Peru, in northwest South America, is a country of immense cultural and historical significance, being the home to one of the planet’s oldest civilizations, the Incas. This tribe started to organize itself socially and form large permanent settlements around 6000BC, and by the time of the Spanish arrival in 1531 its Empire covered much of northern South America.
When the Spanish under Francisco Pizarro arrived, they found the Incas in a state of civil war, and took advantage of this confusion to seize power in a series of surprise attacks. The Spanish consolidated their authority by founding Lima as their power base in 1535, which to this day remains the capital of Peru. Uprisings were put down ruthlessly, and the Inca’s immune systems couldn’t cope with European diseases. Their numbers dwindled and were soon fully subjected by the Spanish and their superior weapons and technology.
Peruvian independence was proclaimed by the nationalist Don Jose de San Martin in 1821 after a series of victories against the much weakened Spanish colonial power.
Spanish, or Castellano as it is called in South America, is the only official language of Peru, spoken by everybody in cities and most in the countryside. However, if you venture into more isolated areas, you will still find people, usually the elderly, who only speak in one of the native tongues. Of these Quechua, which is the old Inca language, is the most common. You will find English speakers working at popular tourist destinations and within hotels and restaurants in cities.
The unit of currency is the Nuevo Sol. As of the 16th of October 06, 1USD will buy 3.2438, 1 Pound Sterling will buy 6.0465, and 1 Euro will buy 4.0646.
Although Peru’s latitude suggests a tropical, equatorial climate, its altitude means it is actually much colder. In Lima, on the coast, temperatures range from 21 degrees Celsius in January to 10 degrees Celsius in June.
Peru has a heritage of archaeological sites unsurpassed almost anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception of Egypt. The discovery of The Royal Tombs of Sipan was hailed as one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. When the Moche people’s greatest warrior-priest died in the 4th century AD, he was clad in gold and silver, and buried with human sacrifices including women, children, and his faithful soldiers. His tomb and relics from the tomb provide a fascinating insight into this little-known tribe, and are on exhibition in "Tumbas Reales de Sipán" in the town of Lambayeque.
Machu Picchu is perhaps the most endearing symbol of Inca civilization. Ever since Hiram Bingham brought it to the west’s attention in 1911, it has attracted a flood of tourists, whether they arrive to study or simply wonder. It is now though the city was a king of country retreat for Inca nobles, and housed only around 750 people at any one time. 400,000 people visited the site in 2003, and UNESCO, who oversees the world heritage site, has expressed concerns about the damaging effect this number of humans may be having on the surroundings. The Peruvian government, realising the economic value of these visitors, have dismissed the concerns.
Peru has many areas of breathtaking natural beauty, and many travellers are content to spend some time taking in the myriad of rivers and canyons, lakes and lagoons, and flora and fauna that the forested mountains have to offer. Eco-tourism is a growing industry, and each year more people come wanting to spend time living in harmony with the forest.
You can support many of the impoverished Peruvian craftsmen buy purchasing some of their excellent produce as souvenirs. Jumpers and other clothing made from Alpaca is popular, and can help keep you warm at high Peruvian altitudes. You will be expected to bargain for items such as these, but it would be wise to remember that poverty may force a vendor to sell even if they are not making a fair profit. The difference for them between a couple of Nuevo sol is much greater than for you.
All over Peru people enjoy going out to restaurants in the evening and then going to bars to enjoy some Peruvian music and drink Chicha. Lima has a particularly lively scene, and contains the only cinemas in the country. Barranco, around Plaza Municipal, is perhaps the most popular spot for young people going to bars.
Most roads out of the cities are unpaved, and although the police do not generally enforce speed limits, nature does. The drink-driving limit is 0.045% blood alcohol level. Highway robberies are common and you should always drive with your doors locked.
Food and Drink
Peruvian cuisine is a mixture of American, Hispanic and Creole styles. The staple of a Peruvian’s diet is maize, tomato and potato. The meats eaten may seem peculiar to a western palette; guinea pig and llama are among the most popular ingredients. Italian and Chinese immigrants have also made themselves felt on the country’s gastronomic scene, with many high quality restaurants available in the cities. A popular style of cooking found on Peru’s Pacific coast is Ceviche, which involves marinating fish or shellfish in limejuice with chilli peppers and onions. The fish is not actually cooked over a heat, the acid the in the limejuice breaks down the proteins to make it tender enough to eat.
The favourite Peruvian soft drink is Inca Cola, which is owned by Coca Cola, but has a distinctive bubble-gum taste. A traditional alcoholic drink is Chicha, which is made from fermented corn or peanuts.
Tourist InfoPROMPERU (Commission for the Promotion of Peru), Lima:
- Tel:+51 (0)1 224 3279