Perú: An Overview
The ancient Incas used the word puputi (navel) when they talked about the place they occupied in the world. With this, they conveyed their sense of being located at the center of the world. Actually, this same sense applies to all of Peru, even today.
Peru is located in the central and western zone of South America, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean and includes the central portion of the Andes, where the rivers that give birth to the Amazon River and its basin originate. Positioned along the Pacific shore, Peru sits at the point where two important ocean streams meet: the cold Humboldt stream, flowing from the Antarctic, and the warm El Niño stream, from the equatorial regions.
The dynamic juxtaposition of these natural elements produces a surprising environmental diversity along with the rich cultural mixture that characterizes the Peruvian history. From the sea to the deserts and valleys, and throughout the Andes and the jungle, you will find signs of the creativity and tenacity of the working people who have helped shape Peru’s spectacular landscape.
Although Peru possesses 84 of the 104 recognized ecosystems of the world, the country is divided in three greater geographic regions: Costa, a desert strip along the shoreline that covers 10% of Peru’s land mass and hosts 53% of its population; Sierra (the Andes), a vast mountainous region with abundant peaks, valleys and plateaus that occupies 30% of Peru’s territory and is home to 35% of the population; and finally the Selva, the Amazon jungle region that covers 60% of Peru but contains only 12% of the nation’s population.
In Peru it is possible to distinguish two main seasons: the rainy season and the dry season; although these vary from region to region. The coast and the western Andes are generally dry. The north coast is warmer and the south coast has a temperate climate. In the Andes, the dry season stretches from May to September; at the higher altitudes, the temperature drops, and may reach freezing conditions above 9800 feet. The Amazon jungle is tropical and humid all year long.
Regarding natural resources, Peru is well-known around the world for its fishing and mining, and more recently, for the huge potential of its biodiversity. Nonetheless, it has not always been recognized as a place from which a wide variety of agricultural products come. It is difficult to imagine the world without potatoes, corn, tomatoes or peanuts. All these crops were grown by ancient civilizations that settled in the area more than 6000 years before the Incas.
The language of Peru is Spanish. In rural areas, however, most people are bilingual, also speaking Quechua or Aymara, their native tongues. For these Peruvians, Spanish is a second language. In the Amazon, there are also more than 55 native languages spoken by diverse ethnic groups and tribes alongside the main rivers and in the Amazon jungle.
Due to the influence of the Spanish, Roman Catholicism is the major religion in Peru. As evidence, there are splendid colonial temples in main cities such as Lima, Cuzco, Arequipa and Ayacucho, and also in most of the smaller, older towns. Most of the population, however, blends Catholicism with a mixture of their ancestral beliefs, leading to a calendar packed with a wide variety of colorful religious festivities.