Peru, Tourism and Conservation
Peru has become a much safer tourist destination than it was in the late 20th century, when political turbulence and hyper-inflation had given it a bad reputation. The terrorist campaign started in the 1980s by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path,a Maoist group) claimed some 30,000 lives and the country had come close to economic ruin.
Things improved during the 1990s, especially after the arrest of leading terrorists and economic reforms that brought down inflation. In April 2001, at his third attempt, Alejandro Toledo became Peru’s first president of indigenous descent, helped by his Belgian-born wife who also campaigned in Quechua. Symbolically,Toledo was sworn in first in Lima, then at Machu Picchu, in July. Nowadays, tourists are made welcome in Peru, and if they behave appropriately, they are as safe as in any developing country.
Geography of Perú
Peru is over five times larger than Great Britain and the third largest country in South America, with a population of 27.5 million people. Working eastward from the Pacific Ocean, it can be divided into three zones:
- Costa: The plain running along its 2500-kilometre Pacific coastline, where industry and commerce are concentrated; this contains the modern capital Lima, which alone has over eight million people.
- Sierra or highlands of the Andes: Covering 27% of the land area and home to about half the population; the climate ranges from temperate to very cold, with wide diurnal ranges and seasonally heavy rain; Cusco lies at altitude 3350 metres, whilst the Andes rise to over 6000 metres.
- Rain forest or Amazon jungle: Covering 60% of Peru’s area and home to less than 6% of its population; its hot, humid conditions support an incredible 10 million species of tropical flora and fauna.
Tourism and the Economy
Although rich ¡n natural resources such as minerals, fishing and agriculture, by western standards Peru is a poor country. The average Gross Domestic Product is only $4700 per head, compared with about $20,000 for the UK or $30,000 for the US. That comparison understates the poverty, because wealth is so unequally distributed. Some 70% of the population lives at or below the poverty level (1996 census), including a disproportionate number of the indigenous Andeans, who make up about half of the population.
Tourism earnings have become extremely important to the Peruvian economy. You are expected to barter both in the markets and also before getting into a taxi; but remember that driving a hard bargain is less important to you than to the Peruvian. At the end of your hike,
think of your tips as an important supplement to earnings for hard-working staff. In the unlikely event that service was not good, point out what was wrong and encourage them to put it right, but if they did well, be generous.
Reputable operators take pride in delivering high standards of service, and some develop long-term relationships with a particular village from which porters are recruited regularly. The energy, camaraderie and cheerfulness of the porters is a major ingredient in a happy expedition. Their speed and stamina while carrying heavy loads is legendary. When the new rules limited their loads to 25 kg, some complained that they could carry more: they were surprised to learn that on Kilimanjaro, the Tanzanian porters’ loads are limited to ‘only’ 15 or 18 kg, depending on the route! Truly, the Andean porters are the chasquis of today.
By Inca Trail Machu Picchu - Last updated, 30-09-2021
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