Peru History

Advanced cultures, differing regions

Peruvian history is one of the most fascinating in the world, with various advanced cultures inhabiting the different regions and leaving their indelible marks on this varied landscape. Those interested in ancient civilisations are spoilt for choice in Peru, with a vast array of archaeological sites to visit and ponder.

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The Chavín

Chavin society was led by shamanic priests who would commune with the deities by entering into trances and using psychotropic drugs like the San Pedro cactus. They also communicated via elaborate messages carved into pillars and rock faces.

The Moche

The Moche Culture, also known as The Mochica Culture, lived along a 215 mile stretch of the Peruvian coast from the Lambayeque River down to the Nepeña River from about 100 to 800 AD.

The Moche were great engineers who built complex canals and irrigation systems to transport water from the Andes to the lowlands. These innovations allowed the Moche to flourish as an agricultural society, using the water to irrigate crops.

Many Moche ruins have been found close to the Temple of Sun (Huacas del Sol), and the Temple of Moon (Huacas del Luna) sites, suggesting that the culture lived in close proximity to one another. This not only meant they could partake in regular ceremonies together, but it enabled the people to work together and develop new methods to produce high quality pottery and jewellery.

Surviving artefacts from this era confirms how advanced the techniques of the Moche people were. For instance they used chemical means to electroplate gold jewellery and silver. They also made moulds that could be used to make standardised pottery. Much of the pottery they made was decorated with scenes that depicted everyday life. The most common scenes are those of warfare and sexual practises, giving an insight into Moche lifestyle.

Although no Peruvian culture wrote until the Spanish conquest began, The Moche used mnemonic devices to help them count and remember important numbers and dates. An example of a mnemonic device used by this culture is the Quipos-a device made with string and beads.

The Nazca

The Nazca Culture lived in the Ica Valley in south-west Peru in the hot and arid desert climate between 200 BC-AD 600.

The Nazcas are best known for creating the mysterious Nazca lines which are best viewed from the sky. These lines were etched into the desert by removing the sun beaten rocks to reveal a paler limestone underneath. The lines depict animals such as monkeys, spiders, fish and lizards, human figures and also trees and flowers. The longest has been measured up to 200m in length. The mystery of why these lines were drawn continues continues into the 21st century.

Theories range from the lines mirroring astronomical correlations between the stars and the earth, others suggest that they are gifts of artwork to the Gods in the sky, and a case has been made that the lines are landing strips for extra-terrestrials. These are just some of the many theories that have been put forward, but none are quantifiable or widely accepted. This adds to the overall mystical aura of the lines as it is highly probable that they were never seen in the entirety by the people that built them.

The Chimu

The Chimu culture lived in Chimor on the Northern coast and flourished from 900 AD until 1470 when they were conquered by Incan ruler Pachucuti Inca Yapanqui and his son Tupa Inca Yupanqui.

The Chimu contributed a lot to the modernisation of ancient Peruvian society, arguably more so than any other culture, bar the Incas. Their society was heavily reliant on agriculture, and everyone had their own specific job that contributed towards the overall running of society. Owning private property was not allowed and food was equally distributed from the communal storage huts.

Chan Chan is a remaining example of a vast symmetrical city with elaborate irrigation systems and defensive works incorporated into the foundations of the city. Built by the Chimu people, this ancient ruin is 20km2 and within it there are reservoirs, temples and pyramids. Although today the site stands in a remote arid location near Trujillo in North West Peru, it its height Chan Chan would have been home to up to 100,000 people.

The Incas

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in Pre-Columbian America and it arose from the highlands of Peru in the 13th century, with Cusco as its capital.

We know more about the Incas than any other Peruvian culture for the simple reason that the Spanish recorded intimate details of the empire after invading South America. These writings combined with a vast array of archaeological sites have allowed us to develop a deep understanding of their culture.

The Incas initially only ruled The Cusco Valley, in Southern Peru. But a rapid program of expansion saw them ruling from as far north as Colombia all the way down to central Chile. Although powerful, the empire was short-lived, lasting just over 100 years. A civil war that erupted between Inca Huáscar and his half-brother Atahualpa in 1525 split the empire and made it easier for the Spanish to divide and conquer.

The Incas were prolific masons and many of Peru’s modern day buildings are constructed upon the foundations that were laid hundreds of years ago by the Incas. They would use two styles of masonry: Polygonal which looks like a large uneven jigsaw, and Courses which appears very symmetrical. Many of their buildings have withstood the test of time, none more so than in the prolific citadel of Macchu Picchu.

The Spanish Conquest

In 1530 Francisco Pizarro landed in the Americas for the second time. Intent on colonising this country rich in natural resources, Pizarro left Ecuador and marched south to Peru, where he founded San Miguel de Piura. This was the first Spanish town in Peru from where the Spanish based themselves and masterminded the colonisation of the country.

However, the Inca Culture had fought hard to create such a vast Empire and they were not going to give up easily. Many a battle took place between the colonisers and the natives, but defeat was inevitable for the Peruvian indigenous who were outdone by the superior military techniques of the Spanish and weakened by the introduction of European diseases such as smallpox. In 1532 the Spaniards captured and assassinated Inca King Atahualpa marking the beginning of the end of the Inca Empire.

The Spaniards were cunning in manipulating the different allegiances and factions that existed in Peru in order to achieve their immediate and long term goals in the country. Francisco Pizarro first began manipulating the Incas when he lured King Atahualpa into a peaceful meeting where he was captured, locked up and used as a puppet to control the empire until Pizarro eventually had the King killed.

The Colonial Era

Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 and it was immediately declared as the Vice Royalty of Peru. The Incas continued to challenge Pizarro and the Spanish army and after years of bloody battles that neither Pizarro nor Incan leader Manco Inca Yupanqui, survived, Cusco, the former capital of the Incan Empire lost its capital status to Lima.

Increased poverty, slavery, and huge inequality under Spanish rule added further reasons for resentment and anger towards the colonisers. In 1780 King Túpac Amaru II rallied the natives together and incited a peasant rebellion that was brutally crushed.

One of the biggest impacts on Peruvian society was the introduction of Christianity. To this day, over 80% of Peruvians are Catholic. The importance of religion in modern day Peru can be seen by the many Catholic churches across the country, and the Colonial art work that often blends Catholic with Andean traditions. Some of the most striking examples of this can be found in the Cathedral in Cusco where the last supper painted by Marcos Zapata has a cooked guinea pig upon the table; a Peruvian delicacy.


The Peruvian war of Independence was a series of military conflicts that began in 1811 set against the backdrop of a wider South American uprising against the Spanish.

Two of the continent’s great liberators, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar played pivotal roles in defeating the Spanish, uniting disparate forces against the rulers, and it was San Martin who eventually proclaimed independence in Lima on July 28th 1821.

Modern Peru

Peru is a relatively stable developing country, rich in natural resources, that shares strong trading links with the USA, UK and Switzerland. Peru exports many commodities, but gold tops the list, accounting for 17% of all Peruvian exports.

Peru is a multi-ethnic society and of the approximately 29 million inhabitants, 45% are Amerindian, 37% are Mestizo, 15% are White and 3% are other. These different cultures have had a huge an influence of modern day Peru. The largest impact was undoubtedly that of the Spanish whose blood runs through the 37% of Mestizos in Peru.

There are three official languages in Peru; over 80% speak Spanish, however many speak the native languages of Quechua and Aymara.

Peru TG Strip

Peru and galapagos tour ideas

These trips are purely for inspiration. Each Galapagos and Peru holiday we create is always unique and tailored to match your interests, timescale and budget