Peru - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Culture & Customs

Peru - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Culture & Customs

by John Forrest, Julia Porturas

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Peru is associated with ancient civilizations, awe-inspiring Inca cities, ruthless conquistadores, spectacular Andean scenery, astonishing biodiversity, and colorful woven textiles. All true—but visitors will find a great deal more to Peru than this. The two distinctive cultures that first encountered each other five hundred years ago have, progressively, integrated. This process of mixing, however, raises questions about Peruvian identity. Peruvian society is divided between the wealthy, Westernized, coastal urban populations and the poorer, traditional, indigenous peoples, many of whom have migrated from the Andes to the cities. Since the flight of the discredited President Fujimori in 2000 there has been a surge of economic growth and development, and continuing social inequality. Peruvians are increasingly embracing consumerism, but for their happiness they still depend on each other, and the family is paramount. This new, updated edition of Culture Smart! Peru charts the rapid changes taking place in the country, including the election in 2011 of the left-leaning President Ollanta Humala, the third democratically elected president in a row. It describes how history and geography have shaped contemporary Peruvian values and attitudes. It provides insights into religious and public life, and reveals what people are like at home, in business, and in their social lives. Most Peruvians are laid-back and surprisingly calm and carefree, given the many uncertainties they face. They are outgoing and sociable. Get to know them, and they will respond with warmth and generosity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857336672
Publisher: Kuperard
Publication date: 10/30/2012
Series: Culture Smart! Series
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 1,104,127
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

John Forrest is a teacher and writer based in London. He first traveled to Peru in 1981, after graduating with a BA Comb.Hons in Geography and Statistics from Exeter University. He returned to Peru regularly to lead study tours and to research, write, and publish his own travel guide. He is a committee member of the Anglo-Peruvian Society and continues to visit Peru as Chairman of the Tambopata Reserve Society. Julia Porturas was born in Peru and studied at La Católica University in Lima and Birkbeck College, London. She graduated with a BA Hons in Hispanic and Latin American Studies. In Peru, she worked for several years for a major state enterprise, and she is now an administrator in London.

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By John Forrest, Julia Porturas

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Copyright © 2012 Kuperard
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ISBN: 978-1-85733-668-9




The third largest country in South America, Peru is traversed north to south by the narrow Atacama desert in the west, the Andes mountains down the center, and Amazon rain forest in the east. It is bordered to the north by Ecuador and Colombia, to the east by Brazil, to the south by Bolivia and Chile, and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.

Peru is a Spanish-speaking country, though over a third of the people also speak Quechua, the indigenous language spoken widely but in a variety of dialects the length of the Andes. It has nearly 30 million inhabitants, 8.5 million of whom live in the sprawling capital, Lima.

There is a wealth of dramatic landscapes and in a day it is possible to travel from searing desert heat, through freezing high Andean fog, and down into the humid rain forest.

The Atacama desert, the driest in the world, extends northward from Chile almost to the Ecuadorian border. The cold Peru (or Humboldt) ocean current flowing northward from Antarctica up the west coast of South America ensures the coastal air masses are moisture free. The Atacama is only 50 miles (80 km) wide at its broadest point in the north and in places almost disappears as the Andean foothills reach down to the sea. It is crossed by narrow fertile valleys watered by fast-flowing rivers with sources high in the Andes.

The Andes result from millennia of tectonic activity as the oceanic Nazca plate is drawn beneath the continental South American plate. Consequently, the mountain ranges (cordilleras) are oldest toward the east and more recently formed near the coast. This leads to frequent earth tremors, though the last big earthquake was in 1970. Most volcanic activity is experienced in the south, where there are several active volcanoes and plenty of evidence of past eruptions.

In the south the Andes splits into two main cordilleras divided by a high-altitude, infertile plateau, the altiplano ("high plain"). It is on this plateau that Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, is situated, at 12,600 feet (3,850 meters) above sea level. Many rivers are deeply incised into the lower flanks of the Andes, most notably at Cotahuasi and Colca, near Arequipa, the deepest canyons in the world.

The source of the Amazon lies high in the Andes in central southern Peru: over half the country is dense tropical rain forest through which flow thousands of tributaries of the largest river on the planet.


Peru has three distinct climatic zones, though there are significant seasonal variations within each.

Lima is shrouded in cloud for at least four months of the year (July–October) and at times "La Garúa," a sea mist, sweeps in at street level between the hotels and apartment blocks. It can feel surprisingly damp and chilly. By driving 12–18 miles (20–30 km) inland, however, it is possible to leave all that behind and enter a landscape of clear blue skies and almost permanent sunshine and warmth.

In the Andes the weather can be extremely changeable, especially when crossing the cordilleras, so it may seem like summer one moment and winter the next.

About every ten years Peru is affected by the "El Niño" phenomenon. The northward flow of the cold Humboldt Current is restricted by a sudden surge of warmer water from across the central Pacific. The accompanying warmer, moist air brings cloud, rain, and strong winds to the northern desert. The opposite, but less frequent, "La Niña" brings much colder, drier weather to the southern Andes.


Peru, a Federal Republic, is divided into twenty-four departments, subdivided into 195 provinces, which are further divided into 1,637 districts. In the 1990s eleven regions were created, most consisting of several departments.

The most densely populated departments are those along the coast, the most sparsely in the Amazon. In the 1980s and 1990s there was significant internal migration from Andean to coastal departments as a consequence of the civil war, with many coastal cities increasing rapidly and significantly in size. However, within coastal departments there are large uninhabited expanses of desert between coastal cities.


Modern Peru is a composite of populations and cultures, shaped by a series of remarkable historical events. These can only be covered in the briefest of detail here, but are central to an understanding of the Peruvian people.

Peru's pre-Columbian past ranks with that of other great ancient civilizations, evidenced by some spectacular archaeological discoveries. The impressive remains of the Inca dynasty, the most extensive civilization to flourish in the Americas, still have a tremendous physical and cultural impact on the lives of many Andean people.

After the conquest, Spain established its own empire across much of South America, with Peru at its heart. Spanish influence remains strong today, with some fine colonial-era buildings in the major cities. Following Peru's independence, Britain and then the USA had a major impact on the economy. In recent years globalization has seen a transfer of power to major transnational companies. None, however, have managed to diminish Peru's strong cultural identity.


The first signs of human habitation in Peru were unearthed in the central highlands and coastal lomas (vegetation surviving off the sea mist). They date back to 8,000–6,000 BCE. The people were seminomadic hunter-gatherers whose ancestors had probably crossed from Asia when the Bering Straits froze over and migrated down through the Americas (20,000–10,000 BCE).

Not everyone agrees with the Bering Straits theory about the land route taken by Peru's first peoples. The Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, whose Kon-Tiki expeditions set sail from Peru, suggested an alternative, or additional, trans-Pacific migration. Strong mongoloid features — in support of this — as depicted in pre-Columbian ceramic figurines, can also be found today among the inhabitants of any town on the Peruvian north coast. Another theory promotes the peopling of Peru westward from the Amazon.

Pre-Columbian Civilizations

The earliest inhabitants of Peru created numerous distinctive and fascinating cultures over many centuries. Variations in their chronology and geographical extent, the occupation of sites by more than one culture, plus ongoing discoveries, create difficulties in their classification. Most of them developed across several adjacent coastal or Andean valleys with probable trade links between the two zones. They conquered and assimilated each other, an approach at which the Incas were, ultimately, the most adept. When the Spanish arrived they found a well-organized, complex society but one that was incapable of offering significant resistance to European weaponry.

Pre-Ceramic Period (8000–1850 BCE)

On the coast plentiful seafood and game gradually encouraged occupation of the valleys as climatic change reduced the lomas. In the Andes the guanaco (wild Andean cameloid) was domesticated — to produce the larger llama and alpaca — as were guinea pigs. However, people continued to live in isolated hunter-gatherer groups, seasonally cultivating a few plants.

Initial Period (1800–800 BCE)

Increasing cultivation generated a food surplus that led to the appearance of a craftsman class devoted to basic metalworking, weaving, and, for the first time, pottery production. The stone rubble pyramid of Sechin Alto, in the Casma valley, 230 miles (370 km) north of Lima, dates to 1400 BCE, and was the largest structure in the Americas at the time.

Early Horizon (800–200 BCE)

Aside from Caral, it was the Andes that saw the beginnings of structured society within Peru. Chavin de Huantar, located immediately southeast of the Cordillera Blanca, and Sechin, due west of Chavin on the coast, became important religious and political centers.

Chavin was the focus of a quasi-religious cult that worshiped a feline creator god (suggesting close links with the rain forest). Its influence stretched hundreds of miles across northern Peru, from which pilgrims flocked to visit. The complexity of the cult is reflected in the quality of the ceramics and metalwork produced and in a stunning stone pyramid complex. The main pyramid has several levels of underground galleries, which terminate at finely sculptured stone monoliths decorated with feline and anthropomorphic forms.

Sechin consists of a temple platform faced with hundreds of carved stone monoliths. The carvings are remarkable for the clear depiction of a warrior society and an apparent narrative reflecting a violent lifestyle. The link with Chavin is unclear but Sechin may have acted as a military base to spread and maintain the cult.

The Chavin cult linked many disparate groups, from Paracas in the south to Kuntur Wasi (Cajamarca) in the north, despite the hostile nature of the intervening terrain. At Chavin significant advances were made in developing ceramic vessels, while at Paracas incredibly fine cotton textiles — best seen in the museums in Lima — were produced.

Early Intermediate Period (200 BCE–600 CE)

This was a period of rapid change in which significant technological developments in metalworking, pottery, and weaving took place in several coastal valleys. Two of the most interesting are the Nasca and Mochica cultures.

Several Nasca culture communities, 5,000 to 10,000 strong, lived in the Nasca valley, 250 miles (400 km) south of Lima. They were responsible for the construction of highly sophisticated underground irrigation systems, a large number of ceremonial sites, and the Nasca Lines, and produced highly decorative pottery.

Mochica culture was based in the Moche valley (Trujillo), 350 miles (560 km) north of Lima. The Mochica developed a military state that extended from the Casma valley, in the south, to the Chira valley (Piura), in the north. Extensive irrigation of the coastal valleys supported a craftsman class that produced exquisite jewelry and stylized, though amazingly lifelike, portrait ceramics of people, animals, and common foods, revealing a huge amount about the daily life of the Mochica. Pottery decoration also indicates that they sailed and traded along the coast from balsa log vessels.

The enormous Huaca del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and Huaca de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon) with its brightly painted interior frescos — adjacent to each other just outside Trujillo — are fantastic monuments to the culture, as is the mysterious fresco-covered Huaca del Brujo (Pyramid of the Witches) further up the coast. The "royal" Mochica tomb of El Señor de Sipan (near Chiclayo), with its beautiful golden and silver treasures, is another legacy. All these constructions demonstrate a capacity to organize large-scale community participation, over many years, in building projects.

Middle Horizon (600–1000)

As the Nasca and Mochica cultures waned, quite possibly as a result of "El Niño" related events, the Huari-Tiahuanaco culture came to the fore in the southern Andes. The military skills of the Huari (at Ayacucho) combined with the existing religious cult of Tiahuanaco (southern end of Lake Titicaca) to create the first great pan-Andean empire. At its height it extended from Cajamarca, in the north, to northern Bolivia and Argentina, in the south.

The Huari were the first to construct large walled settlements — for example, Piquillacta, outside Cuzco, and Cajamarquilla, outside Lima — recognizable roads, and extensive terraces on the steep Andean hillsides. Their empire was controlled by well-run labor and administrative systems until it eventually fragmented.

Lambayeque (Sican) culture flourished around 750–1350 CE. After the collapse of the main Mochica culture, a northern group reestablished itself in the Lambayeque and surrounding valleys, beyond the influence of the Huari. They were responsible for constructing the impressive site of Batan Grande, dotted with huge adobe pyramids, including Huaca Loro (Parrot Pyramid), from which amazing golden and copper treasures were unearthed in the tomb of El Señor de Sican (The Lord of Sican). Climatic change led to the building of a new site, a short distance west at Tucume, where Huaca Larga (Long Pyramid) is the biggest adobe structure in the world. The culture survived until conquered by the Chimu.

Late Intermediate (1000–1470)

With the demise of the Huari in the south two major cultures appeared in northern Peru. The Chachapoyans took control in the Andes from their citadel at Kuelap, while, on the coast, the Chimu culture (900–1470) appeared in the Moche valley and later conquered (1350) the Lambayeque valley. In the Moche valley they constructed Chan-Chan, the largest adobe city ever built; covering 8 sq. miles (20 sq. km), it was larger than any subsequent Inca city. In the Lambayeque valley they took over and expanded existing Sican structures. A highly organized, militaristic state, it was contemporary with the early Inca empire.

Late Horizon (1400–1532)

Much uncertainty surrounds the origins of the Incas (c. 1200–1532). The two most commonly told legends have Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, his sister, coming from an island on Lake Titicaca in about 1200 CE, while another states that they and their brothers emerged from caves north of the lake. They were the creation of Viracocha — the creator god — and the children of the Sun (Inti, another deity) on earth. In reality they were probably a small tribal grouping displaced from the periphery of Lake Titicaca. Their initial wanderings led them to a fertile valley where Manco Capac's staff sank into the ground, and Cuzco was founded.

Successive Inca rulers, most notably Pachacutec (1438–71) and Tupac Inca (1471–93), extended the Inca empire (Tahuantisuyo) until it became the largest ever in the Americas. At its zenith it ran the length of the Andes from present-day southern Colombia to the Maule valley, in central Chile. Cuzco, the "navel of the universe," lay at the heart of Tahuantisuyo, which was subdivided into four regions: Chinchaysuyo, to the north; Antisuyo, to the east; Contisuyo, to the southwest; and Collasuyo, to the southeast.

The key to the establishment of the Inca dynasty was their ability to impose their ideology on conquered peoples, whose skills they integrated and assimilated. Conquered tribes were wholly, or partially, dispersed around the empire to nullify any further threat, in a practice known as mitimae. Consequently, the specialist skills they possessed — stonecutting or weaving, for example — were also transferred, as was the Quechua language. The Incas demanded that citizens, in huge numbers, form militias and undertake public works through a "tax" system known as mit'a. This arrangement was responsible for the highly ambitious construction projects, ranging from lengthy highways to great palaces and citadels. With limited tools, huge blocks of stone were cut to fit together perfectly without the use of mortar. Such expertise allowed the Incas to build spectacular defensive and ceremonial sites, principally in the Cuzco area, such as the fort of Sacsahuaman above the city and, in the Sacred Valley, Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Inca achievements was that everything was undertaken in the absence of a written language, the wheel, or horses. Records were kept using a system of knotted strings (quipus — the origin of modern- day bar codes), while all communication was made through a series of runners (chasquis), with small loads transported by llamas.

The Conquest

In 1527 the Inca, Huayna Capac, died of smallpox — a disease brought to the Americas by the Spanish that had spread south ahead of the conquistadores' arrival. In an unprecedented move Huayna Capac had divided the Inca empire, giving his legitimate son Huascar control of Cuzco and the south, while his half-brother Atahualpa was placed in charge of Chinchaysuyo, from Quito. Civil war erupted, with Atahualpa defeating Huascar at Cajamarca in 1532.


Excerpted from Peru by John Forrest, Julia Porturas. Copyright © 2012 Kuperard. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
About the Authors,
Map of Peru,
Key Facts,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Chapter 7: TRAVELING,
Further Reading,

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Peru - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Culture & Customs 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recent used this book for some basic research in preparation for a business trip to Lima. For me, the combination of historical, political, and cultural information was much more useful than the run-of-the-mill 'travel' guides (although you will find a fair amount of travel information in this book as well). In addition, I have also used another book in the same series for travel to the Ukraine, and recommend both for the serious traveler.