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. The major coastal cities are Arequipa, Trujillo, Chiclayo and the nation’s capital, Lima. One third of the population lives in the nation’s capital. A further 39.9% of Peru’s population lives in the highlands, while just 11% of Peruvians occupy the lowland forests of the Amazon basin. According to 2016 figures, Peru’s population now exceeds 30 million. According to some estimates, Peru’s population will grow to 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 remains one of the world’s fastest growing economies. 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 one quarter of the population classified as poor. Tourism constitutes an important contribution to Peru’s national income. Since the Chinese economy began to contract in the second decade of the 21st century, the Peruvian economy has experienced a slowdown; however, annual growth remains positive
The Peruvian national currency is the sol, which is divided into one hundred céntimos. The strength of the Peruvian economy has enabled the Sol to maintain a relatively 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 the cities most frequently visited by tourists, where ATMs dispense both 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.
Although there are variations in weather throughout the year, these are not significant enough to adversely affect travel within Peru, and it is possible to visit at any time of year.
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 has three different geographical zones, each with its own climate; the weather can be divided into two seasons – wet and dry – though this varies depending on the geographical region.
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: The coast is predominantly desert and is home to Peru’s major cities and its major road, the Pan-American Highway. December to April is summertime, with temperatures from 25 to 35 C. From May to November the temperature drops slightly and it is cloudier, while Lima receives sea fog that makes the city gray, humid and cold beyond the summer months.
Highlands: The Andes are composed of two ranges – the eastern and western cordilleras. Huascarán is Peru’s highest peak at 6770 meters / 22,200 feet. April to October is the dry season – hot and dry during the day, around 20C-25C / 65-77 F, and cold and dry at night. November to April is the wet season -dry and clear most mornings with some rainfall in the afternoon, and very often heavy rains at night, especially from December to April. The average temperature in the mornings is 18C/64F, dropping at night to 15C/59F.
The jungle: To the east of the Andes lies the Amazon Basin, a lowland region known to biologists as subtropical humid forest, which receives less rainfall than tropical forest. The climate here 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 (with an average of 26 rainy days a month). Annual average rainfall is 2500 millimeters. Animals can be seen throughout the year and they often go to rivers and lakes to drink during the dry season. The fruit season is during and after the rainy season, and birds and monkeys are particularly active at this time.
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 center-right president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, succeeded Ollanta Humala in 2016. Markets reacted positively to his election, confident that his government would represent a continuation of the business friendly policies of the past twenty years. The Peruvian economy, including the tourism sector, has continued to thrive since he took office.