by Allison Steele

The Andes Mountains are the backbone of Peru

Land and Geography

Peru is the third largest country in South America. It covers an area of 496,222 square miles, or 1,285,220 square km. The geography is made up of three different types. They are the costa, the selva, and the sierra.

The costa is between the coast of the Pacific Ocean and west of the Andes Mountains. It makes up ten percent of Peru and is the most populated area. Lima, the most populated city and also the capital, is located in the costa. It has a higher standard of living than the rest of Peru. It is a dry, cool area and is made up of desert and plains. The annual rainfall averages about one to two inches. Fishing is the main occupation here. The animals found here are mostly sea birds and a great variety of sea life.

The selva is east of the Andes and Amazon Basin. It covers three fifths of the country, but has very little people. The selva is made up of the Amazon jungles and rain forests. The climate here is always above seventy-five degrees and the average rainfall is over 100 inches. Here the main transportation is the rivers because the dense forests make it nearly impossible to make roads. The main resources used from the selva are oil, timber, rubber, coffee and tropical fruit. There are thousands of different species of plants and animals here. Some of the animals found in the selva are jaguars, snakes, colorful birds, and piranhas.

The sierra is made up of the Andes Mountain range, which is the second largest mountain range in the world. This is the backbone of the country and separates the costa from the selva. The Andes are also in the countries of Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. The sierra makes up one fourth of the country, and one third of the population lives in the sierra. The climate varies greatly depending on where you are. It can be freezing in the higher mountain peaks and very warm near the equator. Some of the animals found here are the llama, puma which was very important in the Incan culture, the condor which is a very rare bird, deer, and foxes.

Lake Titicaca is also found in Peru. It is located in the Andes and is about 350 miles long and 100 miles wide. It is so large that it has waves like a sea. It is used by the people as a trade route with Bolivia.


The population of Peru was 26,624,582 in 1999. Ethnicity is broken down to 45% Indian, 37% mestizo, 15% white, and 3% of other ethnicities. Peru is mostly ruled by an upper class that has been there since the Colonial times. They earned their money by the precious metals that are very abundant in Peru. These upper class families have enough money to send their children out of the country to go to school so that they can get a better education. The upper class have more privileges than the lower classes like clubs, better supermarkets, and beautiful homes that are well protected.

The middle class is very small and the biggest group is the lower class. Many people are unemployed and there are many poor people. The reason the unemployment is high is because the population is getting higher and so is the life expectancy. More people are moving to the cities, which makes them overcrowded.

There are two main Indian groups in Peru. They are the Quechua, which are descendants of the Incas, and the Aymara. The Quechua live up in the Andes Mountains and are usually farmers. Their religion is a mixture of Roman Catholicism and their own native beliefs. The Quechua still make their traditional arts and other crafts. Once per week(the day varies from town to town) the Native people get together for their traditional market.

The Aymara live on the plateaus near Lake Titicaca and are usually herders or farmers. Their clothing hasn't changed, the men still wear knitted woolen hats with ear flaps and are shaped like a cone. The women still wear round wool derby hats that they have made themselves. The Aymara live in small houses that are 8 feet by 10 feet, and are made of sod and the roof has rafters that are covered by wild grass. The inside only has a platform where the family sleeps and a clay stove near the door. Families live together in a cluster of these homes. Because the Indians live in such high elevations, their lungs and chests have become larger to help with the little oxygen from the air.


Education in Peru has been improving over the years, but is still not the greatest. Education starts from the age of 6 and goes until 15, then you can go further in education if you want. Children under the age of six usually go to a preschool day care. Basic education is divided into three cycles; once you complete one you go on to the next cycle. The student begins school learning in their native language, but once you are older you learn all in Spanish. For children that don't live in cities but up in the Andes or in other small villages where there are no schools there are nucleos. These are like schools but are much smaller and they serve nearby communities. Literacy rate has grown to about 85%.


Spanish is the official language of Peru. More than two thirds of the population speak Spanish and many people are bilingual. The other main languages spoken are Quechua and Aymara. All government officials know Quechua so that they can communicate with the Indians that speak it. Quechua means "warm valley people" which describes where these people are located.About 10 million Peruvians speak Quechua and about 1 million Peruvians speak Aymara. Aymara is spoken only by the Indians located around Lake Titicaca.

History and Government

Peru's government goes back all the way to 200 A.D. This is when the two main cultures are the Moche and the Nazca were around. They couldn't expand because of warfare between their cultures. They were most skilled in making ceramics and elaborate metalwork. They were also very skilled in weaving very complex designs. The Inca used the same skills as these cultures because they developed from these two cultures.

The Inca culture came after the Moche and Nazca. They spoke Quechua, and their religion revolved around the Sun God. The Lord Inca was supposed to be from the Sun God. The Lord Inca owned everything in the Inca culture. Everyone paid taxes by doing work. Some gave part of their farms, other built bridges, and another choice was to be in the military. Incas lived together in family clans, and all of the farms and animals belonged to everyone in the family. Cuzco was one of their main cities.

Machu Picchu is located near Cuzco, and was built at around 1420. Machu Picchu means "old peak" in Quechua. It was built for religious ceremonies where specially chosen Indians participated in sacred rituals. Some of the rituals involved special dances. There were about 1,000 people living here and 75% were females. Altogether Machu Picchu covers about two square miles and had about 250 buildings.

The Conquest of Peru

Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish explorer looking for riches. He landed in Peru and when he saw that everything that the Incas had was covered in gold, he decided he would come back. He went back to Spain and got together 180 men and sailed back to Peru in 1532. He was able to take over the Incas by capturing their Lord. He held the lord for ransome for a lot of silver and gold. The Incas paid the ransome, but Pizarro killed the Lord Inca. Pizarro then stripped everything of its gold and melted it down. After the gold was gone he went to Cuzco and did the same. After two to three years all of the gold was gone and all of the Indians were conquered, so he went towads the coast where he set up the city of Lima.

The Indians became slaves to the Spaniards. They had to work in fields or mines. Manco, who was an Indian slave, was able to rebel against the Spaniards. He surrounded Cuzco and set the whole city on fire, but then his troops needed food, so they had to go back to the fields. Manco then went up in the hills for the rest of his life.

Pizarro also had other problems besides the Indians. His Second-In-Command, which was Diego de Almagro, was trying to get more power. They got into a civil war and Pizarro won. Almagro was killed, but on June 26, 1541 some of Almagros's followers assassinated Pizarro.

There were many problems with the government because the lower classes were unhappy. The creoles, which are Spaniards born in South America, were mad because they couldn't get into any of the high positions in the government. The mestizos, which are people that are half Indian and half Spanish, were also angry because they were even lower than the creoles. During 1780-1783 there were many rebellions in the highlands. Tupac Amaru led some rebellions and gained local control. When he was finally caught he was punshed severely. His punishment was that he had to watch as his wife and son were killed, then he got his tongue cut out, then he was pulled abart by 4 horses going in opposite directions.

Independance came for Peru in 1824 by a combined force of Simon Bolivar's troops and San Martin's troops. They were able to defeat the Spaniards. After they left though, the government fell apart. Many of the wealthier people were fighting for control. There were also wars with countries around Peru about the boundaries.

From 1864-1869 Peru went to war against Spain with the help of Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia. They regained control of some very important resources. In 1879 Peru got into another war, but this time with Chile. This war was known as the War of the Pacific, and was disasterous for Peru. It ended with the Treaty Ancon, but Peru lost land to Chile. After these two wars Peru was in debt from borrowing so much money. These countries took over Peru's resources, making Peru a very poor country.


From 1895 to the 1950's the government was oligarchy. This means that only a few people have control. One of these people was Augusto Bernardino Leguia y Salcedo. His goal during his long term was to turn Peru into a modern capitalist society. He tried to do this by mortgaging peru's economy.

Peru's government now is a democracy. Their presdent is Alberto Fujimori. He is trying to better Peru's economy, but in order to do that he has to have high taxes. He also got rid of the old constitution and made a new one. The new constitution allows a president to serve a second term and it legalized the death penalty for convicted terrorists. The economy is slowly improving, but they still have a major problem with drug trafficking and terrorists.




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