|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Live the Legend
Live the legend that is Peru. The land of gold and sun-worshipping Incas, Peru was 16th century Europe's major source of treasure and once home to the largest empire in the world. Peru is a country in western South America, bordering Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil to the east, Bolivia to the south-east, Chile to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
About 45% of Peru's inhabitants are Native Americans, some of whom are descended from the Inca, and around 100 other indigenous groups live in the rain forest of eastern Peru. These tribes live in virtual isolation from the rest of Peru's population speaking traditional languages and retaining lifestyles similar to those of their ancestors, surviving by hunting, fishing and agriculture.
Spanish is spoken by some 70% of the people, English is also spoken in some areas and one of the principal languages of the Native Americans Quechua has been made an official language along with Aymara.
The cuisine of Peru reflects local cooking practices and ingredients, the three traditional staples are corn, potatoes and beans, combined with staples brought by the Spanish, such as rice, wheat and meat. Traditional foods such as quinoa, kiwicha, chilli peppers and several roots and tubers have increased in popularity in recent decades. Cervice is a classic Peruvian seafood dish consisting of fish, shrimp, scallop or squid marinated in lime juice and chilli peppers then served raw with corn and potato salad. Guinea Pig is the traditional dish most associated with Peru and you can find it in many parts of the country but especially in the mountain regions, where it is likely to be served roasted in the oven with chips.
Mountain food is more basic, a staple of potatoes and rice with meat stretched as far as it will go. One of the specialities is the Pachamanca, a roast prepared mainly in the mountains by digging a large hole, filling it with stones, and lighting a fire over them, then using the hot stones to cook a variety of tasty meats and vegetables. Mestizo is a combination of indigenous Indian cooking with four hundred years of European, mostly Spanish, influence.
In the jungle bananas and plantains figure highly in the diet along with yucca, rice and plenty of fish. There is meat as well, mostly chicken supplemented with occasionally by game deer, wild pig or even monkey. Peru's claim to fame is Pisco, a white grape brandy with a unique, powerful and very palatable flavor,
The sheer beauty of the various landscapes, abundance of wildlife and the strong and colourful character of the people makes Peru one of the most varied and exciting of all the South American nations. Desert coastline, vast tracks of tropical coastline, chain after chain of breathtaking peaks, the Andes, so distinct are these regions that it is very difficult to generalise, but one thing is sure, Peru offers a unique opportunity to experience an incredibly wide range of spectacular scenery, a wealth of heritage and a vibrant living culture. In the more rural parts of Peru native life can have changed little in the last four centuries.
Peru has three natural regions: coast, sierra and jungle, and the climate varies widely ranging from tropical in the Montana, to arctic in the highest mountains of the Andes. Permanent snow and ice fields cover peaks more than 5,000 m above sea level.
The coastal region is a narrow strip 2,500 km long, but only 19 to 100 km wide, and follows the country's Pacific coastline from north to south. Although the coastal strip is mainly arid, the landscapes can be very spectacular with immense sand dunes and stone deserts. Huacachina is a green oasis completely surrounded by sand dunes. Seasonal rains occur in the north, especially during the periods of El Nino climatic phenomena.
Some of the 52 valleys are arable and they are farmed using a combination of ancient Peruvian methods and modern technologies. Along the coast there are fascinating archaeological sites, notably the bizarre Nazca Lines south of Lima. Along the border with Chile the Atacama Desert is the driest place on the planet.
Heading east of Nazca brings you to Arequipa featuring the impressive Santa Catalina Monastery and Lake Titicaca, home to the floating islands. The Sierra is the name given to the Andean highland region where the Andes mountain range runs through the country north to south like a backbone, dividing the coastal region from the jungle.
The sierra region has both arid areas and fertile valleys. Vivid blue skies form a stunning backdrop to the soaring peaks and are reflected in many glittering lakes. In the sierra are found the llama, alpaca, vicua, chinchilla, and huanaco. The world's largest navigable lake, Titicaca, is an incredible tourist resource for Peru thanks to its scenery, history, archaeological sites and beautiful colonial towns.
Some of the world's highest mountains can be found here. In the southern mountains lies the mysterious lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. Close by is the city of Cuzco, city of the Incas and the beautiful Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley. Deeper south is the Colca Canyon; it is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, making it the deepest canyon on earth. In the same region is the beautiful white city of Arequipa.
There are other beautiful cities such as Ayacucho, Huaraez, Cajamarca, and Puno, on the shores of the spectacular Lake Titicaca. Puno is an interesting town as it is the capital of folklore in Peru. It has a beautiful old cathedral and is close to many attractions such as Macchu Picchu and the beautiful, bustling colonial city of Cusco.
Located between Boliva and Peru Lake Titicaca is one of the most fascinating lakes in the world. It is situated at a very high altitude, over 3800 meters above sea level, and going there is an unforgettable experience. Lake Titicaca is a scared place for the Inca civilisation as the Inca mythology says that the first Inca King Manco Capac was born here and this is the place where the world was created from, when the God Viracocha came out of the lake and created the sun, the stars and the first people.
On the Bolivian side of the lake you will find the fascinating town of Challapampa home of the famous labyrinth Chinkana. Also on the Bolivian side you can find the biggest island of the lake, Isla de Sol, Island of the Sun. While there are no roads on the island there are over 180 ruins from the Inca period.
Cusco is surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain landscapes and palatial ruins in Peru. From here you can head northwest into the Sacred Valley featuring the Inca ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo and follow the Inca Trail up to the justly famous citadel of Machu Picchu.
The Machu Picchu, Peru's most important tourist destination, is located in this environment in the department of Cusco. The archaeological complex is perched on the eastern slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range at a height of 2,350 meters above sea level. 90 species of orchids are found in the historic Machu Picchu reserve along with spectacled bear, wildcats, and many butterfly species.
The Santa Catalina Monastery, with its brilliant painted adobe walls, was once a miniature town. Visitors can step beyond the barred screens of the entrance parlour into cloisters ornamented with frescoes of birds and Bible scenes. The famous child-mummy Juanita, a girl who was sacrificed on a mountain-top in the early 15th century, is on display, crouched eerily in a freezer at the Museum of Andean Shrines.
From Arequipa you can drive up and over the breathtaking Pata Pampa pass to the Colca Canyon, a dramatic gash of fertile green in the crumpled red moonscape of the highlands. Among this isolated valley, over 3,000 mts deep, the contour-hugging crop terrace of a Pre-Inca culture are still being ploughed by oxen behind twisting stone walls. Giant hummingbirds feed from cactus flowers and if you are lucky you can see condors riding the thermals between the rock walls.
The railway line runs parallel to the river in winding loops that follow the riverbed. From here you can see the typical vegetation of the upper jungle, which climbs up to the top of the steep mountain range that forms the Urubamba Canyon. The train passes through the Chilca train station from where you can see the snow capped peak called "Veronica". The train stops at Kilometer 88, where the Inca Trail begins.
The train then continues on its way, passing through the station of Pampacahua and the town of Aguas Calientes. When the train line comes up against a wall of imposing granite mountains, it then plunges into two tunnels before arriving at the station of Puente Ruinas. From here, minibuses take the travellers up 8 kilometres of roads up to the Tourist Hotel. The entry control to the Inca citadel is done near the hotel.
The Inca Trail
The Inca, sometimes called peoples of the sun, were originally a warlike tribe living in a semiarid region of the southern sierra. From 1100 to 1300 the Inca moved north into the fertile Cusco Valley. From there they overran the neighbouring lands. By 1500 the Inca Empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean east to the sources of the Paraguay and Amazon rivers and from the region of modern Quito in Ecuador south to the Maule River in Chile.
This vast empire was a theocracy, organised along socialistic lines and ruled by an Inca, or emperor, who was worshipped as a divinity. Because the Inca realm contained extensive deposits of gold and silver, it became in the early 16th century a target of Spanish imperial ambitions in the Americas.
In November 1995 anthropologists announced the discovery of the 500-year-old remains of two Inca women and one Inca man frozen in the snow on a mountain peak in Peru. Scientists concluded that the trio was part of a human sacrifice ritual on Ampato, a sacred peak in the Andes mountain range. Artefacts from the find unveiled new information about the Inca and indicated the use of poles and tents rather than traditional stone structures. The arrangement of doll-size statuettes dressed in feathers and fine woollens provided clues about Inca religious and sacrificial practices.
The jungle is the country's largest region, covering over 750,000 km of Peru's national territory. Tropical rain forests extend from the eastern Andean foothills to Peru's borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia. There are two separate and distinct types of jungle, the highland and the lowland. This region is extremely hot and humid, although at higher altitudes it is less so.
The jungle provides startling opportunities for close and exotic encounters with Peruvian wildlife. Pacaya Samiria remote and stunningly beautiful this reserve home to the Cocoma tribe, whose main settlement is Tipishca is one of the least visited and yet the largest protected areas of rain-forest in Peru, 2 million hectares of virgin rain-forest which is a swampland in the rainy season.
The highland jungle, known locally as "ceja de selva", is located on the eastern flank of the Andes. Its average altitude is between 1,600 and 9,200 feet above sea level (487 to 2,804 m). A variety of tropical and subtropical products (coffee, tea, cocoa, citrus fruits, bananas, pineapples, etc.) grow amidst its luxuriant vegetation. This region, unlike the sierra, has a temperate and humid climate and it is also the smallest region in the country.
La Selva is the isolated rain forest region between the eastern foothills of the Andes and the enormous rain forests of the Amazon basin and takes up almost 60% of the country. Most of La Selva is still unspoiled. Coming from Lima one of the easiest ways to enter the Selva is the Chanchamayo Valley. One of the biggest nature reserves in La Selva is Manu national Park with 4.5 million acres; it is the bet area for seeing wildlife with over 1000 species of bird. Only a few people live in La Selva, there are some small cities, and the only relatively big one is Iquitos in Loreto district.
The Lowland Jungle also known as the Amazon plain is the largest in the country, made up of lush tropical vegetation and a vast network of rivers. Peru's largest volumes of natural resources, and most important ones, are concentrated here. The lowland jungle lies, on average, between 250 and 1,300 feet above sea level. The two most majestic rivers in Peru are found here; the Marazon River and the Ucayali River both flow into the Amazon River, which eventually crosses the borders into Colombia and Brazil. Although the lowland jungle is the least inhabited of the regions, it offers a vast array of attractions and resources, particularly for Eco-tourism.
In the low lands of the Amazon Jungle there are thousands of indigenous Amazonians dispersed over thousands of square miles of inexpugnable jungles in towns and 3 large cities (Iquitos, Puerto Maldonado, and Pucallpa) with a population of more than one million and an area larger than the US states of Texas andna include the jaguar, cougar, armadillo, peccary, tapir, anteater, several dozen species of monkey, alligator, turtle, and a variety of snakes and insects; among the birds are the parrot, the flamingo, and other tropical species.
Lima the capital is built upon a valley surrounded by an extremely arid desert and fans out in long, straight streets from its heart Lima Centro. The old town focuses on the colonial Plaza Mayor. In the summer the weather is usually beautiful very warm and sunny, in the winter the city is overcast and rainy for days at a time and the city seems dreamlike between May and October as the garua - a mist settles over the city. Under its blanket Lima's inhabitants meet at the penas(bars offering folk and Creole music), shop in open marketplaces and dine at Lima's celebrated restaurants.
Lima is shrouded in history, gloriously messy and full of aesthetic delights. You will find pre-Colombian temples sitting silently amid condominium high-rises and vestiges of colonial mansions proudly display lavish Moorish-style balconies. Stately museums display sublime pottery, solemn religious processions dating back to the 18th century, baroque churches ornamented with the skulls of saints and crowded nightclubs swaying to tropical beats.
South of Lima, long white beaches washed by the cold waters of the southern Pacific stretch away in an uninterrupted string, backed by row upon row of huge, brilliant white sand dunes. In contrast to the tourist beaches in warmer climes these shores have few amenities other than small restaurants and cafes. One of the best of the remote beaches is known as El Silencio. Like Lima itself, these beaches seem to exist in an eddy of time, pleasantly removed from the relentless peace of more frequented destinations.
Peru is enchanting, her people are a joy to meet and the scenery simply amazing. After seeing Machu Picchu visit one of the small villages to experience the life of the local people, buy their beautiful alpaca made garments, hear them play the yarivi, a love song, on panpipes and watch the huayno, the rapid dance of the highlands. You will be enthralled with this beautiful country and her people.