Peru at a glance

English narration

En Español Texto en Español

Red for the blood shed by our heroes. White because our snowy mountains


Geography: Peru renowned as the land of the Incas, has an area of 1,285,216 square kms, and it is on the Pacific Coast of north-central South America.It is the third largest country in South America, behind Brazil and Argentina. Peru is considered a tropical country.

Peru's Map

It has three major regions, a narrow coastal belt, the wide Andean mountains, and the Amazon rainforest. The coastal strip is mostly desert; however the major cities are found in that area which are connected by the Pan-American highway. The rivers running down the steep slopes of the Andes, generate narrow oases (valleys) where most of the agriculture centres seat.

Distinctive and exotic plants and animals inhabit these three different regions. From llamas, alpacas, vicunas and condors to piranhas and toucans; Peru is a naturalist's paradise.

The Andes rise rapidly from the coastland. Just 100 km inland the Andes reach 6000 meters (19,688 feet.) The Huascaran is the highest mountain with 6768 meters (22,208 feet.) Most of Peru's Andes lie between 3,000 and 4,000 meters, separated by vertiginous canyons.
Driving in the mountain roads in that area requires much expertise and a lot of guts, since minor roadways are two way traffic, but only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle. These roads have passing zones only at certain intervals, so many times a vehicle has to back up for a good distance, to let the other vehicle pass. The rule is that the vehicle running uphill has the right of way, since it would be very dangerous for the driver to backup the vehicle downhill, and keep control of the vehicle because of the steepy roadway grades.
Once crossing to the other side of the Andes, the east slopes are mostly green because of rainfalls, opposite with the west slopes which are dry. However the east slope has very few roads. The best way to penetrate the Amazon Basin is either by river or air.

Peru is the site of many great civilizations, that makes the country so fascinating. From the ancient Inca capital, Cuzco, the lost city of Machu Picchu, to the mysterious Nazca lines, or the vast adobe ruins of Chan Chan, as well the opulents cities founded by the Spanish conquerors. Undoubtly the scenery is the most spectacular you can find in South America.

Archaeology and History: The famous Inca civilization is only one part of the whole archaelogy. Before the Incas, Peru had the pre-Columbian cultures, some preceding the Incas by many centuries.

To give a detailed chronological order of these cultures would be a difficulta task, since none of them had a written language. All the information has been obtained from archaelogical excavations. In addition one culture succeded another, bringing its own values, as the Spanish did when they conquered the Inca Empire. The only difference is that the Spaniards left written records.

Peru is unique in South America for its archaelogical wealth. Travellers enjoy visiting centuries-old ruins. The ceramics and textiles that these cultures left behind are one of the most important sources of information about the pre-Columbian inhabitants. You can see these relics in Peru's museums.

The Stone Age: The first inhabitants of Peru were nomadic hunters, and gatherers who roamed the territory in bands. They lived in caves. Until almost 4000 BC, cultural development consisted only of stone implements for hunting. They learned how to make fires, they wore animal skins, and made simple tools and weapons mostly from stone and bones.

Early Agriculture:About 4000 BC, the inhabitants learned to plant seeds, improving crops by means of weeding. They settled mostly in the coastal areas, that were wetter than today. They cultivated cotton, chilli peppers, beans, squashes and corn. They used the cotton for clothing, using the techique of twining, and years later weaving. The people lived in one-room stone-lined pit dwellings. Jewelry made of bones, shells were used.

Early Formative Period: The early period from about 1250 BC to 850 BC, known from remains found in the Viru Valley and Guanape Area south of Trujillo (located on the north coast). In this period Ceramics were developed from rude undecorated pots to sculptured coloured pots of high quality. Weaving, fishing, and horticulture improved.

Chavin Culture: This period, from 850 BC to 300 BC, is named after the site of Chavin de Huantar, east of Huaraz which is one of the most ancient shrines in the Americas. It is termed a 'horizon' due to its artistic and religious influences can be observed in other contemporary cultures. The Chavin influenced an area covering most of the northern Peru's highlands and coast. It is believed they worshipped the jaguars, since this animal appears in many of their pottery. This period represents the greatest early development in weaving, pottery, agriculture.

Pachacamac. Photo by KRG Late formative period: Around 300 BC the Chavin culture misteriously dissapeared. Over the next 500 years other cultures were important. Some of these are "The Salinar culture", located in the Chicama Valley, near Trujillo, and "The Paracas Necropolis" south of Lima. The Salinar ceramics show advanced firing techniques. The textiles of Paracas are considered the finest pre-Columbian textiles in the Americas.

Regional Development: This period, from 100 AD to 700 AD, was marked by independent develop in several areas. Pottery, metalwork and weavings reached a high point of technology throughout Peru. This period is called often the "Classic" and sometimes the "Florescent". In this period two cultures were very important, the Moche that was established in the city of Trujillo, and the Nazca in the south coast. They recorded the ways of life on their ceramics. The Moche culture also built massive pyramids. Examples of these are the temples of the Sun and the Moon, near Trujillo. The Moche left a stunning record. Preserved in ceramics, weavings, and metalwork is an exquisite portrait of ritual, daily life, and even unusual individuals, rivaling the art of the European Renaissance that came a thousand years later. The Moche were embroilled in frequent territorial wars. Eventually, scientifics believe, they were absorved by the Wari, Peru's first agressively expansionist state. The culture of Nazca made the petrogliphs known as the Nazca Lines in the coastal desert.

The Wari Empire: Wari was the capital and the name of the first empire known in the Andes. Unlike the Chavin culture, the Wari expansion was not only limited to the diffusion of religion and artistic influence. The Wari were military conquerors. They built and maintained important outposts throughout much of Peru. Some of these places were Piquillacta near Cuzco, Cajamarquilla near Lima, and Wilkawain near Huaraz. The Wari subdued the cultures they conquered, by enforcing their own values. This happened from about 700 to 1100 AD. The wari influence was in the art, technology and architecture of most areas in Peru. When they conquered other cultures they forbade any existing tradition. When colonized cities began to grow, or with the arrival of other rivals, the Wari, at their peak, began to decline. Anyhow the Wari were also overthrown at one time and their culture also obliterated.

The Regional States: Around 1100 AD the Wari had been overthrown by other groups in their areas. During 300 to 400 years these separate regional states thrived. One of the best known in that area was the Chimu Kingdom that was located where the city of Trujillo whose capital was the huge adobe city known as Chan Chan, which is believed to be largest adobe city in the world.
Almost contemporary with the Chimu state was the Chachapoyas culture, located by the Utcubamba River in the Department of Amazonas.
The Chancay people just north of the capital of Peru, Lima was also contemporary of the Chimu. Between Lima and Ica was the Ica-Chincha culture. It seems that there were also some tribes living near the altiplano of the Lake Titicaca. They left some funerary towers. They can be seen at Sillustani. Another culture were the Chankas who lived in the Aprurimac/Ayacucho area. Also existed the Kingdom of Cuzco, the predecessors of the Inca Empire.

The Inca Empire: Despite all its greatness the Inca Empire barely existed over a century. Prior to 1430 the Incas ruled over only the valley of Cuzco. They had been at war with the Chankas for some time, but finally defeated the Chankas in a major victory in 1430. This was the beginning of a great military expansion. The Inca Empire conquered and incorporated most of the cultures in the area stretching from southern Colombia to Central Chile. The Incas imposed their way of life on the peoples they conquered. By the time the Spanish arrived most of the Andean area had been thorougbly homogenized by the Inca.

The Spanish Conquest: In November 1526, Francisco Pizarro headed south from Panama. By 1528 Pizarro has explored as far as the Santa River in Peru. He learned about the richness of the Inca Empire and returned to Spain to raise money and recruit men for the conquest. On 1530 he landed on the Ecuadorean coast and began his march towards overland. On 1532 he founded the first Spanish town in Peru which he called San Miguel de Piura. On November 1532 he reached Cajamarca, where The Inca Atahualpa was residing at that time, after a civil war with his brother Huascar whom he defeated and killed. With few men Pizarro captured Atahualpa, taking advantage of the armor suits and the horses that were unknown in America. After Atahualpa was captured Pizarro asked for a ranson on pieces of gold. With the excuse that Atahualpa failed to gather the ranson and fearing a revolt, Pizarro executed the Inca Atahualpa.

Government: Peru is currently a democratic country, but this has not been all the time. Like many other South American countries from time to time, it has dictatorships, even sometimes are disguised behind the democracy mask.

Anyhow Peru got its independence from Spain on July 28, 1821 when The Libertador General Jose San Martin proclaimed the independence from a balcony in the City of Huaura

Capital: Lima. Founded January 18, 1535. Located south of the equator.

Principal exports: minerals, petroleum, fish products, coffee, cotton, sugar, wool.

Official languages: Spanish and Quechua. Aymara also is spoken.

Visit Peru with your heart open. You'll find yourself captured as much by the Peruvians warmth and spirit as you are fascinated by their land and culture.

Climate: It can be divided into two seasons, wet and dry, although the weather varies depending of the region. During the coastal summer (late december to early April) the sky is often clear and weather is hot and sticky. This is the beach season.
In he second season which is the remaining of the year, the garúa, (coastal mist) moves in and the sun is rarely seen, plus the temperature drops, but not as cold that north of USA. (Basically it is the reverse of USA weather.) April marks the beginning of autumn.
As you go inland, even few kilometers you leave behind the coastal mist. Just less than 50 kms (30 miles) off Lima you can find the sun in areas like Chosica or Cieneguilla, where people go in the weekends escaping from the nasty garúa.
In the Andes proper, you begin experiencing the wet and dry seasons. The dry season is from May to September. Although at that altitude it can be cold at night, with ocassional freezing temperatures in Cuzco (3326 metres) or Arequipa, the dry weather means beautiful sunshine during the day. The wet season in the mountains is from October to May, but it really doesn't get wet until late January.
On the eastern slopes of the Andes the drier months are the same as in the highlands, but the wet season tends to be more pronounced. The wettest months are January to April and roads receive a lot of damage, because of lanslides or flooding. Should you have to drive during that period, do it with a lot cautioneous.

Customs: Objects of archeological or historic artistic value may not be taken out of the country. However there are plenty replicas that you can buy.

Time: Lima time coincides with Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. and is five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time,

Drugs: Peru has a strict and comprehensive law forbidding all possession of, use of and dealing in drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. Violators are not deported, but are jailed under Peruvian law. There is not bail. You are guilty until proven the contrary.

Your wallet and your documents: Watch out for pickpockets and thieves, specially in big cities such Lima, even Arequipa. Write your passport number and keep it in a safe place, just in case. Don't keep money or passport in backpacks. Do not leave purses, cameras unattended.

Currency: Almost every place accept U.S. dollars. The change is in soles, approximately 3.50 soles per a dollar. You can exchange in commercial banks or in the streets.

Transportation: Continental flyes from Houston to Lima every day. For internal flights Aero Continente and Aerocondor are the main domestic carriers, and provide extensive coverage. Make provisions to pay an 18% tax on domestic flights, but you can avoid most of this if you buy tickets abroad. There's a US$4 departure tax on domestic flights. Save money also for your return. Departure tax is a US$25.
Public buses are the usual mode of transport over long distances. They are fairly cheap, frequent and relatively comfortable, at least on major routes. Make sure to have your passport handy to be shown at police checkpoints.
Local buses are slow, cheap and crowded. Most are called "Combis." Competition is high, so they will do anything to get you on it. Try to seat next to the door if possible.
Taxi fares need to be haggled over; there are no metered cabs. Drivers are independent.

Peruvian cuisine and drinks: In the coast specially in Lima start with "ceviche", shellfish and raw fish marinated in lemon juice Try tropical fruits such as Chirimoya (custard apple), a large green sweet and fleshy fruit, it is delicious, Lúcuma, a small brown, nut-like fruit, they are good in ice cream and cakes. Tuna, the sweet, crisp fruit from cactus. And of course try the official drink from Peru, born and made in Peru "Pisco". Imitations an false claims from other countries are non-sense. We recommend Pisco Sour.

The land of purple potatoes. Bill Pitzer and Earle Holland wrote in the New York Times; Peru is the world's potato capital. Two-thirds of the world's potato crops originate in Europe, but the production there cannot compare with the diversity of tubers found in this South American country.
They range in color from purple to blue, from yellow to brown. Sizes and textures vary as well. Some are smalls as nuts; others can be as large as oranges.
The taste of different potatoes varies broadly, explaining why these vegetables are used in all kind of dishes from appetizers to desserts. Peruvian potatoes date back to the massive Incan empire. In the Incan heyday in the 15th century, native farmers learned how to carve terraces out of steep hillsides of the Andes and adapt to the various climates of the region. When the Spanish conquistadors overran the area, they demanded that natives raise other European crops-wheat, barley, beans and carrots- instead of relying so strongly on potatoes. Now scientists are working to reclaim some of the lost potato crops in hopes that potatoes will become a staple for the world's hungry.

Most important cities

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Updated on January 11, 2007

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