Geography of Peru

Information about the South American Country of Peru

A woman sitting with her back to the camera, looking over Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru.

Mikel Oibar / Nervio Foto 

Peru is a country located on the western side of South America between Chile and Ecuador. It also shares borders with Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia and has a coastline along the South Pacific Ocean. Peru is the fifth most populous country in Latin America and it is known for its ancient history, varied topography, and multiethnic population.

Fast Facts: Peru

  • Official Name: Republic of Peru
  • Capital: Lima
  • Population: 31,331,228 (2018)
  • Official Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
  • Currency: Nuevo sol (PEN)
  • Form of Government: Presidential republic
  • Climate: Varies from tropical in east to dry desert in west; temperate to frigid in Andes
  • Total Area: 496,222 square miles (1,285,216 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Nevado Huascaran at 22,132 feet (6,746 meters) 
  • Lowest Point: Pacific Ocean at 0 feet (0 meters)

History of Peru

Peru has a long history that dates back to the Norte Chico civilization and the Inca Empire. Europeans did not arrive in Peru until 1531 when the Spanish landed on the territory and discovered the Inca civilization. At that time, the Inca Empire was centered in what is present-day Cuzco but stretched from northern Ecuador to central Chile. In the early 1530s, Spain's Francisco Pizarro began searching the area for wealth and by 1533 had taken over Cuzco. In 1535, Pizarro founded Lima and in 1542 a viceroyalty was established there that gave the city control over all Spanish colonies in the region.

Spanish control of Peru lasted until the early 1800s, at which time Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar began a push for independence. On July 28, 1821, San Martin declared Peru independent and in 1824 it achieved partial independence. Spain fully recognized Peru as independent in 1879. Following its independence, there were several territorial disputes between Peru and neighboring countries. These conflicts eventually led to the War of the Pacific from 1879 to 1883 as well as several clashes in the early 1900s. In 1929, Peru and Chile drafted an agreement on where the borders would be. However, it was not fully implemented until 1999—and there are still disagreements about maritime boundaries.

Beginning in the 1960s, social instability led to a period of military rule that lasted from 1968 to 1980. Military rule began to end when General Juan Velasco Alvarado was replaced by General Francisco Morales Bermudez in 1975 due to poor health and problems managing Peru. Bermudez eventually worked at returning Peru to a democracy by allowing a new constitution and elections in May 1980. At that time President Belaunde Terry was re-elected (he was overthrown in 1968).

Despite its return to democracy, Peru suffered severe instability in the 1980s due to economic problems. From 1982 to 1983, El Nino caused flooding, drought, and destroyed the country's fishing industry. In addition, two terrorist groups, Sendero Luminoso and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, emerged and caused chaos in much of the country. In 1985, Alan Garcia Perez was elected president and economic mismanagement followed, further devastating Peru's economy from 1988 to 1990.

In 1990, Alberto Fujimori was elected president and made several large changes in the government throughout the 1990s. Instability continued and in 2000, Fujimori resigned from office after several political scandals. In 2001, Alejandro Toledo took office and put Peru on track to return to democracy. In 2006, Alan Garcia Perez again became Peru's president and since then the country's economy and stability have rebounded.

Government of Peru

Today, Peru's government is considered a constitutional republic. It has an executive branch of government that is made up of a chief of state and a head of government (both of which are filled by the president) and a unicameral Congress of the Republic of Peru for its legislative branch. Peru's judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court of Justice. Peru is divided into 25 regions for local administration.

Economics and Land Use in Peru

Since 2006, Peru's economy has been on the rebound. It is also known as being varied due to the varied landscape within the country. For example, certain areas are known for fishing, while others feature abundant mineral resources. The main industries in Peru are mining and refining of minerals, steel, metal fabrication, petroleum extraction and refining, natural gas and natural gas liquefaction, fishing, cement, textiles, clothing, and food processing. Agriculture is also a major part of Peru's economy and the main products are asparagus, coffee, cocoa, cotton, sugarcane, rice, potatoes, corn, plantains, grapes, oranges, pineapples, guava, bananas, apples, lemons, pears, tomatoes, mango, barley, palm oil, marigold, onion, wheat, beans, poultry, beef, dairy products, fish, and guinea pigs.

Geography and Climate of Peru

Peru is located in the western part of South America just below the equator. It has a varied topography that consists of a coastal plain in the west, high rugged mountains in its center (the Andes), and a lowland jungle in the east that leads into the Amazon River basin. The highest point in Peru is Nevado Huascaran at 22,205 feet (6,768 m).

The climate of Peru varies based on the landscape but it is mostly tropical in the east, desert in the west and temperate in the Andes. Lima, which is located on the coast, has an average February high temperature of 80 degrees (26.5˚C) and an August low of 58 degrees (14˚C).​

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