Early settlers and pre-Inca cultures
We know that the history of Peru began when the first settlers arrived 20,000 years ago. It is thought that they arrived from the north via the Isthmus of Panama in search of new lands. They were hunter-gatherers, as shown by the cave art at Toquepala (Tacna, 7600 BC). As agriculture developed, the first settlements and cultures began to appear. Latest research concludes that the first civilization in Peru began with the Caral, considered to be the most ancient in the Americas, dating back some 5,000 years, when urban development in the rest of the Americas is thought to have begun 1,550 years later. Its discovery has changed previous thinking on how Peru’s ancient civilizations emerged. Until recently, Chavín de Huántar was considered to be one of the oldest cultural focal points, dating back to a maximum of 1500 BC. After Caral, Andean culture expanded into the different areas of Peru, and produced civilizations that have left a wealth of archaeological and intangible heritage. Each pre-Inca culture had its own level of development, but with common aspects in terms of agriculture, food, clothing, social organization and even art. This characteristic of pre-Inca towns can be explained as they all formed part of a long and extensive cultural process, which began in Caral and continued with the Inca Empire.
The Inca Empire (1200 – 1500 AD) was the most important civilization in South America. Settled in the high and middle zones of the Vilcanota River valley, the empire represented the culmination of an ancient process of cultural development that began over 5,000 years ago. It is considered to have been a state, as it reached high levels of political organization and had a regulated system for wealth distribution, as well as excellent architectural and agricultural development. Also known as Tahuantinsuyo, its origin and capital was Cuzco. It flourished in the Andean region and its domain stretched all the way to present-day Colombia, Chile and Argentina, including the entire Bolivian and Ecuadorian territories. The Inca population principally worshipped the Earth (Pachamama) and the Sun (Inti). They believed that their head of state, the Inca King, had divine origins and was the child of the Sun. The Incas were the masters of their own geographical domain and implemented stone-based construction techniques in their large citadels, in harmony with the landscapes that surrounded them. Examples of this are Machu Picchu, Choquequirao and Sacsayhuamán, among others. Inca society had no written language, for which reason there are no exact records nor dates of its people, events or experiences. The study of Inca archaeology, work, drawings, art and the interpretation of historians are the principal source of information on the empire’s history.
Meeting of Two Worlds
Inca and European cultures clashed when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro’s troops captured the Inca King Atahualpa in Cajamarca, an event that marked the decline of the Inca Empire. In 1542, the Viceroyalty of Peru was formed, a dependency of the Spanish crown. The Viceroyalty’s territory included a large part of South America and existed for almost 200 years under the diverse forms of authoritative control. The Viceroyalty was consolidated in the 16th century by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who established the basis of the colonial economy: mita, a system of controlling the indigenous work force for mining and handicraft production. The mining of riches had a negative impact on the colonized Peruvian Indians, who saw their rights being restricted and their culture repressed. The reforms of the 18th century generated much discontent among many social sectors and successive rebellions flared up. The most serious indigenous uprising was led by Túpac Amaru II, who sparked the criollo movements that would eventually lead the push for independence throughout Spanish America.
Birth of the Peruvian State
In 1821, Peru was declared an independent country by José de San Martín, and in 1824 Simón Bolívar culminated the freedom process with the independence wars. As a nascent republic, during its first years Peru had to face economic crises and military governments which made it difficult to consolidate a new national spirit between the indigenous and mixed-race peoples. In economic terms, there was a boom in guano, cotton and sugar production. Slavery was ended midway through the 19th century, although at the same time, the first waves of Chinese immigrants arrived to work in agriculture, which was followed by Manuel Pardo’s first civilian governments. At that time, the guano boom had come to an end and the national economy entered into crisis, as guano had been providing the country’s main income. In 1879, Peru was defeated in a war with Chile. Racked by bankruptcy, this saw a new era of military governments, followed by a return to civilian rule. A period began which is known as the “Aristocratic Republic” based on an economy dominated by the land-owning elite. At this time, rubber production in the jungle reached its peak and an even wider gap opened between the capitalist elite, and the rest of the population, who mainly lived off the land.
During the 1970s, Peru was governed by a military dictatorship led by General Juan Velasco. The military administration nationalized oil and the media and reformed agrarian bases, radically changing ownership of agricultural lands. Democratic governments returned in the 1980s, but the country sank into a severe economic crisis with extremely high levels of hyperinflation. At the same time, two terrorist movements emerged that brought violence to the country for twenty years. In the 1990s, Alberto Fujimori, after a self-inflicted coup in 1992, dictated a series of laws that brought these terrorist groups to an end, leading the country to be reincorporated into the global economic system, from which it had withdrawn in the 1980s due to its decision to not pay its foreign debt. As of 2000, Peru has had consecutive, clearly democratic governments, led by Alejandro Toledo, Alan García and currently Ollanta Humala Tasso (2011-2016). The country is currently enjoying high economic growth, reaching levels of growth never seen before, and overcoming the crisis of past decades.
The great culture of ancient Peru is also expressed by a legacy of a wide variety of native languages that co-exist in its territory. Spanish is the official language and is used in most of the country. Other languages have been recognized by the Constitution, such as Quechua, which is spoken in many Andean regions in different varieties, and Aimara, the predominant language of the southern Andes. Shipibo, Ashaninka and Aguaruna, used by Amazon communities, are just some of the country’s 43 native languages.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in Peru’s culture, although Catholicism is the main religion, another legacy of the Spanish. Religious festivals have strong Spanish influence, but they are also an example of how different beliefs and religions of Peru’s pre-Hispanic cultures coexist.
The coming together of different creeds, customs and experiences have created close to 3,000 annual popular festivals in Peru, including patron saint feasts, processions, carnivals and rituals, encompassing the expression of belief in God, respect for nature and the celebration of freedom. Peruvian festivals have a mystical side to them; most of them are the result of a fusion between Catholicism and pre-Hispanic religious traditions. Repaying the earth is part of the main celebrations in all regions, and is about rewarding and recognizing the Pachamama (Mother Earth) for her endless generosity.
Peruvian cuisine is another expression of a national identity that embraces multiple cultures co-existing in one territory; a unifying element in Peru that can be seen everywhere. Peruvians have become experts at experimenting with new flavors, harmonizing aromas and discovering new ways of cooking. The diversity of Peru’s agricultural production, microclimates, geography, multiple cultures and the genius of its chefs have enriched the culinary nature of Peru to the point where it is now recognized as one of the finest expressions of the global cuisine. Mistura is the main gastronomic fair in Peru. It is held every year in Lima, bringing together the leading chefs and restaurants of Peru. The fair has been named the Gastronomic Capital of America and is one of the main events on international tourism itineraries in the region.
Ancient Peruvians were outstanding handicraft artisans with highly developed technical skills. Pre-Hispanic Peruvian art has been dated back to ancient times through the discovery of weaving, gourds, wood, stone, gold, silver, pottery and even mud, which were used for day-to-day living. This ancestral heritage is still seen today in the coastal, mountain and jungle towns, in a variety of high-quality woven items. Silver filigree, carved gourds, Ayacuchan altars, Huamanga stone and wood carvings, Chulucanas pottery and Monsefú ponchos, among others, are highly valued around the world.
Music and Dances
Since pre-Hispanic times, music and dance has always played an important role in Peruvian society. Ancient Peruvians used sea shells, reeds and even animal bones to produce sounds. It is said that the Peruvians of the Nazca culture were the most important pre-Hispanic musicians on the continent. Panpipes or zampoñas, terracotta trumpets and pututos were some of the most important musical instruments in ancient Peru. The music explored themes of religion, war and profanity. Another result of its many cultures, Peru today has a rich and varied folklore and a wide diversity of both music and dancing, that combine indigenous genres and spirit with Hispanic influence, as well as modern styles that have adapted to the changes and tastes of society’s larger social groups.
Peruvians are increasingly proud of the historical and cultural wealth, both past and present. After turning its back on its Andean origins for centuries, modern Peru now fully recognizes the value of the Andes and the Amazon for all that they represent in terms of resources and ancient traditions. Peru’s civilization is the oldest in South America. Neighboring countries have been created from ancient Peruvian territory and empire. Peru was the political and productive center of the region with a privileged and special geographical location. Modern Peru boasts entrepreneurs who have rediscovered their capacity to create new wealth, businesses and services. The country has overcome difficult political and economic crises. Although Peru is still undergoing the consolidation of its institutions, the country has now seen over two decades of democracy. Peruvians are a welcoming people who take pride in offering incredible services and experiences to visitors that include traditional foods, celebrations and festivals. Peruvians are passionate about soccer, the national sport and a good excuse for family and friends to come together. Peruvians are very religious. The Catholic faith has an important place in peoples lives, coexisting peacefully with other creeds.
Peru’s culture is one and many at the same time. Modern-day Peruvians are heirs to traditions of civilizations that flourished for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. The resulting cultural blend was further enhanced by African and Asian contributions, which also took root in this land.
City of Cusco
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Cusco, located in the south of the Peruvian Andes (3,250 masl – 10,663 fasl), is the country’s leading tourist destination and one of the most important cities in the Americas. Known by the Incas as the “Sacred City”, Cusco was the capital of one of the main pre-Columbian empires: the Tahuantinsuyo. Its Quechua name, Qosqo, means “navel of the world”, because the city was the center that controlled a vast network of roads stretching from southern Colombia to northern Argentina.
Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, in the southern Peruvian Andes, is Cusco’s main attraction. Discovered in 1911 by US explorer Hiram Bingham, the citadel is considered to be the most extraordinary example of landscape architecture in the world. Machu Picchu (“old mountain” in Quechua, the ancient tongue of the Incas) is located at the top of a mountain that overlooks the deep Urubamba River canyon, in the midst of the tropical jungle. It is believed to have been a center of worship and astronomical observation or the private estate of the Pachacútec Inca family.
Chavín Archaeological Complex
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The Chavín de Huántar archaeological site, belonging to the period 1,000 – 300 BC, epitomizes the development of Andean culture. Situated at 3,185 masl (10,450 fasl) and just three hours from the city of Huaraz by road, the Chavín religious center was built entirely of stone, with underground passages and a series of pyramid structures. Inside the complex, figures in low relief can be seen in the arches and columns, combining feline characters, birds of prey and serpents which are typical motifs of Chavín iconography. In the subterranean gallery stands the Lanzón, a 3.75-meter (12 feet) high monolith, with the shape of a giant spear. Chavín is one of the most ancient sacred sites in the Americas.
Huascarán National Park
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Huascarán is the second highest park in the South American Andes, located at the heart of the highest tropical mountain range in the world. A diversity of species such as condors, vicuñas, white-tailed deer, puma, vizcachas, mountain cats and the Andean fox live on its high plains and glacial summit of over 6,000 masl (19,685 fasl). Huascarán park contains 27 mountains, 663 glaciers, 269 lakes and 41 rivers.
Chan Chan Archaeological Area
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Chan Chan is known internationally as being the largest mud city in the pre-Hispanic world. In the Yunga language, Jang Jang means “sun, sun”. It was the religious capital of the Chimú kingdom (700 – 1,400 AD), and is located in the Moche River valley, in the La Libertad department, in northern Peru. It stretches over approximately 20 km2 (8 sq. miles), and it is estimated that close to 100,000 people lived here. The city was the urban center of a vast regional state that dominated half the Peruvian coast, from Tumbes and the border of Ecuador to the south of Lima.
Manu National Park
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The park is located between the provinces of Manu (Madre de Dios) and Paucartambo (Cusco), and includes the territories on the eastern slopes of the Andes in the Peruvian Amazon jungle. The area is inhabited by a large number of tribes, the majority of which currently have no contact with the rest of the world. The park is also a paradise of 20,000 varieties of plants, 1,200 species of birds, 200 mammal species and a currently unknown number of reptiles, amphibians and insects.
Historic Downtown Lima
In 1988, the San Francisco Convent was inscribed in the World Heritage list In 1991, Historic Downtown Lima received the same recognition. Lima, known as the City of Kings, was an oasis of culture and elegance in Spanish America from its foundation. Baroque and renaissance style churches, as well as palaces with stylized balconies, are part of the noble architecture of Lima, a city that offers the visitor museums, art galleries, recreation spots and archaeological sites belonging to civilizations that existed before the Incas.
Abiseo River National Park
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. Located in the eastern Andes of Peru, the park is situated on the convergence of the Marañón and Huallaga Rivers, both tributaries of the Amazon. Important pre-Hispanic remains can be found over an area larger than 1500 km2 (579 sq. miles) both inside and outside of the park. Abiseo River Park has not been open to the public since 1986.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Two hours from Ica, the incredible lines trace a variety of figures, including animals, birds and divinities,covering a desert area of more than 450 km2 (174 sq. miles). The Nazca Lines, discovered in 1927, are the most important legacy left by the Nazca culture, which flourished in 300 BC. The lines are sometimes 300 meters (984 feet) long, which means they can only be seen from above.
Historic Downtown Arequipa
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, is situated in the south of the Peruvian Andes. It is also known as the “White City”, due to the volcanic rock (sillar) used to build the city’s houses and public buildings. The area around Arequipa holds innumerable tourism attractions, including the Colca Canyon and also the Cotahuasi Canyon, which is the deepest in the world. Colca Valley is an impressive natural setting due to the combination of agricultural terraces from Inca times and over a dozen towns founded in the 16th century.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. Caral is one of 18 settlements identified in the valley. With a size of approximately 65 hectares (161 acres), it comprises of a series of architectural structures, including the Larger Pyramid, the Amphitheatre Pyramid and the Elite Residential Sector. The strong wind swirls the sands of Caral, the most ancient city in the Americas. Ancient inhabitants sought to recreate this strength through their flutes. Made from condor and pelican bone, the first 32 flutes discovered in the archaeological site were one of the greatest surprises held by Caral. For this reason, In 2001, the Caral Flutes Archaeo-Musical Research Workshop was held in order to reproduce the sound that these flutes would have made in 3,000 BC.
Peru is located in the west of South America, and has borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. It has sovereignty over 1,285,215 km2 of land and 200 nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean, as well as 60 million hectares of the Antarctic.
1 285 215,6 km2
It is the third largest country in South America and one of the 20 largest countries in the world. Its sovereignty extends over 200 nautical miles. Being a consultative party to the Antarctic Treaty it has a Scientific Station called Machu Picchu on that continent.
Peru is an extremely diverse country, with 11 ecological regions and 84 of the world’s 117 different types of “life zone”. It has a huge variety of scenery thanks to its geography, which also provides it with a wide range of natural resources. The country has 3 main regions according to the traditional method of dividing the country by altitude: coast, mountains and jungle.
Characterized by a narrow band of deserts and fertile valleys alongside the Pacific Ocean. The fertile valleys spring from the rivers that flow down from the Andes mountain range itself, as opposed to the lower-lying sierra, and into the sea. The coast has a warm-temperate climate, without extreme heat or cold but with high humidity and dense fog that makes it feel extremely cold in winter. In the summer there is very little fog and temperatures reach 30°C. In the north, the coast is hot almost all year round, with a short rainy period in November and December. The central and southern coast has two distinct seasons, winter (April to October) and summer (November to March).
This is the mountainous region of Peru, where the Andes mountain range dominates the landscape and contains various ecological regions and altitudes. The northern Andes are lower and more humid than the rest, while the central Andes are the tallest and steepest, and it is here where you find the country’s highest peak, Huascarán, at 6,768 meters above sea level. The southern Andes are wider, and are also known as the altiplano, or high Andean plateau. The sierra has two seasons: summer (April to October) with sunny days, cold nights and little rain – this is the perfect time to visit; and winter (November to March), when it rains heavily. During the day, temperatures can reach 24°C, and at night they can fall to -3°C.
Located in the east, this is a vast region of plains covered by vegetation in the Amazon River basin, which begins at the confluence of the Marañón and Ucayali rivers. It is Peru’s largest region, and consists of highland jungle, or ceja de montaña – the mountain’s eyebrows, (over 700 meters above sea level), which is characterized by its cloud forests, and lowland jungle (less than 700 meters above sea level). Like the sierra, the jungle has two distinct seasons. From November to March it rains frequently, while from April to October it is fairly dry, making this the ideal time to visit as the rivers subside and the roads are easily accessible. There is high humidity all year round. Occasionally, between May and August, there are “friajes” or “surazos”, cold snaps caused by winds from the extreme south of the continent, during which the temperature can fall to between 8 and 12°C. Information about the weather of the country’s different regions can be found here.
When is the best time to travel to Peru?We can say all year long is good to visit Peru, but specially between March and November.
Do I need to receive any special vaccination before my trip to Peru?No vaccinations are mandatory to enter Peru, with the exception of yellow fever for travelers arriving from African or American countries. Below is a list of recommended vaccinations:
Vaccination Recommended for Destinations where it is recommended Chiken pox Travelers who have never had chicken pox The whole country Hepatitis A All travelers The whole country Hepatitis B Travelers who expect to be in contact with local population for extended periods of time Amazonas, Loreto, San Martín, Ucayali, Junín, Madre de Dios Yellow Fever Travelers in jungle areas below 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) Amazonas, Loreto, San Martín, Ucayali, Junín, Madre de Dios
The vaccination against yellow fever must be administered at least 10 days before the date of travel to be effective.
Do I need a visa to visit Peru?Citizens of most American and Western European countries are not required visa to enter Peru. Citizens of Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile do not require passports or visa to visit certain regions of Peru. Contact the Peruvian diplomatic representative in your country for further information. Addresses and phone numbers are included in the website of Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Relations: www.rree.gob.pe If the purpose of your visit is tourism, the maximum length of your stay will be 90 days (you can apply for extensions with the immigration authority) All travelers must carry a valid passport, or a safe-conduct issued by the Peruvian immigration authority.
Is it safe to travel in Peru?Reality shows that it is very safe.? We can assure visitors that all they need to do is follow the normal precautions taken in order to visit other destinations.
-Take the logical precautions to avoid pickpockets and purse-snatchers.
-Carry a copy of your identification documents. Keep the originals and the rest of valuable personal effects in the safety deposit box of your hotel.
-?Wear valuable items discretely; don’t carry large sums of cash and watch your bags and luggage.
-Refrain from exchanging currency on the street.
-It is advisable to use taxi companies for transportation (they can be requested by phone) or cabs authorized by the municipal authorities (in Lima they are painted yellow and carry a bright identification sign on the roof).
How far is Peru?Please as a reference see below a table with the approximate arrival flight times.
Country City Approx. flight time United States Dallas 7 hours and 12 minutes United States Houston 6 hours and 45 minutes United States Los Angeles 8 hours and 35 minutes United States Miami 5 hours and 45 minutes United States Atlanta 7 hours Argentina Buenos Aires 4 hours and 15 minutes Chile Santiago 3 hours and 25 minutes Spain Madrid 11 hours and 30 minutes
Flights with Layover
Country City Approx. flight time United States New York 8 hours and 35 minutes / via San José United States San Francisco 10 hours / via Los Angeles United States Washington 9 hours / via Newark Germany Dusseldorf 18 hours and 40 minutes / via Madrid Germany Frankfurt 15 hours and 30 minutes / via Madrid France Paris 14 hours and 50 minutes/ via Miami Italy Milan 14 hours and 50 minutes / via Madrid Italy Rome 15 hours and 10 minutes / via Madrid UK London 15 hours and 10 minutes / via Madrid Japan Tokyo 20 hours and 35 minutes / via Los Angeles