International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987


Culture Corner

Peruvian Culture

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.

Monuments & Must-Sees

Plaza de Armas
This is the spot where Francisco Pizarro founded the city in 1535. The north side is dominated by the Government Palace (rebuilt in 1937), home of Peru's president. You can watch the changing of the guard here at 11:45 each morning.

On the east side of the Plaza you'll find the Cathedral. Construction of this church began in 1564 and was completed in 1622. Unfortunately an earthquake reduced it to rubble in 1746, and it was subsequently rebuilt and completed by 1755. The supposed remains of Francisco Pizarro lie in a small chapel, the first on the right of the entrance, in a glass coffin.

Torre Tagle Palace
This mansion built in 1735 is considered the city's best surviving example of colonial architecture in Lima. It has a lovely façade with a stone doorway between two beautifully carved balconies, excellent furniture, tile work and paintings.

Museo del Oro del Peru (Gold Museum) y Armas del mundo (Weapons of the World)

The Gold Museum is a large private collection including examples of pre-Columbian gold, silver, ceramics, weavings and mummies. Upstairs is one of the world's largest collections of weapons.

Museo de Arqueologia, Antropologia e Historia (Archaeology, Anthropology and History Museum)

Houses one of the largest collections of artifacts from pre-Hispanic cultures in Peru, although it has lost some of its best pieces to the Museo de la Nación recently. This museum was once a stately colonial mansion that was the home of the leaders of the struggle for independence, José de San Martin and Simon Bolivar. Exhibits include the Tello Obelisk and Estela de Raymondi from the site of Chavin de Huantar.

Museo de la Nacion San Borja
This modern concrete building houses a collection of exhibits, which offers an excellent overview of Peru's archeological heritage, concentrating on the various pre-Columbian (before Columbus) cultures.

Mercado Indio (Indian Market)
If you've forgotten to buy everyone at home a present after visiting Peru then this maybe your last opportunity to do so. This large collection of market stalls sell crafts only, including woolen and alpaca clothing, carved wood objects and jewelry. The handicrafts markets located between the 6th and 10th block of Av. La Marina in Pueblo Libre is a similar, slightly cheaper option.

Cultural Activity Suggestions

Lima has endless activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Lima. You can do many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Lima, different sponsored cultural activities will be announced throughout your program abroad.

Plaza de Armas
Participate in a walking tour through the Plaza de Armas in Lima and familiarize yourself with the Governors Palace and Congress, the Cathedral, and the Municipality.

Folkloric Regional Dance Showcases
Attend a regional dance showcase and learn about the folkloric dances of Peru and other Peruvian customs.

Catacombs of San Francisco Church and Convent
Learn what religious life was like during Spanish colonial times by touring the San Francisco Cathedral and its catacombs.

Paragliding in Miraflores
Paraglide over Miraflores, one of the upscale residential areas of Lima, to experience a fantastic view of the Lima coast and Larcomar.

National Museum
Tour the National Museum, which showcases pre-Spanish life and contains reproductions of Peru's major archaeological sites.

Inca Traditions
Share in the traditions of the Inca people, who continue to speak their native tongue, Quechua, and dress in their native garments, consisting of long colorful skirts or "polleras".

Residential Areas
Familiarize yourself with the history, personality, and daily life of the different neighborhoods of the city through guided walking tours of various "barrios" in Lima.

Cultural Immersion

Language Exchanges/Intercambios
Students will be given the opportunity to meet local and international students wishing to share their knowledge of Spanish and learn English in exchange. This activity, based on student interest, is a great way to get to know other students of Lima, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and Peruvian student counterparts.

Volunteering Opportunities
While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Lima can work with the ISA Lima staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Lima staff can help you figure out how to get involved.

ISA Service-Learning
ISA Service-Learning takes students beyond the classroom by providing them with a unique opportunity to work at local non-profit organizations, municipal offices, schools, or clinics abroad. Students may choose to add service-learning to their Semester or Summer ISA academic program. Please see the ISA Service-Learning website for specific placement options offered in Lima.

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 Lima 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.

ISA Blog
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.

Cultural Blogs
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others? experiences in Lima, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Peruvian Slang
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

Verb Conjugation
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!