Peru is a fabulous country and an iconic travel destination. Situated on the western coast of South America, Peru is an intoxicating blend of culture, dance, art, history, archaeology, and so much more.

Where else on earth can you spend the morning surfing in the pacific ocean, the afternoon visiting a 3000 year old pyramid, then spend the evening dining in one of the top restaurants in the world?

Peru is an exhilarating adventure waiting to be discovered...

History

The history of Peru dates back far beyond written history, and much much further back than the infamous Inca Empire.

Early civilisations in Peru were nomadic tribesmen and hunter-gatherers, and early tools dating as far back as 11,000 years have been found in locations such as Pachacamac. Intelligent evidence of controlled irrigation has been found in the Zana Valley, with man-made irrigation canals dating to 4700 BC. In around 4000 BC larger cultures started to form, and agricultural expertise started to grow as animals like the llama and guinea pig were domesticated, and crops like the potato cultivated. It was during this time, around 3000 BC, that the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Caral Supe (near Lima) was founded.

In around 1200 BC the Chavin Culture founded the impressive site of Chavin de Huantar (near Huaraz) and flourished until around 300 BC. At around the same time as the Chavin Culture was reaching its end, the Paracas Culture developed to the south of Lima, lasting around 500 years.

As these pre-Colombian cultures started to grow and expand throughout Peru their technologies, construction techniques, displays of art, and the quality of their clothing and textiles all started to improve dramatically. The Moche Culture, which existed from around 100 AD to 700 AD, built enormous pyramid structures that can still be seen today near the modern cities of Chiclayo and Trujillo; and the Nazca Culture to the south of Peru started to construct their famous geoglyphs in the surface of the desert.

It was the cultures of the Wari, which existed from around 500 AD to 1000 AD, and Tiwanaku, which existed from around 300 AD to 1000 AD, that first showed major expansion throughout Peru, and at their height the two cultures combined dominated the continent from the western regions of Bolivia to far northern Peru. From 1000 AD onwards further pre-Inca cultures existed, including the Chimu who built the giant adobe city of Chan Chan (near Trujillo), and the Chachapoyas Culture who built the incredible fortress of Kuelap in northern Peru.

The origins of the infamous Inca Empire date from the late 12th / early 13th century when the first Sapa Inca (Emperor of the Inca Empire), Manco Capac, founded the Kingdom of Cusco in the Cusco region of Peru. Over the next few hundred years little of significance took place, until the ninth Sapa Inca, Pachacutec, transformed the Kingdom of Cusco into the Inca Empire through a preiod of significant expansion and conquest throughout the Andes. It is thought that Machu Picchu may have been built for Pachacutec.

Over the course of the next century the Inca Empire continued to expand, at its peak stretching from northern Chile and Argentina to northern Ecuador, until its demise during the Spanish Conquest of Peru in 1532 when the Spanish captured the Sapa Inca Atahualpa and executed him in Cajamarca. Although the Inca Empire struggled on for a few years more, the ending was in sight as Spanish power and dominance began to control the country.

Peru then came under Spanish rule, with the Spanish basing their political centre in Lima, and it was during this period that the fantastic colonial-era architecture visible in cities such as Lima and Cusco was built. Independence came on 28th July 1821 when Jose de San Martin, the liberator of Argentina, declared independence, before handing over control of Peru to Simon Bolivar. Since then Peru has been an independent state in South America.

Geography

Peru is split into three main geographic regions: Costa, Sierra, and Selva; which translates as coast, mountain, and jungle.

The coastal region is a large wide desert plain that stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the foothills of the western side of the Andes mountains. The landscape here is mainly arid and dry, with some fertile valleys created by rivers or seasonal rains. The Peruvian cities of Lima, Nazca, Trujillo and Tumbes are situated in this geographical region of Peru.

The mountain region of Peru consists of the Andes Mountains and the high altiplano. The landscape here is beautiful, consisting of snow-capped mountain peaks, deep valleys, lakes and rivers. It is in this region of Peru that the Inca Empire was founded before its expansion throughout much of South America, and for this reason many of the more famous Inca ruins and tourist attractions are situated here in and around cities such as Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Arequipa. This region is also a very popular destination for treks in South America, and also contains Peru's highest peak, Mount Huascaran (6768m).

The jungle region consists of the Amazon Rainforest, and starts on the eastern slopes of the Andes and stretches eventually to the borders with Columbia, Bolivia and Brazil. This is a hot, humid, and incredibly biodiverse part of the world, and the area surrounding the Manu National Park, and the Tambopata regions in this part of Peru, offer some of the best bird-watching and wildlife watching opportunities anywhere on the planet. The Peruvian jungle region is also home to the northern Peruvian city of Iquitos, which is the largest city in the world inaccesible by road.

Time Difference

GMT - 5hrs.

Top Attractions

Machu Picchu is the top attraction of Peru. Other popular attractions are the Nazca Lines, Lake Titicaca, the Colca Canyon, the cities of Cusco and Arequipa, and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Population

Approximately 31 million, of which almost 10 million live in the metropolitan region of Lima.

Sports

Peru is football mad, and football dominates the sports programmes on television and the pages of Peruvian newspapers. Although Peru's national team has struggled to perform on the national stage in recent years, this hasn't dwindled support for the local regional teams. The most famous and well-supported football teams are Cienciano based in Cusco (who won the 2003 Copa Sudamerica), and the Lima teams of Alianza, Universitario (known as "La U"), and Cristal. The best place to watch a live game is probably in Lima, with frequent international games taking place in Estadio Nacional and Estadio Monumental.

Surfing is a popular sport in Peru, and Peru features some excellent surfing locations on the west Pacific coast.

Paleta Fronton is a popular racket-based sport in Peru, similar to squash or racketball.

Religion

Peru is a Catholic country and over 80% of Peruvians declare themselves as Catholic.

Many indigenous ancient beliefs, traditions, and ceremonies are still performed, and Peruvian religious celebrations and festivities will often combine elements of both Catholic and indigenous beliefs.

Peru in the Movies and on TV

La Teta Asustada, known as the Milk of Sorrow in English, is a 2009 Peruvian film starring Magaly Solier that was nominated in the 2009 Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Werner Herzog's 1982 classic film Fitzcarraldo was filmed and set in Peru, with one famous sequence being filmed in the Pongo de Mainique.

The 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, was partly filmed in Peru, including in Lima, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon Jungle.

Peru was one of the countries visited by Michael Palin during his epic Full Circle journey in 1997.

Peru has been featured in a vast selection of TV documentaries, highlighting the beauty of the ancient architecture, culture and landscape of the country. The BBC's series "Lost Kingdoms of South America", presented by Jago Cooper, featured episodes focussed entirely on Peru; and similarly the BBC series "The Inca: Masters of the Clouds" also presented by Jago Cooper was entirely focussed on Peru. Professor Brian Cox also featured Peru in his "Human Universe" 2014 series, with filming taking place in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

Famous Peruvians

Mario Vargas Llosa - the world renowned author.

Gaston Acurio - chef extraordinaire and global culinary darling who has been one of the key figures in the recent surge in global popularity of Peruvian Cuisine. His "Astrid y Gaston" restaurant in Lima frequently features in lists of the best restaurants in the world.

Sofia Mulanovitch - 2004 surfing World Champion.

Mario Testino - world famous fashion photographer who can include Princess Diana, the British Royal Family, Madonna and Lady Gaga amongst his vast list of clients.

Nolberto Solano - football player and former captain of the Peru national team. Other famous Peruvian footballers include Claudio Pizarro and Paolo Guerrero.