Culture Corner

Peruvian Culture

Situated high in the Andes Mountains in Southeastern Peru, Cusco stands tall as the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. The nearby Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu has long been one of the most inspirational destinations for countless travelers. Spaniards first arrived to Peru in the 1530s, with conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Due to heavy Spanish influence for many decades, much of the architecture in present-day Cusco is a mix of Inca and Spanish design.

Today, Cusco is one of the must-see destinations in South America, due to the preservation of its culture displayed in amazing archaeological sites, architecture, and colorful Peruvian dress. Many Cusqueños still wear traditional clothing like polleras (long, colorful skirts), play zampoñas (pan flutes), and raise llamas. In addition, the exquisite Andean cuisine provides Peruvians and foreigners alike with innovative dishes. Prepare yourself to be enamored with both culture and a constant breathtaking view of the Sacred Valley as you study abroad in Cusco.

 

Region and Population

Cusco (population 300,000) is considered the Inca capital of Peru. It is located in the department of Cusco, along the Andean mountain line. The Spaniards conquered it in the 16th century, preserving the basic structure, but building Baroque churches and palaces over the ruins.
 
Many people who arrive in Cusco automatically notice the change in altitude (3,310m or almost 11,000 ft), along with a strong awareness of energy, a very unique experience. The climate does take some getting used to, and many Peruvians recommend drinking tea to help with the acclimatization. It's very common for most new arrivals to experience moderate altitude sickness or "soroche". Please discuss with your doctors ways to prevent altitude sickness before you arrive, and if altitude will have an affect on any medication you are currently taking. It's recommended that you eat lightly, drink lots of water, and rest in your first days for a smoother transition to acclimatization
 

Climate

The annual average temperature in the city goes from 10.3° to 11.3° C (50.54° to 52.34° F). The temperature is relatively stable during the summer and winter. Usually, it is cold at night and during the first morning hours. May through July is the cold season, when the temperature can decrease below 0° C.

Be expected to pack a range of clothes, as during the day it's warm and sunny and in the mornings and at night, it's cold.

Also, there are two well-define seasons: the rainy season is from November to March and the dry season is from April to October. Cusco has a special weather due to the height at which it's located as well as its closeness to the equator.

 

Religion

The vast majority of Peruvians declare themselves as Catholics. That being said, there is a visible community of Evangelicals and other Christian denominations. As one would hope, traditional indigenous religions still exist in the Andean regions but are definitely present within the modern day Peruvian society.

Food

The most popular plates use fish and seafood as the principal ingredients, such as cebiche. Cebiche (or ceviche) consists of raw seafood and fish, marinated with lime juice and peppers (ajis), served with corn (choclo), sweet potato (camote) and onion. Other must-try dishes include arroz con mariscos, aguadito de pescado, sudado de pescado, picante de mariscos, and pescado a la chorillana. Chicharrón means fried, so if you want a fried seafood platter, order a chicharrón de mariscos, also called a jalea. Chicharrón can also apply to pork, and many Peruvians eat a breakfast sandwich of pork chicharrón, sweet potato and salsa criollo (onion, lime juice and ají).  Tiradito is similar to cebiche and consists of very thinly sliced raw fish, laid flat on a plate and covered in various different types of sauces. Fish and seafood that you might see on a menu include corvina (sea bass), trucha (trout), atún (tuna), bacalao (codfish), mero (grouper), cangrejo (crab), chorros (mussels), concha (scallops), and calamar (squid or calamari).

Desserts (postres) are abundant, and the most popular are crema volteada, arroz con leche, suspiro and manjar blanco. Picarones are donut-like desserts, and pie is spelled pye, as in pye de limón (lemon pie). If you like banana bread, order a keke (cake) de plátano!

Music

The beauty of Peruvian music is realized by locals and visitors alike through its colorful mix of traditional Andean and Spanish influence. While listening to traditional Peruvian music, the listener will inevitably hear the charango: instrument similar to the mandolin. To the trained ear, one may also pick up on East Asian influences brought to Peru by Chinese and Japanese settlers. The intricate mix of influences into Peru's music has created a distinct sound that can only be found within Peruvian borders.

 

Monuments & Must-Sees

Cusco has an abundance of museums and galleries open throughout the city. To visit the most important ones, you might decide to purchase the "Boleto Turístico," or tourist pass.

Museo Inka of Pre-Hispanic Culture

Located one block from the Plaza de Armas, this is probably the most important museum. The building was once the residence of the Marques de Vallumbrioso and housed the best library in the New World. The cultural center holds hour-long folkloric dance performances in its auditorium each night at 7pm, with introductions in Spanish and English.
 

Plaza Nazarenas

Here you can find the Casa Cabrera with its permanent exhibition of works by the famous photographer Martín Chambi. Next to the Plaza de Armas are the Plaza Regocijo and the museum Casa Garcilaso, with its exhibition of colonial art. Here you will also find the Contemporary Art Museum.

Plaza de Armas

The main plaza was known as Huacaypata or Warrior Square in Quechua during Inca times and is believed to have been designed by Manco Cápac. There is the magnificent Cathedral and the Church of La Compañía flank it on two sides. The Plaza was the scene of many key events in the history of the city. It was here that Pizarro proclaimed the conquest of Cusco.

Mercado (Andean Market)

If you would like to buy presents/souvenirs for your friends, family, and yourself, visiting the markets is the perfect opportunity to do so! The large collections of market stalls sell crafts, including woolen and alpaca clothing, carved wood objects, and jewelry, among others. There's a huge selection and bargaining is expected.