Peru is among the top 10 most biodiverse countries in the world. With the Amazon Rainforest covering 60% of its landmass, the jungle accounts for a large portion of that diversity. However, Peru is much more than the rainforest. Running down the middle of the country are the Andes, creating a highland region that is most famous for Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Moving west, Peru’s entire coastline is a desert that once housed some of the oldest civilizations in the Americas.
The combination of desert, mountain, and jungle is what makes tours of Peru so interesting—as you travel through the country you’re consistently seeing new environments, scenery, and wildlife. Here’s what you need to know about these three distinctive regions.
Desert and Coast
Many people are surprised to learn that Lima, Peru’s capital city and home to the country’s main international airport, is the second-largest desert city in the world. The only one larger is Cairo, Egypt. In fact, Peru has plenty of deserts, all of it following the Pacific coastline.
The desert environment is largely to thank for thousands of ancient ruins scattered throughout the country. Although there are plenty of ruin sites inland the dry environment in the west has preserved many gems, such as the Nazca Lines and the adobe city of Chan Chan.
Additionally, the hundreds of miles of coastline provide Peru with wonderful fishing grounds. The Humboldt Current pulls cold water from the ocean floor up toward the surface, bringing lots of fish with it, making the fishing industry very lucrative in Peru. All the beaches and ocean waters also keep many surfers happy, as Peru is one of the best places for cold water surfing.
Mountains and Highlands
The middle of Peru is filled with soaring mountain peaks and remarkable highland environments. Near Huaraz, you’ll find Huascaran. At 6,768 meters high this is Peru’s tallest mountain and the world’s highest tropical peak. Weather changes quickly in the Andes, so you should always be prepared and familiar with the patterns of weather in Peru. Remember that seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere and that the sun tends to be much stronger.
If you head toward Cuzco and you’ll find subtropical mountains, some of which hide Inca ruins, such as Machu Picchu. Lake Titicaca sits at a soaring altitude making it the world’s highest navigable lake and requires an extra day to acclimatize for most visitors. Outside of the charming colonial city of Arequipa, you’ll find the Colca Canyon region which has the deepest canyons in the world.
Peru contains more tropical rainforest than any other country outside of Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Amazon River runs through northern Peru and can be visited from the isolated jungle town of Iquitos. Because of population growth in the town, the best way to see larger wildlife is to head upriver and stay in a jungle lodge far from the city. To the south, only a short flight from Cuzco, is the town of Puerto Maldonado, another launching point of Amazon expeditions. This is where you can visit the largest macaw clay lick in the world.
Since the Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, it is one of the best places to see unique wildlife and see tropical jungle plants. Although the jungle covers over 60% of Peru’s landmass, only 5% of its population lives there, making it a truly wild region.
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