Naming more than a handful of Peruvian sport stars, let alone events, may be a challenge for even the most avid sports fan. Peruvian successes on the world stage have been rare in the last few decades, due largely to a lack of investment. Nevertheless, sport remains an integral part of Peruvian culture, from the passion of the soccer field to the controversy of the bullfighting arena.
Soccer, or fútbol, is the most popular sport in Peru. Sadly, Peruvian soccer successes have been rare since the glory days of the 1970s. A lack of grassroots investment has seen the national team battling with Bolivia for the bottom spot in World Cup qualifying. Peruvian men are still obsessed with the game, so you’ll find plenty of opportunities to play during your travels.
- Famous Players: Nolberto Solano, Juan Manuel “Loco” Vargas, Claudio Pizarro
- Top Teams: Alianza Lima, Sporting Cristal, Universitario de Deportes
Soccer is very much a male-dominated sport in Peru, while the female population takes control of the volleyball courts. The national women’s team is a major player on the world scene, occupying 15th spot in the FIVB Senior World Rankings as of January 2011. At a recreational level, volleyball provides a sporting and social activity for women of all ages. Some “friendly” contests become quite serious, particularly when the female competitors decide to play for money.
- Famous Players: Cecilia Tate, Gabriela Perez de Solar, Natalia Málaga
Surfing is popular along the length of Peru’s extensive coastline, with some world-famous waves in the north near Máncora and Puerto Chicama. Thanks to the Pan-American Highway, surfers can easily travel the length of the coast, stopping off at Peru’s various surfing hotspots.
- Famous Peruvian Surfers: Felipe Pomar (1965 World Surfing Champion), Sofia Mulanovich (2004 World Open Champion, Surfers' Hall of Fame 2007)
Tennis remains a niche sport in Peru, and one typically played by affluent city-dwellers. Public courts are rare outside the big cities, but you can often find a court or two in resorts and recreation centers. Despite the game’s niche status, Peru has still managed to produce some notable tennis players, including:
- Jaime Yzaga: ATP World Ranking of 18 (1989), defeated Pete Sampras in the 1994 US Open
- Luis Horna: Winner of the men's doubles title in the 2008 French Open
Boxing and Martial Arts
Boxing is a minor sport in terms of participation, but the rise of Kina Malpartida has sent television viewing figures through the roof. In 2009, Malpartida won the WBA World Championship super featherweight title, followed by a string of successful defenses. She quickly became a media sensation in Peru, despite the general lack of interest in the sport as a whole.
Taekwondo doesn’t have such a popular figurehead, but the sport has been growing in popularity since the 1970s. Taekwondo clubs are common throughout Peru.
Peru’s main domestic motor racing event is the Caminos del Inca Rally, an annual rally event attended by some of the world’s top drivers. The route starts in Lima, passing through Huancayo, Ayacucho, Cusco and Arequipa before heading back to the capital. 2012 and 2013 have both seen stages of the famous Dakar Rally in Peru.
Motorbikes outnumber cars in many Peruvian towns, so the rise of motocross was almost inevitable. Off-road circuits vary in size and structure, but the events are always exciting. If you have the chance, try to catch a mototaxi competition -- each rickshaw has one driver and one copilot clinging to the back seat.
Bullfighting is a popular spectator sport in Peru, despite public opinion showing signs of a shift from universal respect to revulsion. In 2008, a poll conducted by the University of Lima found that 79.4 percent of Lima residents disagreed with bullfighting, according to the Spanish-language Peru21 website. Opinion in the Peruvian capital is not always in line with the provinces, but it’s a telling figure nonetheless.
- Main Event: Bullfights at Lima’s Plaza de Toros de Acho during the annual Señor de los Milagros festival in October and November
Most Peruvian towns have at least one cockfighting arena. These bouts of small-scale gruesomeness often attract large crowds, with the assembled masses placing bets on the unfortunate gallos de pelea (fighting cocks). As with bullfighting, the merits of cockfighting tend to divide opinion among Peruvians. Cockfighting events are legal and completely open to outsiders, so feel free to attend if you’re curious about cockfighting culture -- but it's not a pretty sight.