The Andean country Peru is one of the largest South American states. Behind the narrow, desert-like coastline on the Pacific, there are several huge mountain ranges of the Andes, which enclose the highlands of the Altiplano with Lake Titicaca. To the east they drop to the rainforest-covered lowlands of the Amazon, which takes up two thirds of the country.
Peru has a tropical climate with pronounced elevations in the Andes and a very diverse flora.
Despite its natural wealth, Peru is a poor developing country with extreme differences between poverty and wealth. Before the Spanish colonial era, Peru was the heartland of the Inca Empire.
After Brazil and Argentina, Peru is the third largest country in South America. With an area of around 1.3 million km², it is more than twice the size of France.
Peru borders Ecuador and Colombia in the north, Bolivia in the southeast and Chile in the south. To the west is the Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1).
Important data about the country
|Population density:||21 residents / km²|
|Growth of population:||1.5% / year|
|Life expectancy:||70 years|
|Form of government:||Presidential Republic|
|Languages:||Spanish and the Indian languages Quechua and Aymará are official languages|
|Religions:||Catholics more than 90%|
|Climate:||Tropical climate with a dry season in summer, cool in the mountains, hot dry on the coast, average temperature in Lima in August 15.1 °C, in February 22.3 °C|
|Land use:||Forest 54.8%, pasture land 21.2%, arable land 2.7%|
|Export goods:||Copper, petroleum, silver, iron ore, zinc, cotton, fish meal, coffee and coca (illegal)|
|Gross domestic product:||US $ 62.7 billion (2003)|
(share of GDP, 2003)
|Agriculture 10%, industry 29%, services 60%|
|Gross National Product:||US $ 2,140 / residents (2003)|
Peru consists of three major landscapes:
- the narrow coastal strip on the Pacific, the Costa,
- the central high mountain region of the Andes, the Sierra,
- the wide Amazon lowlands in the east, the Selva, with the eastern fall of the Andes, the Montana.
The Costa stretches for 2300 km along the Pacific. It includes the mostly narrow coastal fringes and the Andean foothills, which rise up to around 500 m. The Costa takes up about a tenth of the country’s area and narrows from north to south.
The desert-like landscape is crossed by more than 50 rivers that have their source in the Andes and that have created river oases on their banks.
The sierra consists of three parallel mountain ranges of the Andes, the western, central and eastern Cordillera.
In the north they are separated by deep depressions, through which the Maranón and Rio Huallagá flow, and enclose a highland.
In the south they diverge widely and frame the 4000 m high central highlands of Peru, the Altiplano.
In the Western Cordillera is the Nevado Huascarán (6768 m), the highest mountain in Peru, which, like many other peaks in this region, is of volcanic origin.
The largely undeveloped and hardly populated huge tropical forest areas in the Amazon basin are known as Selva. The Selva and the forested eastern slopes of the Andes (Montana) occupy almost two thirds of Peru.
Numerous rivers rich in water have their source in the Andes. Among them are the two most important headwaters of the Amazon with the Maranón and the Ucayáli.
The Western Cordillera forms the continental watershed, from which many relatively short powerful rivers also make their way west to the Pacific. In the Altiplano, the land has a share of the outflow-free Lake Titicaca.
The body of water, which is over 3000 m high and partly belongs to Bolivia, is the highest navigable inland lake on earth. With an area of 8300 km², a length of 190 km and an average width of 50 km, it is also the largest lake in South America. It exceeds the area of Lake Constance by fourteen times.
According to its geographic location, Peru has a predominantly tropical climate.
In the ever-humid tropics of the Amazon region, high temperatures of 25 to 30 °C prevail all year round. The greatest amounts of precipitation fall in the rainy season from November to April. Up to 3800 mm of rain even falls annually in Montana. In the Andean region fall at an average annual amount of 800 mm considerably less rainfall. Nevertheless, torrential torrential rains are not uncommon in the rainy season. The temperature in the Andes naturally varies with the altitude.
As in the other Andean countries, there are pronounced levels of temperature and vegetation. Interesting climatic conditions prevail in the coastal region.
Here, the influence of a cold ocean current, the Humboldt Current, prevents the warm, humid ocean air from flowing in from the Pacific. The current moving northwards along the coast cools the air masses coming from the west so sustainably that they release their moisture in the form of fog over the sea. These fog banks alone give the coastal region the smallest amounts of moisture.
With less than 50 mm of annual precipitation, the coastal fringe and the western slopes of the Andes are among the driest desert areas on earth.