Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Country Profile: Peru

I hope you like my profile on Peru!

The Peruvian coat of arms includes a vicuña, which is a relative of the alpaca.

The Land: 

Peru occupies 496,225 square miles of the western part of South America. It is about twice the size of the US state of Texas. Only about 3% of the land is suitable for farming. Most of the population lives in the western part of the country. Peru is divided into three distinct regions: the narrow, dry coastal plain in the west, the tropical lowlands of the Amazon River basin in the east, and the high Andes mountains in the middle. The Andes rise to elevations of 22,000 feet in some parts. Forests cover more than half the country. Peru has a wide variety of plants and animals, from desert wildlife to tropical rainforests. Peru is home to many interesting and diverse animals, such as tapirs, jaguars, alpacas, and monkeys. Mild earthquakes are common in Peru. Larger, more destructive earthquakes take place less frequently. Peru and Bolivia share the highest navigable body of water in the world- Lake Titicaca. Winter along the coast is foggy, humid, and cool, but the coastal areas generally see little rainfall. Temperatures around Peru vary significantly, because of the changes in elevation and other factors. Lima, the country's capital city, stays temperate through most of the year, averaging about 65 degrees. 

Some horses chilling in front of the beautiful Andes mountains

One of my favorite animals- the majestic tapir. The babies have stripey patterns to help them hide from predators. The only natural enemy of adults is the jaguar, which jumps down on them from the trees. The tapir's defense is then to run, plowing down trees and vegetation on its way. Most of the natural pathways through the forests are made by tapirs!


Almost 30 million people live in Peru. The population is growing by about 1% annually. Peru has an ethnically diverse population. There are many groups of indigenous people in Peru; most of them live in the forest areas. Language and culture among the different groups is diverse. Almost half of the population is made up of people with indigenous heritage. Another 37% is people of mixed indigenous and European heritage. Fifteen percent of the population is of European heritage, and the last few percent are descendants of African slaves and other groups, such as Asian immigrants. A little more than a fourth of the population is younger than 15. Lima is the largest city. Over 8 million people live there! More than three-fourths of the population live in urban areas. Fun fact: people who live in the jungle areas are often referred to as charapas. That's a type of turtle commonly found in the area. 

Peruvian women in the Andes


Three languages are officially recognized in Peru: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. The last two are indigenous languages. Many Peruvians speak Spanish and an indigenous language. About 40 different indigenous languages are spoken in the Amazon alone, and almost 30% of the people don't speak any Spanish. Quechua was the language of the Incan empire. We get some of our words from Quechua, including condor, guano, puma, and llama. Aymara is spoken by about 300,000 Peruvians. Most of them live in the southern part of the country. Peruvians who have a more formal education may learn English as a second or third language. 


The Roman Catholic Church was the state church in Peru until 1979. Today there is freedom of religion and all churches enjoy equal political status, but about 81 percent of Peruvians are still Roman Catholic and the church continues to play a significant role in their lives. There are also Protestant and Evangelical churches in Peru. Many indigenous peoples who are Catholic mix traditional beliefs with Christian values, sometimes calling indigenous gods by Christian names.

A church in Colca Canyon, Peru

The People:

Peruvians are strong-willed and often nationalistic. They are fiercely proud of their country. They have faced many challenges, both political and economic, but they maintain a strong desire to endure and succeed. The people have a good sense of humor and are accommodating, helpful, and eager to please. However, they may be sensitive about certain things. Jokes about their lifestyle, especially from foreigners, are offensive. Personal criticism, if necessary, is expected to be expressed in a positive manner. The Peruvian concept of time is more relaxed than in industrialized nations. Peruvians generally consider people to be more important than schedules. Social events such as parties rarely start on time, though people tend to be more punctual for appointments and other business meetings. Sadly, indigenous people are sometimes discriminated against by Peru's mestizo and European populations. Indigenous people usually live in rural areas, but even those who move to the city and adopt an urban lifestyle are not often accepted. This has fueled great resentment and is one source of the country's social problems. Afro-Peruvians also face discrimination and often exclusively fill menial jobs such as hotel doormen and funeral pallbearers. Some exclusive clubs in Lima deny membership to indigenous people and Afro-Peruvians. 

Western-style clothing is worn in Lima and other urban areas. People dress up when going to public places. Women of all economic classes and ages take pride in their appearances and most wear jewelry and makeup. It is considered bad taste to leave home wearing old or dirty clothes. Suits and ties are standard for professional men, while women wear business suits or other Western styles. Some high-end modern wear is influenced by indigenous styles, colors, and designs.Younger generations tend to dress more casually, wearing jeans, T-shirts, jerseys from their favorite sports teams, and other athletic gear after school and on weekends. Students at both public and private schools are nearly always required to wear school uniforms, which may consist of slacks or shorts for boys, skirts or shorts for girls, and short-sleeved shirts and sweaters for both. Rural campesinos (peasants) who live in remote areas wear traditional outfits related to their ethnic background. Their clothes are often made of handwoven, brightly colored fabrics. A traditional outfit for women might include buckled leather shoes, a sweater, and several colorful skirts worn in layers. Men wear dark-colored pants and shoes with a light-colored short-sleeved shirt. Traditionally, men dress in white linen suits for special occasions. In jungle regions, informality is common. Hats are a significant component of rural dress. Along the coast, wide brimmed hats are popular among ranchers, cowboys, and others who work outdoors. In mountainous regions near Bolivia, women wear colorful embroidered hats or bowler hats adorned with feathers or other items. Peru is also home to the chullo, a hat made from wool that has earflaps and ties under the chin. Chullos often bear images of llamas or other animals native to Peru. Peru is a major producer of textiles made from llama and alpaca fur. Clothing made from alpaca textiles especially are known for their warmth and comfort; they are available everywhere—from street vendors to upscale fashion boutiques. A friend from church gave me a pair of alpaca socks after I had surgery and they are amazingly, toasty warm! I love them!

A Peruvian family wearing traditional, colorful clothing

When being introduced or meeting for the first time, members of the opposite sex usually shake hands. Women (and close friends of the opposite sex) commonly kiss each other on one cheek when meeting and parting. Men usually shake hands or pat each other on the shoulder. An arm around the shoulders or a pat on the back is a polite way to greet young people. Typical greetings include Buenos días (Good morning), Buenas tardes (Good afternoon), and Buenas noches (Good evening/night). Friends address each other by first name. Older people are addressed as Señor (Mr.) or Señora (Mrs.), followed by their last name, or—among those who are familiar with them—Don and Doña, without their last name. Women and girls often are addressed by strangers as Señorita (Miss). Peruvians are often animated and use a lot of hand gestures while conversing. One beckons by holding the palm of the hand downward and waving all of the fingers. People stand very close to each other when they talk, often lightly touching the arm or shoulder of the person with whom they are speaking. Hugs among friends are common. Constant eye contact is important. On buses, men usually give their seats to women or elderly persons.

Peruvians enjoy visiting one another. Most visits between friends and relatives are unannounced. However, when one visits other people, it is polite to make advance arrangements. Visitors are expected to feel at home and be comfortable. The traditional greeting Está en su casa (You are in your house) reflects Peruvian hospitality. Hosts always offer their guests drinks (water, juice, soda, etc.) and may offer other refreshments, but declining them is not impolite. Though the practice is declining, it was once common for hosts to invite people visiting around 5:30 p.m. to stay for lonche, a light breakfast-type meal served around 6 p.m. Hosts appreciate special acknowledgment of children in the home. It is polite to show concern for the health of the hosts' family and relatives. When visiting a home, one is not expected to bring gifts, but small gifts such as fruit or wine are welcome on any occasion. Dinner guests commonly bring such gifts.


Urban Peruvian families have an average of three children, while four or five is common among rural ones. Extended families frequently live together or near each other. Not only do single adult children often live with their parents, but newly married couples may do the same until they can afford a place of their own. Even then, such couples may not move far, as many parents build another floor onto their houses for subsequent generations. Most Peruvians have relationships with even distant relatives (such as great-aunts or uncles and third cousins). A common weekend pastime is for families to gather and spend most of the day cooking, eating, and socializing. Children are expected to begin helping with household chores around age eight. Girls typically wash dishes and help in the kitchen, while boys take out the garbage and do more physically demanding chores. Grown children typically care for their aging parents; retirement homes are very rare. The father is considered the head of the family. Because the mother usually spends most of her time at home, she is in charge of the children and their day-to-day activities. The father usually is consulted only for important matters. The mother is also responsible for caring for the household. However, many middle- and upper-class women hire housekeepers and nannies. Women who fill these positions have usually moved to cities to escape the harsh conditions of rural life. They often leave family and sometimes their own young children behind, only to end up working six days a week for extremely low wages. Though they are part of the formal economy, these women enjoy few employment rights. In response to the abundance of domestic help, Peruvian houses and apartments of all sizes are now built with servants’ quarters. Women in rural areas cook, clean, and care for children in addition to working alongside men in tasks related to farming, construction, and animal tending. Both men and women must carry goods to market over long distances, often without shoes. Women in urban areas  occasionally work outside of the home, and over 40 percent of the labor force is female. Women work as teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and business owners. They also hold many positions in government: over 20 percent of Peruvian legislators are women. However, in general, traditional attitudes stop the promotion of women into senior levels in many occupations. Many women work informally as sidewalk vendors, selling vegetables, clothes, prepared foods, and pirated forms of media. 

Peruvian children help their parents by caring for livestock


Peru's diverse regions and climates are home to a variety of dwellings, from modern housing complexes in metropolitan Lima to ancient ruins incorporated into more modern structures in Cuzco to thatched huts in remote jungle regions. Apartments made of brick and concrete are the most common form of urban housing. Wood is very seldom used as a building material due to the high cost of transporting it across the Andes. Upscale apartment buildings offer balconies and windows with nice views. Government subsidized apartments, located in large buildings, are available to low-income families. Many city dwellers live in brick houses with large windows; these houses tend to be in close proximity to others, with little room for a yard. Instead, houses share a nearby recreational area, which typically includes a patio, a lawn, and a barbeque area. Most homes have open living rooms that are used for entertaining rather than relaxing; instead of featuring televisions, they are usually filled with large tables able to accommodate groups of guests. The exterior walls of most houses are painted in pastel colors, and the floors are usually made out of tile or hardwood, though dirt floors are standard among the poor. Few rural homes have access to electricity and most cooking is done over an open fire. In urban homes, family portraits—especially of ancestors—are often displayed on cream- or pastel-colored walls. Religious figures are a common form of decoration. Traditional interiors featuring Spanish colonial styles are still popular. Upscale apartments may feature local art in addition to fine furnishings. Rural homes are furnished simply. In jungle regions, hammocks and mosquito netting are common. Central heating and air conditioning are rare in Peruvian houses. It is common for more than one nuclear family to live in the same house. Often, a married child will live with a spouse and children on the second floor of the parental home. In some cases, families rent out their spare rooms. A lot of people, including many professionals, cannot afford to buy their own houses, so they live in these rooms or, if they are somewhat better off, in apartments. Families who build their own homes will often not do so all at once. Construction is expensive, so many people build in stages. Very poor families live in shantytowns, where houses—most of them made out of adobe—tend to be much less expensive. Adobe structures do not hold up well during earthquakes, which are common in Peru.

A row of homes in Peru

Young people meet at school or parties, and men are usually the ones to initiate dates. Young men begin dating around age 16 or 17 and girls at 15, though some families do not allow their daughters to date until graduating from high school. Young people in urban areas get together on weekends to go to parks, movies, dinner, and friends’ houses. They also enjoy dancing at fiestas (parties) and other social gatherings. Dating is exclusive: people do not date more than one person at the same time. Only after a couple breaks up are they allowed to date others. Entering into a romantic relationship is considered a serious step. Men usually marry in their late twenties, while women generally marry in their early twenties. People in rural areas often marry at younger ages. Typically, a man asks a woman’s father for permission to marry her before proposing. Couples are often engaged for a year, in part because it can take that long to secure an available date at a church. A church ceremony follows a civil ceremony. From the church, the wedding party moves to a restaurant, private residence, or reception hall to celebrate. Following a one- or two-course meal, guests dance to music provided by a live band or disc jockey. Gifts received by newlyweds often include household items and appliances. The party generally lasts until the early morning hours. Poor couples may take part in group weddings, in which multiple couples are married in a church at the same time. Common-law marriages are prevalent in urban areas and represent another cheaper alternative to traditional church weddings. Couples must live together for at least two years before being eligible to go before a judge and have their relationship recognized as a common-law marriage, which grants them all the rights and obligations of a formal marriage. They are widely accepted, except among the upper classes. Divorce is quite common in Peru, and because of this, there are not as many social stigmas associated with divorce as in other countries. 

A happy newlywed couple

According to superstition, a pregnant woman should give in to her antojos (cravings) so she won't lose her baby. Though no longer an accepted belief, this tradition is still largely followed. Friends and family of a pregnant woman typically throw her a baby shower, which both men and women attend. Once the baby is born, those close to the parents visit, bringing small gifts and flowers. Sometimes multiple sons will all carry their father’s first name, with different middle names (for example, three brothers may be named Luis Miguel, Luis Santiago, and Luis Angel). Only the oldest girl may be named after her mother. Babies are also named after Catholic saints or movie stars or other celebrities. Anglicized versions of names are common (Ronald instead of Ronaldo), as are names reflecting Peru’s multicultural heritage. Babies born to Catholic families are baptized and christened within three months of birth. A party is held afterward for family and friends. Those in attendance receive small cards featuring the child’s name and date of christening, which they pin to their clothing. It is customary for the godmother to provide the baby’s baptism clothes and for the godfather to give the baby a gift of gold, usually a gold bracelet featuring the baby’s name. As a signal of generosity and abundance, godfathers typically throw handfuls of coins onto the ground for children to collect. Godparents remain important throughout a child’s life, visiting on birthdays and other special occasions.

By tradition, girls enter adulthood on their quinceañera (fifteenth birthday). The quinceañera is celebrated throughout Peruvian society, regardless of a family’s economic standing. The event is an all-night formal party, which friends and family attend. The birthday girl wears a dress chosen after much consideration. She begins the party by entering the room with her father, passing through a line of girls and boys on each side. She collects a flower from each boy and blows out a candle from each girl. A large meal is served, and guests dance between each course. The girl dances, typically a waltz, with her father and with other male relatives throughout the night. Peruvian children legally become adults at age 18, when they are allowed to drive, drink alcohol, and vote. Most 18-year-olds are eager to receive their National Identity Document, which is carried always and is needed for business and legal transactions. 


Main staples in the Peruvian diet include potatoes, rice, chicken, fish, beans, and a variety of tropical fruits. Corn, which is native to Peru, is a staple among the indigenous people. Guinea pigs are eaten throughout the country and are raised in nearly all rural homes and some urban ones. Ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice and seasoned with garlic and shredded onion) is popular on the coast. Papa a la Huancaina is a cooled, sliced baked potato topped with sliced eggs and a sauce (such as hot chili). Highland dishes often include potatoes, onions, and garlic. In jungle regions, game and fish make up an important part of people’s diets. Fresh vegetables are eaten in season. People purchase most food on a daily basis, either in small corner stores (in cities) or large open-air markets. 

Peruvians eat breakfast between 7 and 10 a.m. It normally includes coffee, tea, or fruit juice, accompanied by cold cuts on buttered rolls. Lunch, consumed between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m., is a large meal consisting of a light first course, like soup, and a main course, often stew and rice. Peruvians often make enough food in the afternoon for both lunch and dinner. Dinner is usually eaten between 8 and 10 p.m.

Peruvians eat in the continental style, with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. They keep both hands (but not elbows) above the table at all times. Proper table manners are very important. It is impolite to converse with only one person at the table without including the rest of the group. If this occurs, Peruvians will often repeat the saying Secretos en reunión es mala educación (It is bad manners to tell secrets in gatherings). Guests are expected to eat all of the food that is offered; excuses for not eating something are to be given tactfully. 

A Peruvian meal may include stew and rice


The most popular sport in Peru is fútbol (soccer). Boys begin playing as young as age five (a soccer ball is a common gift in early childhood) and continue into their adult lives. Peruvians enthusiastically follow World Cup competitions, especially when their national team is participating. Some boys play basketball and tennis. Among girls and women, gymnastics and volleyball are favorites. The national women’s volleyball team is competitive on the world stage, and many of its games are broadcast on television. In Lima, tennis is gaining popularity in wealthier neighborhoods that can support public and private tennis courts. Skateboarding is increasingly popular among young people in the capital. Peru has a long coastline, and in coastal areas, water-related recreation is popular. This includes surfing, swimming, and other beach fun. Those visiting or living in the mountains may enjoy hiking. Dancing is probably the second most popular form of recreation in Peru (after soccer.) Most schools have dance teams whose members compete in traditional and modern styles. People also enjoy dancing during their free time. During weekends, clubs and dance halls are filled with individuals of all ages, dancing to a variety of music. Families enjoy picnics, and movies, plays, and concerts provide entertainment. Sunday is a favorite day for outings, and families enjoy going to zoos and water parks. Pool halls are found in most neighborhoods, and board games are popular. Watching television and surfing the internet are common recreational activities. Most people vacation during July and December, when students are on vacation from school. By law, working adults get a month of vacation time. Many people stay home, where they watch television and entertain friends. Urban inhabitants may travel on vacation to rural areas and rural inhabitants to urban ones. Wealthier families rent beach houses during the summer, and the wealthiest travel overseas.

Music is an important part of life for almost all Peruvians. Traditional songs are often about Peru, Peruvian culture, people's feelings, or animals. Three instruments used to play traditional Andean music are the charango, a small guitar of sorts; the antara, an assortment of vertically placed flutes tied together; and the quena, which is similar to a recorder. Two types of music and dance from the mountains are baile de las tijeras (dance of the scissors) and huayno. Most cities have their own dances. The zamacueca is an athletic dance that is performed in Lima by those of African descent to the rhythm of a traditional drum, the cajón.

A Peruvian man playing the antara


Peru's national holidays include New Year's Day, Easter (Thursday–Sunday), Countryman's Day (June 24), St. Peter and St. Paul's Day (June 29), Independence Day (July 28), National Day (July 29 ), St. Rose of Lima Day (August 30), Navy Day (October 8), All Saints' Day (November 1), Immaculate Conception (December 8), and Christmas. Many local holidays honor patron saints or celebrate the harvest, as well as provide recreational opportunities. For Easter, people get two days off of school or work. Some choose to vacation during this time, but most choose to celebrate the holiday at home with their families, who generally share a meal together. Peruvians eagerly await Independence Day, which also marks the beginning of winter holidays for schoolchildren. Depending on the school, the winter holiday may last between one and four weeks. On July 28, students across the country perform in school galas, taking part in traditional song and dance numbers they have practiced throughout the year. The holiday is also celebrated with fireworks and bands at the local plaza de armas (town plaza). Businesses may close for these celebrations. Christmas is the most popular holiday in Peru. Houses in many neighborhoods are adorned with lights and decorations featuring Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves. Families gather on Christmas Eve for a late dinner—sometimes as late as midnight—and then exchange presents. Kids may shoot off fireworks after opening their gifts. Christmas Day may be celebrated with a trip to the beach among those who live near the coast.


Medical care is fairly adequate in Peru's major cities, but it is less developed in other areas. Quality care is available only through expensive private clinics. Hospitals, especially those outside of Lima, are often short on medicine, food, and other supplies and equipment. Many Peruvians are superstitious about health care and are reluctant to use medical facilities. They prefer using home remedies made of herbs and roots before going to a doctor. Many people also rely on the treatments of a curandero/a (native healer). Care in small towns is often unreliable or altogether unavailable. Diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, cholera, Chagas’ disease, and malaria are active in Peru. Water is not always safe to drink. Much of the population suffers from malnutrition, and women and children are particularly affected. 


Peruvians take education very seriously. Public education is free and compulsory between ages seven and sixteen. However, many schools lack basic materials, and facilities are inadequate. Though Peru has increased efforts to extend primary schooling into remote areas, educational resources in rural areas are still severely lacking. Families with financial means send their children to private schools, which are generally Catholic. In Lima, a number of private international schools provide education in English, Italian, German, Chinese, and French. More than 75 percent of eligible children are enrolled in secondary schools. Enrollment in both primary and secondary schools is increasing. More young people are staying in school than did in the past. The literacy rate is higher among teenagers than adults. Math, language, literature, and history make up the core subjects in Peruvian schools. Students typically do a couple of hours of homework each evening. Peru has more than 30 universities. Major public universities include the Scientific University of the South, the Technological University of Peru, and the University of San Marcos in Lima, one of the oldest in South America. These and other public institutions offer virtually free education in a variety of professional fields. Tuition at private universities, such as Pontific Catholic University and the University of Lima, is charged on a scale that corresponds with students’ income levels. In theory, this system allows people at all levels of society to attend, but in reality the majority of students at these schools come from the middle and upper classes. Some scholarships are available. 

Students in Peru often wear uniforms

Books To Read:

Peru by Lisa Owings
The Changing Face of Peru by Don Harrison

Bible Verse: 

"Taita Diosca cai pachapi causajcunata yallitaj c'uyashpami, Paipaj shujlla Churita curca. Pipish Paita crijca ama chingarichun, ashtahuanpish huiñai causaita charichunmi Paita curca."  Juan 3: 16 (Quechua)

From Compassion's Website: 

"Compassion's work in Peru began in 1985. Currently, more than 48,700 children participate in more than 220 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Peruvian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be."

There are plenty of children in Peru who need sponsors! Here are just a few: 

Nestor is 4 years old. His birthday is January 20. He likes playing with cars and hide and seek. To read more about Nestor, click here

Quesli is 5 years old. Her birthday is July 5. She likes playing house, art, and playing with dolls. To read more about Quesli, click here

Wilmer is 12 years old. His birthday is October 3. He likes soccer, art, and running. To read more about Wilmer, click here

Stephany is 10 years old. Her birthday is October 20. She likes art and playing with dolls. To read more about Stephany, click here.

All information came from CultureGrams. It's an excellent resource if you have access to it! 


  1. Thanks for taking the time to get all this info together!! It was really neat to read, especially considering that my parents have a 12-year-old girl in Peru. And before Nelci, they had another Peruvian girl who left the program early. It gives such insight into their lives!!

    1. That's great! Our last two correspondence kids are from Peru, and we have a friend moving there soon- I hope once she gets settled in and we get to know these kids better, she would be willing to have me send her some gifts for them to drop off at the field office!

  2. Dear Jessi, Your blog is amazing, have a lot of information and beautiful photos. I'm peruvian and agree with your. Actuaclly I'm a social networks coordinator of the Internacional Festival of Highland Music(FIMA) and I want to use one of your photos in our fanpage to promote a call to andean musicians, of course using your credit and puting the link of your blog. If you let it You could send me a personal mail to sheilaadm2008@gmail.com.

    Thanks a lot and blessing
    Kind Regards
    Sheila Acuña


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