Interesting facts about people and society in Peru


Most Peruvians are "mestizo", a term that usually refers to a mixture of Amerindians and Peruvians of European descent. Peruvians of European descent make up about 15% of the population. Pure Amerindians are a large segment of the population, 35%. And most of the Amerindian communities are found in the southern Andes, yet there is a large portion found in the southern and central coast due to the massive immigration of farmers from the southern Andean cities to Lima. There are also smaller numbers of persons of African, Japanese, and Chinese descent.

Peru has the second largest population of people of Japanese descent in Latin America after Brazil. Many of them traveled to Japan in the 80's as the economic situation in Peru got worse. Many came back after the Japanese Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori developed the economy. A large community of people of Chinese descent live in Lima, where Chinese restaurants (chifas) are commonplace. In contrast to the Japanese, the Chinese intermarried much more. Unmixed Asians make up 3% of the population of Peru; the largest percentage of any Latin American nation.

Around 2% of Peruvians are of pure African ancestry and most of them live in coastal cities found south of Lima such as that of the Ica Region, cities like Cañete, Chincha, Ica, Nazca and Acari.

Indigenous Groups
The two major indigenous ethnic groups are the various Quechua-speaking populations, followed closely by the Aymara, as well as several dozen small Amerindian ethnic tribes scattered throughout the country beyond the Andes Mountains and in the Amazon basin.


Most Peruvians are Christian Catholics (more than 75% of the population), although only two-thirds participate in the liturgy and services. Peru's predominant religion has remained with a powerful influence in both state affairs and daily activities after 460 years . Church activities and personnel are, of course, centered in Lima, symbolically located on the east side of the Plaza de Armas (Main Square).

These days, Parish priests and bishops play significant roles in local affairs. The rituals of the Catholic religion, moral principles, and values are deeply entrenched in Peruvian culture.

Catholicism and Native Religiosity

When the Spaniards conquered Peru, they brought their religion but they also found a civilization with strong native cultural traditions. The native inhabitants of Peru hold firm animistic concepts about the spirits and forces that are present in natural settings. The Incas and other Andean people venerated the inti (sun), the pachamama (earth mother), and other gods.

In converting the people to Catholicism, the Spaniards followed a purposeful tactic of syncretism, where they replaced local deities for Christian saints and often used existing temple location as the setting of churches.

As a result, the Catholicism that communities are living is very different from other places of the world.
The native populations are still keeping their notions about the spirits and forces found in natural world such as the great snowpeaks where the apus (lords of sacred places) dwell. Many places are seen as inherently dangerous, emanating airs or essences that can cause illness, and are approached with care.

Moreover, the annual celebrations of village patron saints' days often coincide with important harvest periods and are clearly reinterpretations of preconquest harvest observances disguised as Catholic feast days.

The main religious figures are:

  • El Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles)
  • Santa Rosa de Lima (St. Rose of Lima)
  • San Martin de Porres (St. Martin of Porres)

Other Religions
Recently many diverse churches have appeared, and we can see that the Peruvian population is still very religious and that the percentage of atheists and declared agnostics is very low.

For example, Peru has Protestant churches that are the fruit of the work of North American and European missionaries. We also have Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Adventists, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Hare Krishnas.


Popular celebrations are the product of every towns' traditions and legends. These celebrations gather music, dances, meals and typical drinks. In addition to the religious celebrations like Christmas, Corpus Christi or Holy Week, there are others that express the syncretism of the indigenous peoples' beliefs with Christianity. For example, there is the Alasitas (an Aymara word that, according to some studious people, would mean «buy me») that combines crafts and miniatures fair with dances, meals and a mass. Another example is the peregrination of the Qoyllur Rit'i (Cuzco), that gathers the ancient cult to the apus (tutelary divinities of the mountains) with a peregrination to a Christian Sanctuary in a long trek to the top of a mountain, of more than 5000m above sea level, that is covered with snow. More than 6,000 people make this trek every year, although not all of them come back.

In these popular celebrations, it is very common the consumption of alcohol and a lot of food. Usually every town has its own traditions and they prepare for several months to have their annual feasts. For these activities, there is one person that is “in charge” and this person is called “El Padrino” (The Godfather) and he will spend a lot of money offering delicious food and alcohol to all the inhabitants and also the guests. It is a very memorable experience to be part of these festivities, since for a couple of days, everything is happiness, eating very delicious food, drinking a lot, and of course dancing at the rhythm of the local band or music.

The best carnival of Peru are in:

  • Cajamarca
  • Puno
  • Ayacucho


These are some facts about the peruvian customs. It is better to know the people on this country and learn to appreciate their own characteristics that might or might not be different to yours.

Please know that:

  • Generally you speak to the people saying Tu (which means you in spanish). When people has a high social level or for older people it is better to say “usted: which means You but with respect.
  • The kiss is very common between men and women, and between women (not so common between men). The valid way is: one kiss only on the right cheek. If a man wants to kiss another man he will refuse and usually it is an uncomfortable situation.
  • The Peruvian men is always appreciating the women beauty. Do not get upset if you receive more attention than normal and maybe somebody tells you some phrases. Usually they are telling a girl how beautiful she is.
  • Always respect the Law Personnel (Police Officers). The most common word to call a police officer is “Jefe” (which means boss).
  • If you are told “Gringo” it is ok. It is not a pejorative word and it is not related solely to Americans.
  • If you are in a restaurant and your appetite is less than your food, the waiter will propose you to take the rest of the food as a delivery. Here it is very common. You can later give this to a poor people or children on the street.
  • If a Peruvian person gives you a handshake it means that he appreciates you. If he/she gives you a hug it means that is has a Big appreciation for you.
  • A lot of poor and homeless people are in the street usually waiting for any coin. They offer any service, like cleaning the car, selling you honeys. They do this for a living because they can not find a job.
  • When you take a taxi, let yourself be guided by your own instincts, if you feel the taxi driver is not a good person choose another one. While in the taxi lock the door and close the window. Hide your purse or bag.
  • Generally, you tip in restaurants or in a bar, even if the service is included in the check. If you would like you can give 5% or according to the service received.
  • Even if you have about 20 "No drugs" T-shirts at home, accept that especially people from the country side chew coca leaves. See it as a part of the culture with social and ritual components. And keep in mind: Coca leaves are not cocaine and they are legal. You can try them to experience the culture. If you don't like to chew them, try a “mate de hojas de coca” (mate of coca leaves). Also quite effective against altitude sickness.
  • Taking pictures of the Amerindians is not appreciated. The people think you are taking their souls away. So, ask first and give a little coin. Of course, We are not referring to the Amerindians that are very well-dressed because they do this for a living.
  • Here in Peru, The Thanksgiving day is not celebrated, but The Christmas is celebrated in the 24 of December at night. All the family gathers and waits for midnight to hug each other, open gifts and have dinner and sometimes dances.
  • The driving in Peru is a headache. It is in a defensive way all the time.
  • Some houses in Peru have a skull in their homes, they do it because they found the skull while the house was built and they keep it because there is the feeling that the soul of that person will take care of the house.
  • The best characteristics of peruvians are being hard-working, friendly and happy people.
  • The worst characteristics of peruvians are being unpunctual, conformist and their need to drink beer a lot (not generally speaking).
  • The passion of the Peruvian people is food and their festivities.
  • One of the main economic income of Peru is Tourism, it brings a lot of money that is redistributed and also it brings dreams to all over the country. Even if you do not buy anything, people is very attracted to foreigners and love to speak and meet you, also to speak about your country that probably will never visit. Peruvians are very kind-hearted and welcoming. You will find several opportunities to meet new people and make friends throughout your trip.
  • In general terms it is not advisable to eat food from street vendors, but this is a matter of choice. You will see many that are very dirty and clearly not recommended. But in Miraflores, Barranco, and some places of Lima Downtown, the food served by the Street vendors is delicious, very typical of Peru and not dangerous for your stomach. You have to be guided by your personal criteria in this matter.

Here some of the things that make Peruvians very proud:


  • Ceviche
  • Papa a la Huancaina
  • Lomo Saltado

Things that mark our history

  • Independence
  • The Pacific War
  • The fight against terrorism

Characters that mark our history

  • Tupac Amaru II
  • Miguel Grau
  • Ramon Castilla

The most important monuments

  • Machu Picchu
  • Sacsayhuaman
  • The Nazca Lines

Symbols of the City

  • The Main Square
  • The Government Palace
  • Centro Civico (Civic Center in Lima)

The principal Geographic Area

  • The Andes
  • The Amazon Basin
  • The National Park Manu

The National Drink

  • Inca Kola
  • Chicha Morada
  • Mate de Coca

Language Tips

In Peru, the predominant language is the Spanish. But it is not surprising to find non-European words intruding constantly into any Peruvian conversation:

Cancha, for instance, the Inca word for "courtyard", is still commonly used to refer to most sporting areas. It also means Pop Corn.
Chuma, meaning with no taste, or without enough sugar.
Other quechua words: llama, condor, puma and pampa among them.

Perhaps more interesting is the great wealth of traditional Creole slang – utilized with equal vigor at all levels of society. This complex speech, is difficult to catch without almost complete fluency in Spanish, though one phrase you may find useful:
For directing a taxi driver is “de fresa alfonso” – literally translatable as "of strawberry, Alfonso" but actually meaning "straight on" (de frente al fondo).
The word “Guarda” - literally translatable as “keep with yourself” actually means “watch out/watch your step/Be careful”
The phrase “Un Toque” - literally translatable as “one touch”, means “on moment”.

Also don't use the word "indio", although it's Spanish. For natives, it sounds like "nigger" since it was used by Spanish conquerors.

Another word to be careful with is chola/cholo or cholita, meaning indigenous. This may be used affectionately among indigenous people (it's a very common appellation for a child, for instance) but is offensive coming from an outsider.

English Spanish
No No
Please Por Favor
Where Dónde
When Cuando
What Qué
How much Cuanto
Here Aquí
There Allí
This Este
That Eso
Now Ahora
Later Más tarde
Open Abierto/a
Closed Cerrado/a
With Con
Without Sin
Good Bueno/a
Bad Malo/a
Big Gran(de)
Small Pequeño/a
More Más
Less Menos
Today Hoy
Tomorrow Mañana
Yesterday Ayer
English Spanish
Hello Hola
Goodbye Adiós
Good morning Buenos días
Good afternoon/night Buenas tardes/noches
See you later Hasta luego
Sorry Lo siento/disculpeme
Excuse me Con permiso/perdón
How are you? ¿Como está (usted)?
I (don't) understand (No) Entiendo
You're welcome De nada
Do you speak English? Habla (usted) inglés?
I don't speak Spanish (No) Hablo español
My name is... Me Ilamo...
What's your name? ¿Como se Ilama usted?
I am British Soy británico(a)
American americano/a
Scottish escosés(a)
Spanish English
Apu Mountain god
Barrio Suburb, or sometimes shantytown
Campesino Peasant, someone who works in the fields
Chacra Cultivated garden or plot
Chicha Maize beer, or a form of Peruvian music
Chifa Peruvian-Chinese restaurant
Curandero Healer
Empresa Company
Extranjero Foreigner
Flaco/a Skinny (common nickname)
Gordo/a Fat (common nickname)
Huaca Sacred spot or object
Huaco Pre-Columbian artifact
Huaquero Someone who digs or looks for huacos
Jirón Road
Plata Silver; slang for "cash"
Sierra Mountains
Soroche Altitude sickness
Tienda Shop

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