It's the multiple layers of great civilizations which makes Peru so fascinating. You can wander around colonial cities which have preserved the legacy of the Spanish conquistadors, visit the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco, explore the lost city of Machu Picchu and ponder the enigma of the Nazca Lines (answers on a postcard please). You don't have to be in Peru too long to realize that the 'New World' had a rich and complex cultural life thousands of years before Pizarro turned up wearing funny clothing.
All of this exists in a country with some of the most spectacular and varied scenery in South America. The Peruvian Andes are arguably the most beautiful on the continent and the mountains are home to millions of highland Indians who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and maintain a traditional way of life. The verdant Amazon Basin, which occupies half of Peru, is one of the world's top 10 biodiversity 'hot spots' - a species-rich area of tropical rain forest that will make your head spin when you start to learn about its ecology. And the coastal deserts, with their huge rolling dunes, farmland oases and fishing villages, are underappreciated by travelers but offer the opportunity to get off the Gringo Trail in a big way. But you don't have to be a zoologist, an anthropologist or a mountain climber to enjoy Peru, all you need is a keen eye, a love of landscape, an interest in history and a very good money belt.
Warning: Lima and traditional tourist areas such as Cuzco and Machu Picchu are considered safe, but care should be exercised at all times. Areas where the government is conducting counter-insurgency campaigns have been designated 'emergency areas' and should not be entered. The Upper Huallaga Valley in the Amazon, home to drug barons and Shining Path guerrillas, is definitely off limits. All nationalities should contact their embassy on arrival for a briefing on the security situation, with particular reference to their planned itinerary.
In 1998, Ecuador and Peru negociated a settlement to their long-running border dispute. Peru retained a majority of the region in question, save for a 247-acre portion known as Tiwintza, a parcel sucessfully defended by Ecuadorian troops in the 1995 skirmishes.
In the wake of Alberto Fujimori's controversial re-election 28 May 2000, the US State Department posted a public announcement warning that political demonstrations are becoming 'larger and more frequent.'
Full country name: Republic of Peru
Area: 1,285,215 sq km (501,234 sq mi)
Population: 27,012,899 (1.9% growth)
Capital city: Lima (pop 8 million)
People: 54% Indian, 32% Mestizo (mixed European and Indian descent), 12% Spanish descent, 2% Black, Asian minority
Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Religion: Over 90% Roman Catholic, small Protestant population
President: Alejandro Toledo
Prime Minister: Roberto Dañino
GDP: US$111.8 billion
GDP per head: US$4,300
Annual growth: 1.8%
Major industries: Pulp, paper, coca leaves, fishmeal, steel, chemicals, oil, minerals,cement, auto assembly, steel, shipbuilding
Major trading partner: USA, Japan, UK, China, Germany, Columbia
Visas: Most travellers do not need visas; most nationals are granted a 90-day stay and it can be extended
Health risks: Altitude sickness, cholera, hepatitis, malaria (in the lowlands), rabies and typhoid. A yellow fever vaccination is essential if you plan to visit the eastern slopes of the Andes or the Amazonian Basin
Time: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
Electricity: 220V, 60Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
Peru's peak tourist season is from June to August, which is the dry season in the highlands, and this is the best time to go if you're interested in hiking. Travellers do visit the highlands year-round, though the wettest months, January to April, make trekking a muddy proposition. Many of the major fiestas occur in the wettest months and continue undiminished in spite of heavy rain.
On the coast, Peruvians visit the beaches during the sunny months from late December through March, although few beaches are particularly enticing. The rest of the year, the coast is clothed in mist. In the eastern rainforests, it naturally rains a lot. The wettest months are December through April, though travellers visit year-round since it rarely rains for more than a few hours and there's still plenty of sunshine to enjoy.
LAND & CLIMATE
Region: South America
Neighbours: Peru is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean.
Size Comparison: Slightly larger than Colombia
Much of it dominated by the Andes, Peru is usually divided into three topographical regions: the coastal plain, the sierra, and the montaña.
The semiarid coastal plain stretches the entire length of the country. A number of rivers flow through the region to the Pacific. The sierra, with its lofty plateaus, deep gorges and valleys, and towering mountain ranges of the Andes, runs parallel to the coastal plain. The main range is the Cordillera Occidental.
The sierra covers about 30 percent of Peru’s land area, crossing the country from southeast to northwest. Several of the highest peaks in the world are found herenotably Nevado Huascarán (6,768 metres/22,205 feet), the highest in Peru.
In the northeast, the sierra slopes downward to a vast tropical plain, which extends to the Brazilian border and forms part of the Amazon Basin. The forested sierran slopes, or selvas, and a somewhat less elevated region are collectively called the montaña.
Major Rivers and Lakes
Peru is drained by three main systems. The first comprises about 50 small streams that rise in the sierra and descend steeply to the coastal plain. The second is made up of the tributaries of the mighty Amazon River in the montaña region. The third is Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world (about 3,810 metres/12,500 feet above sea level), which drains into Lago Poopó in Bolivia via the Río Desaguadero.
The Río Napo, Río Tigre, and Río Pastaza rise in Ecuador and flow into Peru. The latter two rivers are tributaries of the Río Marañón, and the Río Napo empties into the Amazon. The Río Putumayo marks the border between Peru and Colombia.
Weather and Climate
The disparate climate of Peru ranges from tropical in the montaña to arctic in the highest reaches of the Andes.
The coastal climate is moderated by winds blowing from the cool offshore Humboldt Current. Temperatures average about 20°C (about 68°F) throughout the year. The coastal plain is dry, however, receiving less than 51 millimetres (less than 2 inches) of precipitation each year. Trade winds from the east carry most of the rain to the cordillera. Mist-laden clouds, known as guara, shroud many of the sierran slopes from June to October, providing enough moisture to support grasslands.
In the sierra, the temperature ranges seasonally from about -7° to 21°C (about 20° to 70°F). Rainfall is usually scant, but in some areas heavy rains fall from October to April.
The montaña is extremely hot and humid. The prevailing easterlies blowing across the region gather moisture that is later deposited on the eastern Andean slopes. Annual rainfall in some districts averages as much as 3,810 millimetres (150 inches). Most of this rain, which mainly falls from November through April, eventually drains back to the montaña.
Because of the tropical setting and varied topography of Peru, the country’s biodiversity is tremendous. Peru contains over three-quarters of all the types of life zones found on Earth. Human impact on the environment is severe in places, however, and some key habitats are endangeredparticularly the tropical and temperate coastal deserts and the puña, a type of high-elevation grassland. The spectacled bear, the giant otter, and the jaguar are just three species of Peru’s vast fauna that are considered threatened.
The rapidly growing population of Peru is unevenly distributed, concentrated in the mountains and in coastal areas. Water and air pollution are pervasive in urban areas. Human health is a major concern, and access to safe water and basic facilities is poor in rural areas. The country sustains the highest rates of cholera found anywhere in the world, with more than 500,000 cases reported in 1993.
National parks and other reserves cover more than 10 percent of the land, although only 2.7 percent (1997) is strictly protected. Three national parks are designated as World Heritage Sites, and three biosphere reserves have been declared under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Program. New environmental laws dictate the economic integration of protected areas with local communites, providing for limited sustainable resource use in place of earlier policies that encouraged aggressive industrial development in the Amazon Basin.
The spread of agriculture, especially the widespread cultivation of coca, is a major threat to fragile protected environments. Coca plantations are frequently hacked out of delicate vegetation and treated with fertilizers and pesticides that ultimately contaminate streams. Soil erosion is also widespread due to intensive cultivation and livestock overgrazing. Desertification is consuming significant amounts of once-productive land.
Peru has ratified international conservation agreements pertaining to Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, and Wetlands. Regionally, Peru participates in several international agreements for conservation and sustainable land use in the Amazon Basin.