Welcome toThe Peru Expedition


Peru Journal and Photographs
People and Culture
Flora and Fauna
Grassroots Projects
**Special Interest Update**
Lesson PlansPeru Maps
Peruvian Resource Resources
Send us an Email
View our Equipment Checklist

Perurelief.gif (308781 bytes)

Click on the map to see it in detail

peru_map.gif (38185 bytes)


Lend a  Helping Hand

You can help make the Virtual Classroom available to students by making a donation today.





Peru is a very geographically diverse country.  Covering 1,285,215 sq km (496,225 sq mi), it has three distinct geographic areas running roughly parallel to each other:  The Coastal Desert, the Mountains and the Jungle. The dry coast rises quickly to the Andes mountain range and then drops to the rain forest containing the headwaters of the Amazon River.

Peru's coastal desert area accounts for most of the country's economic activity.   The Pan American highway runs through it and connects the major cities where 70% of Peruvians live.   The sierra (mountainous areas) contributes the lands for the agricultural sector.  The Amazon rain forest, also known as the selva, is twice the size of the rest of Peru, and it has no roads as we know them, but the people who live there use the waterways as roads

Peru is the third largest country in South America.  It is over 2,613 km by road from the border with Ecuador in the north to the border with Chile in the south (over 1,622 miles).

What is the weather like in Peru?  Follow this link to The Weather Channel  or Weatherunderground.

Try converting the temperature in your town from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  

Temp. converter: Enter a number and click outside the box
F: C:

What time is it in Peru as compared to the time in your home town?  Check this!

Top of Page




The Industrial sector of the economy contributes 56.7% of the country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and employs 50.2% of the labor force.  This sector includes manufacturing, mining, construction and energy.  Key industries include fishing, petroleum, textiles, clothing, food processing, cement, auto assembly, steel, ship building and metal fabrication.

The Service sector contributes 36.4% of the GDP and employs 16.8% of the labor force.  This includes tourism, which grew 175% between 1993 and 1997 (when the latest figures were available).  $805 million dollars were spent in 1997, up 274% from 1993.

The Agriculture sector contributes 7.1% of the GDP and employs 33% of the labor force.  Key crops include cocoa beans, barley, coconuts, maize (corn), potatoes, rice, soybeans, sugarcane and wheat.  The illicit coca leaf crop (for the production of cocaine) has declined 40% since 1996.  Its affect on the economy is difficult to determine but U.S. govt. figures estimate it adds $300-400 million dollars annually to the economy.

Find out how much your money is worth in Peruvian Soles.  Click here!

Top of Page




Peru is known as the land of the Incas, but it is also the land of the Nazca, the Moche, and the Chimu, among others.  Never heard of these other early Peruvian civilizations?  That's not surprising since none of them had any formal written language.  These cultures preceded the Incas by about 1,000 years but they each left clues to their identities in their own ways.

The Nazca are known for the huge designs they created on the desert floor that can best be viewed from the air.  The Moche are best known for their magnificent gold craftsmanship and for ceramics they created depicting scenes of everyday life.  The best examples of this craftsmanship were discovered in the tombs of at Sipan.  The Chimu are known for their magnificent capital called Chan Chan, which in its heyday covered 13 square miles

The Inca are known for their magnificent architecture, which has withstood earthquakes and the torrential rains that have periodically destroyed all other manner of structures.

Even though the Inca are the best known ancient peoples in Peru, their culture only lasted for 100 years.  In the 1430's the very aggressive Inca Empire conquered and attempted to assimilate all non-Inca cultures.  Utilizing brutality, they were only marginally successful in imposing their way of life on those they conquered.  When the Spanish arrived in 1532, it was those conquered peoples who helped overthrow the Incas. The Spanish conqueror, Francisco Pizarro, founded the capital city of Lima in 1535. 

The Spaniards ruled Peru for nearly 300 hundred years with a series of Spanish-born viceroys.  They considered themselves the highest class.  Spaniards born in Peru were of lesser status and Mestizos (people of mixed Indian and Spanish blood) and Indians were even less yet.  Dissatisfaction with this way of life eventually led to an uprising in the Spanish colonies in South America.  With the help of Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar, Peru declared independence in 1821

Top of Page




Early one morning in February of 1987, Dr. Walter Alva was awakened by an urgent call from the police.   Artifacts confiscated from a local huaquero's (grave robber's) house needed to be inspected by him at once.  As Director of the Bruning Archaeological Museum and an archaeologist, Alva was surprised by the urgency of the call as huaqueros were apprehended all the time.  Curious about what awaited him, Alva dressed and hurried to the police station.

What Alva found when reached the station would take his breath away.  Hidden in a sideboard in the looter's house was a sack filled with priceless treasures that had been looted from a Moche tomb:  Two gold masks, one of a human head with eyes of silver and lapis lazuli, one a puma with teeth of seashells, nose rings of gold and silver, gold beads and a pair of gold peanuts, 3 times life size and meticulously crafted.

The history of grave looting is long and sad.  Unfortunately, sites all over the world have been looted of their treasures and in some cases, magnificent artifacts have been melted down solely for their weight in gold with no thought as to their archaeological value.  International trading in antiquities further hinders the study of ancient civilizations.  "Providers" purchase items from looters and sell them to contacts all over the world.  Treasures can be distributed to far-flung points within days.  This unfortunately is what happened to the looted artifacts from the Moche pyramid known as Huaca Rajada in Sipan.

To prevent further destruction and to salvage any information possible, Dr. Alva immediately made arrangements to secure the pyramid.  The sight that awaited him when he arrived, however, chilled him to the bone.  The pyramid was crawling with huaqueros.  Word of the treasure had preceded him and people had come from miles away to cart off anything they could find.

Fortunately, Alva had also brought the police.  Using sirens and a loudspeaker, they were able to frighten most of the looters away.  However, it took volleys of automatic rifle fire, shot into the air, to shoo away the more hard-core huaqueros

When Alva and his assistant Luis were finally able to access the pyramid they found countless holes and tunnels dug into it.  Salvage efforts appeared grim.  Alva decided to sequester himself at the pyramid to try and reap as much information as he could from the fragments left by the looters.  Under 24 hr. police guard, he slept and worked, trying to decipher an ancient story from the rubble.

The 24 hr. guard was necessary because the people from the neighboring village of Sipan believed the treasures from Huaca Rajada were the treasures of their ancestors and that they belonged to the people of the village.  Night and day as Alva toiled, crowds would gather and yell and throw stones.  Just as the situation became intolerable, Alva hit upon a plan.

Against all advice, Alva decided to hire the locals to help him excavate.  His reasoning was "better to have them excavating the site in the daytime, than looting the site at night."  At first, he had little luck enticing anyone to help him.  He went door to door in the village offering jobs but had no takers.  Finally, just as Alva was about to admit defeat, a known huaquero showed up and asked for a job.  He was immediately put to work and soon others began asking for jobs as well. 

Once Alva had a crew put together, all he needed was money to pay them.  He was able to convince a local noodle company, a brewer and a local doctor to donate money and goods to get them started.  But money ran out quickly and the project came to a halt nearly as soon as it started.

Two unexpected miracles brought about the much needed funding.  The first arrived in the form of Moche scholar Christopher B. Donnan.  Donnan had been hearing about a flood of artifacts hitting the black market.  Alva told Donnan the story of Huaca Rajada and Donnan agreed to come and inspect the artifacts that had been recovered.  But before Donnan arrived, the second event sealed Alva's determination to excavate the pyramid even if he had to do it alone.

While clearing loose debris from the looted chamber, workers came upon a niche that was overlooked.  Embedded in the wall of the niche was a three-foot long scepter made of copper.  Elaborate carvings on the head depicted a half-feline, half-reptile being which Alva interpreted as a supreme Moche spirit.  When Donnan arrived, he concurred with Alva on this most exciting find and agreed to help him find funding for the excavation.

Funded in part by the National Geographic Society, a year of excavation revealed one of the "richest and most significant tombs ever found in the Americas."  The tomb was arranged in layers and found within those layers were items including a solid gold headdress, a gold face mask, a gold back flap shield, a gold rattle, gold and turquoise bracelets, beads, seashells and a pair of magnificent gold and turquoise ear ornaments.  Such opulence led Alva to name the tomb's occupant "The Lord of Sipan."

Further excavation at the site led to the discovery of  "The Old Lord of Sipan"  Even more magnificent pieces were found including a nose ornament of a tiny warrior.  The delicacy and craftsmanship of this piece led Alva to rank it as one of the finest objects produced by the Moche

These tombs can be studied in detail in the October 1988 and June 1990 issues of National Geographic.  There you will find beautiful photographs of these magnificent pieces of art and descriptions of the excavations written by Dr. Walter Alva.

Top of Page


People and

The population of Peru, as of July 2000, was 27,012,899 (source CIA World Fact Book). The racial breakdown of the population is 45% Amerindian, 37% Mestizo, (mixed White and Amerindian), 15% White and 3% Black, Japanese and Chinese.

More than 90% of Peruvians are Roman Catholic, however other religions include Traditional beliefs, Protestantism, Judaism and Muslim.

The vast majority of Peruvians speak Spanish although 30% speak either Quechua (an Andean highland language) or Aymara (spoken by Indians around Lake Titicaca).  Spanish and Quechua are the official Peruvian languages.

The Quechua culture goes back hundreds of years and many English words are derived from the Quechua language such as condor, jerky, llama and gaucho.  The Quechua culture is based on community helpfulness wherein if you help your neighbor, he will in turn help you.

The Aymara have a long history in the Americas and they have strong ties to Lake Titicaca. (The word Titicaca in Aymara means "gray cat".) Because of the 12,000 foot elevation level at the lake, growing maize (corn) was extremely difficult. The Aymara needed to find a nutritional replacement for it and were able to develop one from the wild potato. Today more than 200 varieties of potato can be found in the Lake Titicaca area.

Music and dance are also important to the Aymara people. Typically called musica folklorica, Andean musicians use wind instruments such as the quena, a flute made of varying lengths of bamboo, the siqu, a set of pan pipes with two rows of bamboo canes and ocarinas, small ovals made of clay with holes.  They also use the charango, a guitar-like instrument with five strings a drum called a bombo and rattles called shajshas made of polished goat hooves, tied together.  Andean music has become very popular worldwide.

Peru has some of the most interesting food is South America.  For more information on the unique Pervian Comida (food), click here!

For some examples of Peruvian Folklore, click here!

Top of Page


Ecology Although Peru is made up of 3 distinct regions, the Selva, or the Jungle, makes up nearly one-half of the country.  Even so, this area, The Amazon Basin, contains only about 5% of the nation's total Population

The main reason this area holds so few people is accessibility, or rather its inaccessibility.  The towns that do exist all started as ports on the Amazon River.  Before the use of airplanes, a trip to Lima from the major jungle port of Iquitos, required the traveler to sail down the Amazon River, then around the southern tip of South America - Cape Horn - then onto Lima.  The travel could choose to sail north, up to and through the Panama Canal.  These journeys could last several months.

Boat travel is of major importance in this region.  Most people travel either in small dugout canoes, or on larger cargo boats.  Most dugout canoes are just that, canoes dug out of large trees.  Some can even carry as many as 24 people.

Travel by cargo boat hasn't changed much in 100 years.  These are small 2 deck boats with cargo on the lower deck and passengers on the upper.  The passengers hang their hammocks and then swing the days away until their port is reached.

The main Peruvian city on the Amazon River is Iquitos.  Iquitos may be the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by automobile.  You must arrive by boat or by plane.  Even so, nearly 400,000 people call Iquitos home.  The city is located on an island surrounded by the Amazon and its tributaries.

Iquitos was just a small jungle village until the 1870's.  Rubber and its source, the rubber tree, were discovered.  This discovery started the Great Rubber Boom, which lasted for the next 30 years.  The owners of the Rubber trees became very wealthy and were known as the Rubber Barons.  However, they became wealthy only because the enslaved the local Indians and Mestizos (people of mixed Indian and Spanish parents) who were forced to extract the rubber from the trees.

Evidence of the extreme wealth of the barons can still be seen in the many beautiful building found in Iquitos.  Including an iron building designed by Eiffel, who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.  This building was shipped piece by piece from Paris, then reconstructed in the jungle.

The climate is opposite that of the United States.  Because Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite of those in the U.S.  The winter months are June, July and August, and they are the dry months.  The dry months coincide with the low water levels on the river. The summer goes from December through February and they are the wetter months, and is likewise, the high water level time.

In the wet season, there can be rain everyday.  So much rain can fall that the Amazon River can rise as much as 40 feet from its lowest point.  Because the jungle is so flat, this causes major flooding.  From the foot of the Andes Mountains to the mouth of the Amazon River at the Atlantic Ocean, the elevation change is only about 100 meters, or about 330 feet.

When the Amazon River reaches its maximum height, the force of the water will cause the tributary rivers to actually flow backwards.  This causes much of the jungle to flood.  When this happens, the jungle people move to the cities until the water level recedes.  The people must do this every year.

Top of Page


Flora and Fauna

The plants and animals found in Peru are extremely diverse and differ from region to region.

Peru has over 30,000 known species of plants and more are being identified every day. There are millions of types of insects, 500 species of reptiles and over 400 species of animals. Peru also has about 1,700 species of birds (the second-highest number in the world) and 2,000 species of fish.

Some of the more common animals you might see in the highlands include llama, alpaca, guanaco and vicuna. Of the four only the llama and alpaca are domesticated. Llamas are used as pack animals, for their wool and as food. Alpaca are used almost exclusively for their fine wool. Guanaco and vicuna run wild and are rarely seen although vicuna can be seen in preserves in the mountains outside of Ayacucho. Other animals in the highlands include pumas, foxes, white-tailed deer and viscachas. Viscachas look like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel and live amongst the rocks on the mountain slopes. The large Andean condors may also be seen.

In the Amazon basin you can find caiman (small alligators), pink dolphins, jaguar, sloths, the Andean spectacled bear, tapir, the giant river otter, several species of monkeys including the howler, spider and squirrel species, and over 1000 types of birds.

In the Pacific Coastal region you can see fur seals, sea lions, Humboldt penguins, guanay cormorants and Peruvian boobies as well as pelicans, gulls and frigate birds. A great place to view the sea and wildlife is the Paracas National Reserve near the town of Ica.

Though the Peruvian government lacks the funding to protect all of their wildlife there are various international agencies providing some measure of protection. The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund work with the Fundacion Peruana para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza to help in conservation and local education projects.

Source: Lonely Planet Peru

Top of Page


Alberto Fujimori

Amid claims of widespread vote fraud, President Alberto Fujimori won the April 9, 2000 with just under a majority of the vote. However, because he did not get half the vote, Fujimori had to face AlejandroToledo in a run-off on May 28th.  Citing fears that Fujimori's forces would steal the election, Toledo withdrew.

The Carter Center, National Democratic Institute, the OAS, and other international groups withdrew their election observers, giving further credibility to the charges of fraud. The "election" was a formality. Fujimori won 51.2 percent of the vote to Toledo's 17.7 percent. The remaining 31 percent of the voters went to the polls and spoiled their ballots

In September people gathered outside the presidential palace to demand that President Alberto Fujimori's intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, be fired because of a video that showed him bribing an opposition congressman. This scandal prompted Fujimori's final downfall. On September 27, 2000 Fujimori announced that he would hold new elections in which he would not be a candidate for president.

On November 14, 2000 Peru's opposition increased the pressure on President Fujimori ousting one of his key allies, the president of the Congress, and releasing a new video showing his former spy chief congratulating military leaders for their role--which was unspecified--in last May's elections.

On November 20, 2000 President Fujimori resigned while on a visit to Japan. Two days later, the Peruvian Congress refused to accept his resignation and instead removed him from office by declaring him "morally unfit" to run the nation.

Valentin Paniagua, the newly elected head of the Congress, was sworn in the next morning as interim president of Peru to replace Alberto Fujimori.

Elections were held on April 8, 2001 and the results showed a high level of voter turnout.  However no candidate received more than 50 percent of the popular vote, so a second round Presidental election was held on June 12, 2001 for the top two candidates.   In that election, Alejandro Toledo was elected President.

In October 2005, he stated he would run in Peru's April 2006 presidential election, despite a ten year congressional ban barring him from public office.

His daughter and his wife registered him before the Peruvian National Electoral Jury on 6 January 2006, but he was officially disqualified on 10 January.

After traveling to Chile, he was detained by Chilean authorities on November 7, 2005. The Peruvian government formally requested his extradition on the January 3, 2006. 

Top of Page


Grassroots Projects

Save Ollanta.  A major highway is currently being planned which will pass through Ollantaytambo, a living Inca town and the 'gateway' to Machu Picchu. It is at the end a road from Cusco which then turns and crosses the mountains to a jungle town called Quillabamba.

The government, instead of rebuilding the railway to Quillabamba that was destroyed in the El Nino flooding of March 1998, intends to build a new highway. This would drastically alter the incomparable landscape of Ollantaytambo, famous for its massive earthworks, working terraces and irrigation channels engineered by the Incas hundreds of years ago. 

The people of Ollantaytambo are conducting an international campaign to prevent this project from continuing

Machu Picchu is cherished as a national treasure and birthright by the people in Peru. Many laws have been enacted in that country, obliging the government to safeguard the ruins and the surrounding 32,592 hectares (80,534 acre) natural reserve--specifically from  "changes that may alter the intangible qualities that Machu Picchu represents."  Read our explorers comments about Machu Picchu.

As the foremost example of Inca technology and culture, Machu Picchu has also been enshrined by UNESCO since 1983 as a World Heritage Site.

The Peruvian Government, in attempts to privatize sectors of its economy, has actively encouraged the construction of a cable car system that will carry up to 400 people an hour to the ruins, more than doubling the numbers currently visiting. Planning is also reportedly underway for the construction of a 6 story 16,000 square meter (172,000 square foot) tourist complex at the ruins that will include a cable car terminal, tourist boutiques, restaurants as well as the hotel. 

Many Peruvians are protesting this plan.  They are seeking worldwide pressure on their government to halt the construction.

Cusco.  After a visit to Peru, Jolanda van den Berg decided to try to improve the lives of Peruvian children who live on the streets.  She started the Niņos Unidor Peruanos Foundation with donated funds. Her idea was to take children off the street and put them in her home. Unlike an orphanage she showed how they lived as a real family.  In 1998, Ms. Berg opened the small Los Ninos Hotel (The Children's Hotel) to help fund her mission while providing travellers with a place to stay.  Read more at their web site.

Top of Page


Contact us for information regarding sponsorship opportunities.  

Join the Virtual Classroom. Complete the free registration form for your classroom today.

Support the expeditions.  Your donation will help to continue the research, documentation and Virtual Classroom web site presentation of these wonderful cultures and experiences to the broadest possible audience. To find out how you can help, please follow this link to our Helping Hand page.  

Thank you, now it's time to explore!


Home    Welcome to Peru    Jungle Journal    Peru Adventures
Peru Photos    Expedition Listings  
Send us an Email

Kim and Don Greene, Authors; publication date May 30, 2000