A map of Peru, coloured to show highland and lowland areas and vegetationOnce at the centre of the powerful Inca Empire, today Peru is the third largest country in South America. Its landscape is dominated by the Andes Mountains, which rise steeply from a narrow coastal plain to a region of rugged uplands called the sierra. In the south, a high plateau known as the Altiplano stretches into Bolivia and Argentina. The eastern slopes of the Andes merge into the Amazon rainforest. The coastal plain is mostly desert, except in the valleys created by seasonal rivers. Although Peru lies close to the Equator, its climate is cooled by the Humboldt ocean current, which flows from the south. The cooler air above above the current bars rainfall coming in from the ocean—except during El Niño events. In winter there is an almost permanent fog, called garua. The Andes have wet summers and dry winters. The eastern rainforest lowlands are hot and rainy throughout the year.
Food market in CajamarcaAmerindian woman carrying her baby in a sling
Just under half of Peruvians are Amerindians (almost as many Peruvians are of mixed Amerindian-European ancestry). The largest group, Quechua, are descended from the Inca. They speak the old Inca language of Quechua as well as Spanish, the language of the region’s 16th-century colonists.
Lying on the border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is about 3810 m (12,500 ft) above sea level. It is also the largest lake in South America.
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