The Incas may be the first ancient people that come to mind when thinking about Peru, and for good reason. These people were one of the most advanced ancient cultures and had a rich role to play in Peru’s history. However, Peru had numerous people living within its boarders prior to European discovery of South America, many of which ruled the area long before the Incas.
The first people to inhabit Peru were nomadic hunters who roamed the land looking for many now extinct animals. Cave paintings found near Huanuco and Tacna depict fierce hunters slaying mastodons, giant sloths and saber-toothed tigers. Domestication of animals, specifically the llama and guinea pig, occurred around 4,000 B.C., and with it simple agriculture began. Gradually, people began to settle along the coast to fish and farm, rather than relying on hunting. Little is known about these early people, but archeological findings show that they lived a simple life.
The first defined culture in Peru was the Chavin culture, which was predominant from 1000 to 300 BC. These people brought artistic and religious ideas to the land, and helped develop some architectural styles. Gold, sliver and copper working began to develop during this time. They lost their influence in 300 BC, and a variety of people groups came and went between then and 700 AD, when the Wari took over. The Wari influence is strong in the art and technology of this time. They were replaced by the Chimu in 1,000 AD, who were in turn, replaced by the Incas beginning in the 12th century.
The height of the Inca Empire was during the reign of Pachacutec in the 1400s. This was a time of military expansion for the empire, and they ended up conquering most of the people in Peru during their relatively short reign. By the time the Spanish arrived in Peru in the 1500s, the Inca Empire was firmly established as the unifying government of the region.
The Spanish brought with them smallpox and other disease, which quickly spread throughout Central and South America. The 11th Incan Emperor died of one of these maladies, and before he died he split his land between his two sons. This led to a civil war that began the downfall of the empire. In 1528 when Francisco Pizarro found the riches of the Inca Empire, the rulers were already working toward their own demise. After murdering the Inca leader, Pizarro was able to take control of the land, establishing Lima as the capital and giving the colony the name of “Peru.”
The Spanish held an unsteady rule over the people, but rebellion was always bubbling under the surface. In 1780, the first official uprising, led by Tupac Amaru II, was defeated by the Spanish. However, it sparked the spirit of independence among the people, and in 1821, Jose de San Martin, with the help of Simon Bolivar, liberated Peru. This led to a period of wars between Peru and her neighbors, until 1942 when the border was established much as it exists today.
- Peru is considered one of the earth’s eight mega-diverse countries. It contains 84 out of the 104 life zones, close to 20 percent of the world’s species of birds, 10 percent of the mammal species and around 50,000 species of plants. Conservation efforts include 60 protected natural areas.
- Peru has two official languages: Spanish and Quechua, the Indian language. Even though most Indians in Peru speak Quechua, their native language, particularly in the south, is usually Aymara.
- The people of Peru value self discipline. As a result, they rarely express their emotions in public. They also have respect for elders and will regularly give up their place for someone older than themselves.
- Think potatoes are from Ireland? There are actually 4,000 native varieties of the potato in Peru, and it has been cultivated in the Andes mountains for over 7,000 years.
- The national dish of Peru is cuy, which is roasted guinea pig. It is served with the head and feet intact, often next to a few potatoes.
- You can find 28 different climates when you visit Peru.
- Peru is home to the highest dune in the world, Cerro Blanco. It measures 1,176 meters from its base, which is located near Nazca. This gives it a 2,080-meter height above sea level.
- Machu Picchu – Attracting over 2 million people a year, Machu Picchu, the most complete Inca city, gives guests the chance to see just how advanced this civilization was.
- Lake Titicaca – A visit to the world’s highest navigable lake gives you the chance to see mysterious floating islands and some very unique isolated cultures.
- Lima – The capital city is packed with museums. It also has an excellent nightlife and is the prefect spot to enjoy some authentic Peruvian food.
- Macora – This beach location has perfect waves for surfing. Kite surfing is quite popular here, and the beach is often lined with sun worshippers.
- Rio Amazonas – The Amazon River gets its start in Peru, and here is one of the best places to see some of the country’s wildlife, as well as remote villages of the rainforest people groups.
- Arequipa – Take a stroll through the “White City” to try your hand at bartering in an open-air market, trekking through the mountain, taking a white water rafting trip or touring colonial architecture. All of this is possible with a trip to Arequipa.
- Parque Nacional Manu – This national park encompasses everything from a high-altitude cloud forest to the lowland rainforest. It is an excellent place for wildlife viewing.
- Huancavelica – If you love the architecture of churches, then this is the city to visit. It is not as filled with tourists as some of the other locations, but it is packed with churches from a range of styles for you to tour.
- Nazca – No one quite knows what the Nazca lines were for, but this Unesco World Heritage Site continues to draw visitors who want to try to determine their reason for themselves.
- Chiclayo – The tombs in the bustling seaside city of Chiclayo rival the greatest treasures in the Egyptian pyramids.
How to Get Cash
- Credit cards are commonly accepted at retailers throughout the larger cities of Peru, provided you are not shopping at an open-air market. They can be a safer option, as large amounts of cash can attract crime.
- Traveler’s checks are also commonly used throughout Peru. The exchange rates will vary from one location to the next, even with in the same bank, so it pays to shop around. The best rates are typically found through the Banco de Credito.
- In the big cities, you can find ATMs in upper scale hotels and major tourist areas. Find one with a Maestro or Cirrus sign to get cash easily, but be alert for criminals. The fees are lower with ATM withdrawals than with credit card use. Always read the fees, as it will vary much from each bank.
- When traveling to smaller towns, you may not be able to have your traveler’s checks exchanged or find a location that accepts credit cards. For this reason, carry some cash with you. If you have US dollars, many small shop owners will exchange them for neuvo sol, but they will only accept bills that are in good condition.
- If you face an emergency, consider having money transferred to you using a Western Union or similar service, but expect to pay dearly for this.