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Peru lies on the Pacific coast of South America, just south of Ecuador. To the Quechua Indians Peru means “land of abundance.” Sites such as Machu Picchu and Cusco recall the wealth of the Inca civilization, destroyed in the early 16th century by Spaniards, who built an empire on Peru’s gold and silver. Today Peru ranks among the world’s top producers of silver, copper, lead, and zinc. Its petroleum industry is one of the world’s oldest, and its fisheries are among the world’s richest.

The Inca capital was Cusco, but the Spanish founded Lima in 1535 along the coast and made it their capital. The Spanish preferred the lowland coast because of the climate and more accessible trade links to Spain. The western seaboard is desert, where rain seldom falls. Lima is an oasis containing more than a quarter of Peru’s population—most of European or mestizo descent. The Andean highlands occupy about a third of the country and contain mostly Quechua-speaking Indians, the language of the Inca Empire. East of the Andes lies a sparsely-populated jungle; the principal city of this region is Iquitos. Iquitos can be reached by ocean-going vessels traversing 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) up the Amazon River; recent oil discoveries have brought more settlers.

Peru’s recent history has vacillated between periods of democracy and dictatorship. The desperate poverty of the Indian population gave rise to the ruthless Maoist guerrilla organization Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The guerrillas have been largely defeated but problems with poverty and illegal coca production persist.

Interesting facts about Peru you should know:

– The potato is originally from Peru, and there are over 3,000 different varieties. Proud Peruvians use the phrase “Soy mas Peruano que la papa” (I am more Peruvian than the potato).
– Cotahuasi Canyon in the Arequipa region is one of the world’s deepest canyons at 3,535 meters (11,597 feet) – twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA.
– There are 3 official languages in Peru: Spanish, Quechua and Aymara, but east of the Andes in the Amazon jungle it is thought that natives speak another 13 languages.
– The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was overgrown by the Amazon Jungle for hundreds of years, and was only “re-discovered” by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in the early 20th century.
– Peru has 1625 types of orchids, of-which 425 can be found growing naturally close to Machu Picchu. The Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu, with 500 varieties, has South America’s largest privately owned collection.

– Cusco, Peru was the most important city in the whole Inca Empire, and governed as far north as Quito, Ecuador and as far south as Santiago, Chile.
– The Pisco Sour is Peru’s national drink and is made using pisco brandy (grape brandy), lemons, sugar water, egg whites, ice and finished with bitters.
– Lake Titicaca in Southern Peru is the world’s highest navigable lake, and South America’s largest lake.
– The Peruvian Amazon jungle is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth. As a nation, Peru has one of the largest number of bird and mammal species in the world; 44% of bird species and 63% of mammal species inhabit the Peruvian Amazon. Peru also has a very large number of species of butterflies, orchids, and other organisms.

Safety

The quickest way to get around cities and towns in Peru is by taxi. Most taxis are operated by individuals rather than reputable companies. While uncommon, you may be robbed by an unknown taxi driver and/or his accomplices if you take an unofficial cab ride. Avoid this risk by always taking officially licensed taxis recommended by hotel, airport or tourist office staff. You’ll encounter swarms of taxis waiting outside the main airport in Lima and near bus terminals around the country. Do not take these taxis. Instead, ask an employee with official identification to help you arrange a ride from a licensed operator you can trust. If you can’t avoid taking an unknown taxi, make a point of noting the registration number and concealing all valuables before you get in.
Bus transportation is one of the primary methods of traveling between cities and towns. Avoid traveling at night, as many of the roads and highways in Peru are narrow and winding, which leads to a high rate of accidents. If possible, schedule your trip so that you are traveling during daylight hours. Try not to arrive in a new city or town at night, especially if you do not already have arrangements for a place to stay and direct transportation to the hotel. Keep valuables on your person at all times. Tuck backpack straps around your arms or feet, and check for your bags every time cargo is unloaded from the storage space below the bus.
Never carry large sums of cash with you. Use a credit or debit card to withdraw the money you need at ATMs or banks. All cities and towns have ATMs and bank offices. Smaller villages and remote locations may not have these facilities, so plan in advance to take along the necessary currency. Most ATMs are equipped with English on-screen prompts. Keep your passport with you or leave it in a safe at your hotel. Print a copy of your passport to keep on your person at all times and another to store with your personal items in case the original passport is lost or stolen.
Drink only bottled water while in Peru. The tap water is not pure enough to consume without boiling. It is best to avoid eating food sold on the street by vendors. Peruvian cuisine is delicious but you should take appropriate precautions to avoid getting sick.

Visas

Travelers need a passport valid at least half a year with at least 2 free pages in the visa section when entering Peru.
The maximum stay in Peru on a tourist visa is 183 days per year. You cannot extend your tourist visa once you enter Peru.
Peruvian tourist visas are single-entry visas only.
Like in most countries around the world you are not allowed to work on a tourist visa.
In case you need to sign any important contracts (work contract, apartment purchase, sometimes even a marriage certificate) you need a permission to do so; otherwise the papers are not legal. You can get this permit quite easily at the Immigration Office (Dirección General de Migraciones y Naturalizacion, Av. España 734 in Breña).

Climate

Peru boasts one of South America’s top attractions, Machu Picchu. The country also features numerous other destinations spread across three climatic zones. With the Amazon rainforest, the Andes Mountains and the South Pacific Ocean all contained within its borders, Peru stands out as one of the continent’s more geographically diverse nations. These dramatically different landscapes also make for distinct weather conditions. Travelers should plan their trips to Peru based on the time of year and the region visited to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Seasons

Peru’s seasons run opposite of those in the northern hemisphere. Summer technically lasts from December to February, while winter spans June to August. Temperatures tend to drop slightly in the winter, but the primary shift in Peru’s annual climate is the amount of precipitation. Of course, conditions depend greatly on the particular region.

The Highlands

Peru’s Andean highlands encompass major attractions, such as Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Winter is the dry season here, from June to August. Mild daytime temperatures give way to chilly nights, and the lack of precipitation makes this an ideal period to visit the area. Summer brings on wet conditions from December through February and March. Heavy rainfall blankets the mountains, causing occasional mudslides and greatly diminishing tourist traffic.

The Coast

The coastal desert of Peru sprawls along the South Pacific Ocean. Destinations like the Nazca Lines and Arequipa lie to the south, while the capital of Lima dominates the central coast. Trujillo and the beach town of Mancora sit in the northern reaches of the country. December to April constitutes summer on the Peruvian coast, when conditions are hot and arid, ideal for swimming and beach activities. Winter shifts gears as the shoreline becomes shrouded in sea mist and intermittent pockets of rain. The northern coast remains pleasant all year round, whereas Lima and the southern coast are mostly cloudy from May until September. Peru’s coast also experiences occasional El Niño events. This phenomenon generally occurs around Christmas. Warm ocean currents mix with increased air pressure in an abrupt reversal of atmospheric and sea conditions. This oceanic upheaval produces heavy rains and major climate shifts conducive to isolated droughts. Occasional tremors and earthquakes are not uncommon, either.

The Amazon

The Peruvian Amazon is the most consistent of the three climatic zones. The interior swaths of jungle feature humid, tropical conditions year round. Travelers can expect sticky heat and regular rainfall no matter the season. However, even the Amazon has slightly different winter and summer weather. April through October is the “dry winter” season, with relatively less precipitation and lower river levels. Andean Travel Web recommends this as the best time to go to the Amazon. The wet summer season spans November to March, bringing torrential downpours at frequent intervals.

Tourist Season

Peak tourist season in Peru lasts from May through October, according to Frommer’s Travel Guide. This spike in tourism derives from the dry climate in the Andes, home to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Dry weather means optimal conditions for hiking the Inca Trail and exploring the region’s myriad other treasures. Tourism also picks up briefly around Christmas and the New Year. Travelers can anticipate higher prices and larger crowds during these two periods.

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