Peru a Country of Contrasts a Journey
by Suzanne Sharma

Peru had a rich cultural life thousands of years before Pizarro turned up in funny clothing. Wander around colonial cities that echo the legacy of Spanish conquistadors, explore the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, visit the lost city of Machu Picchu and ponder the enigma of the Nazca Lines.
Peru also boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in South America. The beautiful Peruvian Andes issue a siren's call to top-class trekkers. These mountains are also home to squillions of indigenous highlanders, who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and live a traditional way of life. (Lonely Planet)

Pre-20th-Century History
The first inhabitants of Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves in the coastal regions. The oldest site, Pikimachay cave, dates from 12,000 BC. Crops such as cotton, beans, squash and pepper chilis were planted around 4000 BC. Later, advanced cultures such as the Chavín introduced weaving, agriculture and religion to the country before inexplicably disappearing around 300 BC. Over the centuries, several other cultures - including the Salinar, Nazca, Paracas Necropolis and Wari (Huari) - became locally important. By the early 15th century, the Incan empire had control of much of the area, even extending its influence into Colombia and Chile.

Recent History
By 2003, the currency was strong but Peruvians faced unemployment, stagnant wages and a higher cost of living - and Toledo's popularity was at an all-time low. In November 2005, Fujimori returned to South America, announcing plans to run for the presidency once again. He was quickly arrested in Chile on an extradition warrant. With Fujimori out of the way, the 2006 presidential elections narrowed to a face-off between the populist nationalist Ollanta Humala, and ex-president lan García. Voters elected the more conservative García.

However, though Peruvians may be better off now than they were under Fujimori, the seemingly intractable problems of poverty and unemployment remain.

Labor strikes for higher wages and political protests happen quite often. This unrest can be tiresome for travelers, who may find their trip suddenly delayed. It's not really a big deal to Peruvians, though, who are used to accepting such disturbances as facts of life.