Peru is in western South America, borders the South Pacific Ocean, sits between Chile and Ecuador, and is slightly smaller than Alaska by land mass. It is a country of contrasts with many cultural customs and rituals remaining intact for hundreds of years, as well as, parts of the country that are quite modern today. The capital and largest city of Peru is Lima, which is also the country’s economic and chief commercial center. Peru is on the Eastern Standard Time Zone, but does not use daylight savings time. Even though Peru gained its independence from Spain in 1821, they did not create their own constitution until 1993. It is no longer a military run country and is considered to be politically stable today. In 1998, the average life expectancy in Peru was 72 years of age. More than 90 percent of Peruvians are Roman Catholics, but there are small numbers of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, as well.
Approximately 45 percent of Peru’s residents are Native Americans, many of whom are descended from the Inca Indians; a civilization from the 15th century. There are also about 100 other indigenous groups living in Peru’s Amazonian River Basin Rain Forest in the northeastern section of the country. These tribes live in isolation from the rest of the world and even from most of the other Peruvians, typically speaking their own tribal dialects. However, the official languages of Peru are Spanish and Quechua.
The literacy rate in Peru has increased substantially as a result of greater emphasis on education. According to estimates, the adult literate population rose from 42 percent in 1940 to 89 percent in 2001. Public basic education in Peru is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 12. Many children in rural areas are not able to attend secondary school because of a lack of facilities.
The climate of Peru varies widely and ranges from the tropical coast, to the permanent snow covered Andes Mountains that are approximately 16,500 feet above sea level. Peru is also known for its great fishing industry in the Pacific Ocean.
In terms of population, Cusco is the 7th largest city in Peru and sits over 11,000 feet above sea level in the heart of the Andes. In 2006, because of its elevation and place on the globe, Cusco was found to be the spot on Earth with the highest light levels. Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and an ancient pilgrimage center. Today, the city of Cusco is a vibrant city that thrives on tourism. It is where the old world meets the new world. Since the mid 1990’s terrorist activity has declined throughout the country and tourism has markedly increased. While tourism contributes a large percentage economically, many feel it has diminished some of the ancient colonial charm the city once possessed. Either way, tourism has become a large part of the backbone of Cuzco, while the city works to maintain its historical allure.
Cusco sits in the Andes Mountains, but is able enjoy a very stable climate year round with typically two defined seasons. Because Peru is beneath the equator, the seasons are opposite what you can expect in North America. The dry “winter” season is from April to October, has abundant sunshine, with an occasional nighttime freeze; July being the coldest month. The peak tourism season in Cuzco lasts from June to September. The rainy season is from November to March and tourism slows significantly. During this wet season, transportation can be quite challenging since it can often rain more than 16 days per month. Throughout the country there are almost seven times more unpaved roads in Peru than paved roads.
Machu Picchu is located about 59 miles northwest of Cusco, Peru. No historical records of this ancient city existed and it is believed that only the local people knew about its existence. This “Lost City of the Incas” was rediscovered in 1912 by American historian Hiram Bingham, a Yale University explorer and friend of fellow explorer President Teddy Roosevelt. It was his notoriety that was able to bring archeologists and interest for exploration and restoration.
Archeologists believe it was constructed in the 1400’s at the height of the Inca Empire. This enormous city was probably abandoned less than 100 years following its construction after most of its population died from smallpox brought by the voyagers from the Spanish Conquest. This ancient city of Machu Picchu remains an archaeological marvel because of the size, the complexity, and the entire city was constructed without using cement or mortar. The massive city walls were built only by placing stones closely together. In 2007, it was declared one of the New Seven Man Made Wonders of the World.