Thinking of touring Peru? Get your Peru facts here. Learn everything from Peru’s languages, history & currency to Peru holidays & Peruvian cuisine. We’ve put together this essential guide to Peru to help you learn more about this wonderful country before your visit.
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- Peru is divided into 24 departments / regions.
With an area of 1,285,215 square km (496,223 sq miles), Peru is the third-largest country in South America after Brazil and Argentina, ranking it amongst the world’s 20 largest nations. Peru also holds sway over the sea up to 200 miles from the Peruvian coast and has territorial rights to an area of 60 million hectares in the Antarctic.
- Urban: 72,3 %
- Rural: 27,7 %
Peru is a nation of mixed ethnic origins. Throughout its history, Peru has been the meeting ground for different nations and cultures. The indigenous population was joined over 500 years ago by the Spaniards.
As a result of this encounter, and later enriched by the migration of African blacks, Asians and Europeans, Peru, today, is a nation whose rich ethnic mix is one of its leading characteristics.
As part of its rich cultural tradition, Peru features many different languages. Although Spanish is commonly spoken across the country, Quechua is a major legacy of the Inca empire, and is still spoken with regional dialects in many parts of the Mountains of Peru. In addition, other languages are spoken such as Aymara (in Puno) and a startling variety of dialects in the Amazon jungle, which are divided up into 15 linguistic families and 43 different languages.
- Spanish (official): 80,3%
- Quechua (official): 16,2%
- Other languages (Aymara): 3,0%
- Foreign languages: 0,2%
Peru is a democratic republic. The president and members of Congress are elected every five years by universal suffrage. The current constitutional president of Peru is Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) and the Prime Minister (head of government) is Pedro Catering Bellido.
Mining, Steel, Oil & Gas, Fish processing, Textiles, Agroindustry and Tourism.
- Roman Catholic: 89,03%
- Evangelical: 6,73%
- Other religions: 2,56%
- Any Religion: 1.65%
National Public Holidays in Peru include:
- New Year’s Day (Jan 1)
- Three Kings Day (Jan 6)
- Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (Easter week, Mar or Apr)
- Labor Day (May 1)
- Fiestas Patrias (July 28-29)
- Battle of Angamos (Oct 8)
- All Saints’ Day (Nov 1)
- Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8)
- Christmas (Dec 24-25)
Peru features an ample telephone network that provides services for national and international long-distance calls from private telephone lines and public cabins. There are also 12 million active cellular phones nationwide.
To call from foreign countries, one must dial 00 + 51 + (city code) + telephone number.
A number of service providers across the country has given public access to Internet. Known in Peru as Cabinas de Internet, the average cost of an hour’s connection is S/.3.50 (US$1.00). Most hotels offer WiFi service in common areas, as well as rooms.
Peru has 14 airports equipped to receive commercial flights and 10 ready for international flights: Lima, Arequipa, Chiclayo, Pisco, Pucallpa, Iquitos, Cusco, Trujillo, Tacna and Juliaca. Moreover, there are 17 airlines operating international flights and 7 airline companies offering domestic flights.
Peru’s largest port is Callao, outside of Lima. Other major ports include Paita, Salaverry, Chimbote, Callao, Pisco, Ilo and Matarani.
The main roads running down the length of the country are the Pan-American Highway or Panamericana (from North to South). Cutting inland is the Central Highway, which starts out in Lima and runs up to the central highlands, climbing through the high mountain pass of Ticlio (Kilometer 132), which at 4,818 meters above sea level is also the world’s highest railway pass. From here, the road descends to the towns of La Oroya and Tarma, continuing down to the Chanchamayo jungle valley in the department of Junin.
A glance over Peru
Peruvians are the main characters of stories with magical legends, culture, art and traditions. Andean people’s world turns around the “Pachamama” or mother earth and the “Apus” or mountain spirits with their particular world vision. In the coast, they go into the sea, cross its waters and fetch their catch which will inspire the most delicious dishes of our gastronomy. In the jungle, nature and its inhabitants are the ambassadors of their exotic beauty and delicate balance. In essence, we are a country where the past and the present live in harmony turning your trip into a wonderful experience.
20.000 years ago our first inhabitants were nomads that hunted and harvested fruits with stone instruments. The samples of cave paintings found in Toquepala (Tacna), and fossils from the first Peruvian (7.000 a.C.) prove so.
After they established themselves they began to practice agriculture and live in villages and, as a result of their contact with other cultures, they developed new techniques such as textile-making, metallurgy and pottery, resulting in the origin of greater cultures.
Chavin, Paracas, Moche, Tiahuanaco, Nazca, Wari, Chimu and Chachapoyas are Pre-Inca cultures developed and famous in our territory’s coast, mountains and jungle. They all adapted with effort to the environment, managing natural resources, and each and every one outstood because they developed a particular technique:
Chavin (Ancash): They had a theocratic organization, their center was Chavin de Huantar temple; in its walls and galleries we can appreciate sculptures representing fierce gods with feline aspects. Paracas (Ica): They lived in the coast and were the masters of textile art. Moche (La Libertad): They became excellent military strategists. The design of their pottery and iconography provide a clear idea of their lifestyle. Tiahuanaco (Puno): They developed excellent sowing and platform cultivating techniques, they learned to manage ecological altitudes in order to improve their productivity. Nazca (Ica): They built ingenious underground aqueducts to protect them from desert weather. The Nazca Lines, the famous geological site, keeps amazing the world. Wari, (Ayacucho): They were clever engineers; they designed the first urban distribution plans in their territory. Chimu (La Libertad): They were marvelous artisans and gold and silversmith. The famous Chan-Chan citadel shows their high urban development. Chachapoyas (Amazonas): They wisely used cultivating soil. The Kuelap Fortress, built on top of the mountains proves their talent to adapt to the environment.
Legends tell that Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, the first Inca and his wife, came out of the Titicaca Lake to found the Inca Empire.
The Inca was the sovereign of the Tahuantinsuyo, or four regions, also known as the son of the sun. The Empire had thirteen sovereigns. It extended all the way up to Colombia and Ecuador on the north and Bolivia, Chile and Argentina on the south.
The Incas were the most important civilization in South America. They had an incredible social and economic organization, based on the ayllu or family clan. In addition, their architecture and art pieces, resulting from the knowledge and experience inherited from previous cultures, still amaze our visitors.
Currently, in Cusco, we can still enjoy the splendor of the Koricancha or Sun Temple, Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman Fortress, and especially the citadel of Machu Picchu.
In 1532, Francisco Pizarro captured Atahualpa, the last Inca in Cajamarca. This fact was an important event in Spanish Conquest and the end of the Inca Empire. Ten years later, the Peruvian Viceroyalty was created and it lasted up to the XVII century, its territory went from Panama up to Tierra del Fuego, in Argentina.
In 1569, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo improved the economy by means of native work control (mita) and a merchant monopoly. Along with the Spaniards, black slaves arrived to work on domestic tasks and agriculture. Meanwhile, the catholic religion was imposed by the Church. After almost three centuries of domination, Tupac Amaru II directed the most important native rebellion.
All this history enriched our culture. Religious syncretism, colonial art, architecture, our traditions and idiosyncrasy are the result of the encounter of these two worlds.
Don Jose de San Martin declared Peru’s independence in 1821. Nevertheless, our history had to face severe economical crisis and several military governments. By the mid XIX century, the incomes from guano exploitation, cotton and sugar cane cultivation allowed to free slaves and natives workers. Afterwards, European and Chinese immigrants arrived here to become part of our society. In 1872, President Manuel Pardo installed the first civil regimen in Peru. Just before the XX century, the first Japanese disembarked took place.
Regrettably, in 1879 began the war with Chile. Our country is defeated and our economy ruined. More military governments went by, there comes an era known as The Aristocratic Republic; the economy is dominated by landowners’ elite. Rubber exploitation success renews the El Dorado myth, a lost city in the enormity of the Amazon Rainforest where it is presumed that the Spanish searched for the Incas’ gold.
The beginning of the XX century was known by the dictatorship of Augusto B. Leguia and the intense activity of intellectual movements, outstanding figures such as VÃctor Raul Haya de la Torre, founder of the Aprista Party and Jose Carlos Mariategui, well-known intellectual, creator of Peruvian’s socialist ideas.
Our history develops between military governments and democratic periods. We can point out the government of Manuel A. Odria (1948), who during eight years developed important public works, in spite of political repression. In addition, Peru loves peace; it has always solved its limits conflicts with its neighbors.
In the seventies, the Armed Forces deprive the current president, Fernando Belaunde (1963). We must point out that this dictatorship, leaded by General Juan Velasco (1968), was different from the others. There was a social sensibility; he established the Agricultural Reform, and nationalized oil and communication media. Another general succeeded him, Francisco Morales Bermudez (1975), but due to public pressure he called to a Constitutional Assembly.
In 1980, Fernando Belaunde is chosen again as president but the economical crisis that always affects the poorest areas gave birth to 2 extremely violent subversive movements that devastated the country during ten years. Afterwards came Alan Garcia (1985) and Alberto Fujimori (1990) governments. Fujimori shut down the Congress two years after his election declaring an emergency government. Even though he was re-elected in 2000, the people demanded a new election. As a consequence, a democratic transition government was established under Valentin Paniagua (2000). In July 2006, after 5 years Alejandro Toledo handed over the government to Alan Garcia Perez, current Constitutional President of the Republic.
Our Archeological Richness
Our country owns an inspiring past. Pre-Inca and Inca cultures have left us a valuable legacy. Those who visit us will have the chance to appreciate almost ten thousand years of history spread along the country in museums and archeological sites. Machu Picchu, chosen as one of the seven wonders of the modern world is the image that represents the wealth of our archeological patrimony. A legacy surrounded by magic, legends, art and customs that last up to our times.
The Incas (1400 – 1500) are one of the most important cultures of the world, only comparable to Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China. Its incredible religious, political, social and military organization gathers its power in Cusco, even though they developed in the Andes and even dominated almost all South America. They were famous because of the perfection of their stone architecture (Sacsahuaman, Koricancha, Ollantaytambo, Pisac), as well as by their silver and goldsmith, and textiles. 4400 years before the Incas ruled, the Sacred City of Caral was built on the north of Lima. This is most ancient civilization in America and the only one that achieved unprecedented achievements in the most complete isolation. The city covers an area over 10 hectares; there you can appreciate a highly planned complex of architectural design that includes pyramidal buildings, a circular main square, buildings and an amphitheater, among others. Chavin (800 – 200 B.C.): They established in the north mountains, achieving great advances in architecture, engineering and agriculture. Nowadays, you can still appreciate the cabezas clavas (tenoned heads), monolithic sculptures with anthropomorphic features and the Lanzon de Chavin, a high piece of stone carved with complicated symbols. Moche (200 B.C. – 600 AC.): They outstood in the north coast because the construction of their pyramidal temples and their scenic ceramics. In this same territory, Chimu (1100 – 1500) left its most impressive legacy: Chan Chan Citadel, an architectural complex with beautiful geometrical friezes. Nazca (300 B.C. – 900 AC.): In the south of Lima, in Ica, they have left a mysterious group of geological designs engraved in the desert pampas, best known as the Nazca Lines, they also had pretty ceramics. Paracas (800 B.C. – 600 AC.), they also established in Ica, they were skillful knitters, their shawls are a testimony of their magical-religious vision of the world; they used vegetable dyes that show vivid colors until nowadays. Peru has in its territory the main cultural sites of this continent.
A Paradise on Earth
Our country is the perfect destination for those who seek a close encounter with nature. Our territory has 84 of 104 life zones existing on the planet (prickly-tropical forest, very dry-tropical forest, dry-mountain forest, moor, etc.) We have a whole variety of flora and fauna species, only found here and that have perfectly adapted in some cases to extreme conditions.
Considering the delicate natural balance we have developed mechanisms directed to preserve our species and landscapes, taking into account the presence of native communities. They are known as Natural Protected Areas, continental or marine spaces legally established and protected by the government. Currently we have 60 areas classified as parks, reserves and national sanctuaries, historical sanctuaries, reserved areas, hunting preserves, protection forests, which constitute 15% of our territory. They are important not only for preserving biological diversity and other cultural, landscape and scientific values but because its contribution to the country’s sustained development.
We live next to the Andes and in their snowed peaks rise the Rivers that bathe our territory. The most plentiful river in the world is the Amazon (170,000 m3 / 557,743 ft3 per second), other big ones are the Ucayali and the Maranhon, the Vilcanota that crosses the Incas Sacred Valley, among others. They are all live, beauty and amusement sources. Along centuries, rivers have gnawed stones forming natural Canyons. We can name the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world, located four hours away from Arequipa; it has 3,200m/10,499ft depth. The Canyon is an impressive crack that goes along the valley surrounded by beautiful landscapes, cultivation terraces and snow peaks. The Cotahuasi Canyon, located also in Arequipa, it has 3,370m/11,056ft. depth. The valley offers spectacular views from Coropuna and Solmana peaks. Both places are perfect for practicing adventure sports such as: mountain biking, hiking, and rafting, among others. Among its natural attractions we have the Sipia Falls, volcano valley, stone forests, thermal waters and some samples of the famous Puya Raimondi.
In Peru, Lakes and Lagoons are like mirrors that reflect the beauty of its geography. The highest navigable lake in the world is the Titicaca (3,810m/12,500ft over sea level) it covers an area of 8,559km2/5,318miles2. Parinacochas Lagoon, in Ayacucho, is known by the beautiful birds that nest in its waters. Paca Lagoon, in Junin, is a perfect place to rest. The prettiest lagoon is Llanganuco, in Ancash, its turquoise crystal water separate Huascaran and Huandoy peaks. Lagoons in the Amazon have originated from old river courses, they nourish from rain water, and the water is dark and muddy because of live presence and high temperatures. Rimachi is the biggest lake, it has floating islands. When reduced, Sauce Lake, in San Martin, reduced left rich agricultural lands.
In some places, water is used for its medicine properties. The seven Lagoons in Huaringas (sacred lagoon in Quechua), in Piura, are use since pre-Spanish times with magical and healing purposes. We also have thermo-mineral water sources such as the Banhos del Inca, in Cajamarca, the temperature reaches up to 74C/133F.
Along its way from the Andes water must some times “jump” deep cliffs and narrow passes that formed gorgeous Water Falls. They are perfect to take a rest after hours of hiking along dense vegetation. Huanuco is famous for its water falls. Here is located Pichgacocha (five lagoons), Angel Veil water fall (26m/85ft), Sirena Encantada (Enchanting Mountain) (70m/230ft), its name is due to its landscape and San Miguel (100m/328). In San Martin, is located Ahuashiyacu, 35m/115ft an easy to reach water fall and Huacamaillo, made of seven impressive water falls. Gera and Tunun Tunumba are two water falls that can only be reached assisted by guides. The most important waterfall in Peru is Gocta, located in Amazonas, the fifth tallest in the world with 771m/2,530ft of height.
Close to Lima, is located Pala Cala water fall (18m/59ft) and Zarate (40m/131ft), in order to reach this places you must have an excellent physical shape. In Junin, entering the jungle, we can appreciate Tirol water fall (35m/115ft). Parijaro, in the middle of Cutivireni, the Ashaninka people shelter, with 297m/974ft high, it is the most impressive water fall in Peru.
Our country belongs to a select group of eight countries with large diversity in the planet. We have a rich variety of Flora and Fauna due to our different weather and ecosystems. Our botanical richness is appreciated because of the healing properties of plants that were and are still being used by our people long before modern medicine arrived. In relation to our fauna, almost 20% of birds in the world live here as well as 10% of mammals and reptiles. Creatures such as the condor, the snake and the puma, among others, were worship by many old cultures, and were immortalized in their ceramics, textiles and stone monuments. Other species serve a s food source or raw material, some have a dependence relationship with the Andean or Amazon men since many years ago. Currently, many scientists keep discovering and classifying native species that amaze because of their beauty, rarity but main by the way they have adapted to our special weather and geographical conditions. Paradise exists on Earth, its name is Peru.
Our country is a flavors route. Along the coast, the mountains and the jungle, fish, potato (and its hundreds of varieties), rice, peppers and lemon are the main ingredients of an endless list of delicious dishes that result from a number of cultures within our country.
Peruvian cuisine is the most diverse in the world. Our representative dish is Ceviche, typical from the coast, it is prepared with fish and sea food. Other dishes, as well delicious, are Lomo Saltado (stir fry meat), Anticuchos (heart brochettes), Chupe de Camarones (Shrimp soup), Rocoto Relleno (stuffed peppers), Arroz con Pato (duck and rice), Papa a la Huancaina (potato with a creamy sauce), Ocopa (potato with creamy sauce), Pachamanca and Juanes, among others.
“Chifa”, is the name for Peruvian Chinese food, it reflects the perfect integration of both cultures. Pisco Sour is a refreshing cocktail prepared with Pisco, our national drink. Suspiro a la Limenha, Picarones and Rice Pudding are famous desserts.
Peruvian cuisine is tradition and inspiration. Recognize the colors, flavors and aromas that simply turn it into authentic and delicious.