one of the destinations that should appear on a traveler’s bucket list. It is one of the few countries that still offers a look into the past with the ability to explore the impact of modernization.
Image: Rainbow Mountain
Below, we’ve provided some of the best things to know about Peru, and perhaps for you to use as you plan that dream visit to this magical country.
Best National Parks
Parque Nacional del Manu- Covering over 4 million acres of rainforest, this is the largest national park in Peru and one of the largest on the planet. It is home to 800 species of bird, 200 types of mammal, and seven distinct indigenous tribes.
Parque Nacional Huascaran- Around 850,000 acres protect some of Peru’s best high-altitude environments.
Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria- Over 4 Millions acres of lakes, rivers, and semi-submerged rainforest, territory of the rare manatee, pink dolphins, and giant anacondas.
Parque Nacional Cordillera Azul- Protects the northern cloud forests between the Andes and the lowland rainforest. Little visited, home to indigenous communities. New species of birds are continuously discovered here.
La Virgen de la Candelaria- In early February in Puno, thousands of people in traditional dress participate in dances, songs, parades, folkloric plays, and fireworks to celebrate the city’s patron saint.
Inti Raymi- The Festival of the Sun. This yearly occasion on June 24 in Cusco is perhaps the biggest and most colorful festival in Peru, and celebrates the return of the sun after the winter solstice.
Carnival- Celebrated throughout Peru in mid-February, most widely in Cajamarca.
Semana Santa- This festival in March or April is marked with solemn religious processions in the streets. One of the best is in Ayacucho.
Independence Day- Celebrated on July 28 and 29 throughout the country.
El Señor de los Milagros- Held on October 18,19 and 28 in Lima, a huge procession in honor of the city’s patron saint.
Best Historical Sites
Chavin de Huantar- Intricate carvings highlight this mysterious Andean cultural site, the greatest of the Cordillera Blanca.
Kuela- Little-visited ruined citadel in Peru’s north, spectacular enough to rival Machu Picchu.
Chan Chan- The ancient ruins of the Moche civilization, and the largest adobe city in pre-Columbian America.
Caral- A circular court and pyramids in the desert reveal an ancient city.
Cajamarca- This lovely colonial city is a relief after the crowds of Cusco.
Huaca Pucllana- This well-preserved pre-Inca site in Miraflores, Lima, dates back to 400 AD and was the administrative center of the Lima culture.
Huacas del Sol y de la Luna- Ancient temples just outside Trujillo were built over several generations of the Moche people and were once covered with brightly colored murals.
Best Museums and Galleries
Museo de los Santuarios Andinos- In Arequipa, exhibits include fascinating display on Inca human sacrifice, and a mummified body of one of the victims.
Qoricancha- Now the Iglesia Santo Domingo, the Qoricancha or Temple of the Sun in Cusco was the Incas most sacred building.
Francisco- In Lima, with its religious art and amazing skull-filled catacombs
Museo de Arte Precolombiano- A wonderful collection of textiles, pottery, and gold in Cusco.
Tumbas Reales- This world-class museum in Lambayeque contains gold treasures from the Tomb of Lord Sipan.
Best Food & Drink
Pisco- Peru’s National drink is a powerful type of brandy. Pisco sour is the national cocktail, made with pisco, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white.
Ceviche- Raw Fish and mixed seafood marinated in lemon juice, garlic and spices.
Anticuchos de corazon- Marinated beef-heart kebabs.
Humitas and tamales- Cornmeal dumplings cooked in corn or banana leaves, sometimes with a savory filling.
Pachamanca- An Andean specialty of spiced meat, potatoes, and corn, cooked in the ground on hot rocks.
Pollo a la brasa- Roast chicken is one of Peru’s favorite meals and lip smackingly good!
Potatoes- Peru has some 400 varieties of potatoes, or papas.They are the key ingredient for numerous dishes, including the delicious papa a la huancaina, a creamy dish with eggs.
Aji- a hot spicy sauce made with chilis and garlic to accompany meals.
Chicha morada- A sweet, deep purple non-alcoholic drink made from corn which is surprisingly refreshing.
There are numerous travel guides, language books and interesting stories to read about Peru. Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Footprint, Fodors, Insight Guides, National Geographic Traveler and Frommers are just some of the publishers who produce travel guides to Peru.
For a history lesson about Peru, pick up some books on the Incan civilization. “The Conquest of the Incas” by John Hemming highlights Pizarro’s conquest of Peru and the search for El Dorado in the 1530’s. The book offers information on cities and sites that most choose to visit. “The Incas and Their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru” by Ruth M. Wright is a comprehensive guidebook to Machu Picchu with fold-out archaeological maps, photographs and plenty of information to navigate the site. “The Inca Empire and Its Andean Origins” by Craig Morris and Adriana Von Hagen is a photographic coffee table book. Another historical text is “The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics” by Orin Starn. It gives a good introduction to the country’s political and social development.
To learn more about Peru’s wildlife areas or any of the tropical forests, “The Traveler’s Wildlife Guides” by David L. Pearson is a good choice.