Peru is located in western South America between Chile and Ecuador. It also shares borders with Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, and is lined by the Pacific Ocean along its western edge.
The country’s total size is 496,230 square miles (1,285,220 sq km), which is about three times the size of California. In South America, only Brazil and Argentina are larger. Peru’s diverse landscape includes lush river valleys and arid deserts, snow-capped mountains and colorful cloud forests.
All of that geographic diversity, however, doesn’t hold a candle to the number of civilizations that have existed in Peru. From the well-known Inca and Nazca (the cultures responsible for Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. respectively) to the lesser known Moche, Chavín, Caral-Supe, Paracas, Wari, and Chimu cultures; Peru has birthed an stunning range of civilizations. All of these cultures were influenced by their landscape and thus had vast differences, as well as overlapping similarities. And for better or worse, the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century changed the cultural fabric of Peru for good.
All of this is to say that Peru is a big, varied, and utterly impressive country. From sampling fresh ceviche along the coast to visiting Inca ruins in the highlands. your trip here is sure to be fun, exciting, and memorable.
Geography and Climate
The climate in Peru is dependent on the landscape, as well as the Humboldt Current and northwest jet stream.
The arid Peruvian coast runs some 1,500 miles (2,400 km) from Ecuador to Chile. Along the southern section of the coast is the Atacama Desert, one of the planet’s driest places. Peru’s coastal regions see very little rain, although it does drizzle from time to time. Coastal cities also get hit with fog, which is known locally as garúa and is the result of cold coastal air trapped between warmer currents. This fog typically happens from April to September. The hottest months along the Peruvian coast are from December through March.
The Andes run down the center of the country, forming the second highest mountain chain on earth. The tallest mountain in Peru is Huascarán, which tops out at an elevation of 22,205 feet (6,768 m). In the Andes, the weather can be cold and chilly, with overnight lows well below freezing. The dry season lasts from June to August, and the rainy season lasts from December to March.
Between the Andean mountain ranges are fertile valleys where about half Peru’s food is produced. This is the area that was terraced and irrigated by the Inca to grow crops like corn, quinoa, and potatoes. These highland areas have similar seasonal shifts to the Andes.
On the eastern side of the Andes is the Amazon Basin. At high elevations, misty cloud forests form some of the country’s most biodiverse ecosystems. As you go lower, you hit lowland rainforests and huge, muddy rivers. The Amazon can see rain throughout the year, but the rain usually only lasts for a few hours at a time. The rainiest time of the year is from December to April. The driest months are from June to September.
Development and Society
Peru was once the seat of several indigenous civilizations, most notably the Inca. The Spanish arrived in the 16th century and conquered these local civilizations. Nearly three hundred years later, in 1821, Peruvian independence was declared.
Military rule took place during some of the 20th century, but the country eventually formed a democratic leadership in 1980, although insurgencies and economic downturns continued to haunt Peru throughout the 80s. In 1990, President Alberto Fujimori was elected and ushered in a decade of economic progress, alongside some authoritarian measures. Recent elections in Peru have seen democratic, market-oriented policies return to the forefront.
Peru’s population, which hovers around 30 million, is fairly diverse. Just under half of the population is Amerindian, around 37 percent is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), and 15 percent is white. Japanese, Chinese, black, and other ethnic groups make up around 3 percent of the population. Urban and coastal communities have experienced much more economic benefits than have rural and indigenous groups in the Amazon and Andes.
Peru has a stable, democratically elected government and a strong economy. All Peruvians are required to vote from ages 18 to 70 — in fact, people that don’t vote can be fined. The weakest part of the Peruvian government has traditionally been the judiciary branch, which has been charged with widespread corruption.
The Peruvian economy is strong. In 2013, the economy grew at a rate of 5.1 percent and the GDP was $210 billion; it’s also had low inflation for several years running. The Peruvian economy owes its strengths to natural resources, most notably mining. Large-scale mining projects have, however, been met with widespread local opposition from groups who claim to receive little benefit from the mines. Other important aspects of the Peruvian economy include manufacturing, agriculture, banking, and retail services.