PERU'S CULTURE SHOWCASED IN SMITHSONIAN FOLKLIFE FESTIVAL

Peru's artists, cultures and famous foods are being featured in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this year on the National Mall as the South American nation aims to boost tourism and cultural exchange.

More than 150 artists and participants traveled from Peru to stage the festival opening Wednesday near the U.S. Capitol. This year's event focuses exclusively on Peru, while past festivals have featured multiple countries.

The Smithsonian-produced festival has drawn a million visitors in the past but is much smaller this year, taking up less space on the grassy mall while much of the park's turf is being restored. Part of the Peruvian showcase will be staged inside the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, which will also host a new exhibition on the Inca trail. The festival runs June 24-28 and July 1-5.

Peru is one of the world's most ecologically and culturally diverse countries, according to curators. The festival theme, "Peru: Pachamama," or mother earth, presents Peru's connections to nature and 12 communities ranging from fishermen to dancers.

Luis Miguel Castilla, Peru's ambassador to the U.S., said visitors may be surprised to discover Peru's fusion of cultures, which includes influences from Africa, China and Japan, along with its Spanish colonial heritage. That makes Peru a melting pot similar to the United States, he said.

"It's not your stereotypical view - what you would think about Peru," Castilla told The Associated Press of the festival program. "Peru is such a diverse country with three main geographical regions but with thousands of communities that have their own identity. I think it's a mixture of music, artwork, storytelling, workshops and obviously our gastronomical treasures."

One section will feature the creation of a braided suspension rope bridge that is rebuilt every year by communities in the Andean province of Canas - a tradition that spans 600 years. Once finished, parts of the bridge will be kept at the Smithsonian.

Concerts and special events will be held each evening. The festival will also feature a section devoted to Peruvian cuisine, including demonstrations of how quinoa and ceviche are prepared. Peru is famous for its fresh seafood and pisco brandy and now is home to some of the world's top restaurants.

Peruvian officials hope the festival might spark increased tourism from U.S. visitors, Castilla said. But they won't be promoting famous Incan sites as Machu Picchu, long the country's primary attraction. Instead, tourism officials are focused on other sites unique to Peru, such as the Amazon jungle, Lake Titicaca and the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world.

About 500,000 U.S. tourists visit Peru each year, and that number has been growing, tourism officials said. The festival, Castilla said, "will really open your appetite to go and learn more."