For at least 300 years before the arrival of the first Europeans, most of Peru was the heart of the Inca Empire that extended from present-day Ecuador to central Chile. The area from which the empire developed was centered in the valleys of Cuzco. The Inca Empire ended with the conquest of its heartland and capital Cuzco (1531-1533) by the Spaniards.
Today the country of Peru is situated on the western coast of South America, surrounded by Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Chile and the Pacific Ocean. The country is divided in three main natural regions: the Coastal Zone, an arid and hilly region situated between the Pacific shore and the Andes; the Highlands consisting of two parallel ranges with peaks rising over 20,000 feet and valleys wedged into them, where the majority of Peru’s population lives; and the Eastern lowlands, covered with dense tropical rain forest, and divided into the selva alta,, the higher hilly areas at the foot of the Andes, and the selva baja, the lower areas farther east that slope toward the boundaries of Colombia and Brazil.
Peru is well known for its rich Inca heritage that can still be appreciated in the multiple ruins and traditions still followed by many Peruvians, the colonial architecture left by the Spaniards, colorful Andean markets and its ideal conditions for outdoor activities such as trekking, whitewater rafting and jungle explorations. Its most important tourist sites and landmarks are the legendary Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, the Colca Canyon, the Amazon Basin, the northern archaeological sites of Trujillo and Chiclayo, the enigmatic Nazca Lines, the trekkers’ paradise of Huaraz, the capital city of Lima and Lake Titicaca.