• Capital City: Lima (Metro Area Population: 9 million)
• Location and Borders: Western South America, bordering the South Pacific Ocean, between Chile and Ecuador
• Administrative Divisions: 25 regions (regiones, singular: región); Amazonas, Ancash, Apurimac, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Callao, Cusco, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Ica, Junin, La Libertad, Lambayeque, Lima, Loreto, Madre de Dios, Moquegua, Pasco, Piura, Puno, San Martin, Tacna, Tumbes, Ucayali. 1 province (provincia); Lima
• Area: Total: 1,285,220 sq km
Land: 1.28 million sq km
Water: 5,220 sq km
• Climate: varies from tropical in the East to dry desert in the West; temperate to frigid in the Andes
• Population: 28,674,000
• Demographic Growth Rate: 1.3%
• Industries: mining and refining of minerals; steel, metal fabrication; petroleum extraction and refining, natural gas; fishing and fish processing, textiles, clothing, food processing
• Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara, and a large number of minor Amazonian languages
• Government System: constitutional republic
Regions of Peru
Peru, a country made up of deserts, mountains and huge forests, has been compared to a continent with many countries, many climates and many different ethnic groups. Although it is situated in a tropical area, the peaks of different heights in the Andes mountain range that either block or change the course of the winds, the currents that flow through its ocean - the cold Humboldt current from the south and the warm Niño current from the equator - are some of the reasons why the climate is not consistent with the latitude, creating a wide variety of landscapes, each with its own wildlife and agricultural and forestry resources. In fact, 83% of the world's ecosystems or wildlife zones can be found in Peru. Due to its extraordinary biodiversity, more than 400 species of mammals, 1,700 types of birds (26% of all the birds on this planet), 2,000 species of salt water and fresh water fish and 35,000 species of plants have been catalogued so far. The Tambopata-Candamo Reserve holds the world record as far as the diversity of birds is concerned, while Yanamono in Loreto, has the greatest diversity of trees in the world: 300 species per hectare duly identified.
The immense majority of these species live in the 46 protected natural areas, which cover 10% of the national territory. Some of the most important ones are the Paracas Natural Reserve, the Manu Natural Reserve, the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve, and the Pacaya Samiria Reserve (near Iquitos), which are considered to be the richest in the world, given their extraordinary wealth of flora and fauna.
When organizing an itinerary in Peru, it should be borne in mind that the distances involved are quite large: nearly 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) in a straight line from one end of the coast to the other and 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) between the east and the west. The variety of ecological layers, climates, and lifestyles means traveling through hot and cold regions and spectacular natural landscapes is to be expected, such as through the Cordillera Blanca and its snow-capped mountains in the Huascaran National Park, in Ancash. Also, the Colca Valley and the Colca Canyon in Arequipa, together with the Cotahuasi Canyon are among the deepest on the planet. Other precious landscapes include the Vilcabamba, Urubamba and Vilcanota mountain ranges in Cusco, Lake Titicaca in Puno, the highest navigable lake in the world, and the Amazon River and its tributaries in the jungle region.
These different environments make Peru a privileged place for ecotourism, trekking, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting and adventure sports.
Finally, alongside its archaeological, historic, and natural attractions, Peru has a great many beaches all along the coast, suitable for a wide variety of water sports. The northern coast of Peru near Ecuador has a stable climate, with a temperature between 20ºC and 30ºC (68 to 86ºF) and sunshine all year round. There are some fine sand beaches in that area (Máncora, Punta Sal) where water sports are practiced, mainly surfing and underwater fishing (Cabo Blanco).
Peru is the third largest and the fourth most populated country in South America (after Brazil, Colombia and Argentina). It is usually divided into three natural regions, the Coast, the Highlands and the Jungle. The variety of climates and altitudinal layers in Peru is extraordinary - enough to provide a general idea of its territory. Peru is also the birthplace of numerous different advanced Indian civilizations and offers a rich history. The former Capital and the heart of the Inca Empire was Cuzco, the center of the world. It was at least as powerful and rich as ancient Rome. For example, Machu Picchu is the most famous and massive Incan archaeological site in the world. Even today this place expresses magic, and its history still hides many secrets. Furthermore, Peru has many impressive museums in Lima and beautiful colonial towns, many of which are protected by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Peru, with its various land forms, is one of the most diverse countries in the world. One can find a wealth of plants and animals. It offers jungles, coast areas with less vegetation, deserts, and highlands.
The Jungle covers more than half of its territory, the highlands cover 30%, and the coast a mere 10%. Nevertheless, the latter is the most highly populated region as more than 55% of the Peruvian population lives on the coast, 33% in the Andean region, and only 12% in the jungle. Consequently, the most populated cities in Peru are situated on the coast. Lima, the capital city in which the political power and economic and financial activities are concentrated, has a population of nearly 8 million. Callao is home to 800,000 people and Trujillo with 690,000 people. This is the result of the sudden demographic growth in the twentieth century and the migration rate which coincided with the illusions of progress projected by the cities during a new industrialization period that soon revealed its limitations. Fishery activities, and more recently, the positive performance of agricultural exports have also been contributing factors.
In 1963, half of the Peruvian population lived in the countryside, compared to only 28% today. One of the characteristics of the present population is that more than half of the people are under 25 years of age. However, the lower fertility rate - less than 2% in 2006 - and the increase in life expectancy - currently about 70 years for men and 74 years for women - show that the imbalance between young people and adults will decrease.
The coast is a flat desert area broken up by valleys formed by the 52 rivers that flow down from the Andes, providing a source of life for humans, plants, and animals. Only one of these rivers is navigable, namely the Tumbes River near the border with Ecuador, and flows down to the ocean at such a high rate that it forms an inextricable delta comprised of canals and small islands where thousands of mangrove trees grow.
With altitudes varying from 0 to 500 meters above sea level, the Coast is nearly 3,000 kilometers long and its width ranges between 200 kilometers in the North (the Sechura desert) and 40 kilometers in the South, where the Andes are closer to the sea. The annual average climate is 18ºC (65ºF), despite its proximity to the Equator. This is due to the presence of the Humboldt Current which cools down and condenses the air generating a thick layer of mist that remains stable and creates barren areas. The mist forms a ceiling that covers a large portion of the coastline between May and October, although it disappears toward the north from Trujillo onward, particularly from Chiclayo where the climate is much warmer.
Although seemingly unsuitable for farming, the coast actually has the highest productivity rates due to the application of modern techniques and complex irrigation systems. In addition to cotton, sugar and rice, the traditional farming exports, asparagus, mangoes, lemons, artichokes, and organic bananas are also grown.
The sierra, or highland region, consists of the Andes Mountains which run from the North to the South of Peru and are made up of three mountain ranges: Western, Central and Eastern. These ranges separate the coastal desert from the rainforest forming a huge barrier and a wide range of altitudes. Typical for the highlands are the pampas landscapes and, in the high altitude regions, cushioned plant vegetation. In the past, intensive volcanic activity in the southern highlands formed thick layers of petrified lava that can be seen in the so-called Volcano Valley. The Misti (5,821meters) is a beautiful inactive volcano shaped like a snow cone which dominates the city of Arequipa. Not far from away, in the Colca Valley, is the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world at 3,269 meters (10,725 feet). It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States.
The highest mountains are located in the central and southern highlands. These mountains stretch 5,300 meters high on average, whereas the average height in the northern highlands is only 3,880 meters. In the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Ancash, more than thirty snowcapped mountains are higher than six thousand meters, the tallest being the Huascaran at 6,768 meters above sea level. In the highest areas, the temperature drops to 30°C below zero (-22ºF). Areas above 4,800 meters have no permanent population except for the temporary personnel working in a few mines.
The country's main source of foreign currency is the mining sector, and the main mines are located in the highlands, where gold, copper, zinc, iron, silver and lead are exploited. The area above 4,000 meters is referred to as the Puna, and its pastures are called Ichu. That is where llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos live. These animals are very sought after for their fine wool and meat. Sheep and cattle may also be found at these same altitudes. The vast plains covered in pastures make up their main habitat, going all the way to the Bolivian highland plateau. It is in this area where Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world is found.
The Pampa Galeras Natural Reserve (Ayacucho), the first protected area for vicuñas in Peru, is situated in the same latitude, in a transition area between the cold puna and the milder climate between 3,500 and 4,000 meters. This is the location of some impressive benched terraces where potatoes and other typical native crops are grown, such as quinoa, cañihua, tubers, and grasses with a recognized protein value. The most inhabitable areas are the inter-Andean valleys situated between 2,500 and 3,500 meters, with a warm, dry climate during the day that cools down considerably at night. This characteristic makes the area suitable for growing corn, vegetables and fruit. Most of the native communities are located in such areas, including Cusco (3,400 meters), Huancayo (3,271 meters), Huaraz (3,091meters) and Cajamarca (2,750 meters). The main language in most of these areas, particularly in the south, is Quechua, which has existed since Incan times. Aymara, another native tongue, is spoken by the inhabitants of the highland plateau areas of Peru (Puno) and Bolivia.
The jungle is completely different from the other two regions. The Incans were never able to penetrate this area for a long period of time, and since the sixteenth century when the Europeans arrived, it has always posed a great challenge. Despite its extraordinary vastness, the exploitation of the flora and fauna - the most important milestone being the rubber industry that ended during the 1920s - is still causing serious problems to the region's ecology. This region is divided into the upper jungle and the lower jungle.
The upper jungle, or jungle fringe area, is covered with thick vegetation and comprises the lower eastern slopes of the Andes, between 500 and 1500 meters. The average annual temperature ranges between 22º C and 26º C (72ºF and 79ºF). It is very humid and rains regularly, particularly between November and April, and the higher altitudes are commonly covered with clouds throughout the entire year. Peruvian and foreign settlers carry out intensive farming and business activities, the most important crops being coffee, tea, cocoa, oil palms, annatto (food coloring), sweet potatoes, chestnuts, guavas, egg fruit, mangoes, numerous varieties of bananas, mandarin oranges, papayas, pineapples, passion fruit, cocona, and more. During the last few years, in certain areas that are clearly identified but fairly inaccessible, there has been an expansion of coca plantations aimed at the production of basic cocaine paste. This activity is not only illegal but extremely harmful, causing the depletion of natural resources and a drop in international prices of farm products, with catastrophic consequences for peasant livelihoods.
The lower jungle, the Amazon region, is the jungle plain in the Amazon River basin, the largest river in the world by volume. The average temperature is 31ºC (88ºF) and together with the humidity factor it creates violent rainsqualls. The rivers, which often change course and regularly flood the crops and the houses built on stilts, are the only means of permanent travel, as the rain weakens the soil, making it difficult to build roads and making their maintenance very extensive. There are many species of fish, some very large, like the Paiche that can weigh as much as 200 kilograms, which is in high demand for its meat. The Sachavaca, or jungle cow, and the Sajino (Pecari tajacu) are part of the staple diet of Amazon dwellers. The main logging centers (mahogany, cedar, screw trees, virola) are in Iquitos and Pucallpa, the two most important cities. Rubber is the most prominent industrial crop. The extraction of oil and gas has increased during the last year, with the participation of private companies and the State. It is estimated that there are about 350 thousand indigenous people in the jungle who belong to some fifty tribal communities, each with their own dialect. Colonization has forced many of them to move to the most difficult and inhospitable areas.