Due to advances in archaeology, it is clear that people began settling in Peru thousands of years ago. Some of the earliest settlers (1250 BC) were the Chavín, Chimú, Nazca and Tiahuanaco indigenous groups. The more popularly known Inca Empire first surfaced in the early 12th Century. The Incas thrived through the 16th Century until the Spanish Conquistadors arrived and set their sights on the regions vast gold and silver deposits. Consequently, the Spanish took control in the mid 1500s. Peru lived under Spanish rule until independence was proclaimed on July 28, 1821. While Peru experienced many political and social struggles in the early stages of independence, Peru has undoubtedly prospered as an emerging society in today's modern world.
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.
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). When ordering shrimp, please be aware that langostinos refers to shrimp from the ocean, and camarones refers to river shrimp, or what we would call crawfish (crayfish). Pulpo (octopus) is also very tasty in Peru, and ordering a grilled pulpo is highly recommended, or an appetizer of pulpo al olivo! 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).
Most Peruvian dishes are characterized by strong flavors, including sauces whose base comes from spicy peppers and garlic. There are also a variety of chicken, beef and pork dishes (comida criolla) that are usually accompanied with rice and potatoes. Lomo saltado and ají de gallina are two of the most popular!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Cusco has endless activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Cusco. You can do many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Cusco, different sponsored cultural activities will be announced throughout your program abroad.
Enjoy an afternoon at the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. Built in 1654, this cathedral is a quick reminder of the lasting history of Cusco and Peru.
Sun Temple of Qoricancha
After visiting The Cathedral, redirect your interest to the Sun Temple of Qoricancha. If you're looking at this temple from the south it will look like a pyramid and is yet another example of the rich history within Peru.
Inca Archeological Ruins
If Inca archeological ruins interest you, then go no further than Cusco. Located within and surrounding the city of Cusco are innumerable ruins that will certainly occupy a full day of exploring.
If you need a break from the many museums and ruins located throughout the city, lace up your shoes and go for a city walk along the cobble-stone streets of Cusco.
While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Cusco can work with the ISA Cusco staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Cusco staff can help you figure out how to get involved.
If you are looking for a unique study abroad + volunteer or intern experience, you can combine almost any ISA academic program with an Experiential Learning Abroad Program (ELAP) in Cusco. You also have the option to participate in an internship or volunteer experience independent from an ISA academic program. For more information including complete list of program options, deadlines and fees, please visit www.myelap.com.
Classmates Connecting Cultures
Share your experience with a class back home! This ISA program is for ISA participants that wish to apply what they are learning in Cusco in a collaborative way. Students work with a select classroom via blog entries in a structured program facilitated by ISA. To learn more about this program and how to apply, please visit the Classmates Connecting Cultures page.
Share your experience with your friends and prospective ISA students through the ISA blog! Your blogs will be featured on the ISA website for all to see. To learn more about the ISA Blogs, please visit the ISA Blog page.
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Cusco, cultural happenings, and expat lives.
Al polo, helado(a) – ice cold
Al toque – quickly, right away
Bacán – Cool! Awesome!
Casaca – jacket
Chompa - sweater
Chamba – work
Chambear – to work
Chao/Chau – Goodbye
De hecho – for sure, definitely
Paja – cool, good, pretty (when describing an item)
Vacilar – to have fun, to like
On-Line Dictionary Resource
We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in Spanish.
Listening and Speaking
Check out some different Spanish podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills.
Beware of translation websites…much can be LOST in translation!