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Peru: Land of the Inkas

 

Peru occupies the central western side of South America. It is the third largest country in the region (larger than Spain, France and Germany together), covering an area of 1,285,215.6 square kilometers. It borders with Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Chile to the south, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, and with the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Peru’s population is approximately 27 million. It has three different geographical regions: coast, highlands and jungle or rainforest. The coast is home to 52 percent of the population and covers 12 percent of the national territory. Here, along a narrow desert strip (which is 180 km at its widest), are the main cities of Lima, Ica, Trujillo, Chiclayo and Piura. And, of course, 3,080 kilometers of beaches, some of them very beautiful.

The highlands, an area covering 28 percent of the country and home to 36 percent of the population, is dominated by the Andes mountain range which runs the length of Peru like a backbone. The terrain is of sharp contrasts with deep, narrow canyons and broad, fertile valleys. The average altitude of the mountains varies between three to four thousand meters, with the highest, Huascarán, reaching 6,768 meters (22,204 feet).

The rainforest is home to 12 percent of the population and covers 60 percent of the country’s territory. It is the least populated area of Peru. It has an extraordinarily rich wildlife and is the source of the Amazon, the planet’s longest, widest and deepest river. There are also mountain ranges covered in tropical forests: the eastern slopes of the Andes where exhuberant vegetation kept hidden for centuries such extraordinary archaeological sites as Machu Picchu.

History
Mankind first inhabited the Andes some 20,000 years ago, at the time that Paleolithic man lived in Europe. There was a long period of hunters and gatherers that was followed by the domestication of plants such as the potato, maize and cotton, and of animals such as llamas and alpacas.

Peru is known as the land of the Incas, and it is. But there were many civilizations that existed prior to the Incas. The oldest prehispanic city in the Americas (5,000 years old) is Caral, four hours north of Lima. Over 3,300 years ago the Chavín civilization reached its peak, with its centre in the highlands of the department of Ancash. Later, and also in the north, the Moche civilization flourished and is famous the world over for its royal tombs of Sipan.
Meanwhile, on the southern coast, the very important civilizations were that of Paracas, with unparalleled textiles, and Nazca, known for the gigantic drawings in the desert. The Incas only consolidated their empire around A.D. 1400. In fact, they were in the process of full expansion when Francisco Pizarro interrupted their plans in 1532.

The Spanish governed Peru by appointing viceroys. Between the 16th and 17th centuries there were two viceroyalties in the Americas: Mexico and Peru.In the 18th century, the viceroyalties of Buenos Aires and Nueva Granada were created. Colonial society was governed by hierarchy and elitism, marking a difference between the Spanish, the creoles and the native indian population.

In the second half of the 18th century there were two strong rebellions: one led by Juan Santos Atahuallpa (1742-1752) in the central jungle, and the other by Tupac Amaru (1780-1781) in Cuzco. Some forty years later, on November 8th, the Argentine general José de San Martín landed at the bay of Paracas, in Ica. He declared Peru’s independence on July 28th, 1821 but in fact, independence only became a reality after the battle of Ayacucho in 1824, when the troops commanded by the visionary Simón Bolivar defeated the royalist army.

The first years of the republic were turbulent. There was a great deal of internal fighting and numerous military leaders jostling for power. President Ramón Castilla, in the mid 19th century, brought an end to this chaos and began the harvesting of guano, repealed the tax charged to the indian population, and abolished slavery. In 1879, because of its commitment to an agreement made with Bolivia, Peru was dragged into a war against Chile that brought misfortune and the loss of part of its southern territory.
In more recent years, the well-known fight against terrorist groups such as Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) led to tension in Peru between 1980 and 1993, when the group’s leader Abimael Guzmán was captured and the messianic organization collapsed.

Today there is peace in Peru, and President Alejandro Toledo governs the country until 2006 when new general elections will be held.

Population and Political System
Peru has a population of approximately 27 million people. The coast is home to 52% of the total population, while 36% live in the highlands and 12% in the jungle. The population is predominantly mestizo or racially mixed, and most speak Spanish, although there are two important minorities: the Quechua and Aymara, and the native population of Amazonia, which is subdivided into 14 linguistic families and 42 ethnic groups.
Peru is politically divided into 25 regions (Amazonas, Ancash, Apurimac, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Callao, Cusco, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Ica, Junin, Lambayeque, La Libertad, Lima-Provinces, Loreto, Madre de Dios, Moquegua, Pasco, Piura, Puno, San Martin, Tacna, Tumbes and Ucayali) as well as the capital, Metropolitan Lima, which has no regional status.
Peru is a democracy whose public powers are the Executive, headed by the President of the Republic; the Legislature, which is a one-chamber congress; and the Judiciary. General elections, to elect a President of the Republic and the representatives to Congress, are held every five years. Regional and municipal elections are held every four years, the most recent held in 2002. Currently, the Constitutional President of the Republic is Dr. Alejandro Toledo, whose mandate concludes on July 28, 2006.

Language
Peru has two official languages: Spanish, spoken by 73 percent of the population, and Quechua, spoken by 24 percent.
The Ayamara language is also spoken, in an area on Peru’s high altiplano on the border with Bolivia. There are also some 50 Amazon languages, including Ashaninka, Aguaruna, and Machiguenga.

Religion
Roman Catholicism is Peru’s official religion, although in recent years the Evangelical Protestant groups have grown considerably. However, it is estimated that close to 80 percent of Peruvians are Catholic.

However, there is full religious freedom. There is also a marked religious syncretism, in which Catholicism is practiced without discarding the worship of the mountains, the sun and the moon in the Andes, and the spirits of plants and animals in the rainforest.

If you would like to participate in the “Destination of the Month” column please contact: Mr Michael Verikios michael@traveldailynews.com.

 

Co-Founder & Chief Editor - TravelDailyNews Media Network | Website

Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.

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