Peru’s culture is a mashup of several different peoples and customs. There are beliefs that have carried over from the native Incas and there are beliefs that have seeped in from the Spanish conquistadors as well as other settlers. There is a real blend of cultural influence from immigrant groups like Africans, Japanese, Chinese, and Europeans.
Whatever their ethnic background, Peruvians agree on the basic importance of family and religion. Families rely on each other. It’s not uncommon for generations of a family to live together so the younger members can look after and care for the elderly.
At the root of any culture’s identity is its food. Peru is no exception. However, Peruvian food is different in each region. What they eat depends on where they live.
The coastal cuisine is based on seafood. A popular dish and must-try is Ceviche. This is a dish made from fresh, raw fish cured in citrus juices, like lemon or lime, and spiced with aji or chili peppers. Other seasonings are thrown in like onions, salt and cilantro. Ceviche is usually served with side dishes to compliment and not compete with its flavors. Sweet potato, lettuce, corn, avocado or plantain are examples. Since it’s not a cooked dish, it must be prepared fresh to minimize the risk of food poisoning. There is archeological evidence suggesting this dish has been prepared for thousands of years. To truly get an authentic Peruvian experience, Ceviche is a must.
Amazonian cuisine relies heavily on the fish available in rivers as well as an abundance of tropical fruits. Juane is one of the most popular dishes from the Peruvian jungle. It’s widely consumed during the Catholic Feast of San Juan held on June 24th each year. Another dish you can find in Iquitos and the Peruvian Amazon is Tacacho. This is made from fried slices of plantain mashed with fried pork fat. It’s usually served with chorizo, or fried sausage.
Andean cuisine is based on meat and potatoes. Thousands of years ago potatoes, maize, quinoa, and the meat of llamas and guinea pigs were the only resources in the mountains. Today Peruvian combine those staple foods with others introduced by Europeans to create tasty and unique dishes. If you get the chance to try some of the ancient cooking methods they still use today, don’t pass up the chance. Pachamanca is a method where a hole is dug in the ground and covered with hot stones to cook meat and potatoes.
Art in Peru has been a defining part of the culture for thousands of years. Many forms of art dates clear back to pre-Inca times. Today, craftsmen still continue many of these ancient traditions. It’s not hard to find modern craftsmen that still spin cotton, llama, alpaca, and sheep wool into yarn. They weave a the yarn into cloth that is then used to make clothing and other textiles.
This isn’t the only form of weaving that still exists today. At Lake Titicaca there are floating islands where people live. These are islands that are made from woven reeds by the local residents who live there. They also weave reeds to create the homes they live in. The various villages have distinct patterns and colors unique to each individual village.
Peruvians also make wood carvings and jewelry. The jewelry is generally made from gold or silver. Pottery is not a lost art either, made to reflect ancient Moche and Nazca patterns and designs.
During the colonial period Peru saw a heavy influence in their art from Spain and Italy. Most of this art was related to religion. Paintings and sculptures still exist in many churches today.
Native Peruvian painters emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were known as the Cusco School of Painters. Heavily influenced by Christian immigrants, their work was mostly religious, but they also worked on local landscape scenery. Diego Quispe Tito is the best known painter to have come from the Cusco school.
The 19th century saw paintings of battles, independence war, and heroes. The following century was heavily influence by the great Mexican muralists best represented by Jose Sabogal. Today’s modern art is mostly abstract. Fernando de Szyslo is thought to be the best known modern painter.
Music and Dance
Food defines the Peruvian people, but a close second at any Peruvian party is music and dance. Andean music is famous for the sweet sounds of its flutes and panpipes. The Spaniards introduced string instruments such as the charango. Harps and violins complement the sounds of native drums, brass, and wind instruments creating a sound that is uniquely Peruvian. Andean people have at least 300 different dances, but the most popular is the huayno which is danced with vigorous stomping of feet and very colorful costumes.
The marinera is considered Peru’s national dance. The music for the marinera is influenced by the Spanish and African rhythms. It is danced with a man a woman, usually barefoot and with handkerchiefs. The female dancer flirts and teases the male dancer with her handkerchief, using graceful movements. Each region has different variations of the dance.
In one routine, while the woman is on the ground dancing barefoot, the man is atop a Peruvian Paso, a horse with great agility. You can’t train just any old horse to perform like a Peruvian Paso. It’s in their blood. The man and woman “flirt” for the duration of the song with the horse as an integral part of this interaction, circling around the woman, dancing as if of its own accord.
Witness the annual Festival of the Sun or Inti Raymi on our exclusive Peru - Inti Raymi Classic tour.
To say that soccer is the national sport of Peru is something of an understatement. Peruvians are soccer crazy. Every school age child plays the game. The majority of the population is very passionate about futbol.
There are two major teams in Peruvian soccer: Universitario de Deportes and Alianza Lima. Both clubs have dominated soccer for decades in Peru. Their rivalry ignites the passion in soccer fans.
In coastal cities, surfing is a popular sport. Chicama Beach is known for having the longest waves in the world.
Bullfighting was brought to Peru by Spaniards and is a tradition that continues today. The oldest bullring in all of the Americas is the Plaza de Acho, which still operates today and is known as the best place to enjoy a bullfight.
In every city in Peru, where there is a plaza, there is a church. Christianity was brought to Peru 500 years ago and today more than 90% of the population consider themselves Catholic. The Spaniards considered the Inca religion to be pagan. The Incas worshiped stones and other natural resources, sacrificed animals and had multiple gods. Spanish priests tried to eradicate the native religion but it was mostly transformed. What is left today is a mix of values and beliefs known as syncretism. Many Amazonian tribes were not reached by the early influence of Christianity due to their remoteness. These communities have maintained their original religion. Many national holidays and festivities have their origin in religious celebrations.
Children begin preschool when they are 5 years old. There are 6 grades in primary school and 5 grades in secondary school. After that they can choose to go to university or learn job skills at a technical school. Public school is free in Peru but not all attend or those who attend drop out early. In rural areas schools are far away from home and with no public transportation it is hard for children to get an education. Aside from the inaccessibility of schools, poverty is another contributing factor for why children do not attend school. They are often needed to tend the farm and animals and provide for their younger siblings. About 25% of children do not complete primary school and only 50% go to secondary school. Standards in public school are not high, teachers are paid poorly, classes are large, schools have poor infrastructure and there are shortages of textbooks and basic school supplies. Private schools are a better option but only for those who can afford them.
There are public and private universities, some of them are internationally recognized. The oldest university in the Americas, University of San Marcos, was founded in Lima in 1551.