Everything That You Need To Know About Your Gap Year In Peru
So, you're planning to take a gap year & travel to the land of the Incas?
Located in the western part of South America, Peru is an extremely biodiverse country with a really appealing story behind it. From the early engineering excellence of the Incas to the Spanish Conquistadors, ancient history has been written through the many parts of the country. And for those who have looked into the prospect of backpacking to Machu Picchu, I need not repeat the mystical wonders and the thrilling journey that awaits you!
Due to its many amazing archaeological sites and its blend of tropical Amazonian and Andean landscapes, Peru has remained a hotspot for high school and college students as well as for Gap Year travelers and for adventurists /history buffs alike, from all over the world.
But if you’re really into the prospect of exploring the diverse country of Peru, you need to go deep. Peru’s natural diversity and mysteries of its predated civilization have always appealed to me.
So, thank me later for I have already done the job for you guys and have dug out 30 something odd facts about the country, its people, its culture that’ll sure tingle your grey cells!
1. Potato, the world’s 4th largest food crop came from Peru. It is said that ancient Peruvians domesticated potato dating 8000 years back. Currently, there are over 3000 varieties of potatoes grown in the country.
2. Guinea Pigs, the popular pets in the USA are used as a delicacy in parts of South America. The Peruvians consume an average of 65 million guinea pigs or Cuy as it is called in Quechua every year.
3. Owing to its abundance of rainforests, Peru has around 90 distinctive microclimates which makes one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
4. Peru is the home to the highest sand dunes in the world measuring at 3860 ft from the base to the summit. Cerro Blanco located in the Sechura Desert near Nazca Lines is known for holding this record.
5. Most of the weaving techniques known to man today had already been invented by Peruvians by 3000 B.C.
6. The famous Inca Citadel built in 1450 was lost after a century and remained unfound for almost 400 years. In 1911 it was discovered by famous American explorer Hiram Bingham. Recently in 2007, Machu Picchu became one of the seven wonders of the world by popular vote.
7. The Quechuans still practice marriage by trial. It is a system where men and women choose partners and both have the liberty to end the relationship at any point they want to. The woman is free to marry again and if any child is conceived out of the marriage, he/she is said to belong to the community and not the parents.
8. Did you know? Calling someone using an upward first finger is considered an insult in Peru. It is a big no-no for all visitors, especially when interacting with the local people.
9. Presently the currency of Peru is Nuevo Sol which was officially adopted in 1991. Peruvian Inti was the currency up until 1980’s Nuevo Sol when the government was forced to abandon it due to hyperinflation. At the time of its adoption hyperinflation was so bad that it was sold at the rate of 1 Nuevo Sol=1,000,000 Intis.
10. Here comes a fun fact your way. Friends and family members gift yellow underpants to each other on New Year’s Eve for good luck.
11. Peru has the world’s second greatest catch of fish, following China. So, if you’re a fish lover you’re sure to find some tasty fish delicacies.
12. The National University of San Marcos in Peru is the oldest and longest surviving university in the Americas with its origins tracing back to 1551.
13. Camu-Camu is a fruit essentially found in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Brazil. This fruit has the highest concentration of Vitamin C than any other food and as much as 60 times that of an orange. Ready for Vitamin C overdose?
14. Peru had witnessed the world’s worst soccer riot in 1964 during a Peru vs Argentina match in Lima. An unpopular decision from a referee led to the death of around 300 fans and left 500 soccer patrons injured. Actual die-hard soccer fans!
15. The month of June and July marks Peru’s independence from the Spanish Empire. Yes, you heard it right. Their independence celebrations take place on three different days collectively called the Fiestas Patrias. It takes place as following- Countryman’s Day (June 24), Peruvian Independence Day (July 28), and Celebration of Peru’s armed forces and national police (July 29). These are one of the most important holidays of Peru and the entire country shuts down in celebrations. The festivities are impressive and if you want to witness them you know when to plan your visit.
16. Corn is a staple when it comes to Peruvian food. Peru grows over 55 varieties of corns with colors ranging from Purple, White, Black. Ancient Peruvians are said to have used corn for bartering and as a form of currency as well as food.
17. If you’re looking for a surfing adventure and a chance to ride out huge swells then Peru is your destination. Chicama claims record waves of 4 km which makes it the world’s longest left-handed wave. It’s twin town Mancora is also said to host the largest left point break of the world. Peru’s surfing traditions are quite old. Archaeologists are said to have found friezes depicting humans surfing along the Peruvian coast which goes back 2000 years.
18. Cotahuasi Canyon near the city of Arequipa in Peru is the deepest canyon in the world. It has a depth of 3535 meters which is twice that of the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon doesn’t seem so grand now, does it?
19. Peru has quite a record in the field of birdwatching and could be the perfect destination for birdwatchers from all over the world. It holds the record for the highest number of birds sighted in one day (650) and also for greatest number spotted in a single day (361) in Reserva Nacional de Tambopata and Parque Nacional de Manu respectively.
20. Some places in the coastal desert in Peru are very dry. These places are said to have received record lowest rains of just 1 inch (3 cm) in the past 30 years.
21. Peru’s Nazca Lines were first noticed from the air in 1927 and the rest is history. These geoglyphs are found along the high desert plateau between Nazca and Palpa. Grouped together, there are about 70 human and animal figures and around 10,000 lines. It still remains one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of the world. Some believe it to be a giant astronomical calendar used by the predecessors. Some say a ceremonial center and some even believe it to be an alien landing strip. One of the installments of the popular movie series Indiana Jones was based in Peru and the Nazca Lines played an important role in unfolding the mystery in the movie. Be sure to keep this in your Peru itinerary!
22. It is estimated that the time taken to spin, dye and weave a Peruvian poncho is about 500-600 hours roughly spanning over a period of as much as 6 months. Traditionally Peruvians are given one poncho when they attain adulthood and the same poncho is expected to last them a lifetime. Be sure to get your hands on these specially made ponchos when traveling in Peru.
23. Coca leaf has always been popular in South-American countries for its medicinal properties. Coca tea is a popular Peruvian beverage. It is greenish yellow color and has a mildly bitter taste along with an organic sweetness to it. It is used as a stimulant for treating fatigue, hunger, and thirst and is particularly effective for altitude sickness. During the 19th century, a German grad student was able to isolate the active ingredient of Coca which he termed as Cocaine.
24. In 1885 Coca-Cola started making wine with coca leaves which later converted into a soft drink. But in 1903 coca leaves were removed as an ingredient from the drink as there was a public outcry owing to the effects of cocaine from the leaves. Our favorite soda has come quite far along and Coca-Cola is now one of the most famous soft drink in the world.
25. Following up on Brazil, Peru has the second largest share of the Amazon Rainforest. So much so that almost 60% of the country is covered by it.
26. Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia is the highest navigable lake on earth with a surface elevation of 3812 meters (12,507 ft). By volume of water and surface area, it also holds the place for the largest lake in South-America. There are several islands around the lake and exploring the lake makes for a great activity when in Peru.
27. The sacred city of Caral-Supe just a few hours north of the capital city of Lima is the oldest site to be occupied by humans in the Americas that have been discovered. It covers a sprawling 1,546 acre and dates back 5000 years.
28. Peru has 3 official languages namely Spanish, Quechua and Aymara which is spoken by the majority of the populace. But there are groups that speak Asháninka as well as a large number of minor Amazonian languages.
29. Peru’s national drink is called the Pisco Sour. The ingredients that go into making the drink are Pisco (grape) brandy, lemon, sugar, egg white, ice and is finished with Angostura bitters. It is said that it takes almost 13 pounds of grapes to make one bottle of Pisco. Forget about your favorite beverage and try this Peruvian favorite when you’re there!
30. El Nino is a phenomenon that is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures. It has been named El Nino because the word literally translated as Baby Jesus. This name is used because it arrives on the coast of Ecuador and Peru around Christmas every year.
Peru, as a country, is rich in cultural heritage and also home to various indigenous tribes of the Andean region. From the famous history of the Quechuas and the Incas to the unadulterated beauty of Machu Picchu, Peru makes for a country to savor.
Well, you can pick up and go through a guidebook of Peru and all you will find are the details about its marvelous ancient ruins and merry lifestyle. While the country is, indeed, all about that, there are few locations that do not get the kind of highlight & appreciation that they deserve. Just because you're planning to take a gap year in Peru, make sure to explore some of the lesser known sites in and around Cusco, that are not as renowned as Macchu Picchu, but are equally fascinating.
Let’s find out some of the off-beat places to explore in Peru:
1. Las Salinas de Maras
How often would you stop on your way to somewhere just to witness an arena full of salt pans? Not much I believe. When you travel towards the Sacred Valley, around 40kms outside Cusco you will find a pool of almost 3000 salt pans. Located at an elevation of nearly 4000m in the Urubamba Valley, these pans are known to be formed during the pre-Inca times. And they are totally worth a visit!
An ancient Inca site in the Sacred Valley of Peru, Qenko is one of the largest holy places in all of Peru. It is located at a minuscule distance of 6kms from the main city of Cusco but often misses out the attention of many travelers in the shed of Macchu Picchu and other famous archeological sites. It is said to be the location where sacrifices and mummifications used to take place during the ancient days.
3. Colca Canyon
If you thought that the Grand Canyon in the US is the deepest in the world, that’s probably because you may have not heard much about the Colca Canyon. Located in the southern part of Peru, it is the second deepest canyon in the country and doubles the depth of the Grand Canyon. Although visited by a decent number of tourists every year, the location is yet to receive the deserved attention.
4. Paracas Candelabra
Popularly known as the Candelabra of the Andes, this prehistoric motif is said to be from the year 200BC; thanks to the carbon dating of artifacts found near this monument. Etched about 2 feet in the sand, this geoglyph is almost 600 feet long. There are various theories that run around this design; including it is a Masonic symbol, a stand-ins for the local Jimson weed, as a sign for sailors looking for Paracas coast, and more.
5. Giant Sombrero of Celendin
This is a town of fine craftsmanship and peaceful lifestyle. A small town in the north of Peru, Celendin is known for its hand-woven straw hats that the locals make and sell. The town has a huge gazebo in the shape of a hat where people gather to rendezvous and observe the normal day – to – day happenings of the town. As a traveler, one will never be pushed by a local to buy hats, but the sheer fine crafting of the hats will allure you to take a couple of them for sure.
6. Q'eswachaka Rope Bridge
Talking about hand-woven crafts in Peru, it seems the legacy comes all the way from the ancient Inca civilization. The Q'eswachaka Rope Bridge (Or Inca Rope Bridge as it is fondly known as) is the last of its kind bridge. Located at a height of around 200 feet above the Apurimac canyon, this bridge spans up to the length of 118 feet. There were a number of such bridges, made of woven grass, which however decayed over the period of time. This bridge, however, has been maintained to honor the fine engineering skill of the Inca Empire.
Lost in an endless dry desert, what if you suddenly find a scintillating oasis out of nowhere? Stunned you will be! Huacachina does that to you. Located near the city of Ica in Southwestern Peru, Huacachina is a small village built around a natural lake in the middle of a desert. The location will immediately capture your attention with its glazing ambiance and contradicting environment. It is a great option for some sand boarding activities as well.
Now that you know the most interesting facts about Peru & also some of the fascinating places to explore, let’s take a quick look at the amazing & adventure tours that Go Discover Abroad has in store for you!
Volunteer At a Daycare Center in Cusco, Peru
If you are planning to spend your gap year doing something incredibly meaningful, then you must opt for a volunteering program and spend some quality time with the underprivileged kids living in daycare centers, in & around Cusco. These centers mostly have an odd ratio of kids and caregivers, thus the contribution of volunteers is highly appreciated. You can play with the kids, tell them stories, teach them basic lessons and keep them engaged in activities. It’ll be an interesting journey for you as well.
2 Weeks Special Volunteer and Travel Program
If you have some plans already, and think that you can spend just about a couple of weeks in Peru - then the best option for you would be to join the voluntour! In a span of 2 weeks, you’ll get to experience the goodness of volunteering with kids as well as explore the Sacred valley & Machu Picchu with a bunch of travelers from all across the world.
Explore Peru on a Shoestring
There's another amazing trip for those who wish to explore on a budget (listen out, all you backpackers!). Starting from Lima, you'll travel to Nazca, Arequipa, Chivay and finally head to Cusco. The best part of the trip will be the Inca Trail hike. Explore the ruins of Machu Picchu and binge on some local food at Aguas Calientes. This trip has everything that you've imagined about Peru - and more! And there wouldn't be a hole in your pocket after this trip!
We are sure that Peru would leave you mesmerized, and when you’ll be returning back home, there will be a back full of memories and heartwarming stories to share. In case you wish to know more about a gap year in Peru or need some information, you can write to us at [email protected] and our travel experts will get back to you!