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Peru is bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and the Pacific Ocean. It is a land of extraordinary biodiversity and home to ancient cultures, such as the Norte Chico and the Incan empire. It is internationally famous for the "lost city" of Machu Picchu, a must-see destination for any ecotraveller, but don't forget to check out the many other amazing ecodestination sights!
Peru is one of the world’s megadiverse countries. It has the second largest portion of the Amazon rain forest, which covers 74% of the country’s area. There are several different biomes within Peru, from the cold coastal waters in the south to the warm tropical seas of the north, from dry coastal deserts to the snow-capped Andean mountains, and from the plains to the tropical forests. Its hosts about 25,000 plant species, 30% of which are endemic. Peru also inhabits a great number of birds. In fact, 1/5 of all migrating bird species fly through this beautiful country.
The Amazon River, is the most biodiverse rich river in the world, and is home to more than 2,000 species of fish. It is also hosts many unique animals such as the pink dolphin, the giant river otter, the piranha, the Amazonian manatee, the giant Amazon turtle, the arapaima, the electric eel, the dwarf caiman, and the infamous anaconda.
Like many precious ecosystems around the world, Peru suffers from overdevelopment and climate change. Logging, oil drilling, mining, gas extraction, and unsustainable agriculture all contribute to deforestation. Another contributor to deforestation stems from the chemical spraying of coca plants, which adversely affects the local flora and fauna. Due to climate change, Peru has already lost 39% of its tropical glaciers in the Andes. Continued rising temperatures has scientists predicting that by the end of the century, there will be irreversible effects of nature and human life in Peru.
Peru’s Indigenous peoples include the Achuar, Aguaruna, Ashaninka, Shipibo, Huambisa, Quechua, and Aymara, and together they constitute 45% of the Peruvian population. By far the largest group is the Quechua and followed by the Aymara. Other minority groups include Afro-Peruvians, Chinese, and Japanese.
In 1997, the Peruvian government created a Bilingual Education Unit in the Ministry of Education, which works to promote bilingual intercultural communication and education. This was heralded around the world as a great advancement in indigenous rights; however, some indigenous people claim they need better education in Spanish in order to overcome discrimination and integrate into mainstream Peruvian society.
The natural resources industries, such as oil, gold, and logging, have had a significantly negative effect on indigenous people. During the 19th century, rubber was discovered and foreign companies employed locals to extract the commodity under extremely harsh conditions. Moreover, foreigners brought with them diseases that the indigenous peoples had no immunity for, and as a consequence thousands of people perished. Today, that fight continues as many of these industries continue to encroach on their land and resources.
Discrimination, dispossession, and exploitation are still issues for Peru’s indigenous peoples. Survival International, a nonprofit dedicated to indigenous rights for people around the world, estimates that there are about 15 uncontacted tribes in the forests of Peru. Contrary to popular belief, uncontacted tribes are aware of the outside world, but choose to isolate themselves in order to protect their way of life.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Arequipa: This is Peru’s second largest city. It is nicknamed “La Ciudad Blanca”, or “The White City”, due to its elegant historical center with colonial buildings constructed of sillar, a porous white volcanic stone. Surrounding the city are three majestic snowcapped volcanoes named El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu, from where the sillar is collected. Be sure to visit the Santo Domingo Church and Convent, the Plaza de Armas (or Plaza Mayor) and the magnificent Santa Catalina Monastery.
Cusco: This ancient city is located at 3,400 m (11,150 ft) above sea level, in an alluvial valley in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. In the native Quechua language it means “earth’s navel” and was the birthplace and capital of the Incan Empire. According to Incan legend, Manco Cápac founded the city by thrusting into the soil a golden scepter given to him by the Sun God. There are still vestiges of the Incan’s impeccable masonry, much of it fitted without mortar. Be sure to visit the Sun Temple, which was once covered with gold, silver, and precious stones, but was ransacked by the Spanish conquistadors. Of the Spanish colonial city there remains whitewashed houses, colonnades, and marvelous Baroque churches. Try to be in Cusco on June 24th to celebrate Inti Raymi, the ancient Incan Sun Festival, where you’ll participate in parades, processions, dances and folk music.
Lima: It is Peru’s modern-day capital and was founded by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, in January 1535. Called the “Ciudad de los Reyes”, or “City of the Kings”, the capital has striking Baroque and Renaissance churches, colonial mansions and palaces, and the country’s best museums.
Machu Picchu: This is a world-renown archaeological site, nicked “The Lost City of the Incas”, that was abandoned by the Inca and reclaimed by the jungle. It remained unknown to the outside world until 1911, when a ten-year-old local boy led the explorer Hiram Bingham to the ruins. It is a 100 acre complex consisting of religious, ceremonial, astronomical and agricultural structures on a steep ridge of the eastern slopes of the Andes, and is encompassed by the rich biodiversity of the upper Amazon basin. Machu Picchu is also a habitat for many unique species such as the pampas cat, the boa, and the Andean condor.
Nazca: It is also known as the “Nazca Lines” and is the world’s most amazing geoglyphs, as well as one of archaeology’s most perplexing enigmas. Located in the arid coastal desert, they cover 450 sq km (280 sq miles) and are thought to have been created by removing rocks and topsoil, exposing a lighter soil underneath. There are two groups of the geoglyphs. One comprises of geometric shapes such as triangles, spirals, rectangles and wavy lines. Others depict animals such as spiders, monkeys, hummingbirds, killer whales, and a condor with a 120 m (390 ft) wingspan. The motifs are similar to shapes and figures found on Nazcan textiles and pottery; however some conspiracy theorists believe that the geoglyphs were created by extraterrestrial beings.
Qhapaq Ñan: This is the old Andean Road System. The Incan Empire built an extensive network of roads that traversed and connected the entire empire, stretching from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile. The most famous section of this trail is the Inca Trail, which connects Cusco to Machu Picchu and is one of the ten most popular trekking trails in the world.
Cutervo National Park: This is the Peru’s first national park. There are many caves located here, including the San Andres Cave, which known for inhabiting the guacharo, the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating bird in the world that is in danger of extinction. Other important animals in the park include the jaguar, the ocelot, the spectacled bear, the neo-tropical river otter, the colocolo, the mountain tapir and the national bird of Peru, the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. The park also contains numerous pre-Columbian remains.
Huascarán National Park: It is situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, with Mount Huascarán rising to 6,768 m (22,200 ft) above sea level. It’s an area of spectacular beauty encompassing deep ravines formed from the 80 different glaciers, pooling into some 120 glacial lakes. Lower down, one can find thermal springs that are used for their therapeutic properties. It is also the home of such remarkable species such as the spectacled bear and the Andean condor. Other noteworthy animals include the puma, the vicuña, the North Andean huemul, the cordillera hawk, the giant coot, the giant hummingbird and the ornate tinamou. Ancient ruins can also be found at the Cueva del Guitanero.
Manú National Park: This is a huge 4.5 million acre park and one of South America’s largest wilderness reserves. It encompasses a wide range of vegetation, rising from 150m (490 ft) to 4200 m (13,780 ft) above sea level. There is a high level of diversity among plant and animal species but identifying them is still in the preliminary stages, with only a small area covered. Already in the last 10 years, 1,147 different species have been identified, as well as more than 800 bird species and 200 species of mammals. There are also 6 different species of macaws, 13 species of monkeys, over 100 species of bats, 12 species of reptiles, and 77 species of amphibians.
Río Abiseo National Park: This park has many remarkable features. Since 1985, about 36 archaeological sites have been recorded. Structures uncovered include rock shelters, roads, ceremonial structures, storage buildings, fences, platforms, agricultural terraces, and burial sites. The ecosystems within the park are remarkable as well. The topography is mountainous and is renowned for its pristine primary cloud forest and highland grasslands. The cloud forests here are reputed to have been created during the Ice Age, leading to great species diversity and a high degree of endemism. The most notable of these is the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, which was previously thought to be extinct. Other interesting animals include the long-haired spider monkey, the jaguarondi, the giant armadillo, and the North Andean huemul.
Lake Titicaca / Puno: Puno is a port city located on the banks of Lake Titicaca. Roaming the nearby plains, there are llamas, sheep, and alpaca. Their fleeces are used to make the area’s signature textiles, and make great souvenirs. Puno is known for its folkloric and wild festivities; there are some 300 a year! If possible, try to catch Semana de Puno, which celebrates the mythical founding of Puno, and Candlemas. The steep streets of Puno make great hikes up to superb viewing spots of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. It is located 3,810m (12,500 ft) above sea level. The water source for the lake is from rainfall and from melting glacier water off the Andes Mountains. It is so large that it is able to form its own waves! There are some 40 floating islands made of totora reeds, which is also used to construct the locals’ homes and boats.
Sacred Valley / Urubamba: Urubama is a small town located in the Sacred Valley. The scenery here is picturesque with colorful folk arts, friendly people, and the snow-covered Ch’iqun mountains in the background. The area is known for its adventure sports such as river rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, and trekking to nearby archaeological sites.
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