Located on the western coast of South America, Peru is one of the world's most biologically diverse countries. Its biodiversity can be organized into four main biomes. Geographically, Peru is traditionally described in terms of three broad longitudinal regions: the Costa, the Sierra, and the Amazonia.
The Natural Landscape of Peru
Peru is situated on the central western coast of the South American continent. The Pacific coastline stretches for approximately 2,400 km (1,500 mi) along its western edge.
Peru is the third-largest country in South America. Its population is over 33,000,000, almost half of which are Quechua, one-third mestizo, and the remainder Aymara or European ancestry.
Peru is one of the world's most biologically diverse countries, with 84 of 103 existing ecosystems and 28 of 32 climates. Although Peru is located entirely in the tropics, it also features desert and mountain climates and tropical rainforests.
According to the Global Biodiversity Index, Peru is seventh in the world in terms of its biodiversity. With 1,861 bird species, 655 amphibian species, 1,583 fish species, 490 mammal species, 510 reptile species, and 19,812 vascular plant species, Peru is one of 17 megadiverse countries.
Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America
Natural Geography of Peru
Peru is traditionally described as three broad longitudinal regions. Each of these regions comprises a different topography and sharply contrasting environment, thus forming the major terrestrial regions of the country.
the arid Costa (La Costa), or coastal region, in the west
the rugged Sierra (La Sierra), or the Peruvian Andes, in the middle
the wet and forested Amazonia (La Selva), or jungle region, in the east
Three broad climatic regions can be readily distinguished, paralleling the three main geographic regions: coastal desert, mountain highland, and tropical forest.
Map of Peru, showing its three geographical regions and 25 departments
Coastal Plain (La Costa)
The coastal region of Peru is a bleak, often rocky desert that runs the entire length of the country, from Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south. The landscape is punctuated by many rivers and streams that descend through steep, arid mountains in the east and empty into the Pacific Ocean in the west.
The coastal plain can be divided into three parts: north, central, and south. Generally speaking, the level of coastal land diminishes from north to south.
In the northern region, the plain is typically some 30 - 50 km (20 - 30 mi) wide, with a maximum width of more than 140 km (90 mi) in the Sechura Desert.
The central coastal region is narrower than the northern region and is characterized by rough hills extending from the Andes to the ocean's shores.
From Nazca southward to the Chilean border, the coast is lined mainly by low mountains with narrow valleys near the ocean.
Evidence of plant life is relatively rare in the barren desert of coastal Peru. However, Lomas (a mix of grasses and other herbaceous species) are common where coastal fog is heavy. In the north coast region, some parts of the desert are covered by epiphytes or by stands of sapote or algarroba (mesquite).
The most important feature of the coast is the enormous amount of bird, marine mammal, and fish life that abounds in the coastal waters. These include anchovies, Corvina (sea bass), tuna, swordfish, and marlin. In addition, sea lions thrive in isolated parts of the coast.
Birdlife is heavy on islands off the coast. The most important bird species are pelicans, cormorants, gannets, and gulls. In addition, Humboldt penguins, an endangered species, are found as far north as the Ballestas Islands near the Paracas Peninsula.
Coastal Desert Climate
From the Peruvian-Ecuadoran border south to northern Chile, the west coast of Peru has one of the Earth's driest climates. The Andes Mountains block rain-bearing winds from the Amazon Basin. Because of this, air masses moving toward the coast produce little rainfall, and northward-flowing cold water off the coast (the Humboldt Current) contributes little moisture to surface air masses.
Temperatures in this coastal desert are not hot, however. Average temperatures of the Costa range from 19 °C (66 °F ) in winter to 22 °C (72 °F ) in summer. Despite its dryness, some parts of the coastal region receive sufficient moisture from winter fogs (locally known as garúa) to support some vegetation.
Andean Highlands (La Sierra or Los Montañas)
The Sierra Highlands natural region, containing the Peruvian Andes, is the commanding feature of Peru. Hundreds of permanently glaciated and snowcapped peaks tower over the valleys. It includes the Altiplano plateau as well as the highest peak of the country, the 6,768 m (22,205 ft) Huascarán.
Several of the mountain groups found within the region of the Andean highlands include:
The Sierra contains the headwaters of the streams that flow to the Pacific Ocean and the Amazon Basin. In the south, several rivers cross the Altiplano in Peru to empty into Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable body of water.
The Andes' steep, desiccated Pacific flank supports only a sparse population in villages at infrequent springs and seepages. In contrast, tropical forests blanket the eastern side of the Andes. The most populous highland ecological zones lie between these extremes: the intermontane valleys, the higher uplands, and the grassy Puna-Altiplano plateau.
Slopes are relatively gentle in northern Peru. The Andes Mountains in central Peru are higher and more rugged. The ranges of the central zone form challenging barriers to movement. In southern Peru, the character of the Andes changes to that of a high plateau region; this is the Altiplano, with vast tablelands.
Two plant communities characterize the Peruvian highlands: puna grasslands at higher elevations and a mixture of native and introduced species at lower elevations. The Puna has an abundance of forage grasses and is home to the llama, alpaca, vicuña, and guanaco, which are native to the region. In addition, several species of eucalyptus have replaced native tree species.
The Sierra exhibits a wide range of climates that vary according to such factors as latitude, elevation, local winds, and rainshadow effects. Generally, temperatures decrease as elevation increases and rainfall decreases from north to south and east to west. Snow falls in the Sierra at higher elevations; many peaks have permanent snow.
Amazonia (La Selva)
The western slopes of the Peruvian Andes merge with the forested tropical lowlands of the Amazon Basin and form the region known as Amazonia or La Selva (the jungle), which occupies more than 60% of the area of Peru. In addition, dense cloud forests are found in the zone immediately adjacent to the Andes.
The region's physiography is characterized by rolling hills and level plains extending eastward to the borders of Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia. Elevations are uniformly low, ranging from about 1,000 m (3,300 ft) at the eastern edge of the Andes to about 80 m (206 ft) above sea level along the Amazon River at the Peru-Brazil border.
Great rivers characterize Amazonia. The Amazon River has headwaters that rise in several places in the Peruvian Andes; one of the main branches, the Ucayali, originates in southern Peru. These tributaries, including the Marañón, Huallaga, and Ucayali, flow northward in deep valleys before turning east to join the Amazon.
Heavy tropical forest growth covers the eastern slopes of the Andes and the Amazon plains. As a result, the forests have a broad assortment of hardwood and softwood species that produce various forest products.
These forests and waters provide habitat for thousands of plant, insect, and animal species. Mammals of this region include the jaguar, capybara, tapir, and several monkey species. In addition, there is a vast and colorful variety of bird and fish life. Reptiles and insects are abundant.
Tropical Forest Climate
Hot, humid conditions characterize the Amazonia climate of eastern Peru. Rainfall throughout the region is high, with precipitation typical throughout the year. There is minimal seasonal temperature variation.
Topographic map of Peru
Peru hosts a diverse and awe-inspiring array of mountain ranges that form part of the more extensive Andes mountain range. These ranges stretch from north to south, shaping the country's topography and providing a home to unique ecosystems and cultural heritage.
See more: Mountain Ranges of Peru
Islands and Archipelagos
Peru is known for its diverse landscapes, including a range of islands scattered along its Pacific coastline and lakes. While not as renowned for its islands and archipelagos as some other countries, Peru has several notable ones contributing to its biodiversity and cultural diversity.
See more: Islands and Archipelagos of Peru
Bodies of Water
Peru is blessed with many diverse bodies of water, including rivers, lakes, lagoons, gulfs, and bays. These water bodies are crucial for ecosystems and vital for sustaining livelihoods, supporting agriculture, and promoting tourism in this diverse and geographically rich country.
See more: Water Bodies of Peru
Peru has been divided administratively into 25 regions (formerly known as departments) subdivided into provinces, except for the Lima Province, which does not belong to a region. One hundred ninety-six provinces are further subdivided into districts.
See more: Cultural Landscape of Peru
Peru physiographic map
Peru's biodiversity can be organized into four main biomes:
Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forest
Map of Peru and its four biomes
The following is a list of terrestrial ecoregions in Peru, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Peru is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.
Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests
Eastern Cordillera Real montane forests
Napo moist forests
Solimões-Japurá moist forests
Ucayali moist forests
Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests
Marañón dry forests
Tumbes-Piura dry forests
Montane grasslands and shrublands
Deserts and xeric shrublands
Gulf of Guayaquil-Tumbes mangroves
Vegetation map of Peru