Location and surface area
Peru covers an area of 1,285,126 square kilometers, making it the third largest country in South America. The Republic of Peru is an Andean state located in the central western part of South America, bordered by Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Chile in the south and Brazil and Bolivia to the east, while its long western coast is bathed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Around 52.1% of Peru’s population lives on the coast, in cities like Arequipa, Trujillo, Chiclayo and Lima, with a further 39.9% in the highlands and just 11% in the lowland forests of the Amazon basin. One third of the population lives in the nation’s capital. According to United Nations figures, by 2011 its rapidly growing population had risen to 29.4 million. According to some estimates, Peru’s population will reach 42 million by 2050.
Located on the country’s central Pacific coast, the Peruvian capital, Lima, is home to around one third of the population. Together with the port of Callao, the population currently stands at almost nine million. It was founded by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535, as “the City of Kings”, and before rapid urban growth transformed it from the 1960s onwards, it was known as “the Garden City of the Americas”. Most travelers to Peru tend to spend very little time in the capital, although it boasts a number of tourist attractions. It is home to several excellent museums that provide a very useful overview of Peruvian history, its historic center contains fine colonial and republican era buildings, and the city’s culinary tradition incorporates the very best of Peru’s world famous gastronomy.
Peru is a constitutional democratic republic with a multiparty system. The head of state is the president, and he or she is elected for a five-year term. The congress has 130 members, also elected for a five-year term.
The 1990s saw rapid economic growth, based on improved socioeconomic stability and considerable foreign investment in the minerals sector. Peru is currently one of the world’s fastest growing economies, having experienced several consecutive years of annual growth in excess of 5%. Its accelerated growth is inextricably tied to demand for its primary resources (copper, gold, zinc, etc.), particularly the minerals required by the Chinese economy. The World Bank’s current classification of the Peruvian economy is upper middle income, although very little of the wealth generated over the last twenty years has filtered down, and the Peruvian economy remains far from egalitarian, with around 31% of the population classified as poor. Tourism represents an important contribution to Peru’s national income.
The Peruvian national currency is the Nuevo Sol, which is divided into one hundred Céntimos. The strength of the Peruvian economy has enables the Sol to maintain a stable exchange rate with the world’s major currencies in recent years, specifically the US dollar and the Euro. Currency exchange offices are available in all cities, and ATMs dispense US dollars and local currency.
The main language spoken in Peru is Latin American Spanish, although in the highlands the rural population speaks Quechua, the language of the Incas, while several indigenous languages are still spoken in the lowland forests of the Amazon basin.
Its rugged geography means that Peru has an extremely diverse climate, with 84 of the world’s 117 climate zones existing within its borders, ranging from the deserts of the coast to the snows of the high Andes and the equatorial conditions of the eastern lowland forests. The seasons can be divided into rainy season and dry season. The rainy season begins in September, with the rainiest months in both the highlands and the lowland forests being January and February. The driest months are April to August, when the weather in the highlands is characterized by warm, sunny days and cold nights.
Peru’s transport infrastructure has improved considerably over the past twenty years. The Pan-American Highway runs along the entire Pacific coast and is the nation’s main road. The cities of the coast and highlands are now linked by good roads and bus services and efficient, with modern sleeper buses available on most routes. All of Peru’s major cities are linked to the capital by frequent scheduled flights.
Some foreign nationals have expressed concern regarding safety. We can assure you that you will feel comfortable and safe at all times while traveling with Andean Adventures Peru, although of course the usual precautions apply when traveling anywhere in the world. Peru experienced civil unrest during the 1980s and early 90s, but for more than a decade now it has been a safe travel destination.
While Peru has 84 of the world’s 117 climate zones existing within its borders, ranging from the deserts of the coast to the snows of the high Andes and the equatorial conditions of the eastern lowland forests, its geography is usually divided into three main areas: the desert Coast bordered by the Pacific Ocean; the Highlands of the Andes; and the Lowland Forests of the Amazon basin. Known as an Andean country, in fact around 60% of Peru’s land area is composed of Amazon forests. Peru’s seas are among the most fertile in the world.
Coast: Peru’s Pacific coast is a desert region and home to the country’s major cities and its main road, the Pan-American Highway. Summer is from December to April, with temperatures ranging from 25 to 35 Celsius. From May to November, temperatures drop a little and there is more cloud cover, particularly in Lima, where skies tend to be gray for much of the year, beyond the hot and humid summer months.
Highlands: Peru's highest mountain (and the highest peak in the southern hemisphere) is Mount Huascarán (6770 m / 22,200 ft). The famous Inca Trail is located in the Vilcabamba mountain range, where the highest peak is SalKantay (6272 m / 20,577 ft). The dry season in the Andes is from April to October, when conditions are hot and dry during the day (around 20C-25C / 65-77 F) and cold and dry at night (often below freezing). The wet season runs from November to April (dry and clear most mornings, with rainfall in the afternoon, and very often heavy rains at night, particularly from December to April), with average daytime temperatures of 18C (64F) falling at night to around 15C (59F). The best time to visit Peru’s Andean region is during the dry season, which coincides with summertime in the northern hemisphere.
Amazon basin: The eastern half of the country is dominated by the Amazon basin. The jungle is technically known as sub-tropical humid forest, which means it receives less rainfall than tropical forest and the climate is warm and humid. The driest season is from June to October, with an average of seven rainy days a month. During the rest of the year there is more rain, with January to March the rainiest months. The annual average rainfall in this region is 2500 mm. Wildlife can be observed throughout the year, often coming down to rivers and streams to drink during the dry season. Birds and monkeys are particularly active during and immediately after the rainy season, which is the best time for fruit.
Peru: A Brief History
Peruvian territory has been inhabited for more than ten thousand years. The first settlers lived as hunter gatherers. The earliest agricultural techniques were developed around 4000 BC, while the first pottery appeared around 1250 BC. Chavín culture emerged around 750 BC, characterized by a complex social structure and enormous ceremonial buildings. From around 400 BC there was rapid growth in Andean civilization, with the emergence of the Chimú and Nasca cultures and important advances in weaving, metalwork and irrigation technology. Around 600 AD the Tiahuanaco culture emerged around Lake Titicaca, and by the 12th century the Quechua speaking culture we call the Inca had appeared in the Cusco valley.
The Inca state was overseen by a centralized system of government under the sovereign, or Inca, who claimed to be descended from the Inca sun god, Inti. The Inca people were skilled in the fields of government, mathematics, astronomy, architecture and art. They excelled in hydraulic engineering and were skilled farmers, adapting the environment to their needs through irrigation and expanding their agricultural frontier through the construction of terracing.
When the empire created by the Incas was still less than 100 years old, and while it was severely weakened by a bitter civil war, the Spanish colonization of Peru began. The first Spaniards arrived in 1531 under the command of Francisco Pizarro, who captured the Inca Atahualpa at Cajamarca, in northern Peru, in 1532. The first Spanish conquistadors entered Cusco on January 15th, 1533. Lima was established as Peru's capital on January 18th, 1535, and named the "City of Kings" by Francisco Pizarro.
During the colonial period there were a number of insurrections against Spanish rule. The most significant were those led by Santos Atahualpa in 1742 and Tupac Amaru II, from 1780 to 1781. It was not until 1810 that the struggle for independence from Spain saw its full expression, and independence was finally proclaimed on July 28th 1821, after the victories of the generals San Martin and Bolivar at the battle of Junín, and General Sucre at Ayacucho.
During the 1980s, Peru experienced a period of severe national economic crisis and a growing threat from insurgent groups. The Shining Path guerrilla movement was eventually defeated in 1992, with the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzmán.
The 1990s saw rapid economic growth, based on improved socioeconomic stability and considerable foreign investment in the minerals sector. However, political corruption remained a concern, and after a wave of popular protests and public scandals the president Alberto Fujimori was finally forced to resign in 2000. Fresh elections were held in April 2001 and Alejandro Toledo was elected. He presided over a period of steady economic growth, and by the time he handed power to Alan Garcia in 2006, the economy was growing at around 5% annually. Peru’s economic growth has continued apace, although little of that wealth filters down to the more than 50% of Peruvians who continue to live below the poverty line. A new president, Ollanta Humala, was elected in 2011. Markets reacted negatively at first to his election, fearing that his political agenda would endanger growth, but he has vowed to continue the economic policies established by the two previous governments, and the economy, including the tourism sector, has continued to thrive since he took office.