Practical Information

Language: Spanish is Peru's official language while Quechua is widely spoken in the Andes region.

Visas: Not required for British travellers. Other nationalities should obtain advice from their local embassy.

Health: There are no compulsory vaccinations, except yellow fever if visiting the rainforest. Malaria prophylactics are also recommended in this area. Once we have discussed an itinerary you should visit your GP to discuss which malaria tablets and vaccinations you will need.

When to go: From June to August is the dry season in the mountains and altiplano (Andean plateau) while the wettest months are from December to March. It rains all the time in the hot and humid rainforest, but the driest months there are from June to September. However, even during the wettest months from December to May, it rarely rains for more than a few hours at a time. Along the arid coastal strip, the hot months are from December through March. Some parts of this area see rain rarely, if at all.

Getting there: Both KLM and Iberia have flights to Lima via Europe, leaving the UK early in the morning and arriving in Lima in the evening. The flight time is about 14 hours. It is also possible to fly to Lima via the USA.

Time zone: GMT -5 hours

Wildlife

Peru is among the most biodiverse countries in the world, thanks to the combination of the Andes, Amazon and the Pacific ocean. There are 53 protected natural areas throughout the country that are home to over 1,800 species of birds (120 endemic to Peru) including one of Peru’s most famous species, the illustrious Andean condor. This majestic bird is the worlds’ largest land bird with a wingspan of up to 10ft and the best place to see them soaring in the thermals is at the Colca Canyon in southern Peru.

Beside birds, Peru boasts hundreds of mammals including rare cats like jaguar and pumas, and river dolphins. The little-visited coast of Peru is also extremely rich in marine life and a great place to see sea lions and seabirds.

Peru is one of the countries that share the Amazon basin and a diverse range of animals such as monkeys, jaguar, snakes, crocodiles, macaws, parrots and hundreds of other kinds of birds. Whist it is possible to see all these creatures, please remember that it is very easy to hide in such a dense jungle terrain, so the Amazon should not be visited with the only intention of seeing certain species, but with an open mind and a willingness to understand the rainforest in all its glory.

History and Culture

When most people think of Peru they think of the mystical Incas. Peru is best known as the heart of the Inca Empire, but it was home to many diverse cultures long before the Incas arrived and in fact the Inca empire was relatively short-lived. In 1430, the realm of the Incas consisted of little more than the river valley around Cusco. Less than a century later, through conquest and a clever policy of incorporating the best aspects of the societies they subjugated, the Incas controlled a vast territory of almost 1m square kilometres, from northwest Argentina to southern Colombia. At the time the Inca Capital at Cusco (Qosqo) was by far and away the wealthiest city in the Americas, even decorated with temples covered in gold.

At the height of its power, around 1532, the Inca empire was riven by a war of succession between two brothers, Huáscar and Atahualpa. In a sad coincidence, it is also around this time that the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Using deception and guile to gain a meeting with Atahualpa, the Inca ruler, they quickly assassinated him. Once the Conquistadors had sacked Cusco, and despite various Inca rebellions for several years, the Inca Empire had come to an end and Spanish rule had begun. As the Spanish were a nation of sailors, they founded Peru’s current capital city Lima on the coast in 1535. Eventually in 1821, under the leadership of General San Martin, Peru finally won its independence from the Spanish.

Almost half of Peru's people are Amerindian, while another third or so are mestizo (Spanish-Indian mix). The rest are a melting pot of European descent, plus African and Asian minorities. Although Spanish is Peru's official language, indigenous languages continue to hold sway in the highlands and Amazon, where Quechua and Aymara are the most widely spoken.

Typical Peruvian dishes are tasty and vary from region to region. Seafood is, understandably, best at the coast, while the Inca delicacy - roast guinea pig - can be sampled in the highlands. Other dishes include lomo saltado (chopped steak fried with onions), ceviche de corvina(white sea bass marinated in lemon, chili and onions, often served cold with a boiled potato or yam), and sopa a la criolla (a lightly spiced noodle soup with beef, egg, milk and vegetables).

Society and Politics

Peruvian politics rarely gets a mention in the UK press, yet it has one of the most changeable political landscapes in South America. This is often attributed to the diversity of the people, with approximately 45% of the total population counted as indigenous peoples. Of this, 97.8% are Andean and 2.1%, Amazonian yet the Amazonian region contains 16 language families and more than 65 ethnic groups. Some of these groups have organised into political associations to represent their concerns. The most prolific of these is AIDSEP, the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest. AIDSEP is a Peruvian national indigenous rights organisation, presided over by a decentralised national council and composed of 57 federations which represent 350,000 indigenous people.

Politics of the Amazon

The Peruvian Amazon, the fourth largest expanse of tropical rainforest in the world, is home to thousands of indigenous peoples speaking dozens of languages. Tragically, since 2003 nearly three quarters of the Peruvian Amazon has been leased to the international oil industry.

Like other Latin American countries, Peru has given constitutional rights to the indigenous communities that live within its borders. However these rights are not often adhered to, creating conflict and anger amongst the government and tribal groups. Indigenous titled territories and reserves that include the last refuges for indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation are now under grave threat, with oil companies leading the charge. For indigenous peoples who depend on fishing, hunting and forest products, this loss of control over ancestral territories threatens to end their traditional ways of life.

Indigenous peoples have faced numerous challenges in recent years as the government continues to ignore their concerns. Following clashes in Bagua in 2009 over new laws passed by President Alan Garcia that included major changes to land rights and forestry, investigations were set up in order to mediate between the government and indigenous communities. Unfortunately, while some important advances were made, the government then criminalised indigenous leaders and denied responsibility for the events in Bagua. In spring 2010, Congress approved a bill mandating government consultation with indigenous peoples on any projects proposed for their lands, but President Garcia refused to sign it. The future remains uncertain.