Lama mother with her baby at mountains background in Peru
As THINK Global School returns for another year of place-based learning and travel, our first semester begins in Peru’sUrubamba Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Before we ascend to the peak of our term by completing the Inca Trek, we wanted to share seven interesting facts about Peru with you. So whether you’re working on a school project or just looking to learn a little bit about this amazing country, we hope you enjoy these fun facts as much as we do!
Fact #1: Peru isn’t corny, but the country sure does have a lot of corn
If you’ve been researching Peru, we’re certain the topic of corn has come up. Not only does Peru produce more than 55 different varieties of corn, with colors ranging from classic yellow to vibrant purple -even to black- the country also knows how to get creative with the grain’s preparation. Chicha morada, also known as the “Peruvian purple corn drink,” is basically lemonade’s sweeter cousin. The beverage dates back to the pre-colonial era in Peru, and some have even speculated that the boiled corn and pineapple drink pre-dates the Incas. Given the grain’s natural versatility in flavor, Peruvians have been able to incorporate corn as an essential staple in their traditional cuisine for the past 578 years.
From chicha morada to ceviche to pastel de choclo, Peru is definitely a master of remixing and reinventing the consumption of corn.
Choclo Morado, the source material for chica morado. Photo by Eric Hunt
Fact #2: Corn isn’t the only gold Peru is known for
In fact, Peru is actually the seventh largest producer of gold in the world. According to statistics published in Thomson Reuters, Peru produced nearly 162 tons of the precious metal in 2010 alone. Although the amount of gold mined yearly has gone down to roughly 156 tons as of 2015, Peru has capitalized on mining other natural metals to put them at the forefront of mining. In a more recent publication of mining statistics, Peru Reports stated that “Peru is the world’s third largest producer of copper, silver, zinc, and tin”. While Peru’s economy is diverse, mining is considered the economic backbone of the country.
Fact #3: Peru minds the mines
Despite how invasive the mining process is, Peru is making strides to protect the biodiversity found in the Peruvian Amazon and to help prevent illegal mining and logging. Since Peru has the second largest portion of the Amazon rainforest right after the Brazilian Amazon, we have seen Peru engage with the Environmental Investigation Agency and High Commission Against Illegal Logging to monitor all activity. Between the mix of highland and lowland jungle that stretches from east of the Andes to the borders of Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia– covering nearly two-thirds of Peru’s total landmass– it is easy to see how difficult preservation can be. It’s really no wonder why Machu Picchu was lost for hundreds of years…
Learn more about Peru’s mining conflict:
Fact #4: Machu Picchu was lost for hundreds of years?
Not exactly. Machu Picchu is a grandiose citadel perched on a mountain ridge 7,970 ft above sea level, and is believed to have been built around 1450 as an estate for the Inca Emperor, Pachacuti. It wasn’t until a century later, during the Spanish Conquest, that the Incas abandoned the site. Machu Picchu wasn’t rediscovered until 1911 when Yale professor, Hiram Bingham III, accompanied by a Peruvian guide trekked up the steep mountainside and ‘found’ the ‘lost city’. According to a National Geographic article, “ while indigenous peoples knew of the site, Peru’s Spanish conquerors never did—a fact which aided Machu Picchu’s isolation, and preservation, over the centuries”. This amazing landmark made of cut stone without mortar is certainly something to see–hopefully without any altitude sickness!
Fact #5: Peru is home to the grandest of canyons
We couldn’t believe it either. Well, maybe we could. Cotahuasi Canyon is located in the center of this kidney-shaped country, near the city of Arequipa. The Cotahuasi River has eroded the land between the Coropuna and Sulimana mountains down approximately 11,597 feet to create the Cotahuasi Canyon. That’s over twice the depth of the Grand Canyon! If you were to do the math, that would be like staking 1,965 full-grown llamas or 2,070 average-sized adults on top of one another (basically a small Connecticut town) to recreate the height of one Cotahuasi’s walls. Don’t worry, we still had a hard time visualizing the size of Cotahuasi too. We hope this view from the river will help!
Fact #6: Don’t know what Peru’s national animal is? No prob-llama!
See what we did there? In Peru, the vicuña, or small camelid such as the alpaca or llama, has always been highly valued. Not only is the vicuña Peru’s national animal, it’s wool is some of the finest for weaving in the world. Apparently vicuña wool can only be shorn every three years, which means some Peruvians turn it into a festival. In an article written by Johnny Simon, “the ceremony, known as a “Chaccu,” is led by a man dressed as a traditional Incan king and includes a traditional dance that gently rounds up the vicunas into a group where their wool can be collected, after which they are set free”. We looked up how valuable vicuña wool is, and to put things into perspective, a 100% Vicuna Scarf costs $1,495.00.
Vicuna Shearing Festival. Photo by Sebastian Castañeda / Associate Press
Fact #7: New year, new yellow underwear!
As you can tell, Peru is home to a lot of unique landmarks, cuisine, festivals, and customs, but this one took home the Tres Leches. Get this: on New Year’s Eve friends and family give each other gifts of yellow underpants for good luck. The Peruvians take the new year very seriously, and what color your underwear is determines what type of year you will have. Yellow is for luck and happiness, green is for money, red for love, and white for health and fertility. Most Peruvians just tend to stick with the yellow. For a good laugh and a quick narrative about a Peruvian New Year’s, read Roxana Olivera’s “The future’s bright… the future’s yellow?!” featured in New Internationalist Magazine.