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    Colombia: Caribbean Sea coast. Go Now!

    Although most of the people live inland, Colombia also has its share of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea (pictured). Go Now!

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    Ecuador: Sally Lightfoot Crab. Go Now!

    The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador are home to incredible wildlife, such as the famous Galapagos Turtle and the lesser known, but more common Red Rock or Sally Lightfoot crab (pictured). Begin Your Journey!

  • Chile!

    Chile: Torres del Paine National Park. Go Now!

    The Andes dominate much of Chile, including the breath-taking Torres del Paine National Park (pictured). However, the country also hosts the world's driest desert and a thriving metropolis. Begin Your Journey!

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History of Peru

It seems the first people to arrive to Peru likely came from the north via the Isthmus of Panama. These people arrived by at least 9000 BC and they lived a very simple life based off the land. These nomadic people were hunters, gathers, and fishers and over time developed into very distinct groups of people.

By 6000 BC there appears to have been a more organized society and by 3000 BC, if not earlier, many of these people had settled the land, both along the coast as well as in the mountains. Farming became common as did raising and domesticating animals. As settlements grew so did the concentration of people in the region and in the city of Caral, which is considered the oldest city in the Americas. This city still has standing structures from about 2500-2000 BC and is considered one of the centers of civilization in the world.

This Caral civilization proves the advanced nature of the people in the area and demonstrates a fairly advanced culture and society. It also demonstrates the focus of the people as all indications point to agriculture as the center of the culture, which maintained survival and allowed the settlement of these people, as opposed to their nomadic past.

Over time other people developed advanced cultures, including the people of Moche (in the area of Trujillo in the north) and Nazca (from the area of Nazca in the south), whose civilizations arose in about 100 BC and lasted nearly 1000 years. The Moche have left behind some impressive ruins as they developed metals and pottery, while the Nazca are best known today for their Nazca Lines.

The civilization of the people in the region continued over time as later people became well-known for their metallurgy and advanced political and social organization. After the time of the Nazca and Moche though, there is a clear shift as nearly all advancements and powerful civilizations arose in the mountains, not in the lowlands, which was where these earlier powers thrived.

After these coastal powers fell in about 700 AD a number of mountainous people rose in power, but few held great control over the region until the rise of the Incan Empire, based in Cuzco in the early 1400s. The Incans slowly took over the entire Andes Mountains region and became the dominant power in what is today Peru and beyond.

The people of the Incan Empire, or at least those in charge of the empire, were primarily ethnic Quechua, which was also the name of their language. The empire allowed free practice of religion and other customs, but demanded respect to the empire, their god Inti, and their emperor, whose title was Inca. Due to these freedoms, once it became apparent that a people had no chance to resist Incan takeover, they often times succumbed although in the early years many resisted.

The Incans had a very complex society, much of which thrived on their relationship with nature and religion. The people believed their main god, Inti was the sun god and that no one person could own land as the land, people, and gods had to work in unison. They also became impressive builders as they had a road system that stretched the length of their empire (which by the 1500s stretched from Colombia to Argentina and from the coast to Amazon rain forests). They also constructed one of the world's most impressive structures in the city of Machu Picchu, which was primarily built in the mid-1400s.

The Incans seemed safely protected in the Andes when the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s, but these mountains would later prove to be not enough for full protection from the Spanish explorers or their diseases. Additionally, when the Spanish did arrive, they knew of the Incan Empire and heard of its riches and gold, giving the Spanish reason to immediately focus their settlement and colonization efforts in what is today Peru.

With the first waves of Spanish explorers, both in Peru and elsewhere, European diseases spread quickly. Many of the Incans died from these diseases and nearly the entire royal family was killed by smallpox in the 1520s. In fact the population at the time was nearly 10 million and only a century later the indigenous population was estimated to be at about half a million. The death of the royal family in the 1520s led to political chaos in the empire so, when Francisco Pizarro arrived to the region in 1532, he quickly took over the now divided empire (which at that time was centered in both Ecuador and Peru) then focused their attentions in Cuzco.

With Spanish presence the region fell into further chaos. Numerous Spanish conquistadores fought amongst themselves, the Spanish government tried to establish control, and many local peoples resisted and raided the Spanish. Through this time the indigenous people, primarily all being part of the Incan Empire, tried to maintain their historic culture and religion as many did so quite successfully due to the isolation of the mountains. Others became the victims of Spanish colonization efforts while the Spanish began their expansion, first in Cuzco, then in Lima as a colonial Spanish culture was born.

The Spanish began to enslave the locals as best they could, forcing them to work as labor on farms. Missionaries also arrived to convert the people to Catholicism. During this process of Spanish conquest there seemed to be a tapering of cultural conversion. In the more isolated mountains and further east into the Amazon Rain forests, the Spanish made little impact as the people maintained their cultures, traditions, languages, and in some cases even their religion. In regions closer to Spanish power, such as Cuzco and Lima the local people became Catholic, started to learn Spanish, and even married many arriving Spaniards, while Spanish influence fell between these extremes in the other regions.

In 1542 the Spanish created the Viceroyalty of Peru, a political entity, which made modern day Peru a center of Spanish power in South America. From this point into the early 1600s the dynamic in the region greatly changed as nearly 90% of the local population died from diseases as former Incan cities were converted to Spanish cities and a Catholic church was built in the center of each. The economy also shifted to one of farming, mining, and trade based out of Lima.

Spanish power continued to grow in the 1600s, especially considering huge population loss of the local people due to disease and war. The local people didn't simply submit to the Spanish though; those in mountain valleys and in the Amazon continued to resist quite successfully and some even fought the Spanish. As the ethnic mix in the country shifted in the favor of the Spanish, many local people desperately clung to their languages, religions, and cultures.

The 1700s saw more than rebellions against the Spanish in Peru. This time also experienced economic and political demise for the region as Spain adjusted their borders in South America, removing lands from the jurisdiction of Peru. Through this century there also seemed to be a number of cultural changes in Peru; while many groups were fiercely fighting and resisting the Spanish, many other people had adopted the Spanish language, religion, and lifestyle by this time.

Despite the improving relations between the groups, it was still the ethnic Spanish that made the decisions and many of these people were very loyal to the Spanish government. Therefore, when Spain was taken over by France in the early 1800s, many of these people resisted independence unlike most of South America. None-the-less, there were enough independence seekers in the region that debates and wars led to independence in 1821. Of course this independence only came with internal support and external generals, including Jose de San Martin from Argentina and Simon Bolivar from Venezuela.

From the time of independence in 1821, Peru struggled as did so many other countries in the region after gaining independence. Wars were regular and borders were debated into the 1840s. The country also struggled economically and political stability was sporadic. The situation settled down dramatically in the 1850s and 1860s, although revolts and political chaos still were not uncommon. The people remained fairly divided as they had prior to independence, but now the rebellions had lessened. The new government, led by ethnic Spanish, held unquestionable control over the region so stopped massive efforts to convert or control the indigenous population, while the local people welcomed the lack of effort and continued living their lives much as they had before independence.

On the political side, South America was still in transition and in 1879 war broke out between Chile on one side and Bolivia and Peru on the other. This war led to the loss of lands for both Peru and Bolivia and it destroyed relations between Peru and Chile.

The war also turned Peru's focus inward as social, economic, and political changes were implemented. Of course this came with debates, leading to a couple coups and military dictatorships, but by the early 1900s these changes were underway and stability was gained, although political freedoms were a thing of the past. This stability lasted until 1929 when the world economy suffered; this economic struggle in Peru translated to political instability as the country again went through leader after leader as each tried to secure power through any means necessary.

This time also experienced major cultural changes in the country as the country became heavily urbanized. With a struggling economy many people moved to cities to seek out new jobs and opportunities (although even in cities few were available). The early 1900s were also a time when healthcare was vastly improving and a number of social programs had taken hold, improving the country as a whole and leading to a massive population increase, partially due to expanding lifespans.

The early 1900s also experienced world wars and other turmoil. In addition to nominally joining the Allies in World War II, Peru got involved in a war with Ecuador in the 1941 regarding their borders, giving the country poor relations with another of their neighbors. After these wars the country continued on the path of social, economic, and political improvements. Sadly, political instability again made these changes limited in effectiveness.

The political instability in Peru lasted well into the 1990s. The government changed hands numerous times and with each new leader it seemed new laws were implemented or certain rights were restricted. This hurt the economy as well as social rights. In an odd way though, little changed culturally as the people continued to live in their impoverished state. The cities continued to grow as they became more industrialized and the people in the mountains and jungles continued to live primarily off the land as few technological or economic improvements tempted the people to sway from their lifestyle.

The 1980s became a time when political stability began to return, although economic instability made this short-lived as inflation destroyed the economy. Some people turned to illegal trade during this time as Peru became an important source country for the drug trade. Others turned to violence in order to take over the government or simply to protest the government, leading to further political instability.

Peru finally gathered stability in the 1990s as rebel groups were destroyed and the economy was brought back under control. Since this time the country has been continuing on a path to restructuring the economy and political system, which it has done fairly successfully. The country has experienced massive tourist growth, centered on Machu Picchu.

The country today is still changing and stabilizing as modern technology is quickly altering the people and their culture. The country remains divided, but at peace as the Spanish descendants, the mestizos (Spanish and indigenous descent), the Quechua, and the Aymara all holding on to aspects of their historic cultures. Traditional dress, food, and language are all common throughout the country today, but most of the people have converted to Catholicism, no matter their ethnicity.

This page was last updated: March, 2013