The territory of Peru is traditionally divided into three distinct geographical regions or natural regions:
- Coast or Coastal desert.
- Sierra or Andean region.
- Jungle or Amazon region.
To these continental geographic regions are added the Peruvian Sea or Sea of Grau and the Peruvian Antarctic.
The division into three geographical regions of Peru has a long tradition, as it dates back to the one given during the Spanish colonial era and its use is the most frequent in the popular speech of Peru.
Coast or Coastal desert
The Peruvian coast is a microclimatic region. This region is affected by the cold Humboldt Current, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, tropical latitude, and the Andes mountain range. The central and southern coast consists mainly of a subtropical desert climate composed of sandy or rocky shores and inland cutting valleys.
Days alternate between overcast skies with occasional fog in the winter and sunny skies with occasional haze in the summer, with the only precipitation being an occasional light-to-moderate drizzle that is known locally as garúa.
These regions are usually characterized by having mildy cold lows (14 C°) and also mild highs (30 C°). Temperatures rarely fall below 14 C° and do not go over 30 C°. An exception is the southern coast, where it does get a bit warmer and drier for most of the year during daytime, and where it can also get much colder during winter nights (8 to 9C°). The occasional drizzle or fog of the central and southern coast is common during winter months, but even during summer days there are some foggy days. One must not forget that although it may not be as warm as typical tropical latitudes, the sun will hit and strike as if you were in any other tropical place.
The northern coast, on the contrary, has a curious tropical-dry climate, generally referred to as tropical savanna. This region is a lot warmer and can be unbearable during summer months, where rainfall is also present. The region differs from the southern coast by the presence of shrubs, equotorial dry forests, mangrove forests, tropical valleys near rivers such as the Chira and the Tumbes, and is blessed with clear, sunny skies for most of the year. The average temperature is 25C°.
Sierra or Andean region
The Andes shelter the largest variety of climates in the country. The climate is semi-arid in the valleys and moist in higher elevations and towards the eastern flanks. Rainfall varies from 200 to 1500 mm per year. The rainy season starts in October and ends in April. Its rainiest months are from January to March, where travel can sometimes be affected.
The western slopes are arid to semi-arid and receive rainfall only between January and March. Below the 2500 m mark, the temperatures vary between 5 and 15 °C in the night versus 18 to 25 °C in the day.
Between 2500 and 3500 meters the temperatures vary from 0 to 12 °C in the night and from 15 to 25 °C during the day. At higher elevations from 3500 to 4500 meters, the Puna ecoregion, the temperature varies from −10 to 8 °C during the night versus 15 °C during the day.
Some of the worlds highest mountains can be found here, like the Huascaran (6768 m) and the Yerupaja (6634 m).
The Andes range is a vast mountain area covering not only Peru but also parts of Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. Peru’s Andes is divided into some cordilleras. One of the most impressive are the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Huayhuash.
In the southern mountains of Peru lies the mysterious lost Inca city Machu Picchu. Close to Machu Picchu is the city of Cuzco and the beautiful Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley. Deeper south is the Colca Canyon. Though not world-famous like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA, the Colca Canyon is twice as deep, making it the deepest canyon on earth. In the same region is the beautiful city of Arequipa.
The most important cities in La Sierra are Arequipa, the beautiful white city, and Cuzco, the city of the Incas. Other important Andean cities are Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Huancayo, Huaraz, Juliaca and Puno at the shores of the spectacular Lago Titicaca.
Jungle or Amazon region
This is the isolated rain forest region in the eastern part of Peru, and it takes almost 60% of the country. The Amazon is the area between the eastern foothills (the montaña) of the Andes and the enormous rain forests of the Amazon basin, which extends further into Brazil. Most people will think of Brazil when hearing the name Amazon. Indeed is Brazil’s part of the Amazon rain forest much bigger. However, the Amazon river finds its roots in Peru, and most of the Peruvian Selva is still unspoiled.
Actually, Peru has some of the best untouched rain forests anywhere in the world. Although the Peruvian rain forest suffers from deforestation as it does anywhere else, there is a lot of ecological awareness in the country, and there are up to 24 national parks to protect this fragile nature.
The root of the Amazon lies in the heart of the Peruvian Selva, at the point where two other big rivers, the Marañon and the Ucayali, flow together and form the Rio Amazonas. Another mighty river and important source of the Amazon is the Urubamba. It flows from Peru’s southern Andes northwards through the montaña, where it joins the Ucayali. On its way it passes magnificent sites like Machu Picchu and the Pongo de Mainique. Coming from Lima, one of the easiest ways to enter the Selva is the Chanchamayo Valley.
Manu National Park
One of the biggest nature reserves in La Selva is Manu National Park. Manu is called the most bio-diverse rain forest in the world. With 4.5 million acres, half the size of Switzerland, it is one of the best areas for seeing wildlife anywhere. There are for instance over 1000 species of bird, 300 more species than can be found in the USA and Canada together.
La Selva is a region where only few people live. There are some small cities, with the only exceptions the relatively big city Iquitos, in the district of Loreto, and Pucallpa in the Ucayali district. Other cities are Puerto Maldonado in the Madre de Dios district, Moyobamba and Tarapoto in San Martin, San Ramon and La Merced, both in the Chanchamayo Valley in Junin, Satipo and Tingo Maria, and Yurimaguas in the Loreto district.
Eight Regions of Perú
Nevertheless Peruvian scholars consider this division of the Peruvian territory in three great regions -coast, mountain range and jungle- as very simplistic, proposing other thesis as the eight natural regions of Peru that allows to reach an approximation of the particularities that distinguish the Peruvian territory, specially between the Andean ecological floors; or the division in ecoregions that differentiates the desert coast of the equatorial and forested north coast, also the steppe mountain range of the puna and the paramo, and the low jungle of the high jungle.