Many talk of Peru being “discovered” by steel-clad Spanish Conquistadors in the early 1500’s, but in fact, the Peruvians had thousands of years of sophisticated culture long before Pizarro clashed with the Incas. Alpaca textiles have always been at the center of Andean life, whether as clothing, trade items or offerings to mountain gods.
For the traveler, Peru offers three completely different climates: the narrow coastal desert is a rock-strewn wasteland lined by the icy Pacific Ocean, while only twenty miles away the Andes begin their rise to the sierra and the 22,000-foot peak of snow-covered Huascáran. On the far side, the Andes drop into the frying-pan flatness of the Amazon jungle.
Much like the climate, Peruvians, too, vary greatly in character. In Peru’s seaside capital of Lima, where a third of the population lives, the mood is lively. The city features it’s own Afro-Peruvian music, an active literary tradition and world-famous cuisine. In the Sierra the people are more reserved and traditional, and the Inca language of Quechua is still widely spoken.
Politics range from the extreme Left, to the extreme Right. As for leadership, Peru has seen both dictators and violent Leftist guerillas in recent times. Despite these extremes, Peru currently has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
Everyone has heard of the Incas, the culture that absorbed and standardized the many cultures that preceded it. The Inca rulers and intelligentsia were masters of logistics, monitoring production and dispensing food household goods in accordance to the needs of the peasants. They kept track of their vast storehouses with a complex system of knotted cords called quipu. They had neither the wheel nor a written language.
The distant past persists in many ways in Peru. Not only are traditional products like alpaca and pima cotton still produced and traded, but ancient Andean folklore and religion is still practiced on a daily basis by millions of Peruvians. Whether you’re looking for a love potion or rumors of a Lost City, you can still find them in this amazing and beautiful land.