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1UpTravel - Geography Info and Facts of Countries : . - Peru

Peru Geography and Facts

Location: Western South America, bordering the South Pacific Ocean, between Chile and Ecuador

Geographic coordinates: 10 00 S, 76 00 W

Map references: South America

total: 1,285,220 sq km
land: 1.28 million sq km
water: 5,220 sq km

Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Alaska

Land boundaries:
total: 5,536 km
border countries: Bolivia 900 km, Brazil 1,560 km, Chile 160 km, Colombia 1,496 km (est.), Ecuador 1,420 km

Coastline: 2,414 km

Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200 nm
territorial sea: 200 nm

Climate: varies from tropical in east to dry desert in west; temperate to frigid in Andes

Terrain: western coastal plain (costa), high and rugged Andes in center (sierra), eastern lowland jungle of Amazon Basin (selva)

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Nevado Huascaran 6,768 m

Natural resources: copper, silver, gold, petroleum, timber, fish, iron ore, coal, phosphate, potash, hydropower

Land use:
arable land: 3%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 21%
forests and woodland: 66%
other: 10% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 12,800 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, landslides, mild volcanic activity

Environment - current issues: deforestation (some the result of illegal logging); overgrazing of the slopes of the costa and sierra leading to soil erosion; desertification; air pollution in Lima; pollution of rivers and coastal waters from municipal and mining wastes

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

Geography - note: shares control of Lago Titicaca, world's highest navigable lake, with Bolivia


Peru, country in west central South America, bounded on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean.

The area of Peru, including several offshore islands, is 1,280,000 sq km (494,210 sq mi), making it third in size (after Brazil and Argentina) of South American countries. Lima is the country's capital and chief commercial center.


The climate of Peru varies widely, ranging from tropical in the montaña to arctic in the highest mountains of the Andes. Average temperatures decrease about 1.7 Celsius degrees (about 3 Fahrenheit degrees) with every 450-m (1,500-ft) increase in elevation.

Permanent snow and ice fields cover peaks more than 5,000 m (16,500 ft) above sea level, and the highest elevation at which the land is suitable for agriculture is about 4,400 m (14,500 ft).

Peru is the third largest country in South America. Only Brazil and Argentina cover a greater area. Peru is a land of enormous contrasts in landscape and climate.

The country lies in western South America, along the Pacific Ocean.

After a dozen years of military rule, Peru returned to democratic leadership in 1980. In recent years, bold reform programs and significant progress in curtailing guerrilla activity and drug trafficking have resulted in solid economic growth.



Official Name: Republic of Peru (República del Perú).

Short Name: Peru.

Term for Citizens: Peruvian(s).

Capital: Lima.

Date of Independence: Declared July 28, 1821, from Spain; achieved, 1824.


Size: 1,285,216 square kilometers.

Topography: Western coast (Costa) mountainous and arid. Andes mountains in center (Andean highlands or Sierra) high and rugged. Less than one-fourth of Sierra, which includes cold, high-altitude grasslands (the puna), natural pasture. Puna widens into extensive plateau, Altiplano, adjoining Bolivia in southern Sierra. Eastern lowlands consist of semi-tropical and rugged cloud forests of eastern slopes (Montaña), lying between 800 and 3,800 meters; and jungle (Selva), which includes high jungle (selva alta), lying between 400 and 800 meters, and tropical low jungle (selva baja) of Amazon Basin, lying between 80 and 400 meters. Land use: 3 percent arable, 21 percent meadows and pastures, 55 percent forest and woodland, and 21 percent other, including 1 percent irrigated.

Climate: Varies from dry in western coastal desert to temperate in highland valleys; harsh, chilly conditions on puna and western Andean slopes; semi-tropical in Montaña; tropical in Selva. Uninhabited areas over 5,500 meters high have arctic climate. Rainy winter season runs from October through April; dry summer in remaining months.

Data as of September 1992



Natural Systems and Human Life

Peru is a complex amalgam of ancient and modern cultures, populations, conflicts, questions, and dilemmas. The land itself offers great challenges. With 1,285,216 square kilometers, Peru is the eighteenth largest nation in area in the world and the fourth largest Latin American nation. It ranked fifth in population in the region, with 22,767,543 inhabitants in July 1992. Centered in the heart of the 8,900-kilometer-long Andean range, Peru's geography and climates, although similar to those of its Andean neighbors, form their own peculiar conditions, making the region one of the world's most heterogeneous and dynamic. Peru's principal natural features are its desert coast; the forty great snow-covered peaks over 6,000 meters in altitude, and the mountain ranges they anchor; Lake Titicaca, which is shared with Bolivia, and at 3,809 meters above sea level the world's highest navigable lake; and the vast web of tropical rivers like the Ucayali, Marañón, and Huallaga, which join to form the Amazon above Peru's "Atlantic" port of Iquitos .

The Costa, Sierra, and Selva (selva--jungle), each comprising a different and sharply contrasting environment, form the major terrestrial regions of the country. Each area, however, contains special ecological niches and microclimates generated by ocean currents, the wide range of Andean altitudes, solar angles and slopes, and the configurations of the vast Amazonian area. As a consequence of these complexities, thirty-four ecological subregions have been identified.

Although there is great diversity in native fauna, relatively few animals lent themselves to the process of domestication in prehistoric times. Consequently, at the time of European arrival the only large domesticated animals were the llamas and alpacas. Unfortunately, llamas and alpacas are not powerful beasts, serving only as light pack animals and for meat and wool. The absence of great draft animals played a key role in the evolution of human societies in Peru because without animals such as horses, oxen, camels, and donkeys, which powered the wheels of development in the Old World, human energy in Peru and elsewhere in the Americas could not be augmented significantly. As far as is known, the enormous potential in hydrologic resources in preconquest times was tapped only for agricultural irrigation and basic domestic usage. Through the elaborate use of massive irrigation works and terracing, which appeared in both highland and coastal valleys in pre-Chavín periods (1000 B.C.), the environment of the Andes was opened for intensive human settlement, population growth, and the emergence of regional states.

The development of Andean agriculture started about 9,000 years ago, when inhabitants began experimenting with the rich vegetation they utilized as food gatherers. Each ecological niche, or "floor," begins about 500 to 1,000 meters vertically above the last, forming a minutely graduated and specialized environment for life. The central Andean area is, thus, one of the world's most complex biospheres, which human efforts made into one of the important prehistoric centers of plant domestication. Native domesticated plants number in the hundreds and include many varieties of such important crops as potatoes, maize (corn), lima beans, peppers, yucca or manioc, cotton, squashes and gourds, pineapples, avocado, and coca, which were unknown in the Old World. Dozens of varieties of fruits and other products, despite their attractive qualities, are little known outside the Andean region.

Conquest of the Aztec alliance in Mexico and the Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu) in the Andes gave impetus to one of the most important features of the colonial process, the transfer of wealth, products, and disease between the hemispheres. Andean plant resources, of course, contributed significantly to life in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Although attention has usually focused on the hoards of Inca gold and silver shipped to Spain and thus funneled to the rest of Europe, the value of Andean potatoes to the European economy and diet probably far exceeded that of precious metals. By the same token, the Spanish conquerors introduced into the New World wheat, barley, rice, and other grains; vegetables like carrots; sugarcane; tea and coffee; and many fruits, such as grapes, oranges, and olives. The addition of Old World cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, chickens, and draft animals--horses, donkeys, and oxen--vastly increased Andean resources and altered work methods, diets, and health. The trade-off in terms of disease was one-sided; measles, malaria, yellow fever, cholera, whooping cough, influenza, smallpox, and bubonic plague, carried by rats, arrived with each ship from Europe. The impact of these diseases was more devastating than any other aspect of the conquest, and they remain major scourges for the majority of Peruvians.

Data as of September 1992


The Coastal Region

Peru's coast is a bleak, often rocky, and mountainous desert that runs from Chile to Ecuador, punctuated by fifty-two small rivers that descend through steep, arid mountains and empty into the Pacific. The Costa is a strange land of great dunes and rolling expanses of barren sand, at once a desert but with periods of humidity as high as 90 percent in the winter from June to September, when temperatures in Lima average about 16 degrees Celsius. Temperatures along the coast rise near the equator in the north, where the summer can be blazingly hot, and fall to cooler levels in the south. If climatic conditions are right, there can be a sudden burst of delicate plant life at certain places on the lunar-like landscape, made possible by the heavy mist. Normally, however, the mist is only sufficient to dampen the air, and the sand remains bleakly sterile. These conditions greatly favor the preservation of delicate archaeological remains. The environment also facilitates human habitation and housing because the climate is benign and the lack of rain eases the need for water-tight roofing.

Humans have lived for over 10,000 years in the larger coastal valleys, fishing, hunting, and gathering along the rich shoreline, as well as domesticating crops and inventing irrigation systems. The largest of these littoral oases became the sites of towns, cities, religious centers, and the seats of ancient nations. Although migration from the highlands and other provincial regions has long occurred, the movement of people to the Costa was greatly stimulated by the growth of the fishing industry, which transformed villages and towns into frontier-like cities, such as Chimbote. In the early 1990s, over 53 percent of the nation's people lived in these sharply delimited coastal valleys . As the population becomes ever more concentrated in the coastal urban centers, people increasingly overrun the rich and ancient irrigated agricultural lands, such as those in the Rímac Valley where greater Lima is situated, and the Chicama Valley at the site of the city of Trujillo. Although the region contains 160,500 square kilometers of land area, only 4 percent, or 6,900 square kilometers of it, is arable. By 1990 population growth had increased the density of habitation to 1,715 persons for each square kilometer of arable land (see table 5, Appendix). Throughout all the coastal valleys, human settlements remain totally dependent on the waters that flow from the Andes along canals and aqueducts first designed and built 3,000 years ago. Here, uncontrolled and unplanned urban growth competes directly with scarce and vitally needed agricultural land, steadily removing it from productive use.

Data as of September 1992


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