5.2 Peru, Bolivia, and Chile

Peru and Bolivia

Map of Peru
Past to Future: Peru History in 5 Minutes – Animated

The Central Andes, which includes Peru and Bolivia, was home to the Inca Empire. The empire had gone through some internal divisions and was working on unifying the region when Francisco Pizarro’s small army defeated the Incan warriors and brought about colonial rule beginning in the 1530s. Many cultures lived in the Central Andes before the Inca, and their legacy continues in the customs and the ways of the Amerindian people who still live there today.

Map of Bolivia
Map of Bolivia
Bolivia Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia

Originally, the Spanish conquistadors took the materials and wealth. They were replaced by Mestizo landowners and wealthy elites who struck deals with international corporations. The corporations exploited the countries’ natural resources, with little profit actually ending up in the hands of most of the people. These issues remain at the top of the political agendas in these two countries.

Machu Picchu
High in the Peruvian Andes, the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu, was rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham and is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world. The ruins are located at about 7,970 feet in elevation and are surrounded by higher peaks of the Andes.
Machu Picchu 101 | National Geographic

The physical geography of the Central Andes includes more than just the high Andes Mountains, although they dominate the landscape. The coastal region to the west of the Andes is generally warmer than the cooler climate of the mountains. The equatorial region is rather humid.

A view from the mountain in El Sauce overlooking Samaipata, Bolivia 

The coastal region in southern Peru is dry and arid because of the ocean currents and the rain shadow effect of the Andes, which creates the Atacama Desert that extends up from northern Chile. The famous Nazca lines can be seen in the arid plateau of the Nazca Desert.

Discovery UK: What Is Hiding Under The World Famous Nazca Lines In Peru | Blowing Up History

Southwest Bolivia has some of the world’s largest salt flats in this dry and barren region.

ABC News: More than just a tourist destination: Bolivia’s salt flats are key to its future
A culpeo (Andean fox) living near the salt flats
Bolivian vizcacha - a rodent that looks like a rabbit
Bolivian vizcacha – a rodent that looks like a rabbit
Every November, the salt flat of Salar d Uyuni is the breeding ground for three South American species of flamingo.
Every November, the salt flat of Salar d Uyuni is the breeding ground for three South American species of flamingo.
Vicunas near a salt flat

In the interior, on the eastern side of the mountain ranges, is the huge expanse of the Amazon Basin. Tropical and humid with heavy precipitation is generally the climate rule. Rain forests and jungle fauna can be found on the eastern slopes. The Altiplano region has the high-elevation Lake Titicaca.

La Paz, Bolivia, is the largest city located in the Altiplano.

The variations in physical terrain provide extensive biodiversity in animal and plant species. It also supports a variety of economic activities to exploit the bountiful natural resources.

Spaniards and Africans arrived in large numbers under colonial rule, mixing widely with each other and with indigenous peoples. Chinese and Japanese arrived in the 1850s as laborers following the end of slavery, and have since become a major influence in Peruvian society, forming one of the largest populations of Asians in Latin America.

The indigenous populations east of the Andes speak various languages and dialects. Some of these groups still adhere to traditional indigenous languages, while others have been almost completely assimilated into the Spanish language.

Quechua woman with children

There has been an increasing and organized effort to teach Quechua in public schools in the areas where Quechua is spoken.


The region’s main income comes from exports of minerals, fossil fuels, and agricultural products. Oil is the number one means of gaining national wealth in Peru; natural gas is the number one export of Bolivia. Gold, silver, tin, and other minerals are also abundant and are being exploited as conditions allow. Potosí, Bolivia, is one of the earth’s highest-elevation cities at 13,420 feet above sea level, was once the largest silver mine in the world.

Potosí, Bolivia
Potosí, Bolivia

The city of Lima, Peru, was built on wealth from gold and silver extracted from the Inca Empire and the Andes Mountains.

Church of St Domingo, Lima, Peru
Church of St Domingo, Lima, Peru
Lima, Peru
Lima, Peru

Peru and Bolivia have endured some serious ups and downs in their political environment. Corruption, authoritarianism, and human rights violations have been common accusations toward the political leadership of the countries.

Large percentages of the populations live in poverty. Bolivia is considered one of the poorest countries in South America. In 2006, Bolivia elected a socialist president from the MAS (Movement for Socialism) party who was from a minority Amerindian group rather than a member of the wealthy elite. In Peru, a number of presidents have been forced to resign, and military coups have also produced leadership changes.

MAS is the Movement for Socialism, which has been active in Bolivian politics.
MAS is the Movement for Socialism, which has been active in Bolivian politics.

The culture of the Andes is heavily influenced by its rural Amerindian heritage. The foundation of the traditional agrarian society has been subsistence agriculture. One-third of the population in Bolivia and up to one-fourth of the population in Peru continue to live a traditional way of life. Local cuisine reflects the connection to the land. Potatoes, maize, guinea pigs, and fish are common fare in rural areas.

Salteñas are pastries filled with pork, chicken, or beef with a sweet, spicy sauce that has potatoes, raisins, and olives.
Ocopa is made from boiled and sliced yellow potatoes with a sauce made from chili pepper, a Peruvian herb with a green color, peanuts, cheese, and sides of lettuce, egg, and olives.
Alpaca meat with fries
Alpaca meat with fries
Rocoto relleno is a Peruvian meal of stuffed peppers topped with melted cheese.
Buñuelos are sweet, fried fritters

Lunch is the most important meal of the Bolivian day, so much so that daily life tends to revolve around it. Long lunches are traditional throughout the country, so businesses and shops often close between the hours of 12 and 3 pm, so that the workers have time to return home for lunch. A typical Bolivian lunch would consist of several courses, including a soup, a main course of meat, rice, and potatoes, then a dessert and coffee. Lunch is taken at a leisurely pace and is traditionally followed by a nap, the oft-cited siesta.

Traditional food, arts, and local crafts still thrive in the local districts and for the tourism market.


Regions of Chile
Regions of Chile

Chile is a long, narrow country on the western edge of southern South America. Chile is 2,500 miles long and only 90 miles wide on average. This country borders the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes Mountains on the other.

Conguillío National Park in Chile

Temperatures are cooler as one moves south toward Tierra del Fuego, which is split between Chile and Argentina. Rain has never fallen in select areas of northern Chile, which includes the Atacama Desert.

Eric Azares: Atacama Chile Travel Guide – See the Natural Wonders

The Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth: in some parts, no rain has fallen in recorded history. In normal circumstances, the Atacama would be a desolate region without human activity, but that is not the case. Some of the world’s largest copper reserves are found here. Nitrates, which are used in fertilizers, are also found in large quantities. Mining the Atacama has brought enormous wealth to people fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the profits. The rain shadow effect is responsible for the extraordinary dryness of the Atacama.

Atacama Desert
Atacama Desert

Southern Chile receives a large amount of rainfall because the prevailing winds at that latitude come from the west. Here the winds, which have picked up moisture over the South Pacific Ocean, hit the western side of the Andes. The air then precipitates out its moisture as it rises up the mountainsides of the western slopes of the Andes. Less moisture reaches the eastern side of the mountains, creating a rain shadow with arid and dry conditions for the region called Patagonia in southern Argentina. The Andes are not as high in elevation in the south, which allows some precipitation to fall on the rain shadow side.

The people of Chile are 95 percent European and Mestizo. The Spanish spoken in Chile is distinctively accented and quite unlike that of neighboring South American countries because final syllables are often dropped, and some consonants have a soft pronunciation. They have worked to establish a good education system and an increasing standard of living. The political system is faced with the unequal distribution of wealth that is common in Latin America and many other countries of the world. Half the country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of about 10 percent of the population. Dire poverty exists in Chile, but it is not as prevalent here as it is in the Central Andes, Paraguay, or Northeast Brazil. Chile has a thriving middle class that has made good use of the opportunities and education that Chile has offered them.

Mapuche women of Tirúa
Mapuche women of Tirúa

Chile is blessed with natural resources that include the minerals of the Atacama Desert, extensive fishing along the coast, timber products from the south, and agricultural products from central Chile. All these factors have brought about an emerging development boom and have attracted international trading partners. The stable government and the growing economy have successfully kept inflation low, kept employment high, reduced poverty, and brought in foreign investment. In the globalized economy, Chile has managed to work with various trading partners to increase its advantages and opportunities in the international marketplace.

Chilean food stems mainly from the combination of traditional Spanish cuisine, Chilean Indigenous Mapuche culture, and local ingredients, with later important influences from other European cuisines, particularly from Germany, Italy, and France.  Some Chilean cuisine:

Quinoa originated in the Peruvian Andean area of South America.
Mote con huesillo is a traditional Chilean summertime drink made from peaches cooked with sugar and cinnamon. It’s mixed with cooked wheat (mote).
Carapulcra is a stew of pork, dehydrated potatoes, peanuts, peppers, garlic, and other spices.
Lúcumas fruit is used to flavor juice and ice cream. Its flavor is similar to butterscotch or maple syrup.

Let’s a quick video that shows a variety of places in Chile. If you’d like to watch more, check out the YouTube channel for Chile Travel.

Where to Go in Chile: Chile is waiting for you – Find your Chile

Key Takeaways:

✎ The Central Andes, which includes Peru and Bolivia, was home to the Inca Empire.
✎ Bolivia is considered one of the poorest countries in South America.
✎ The culture of the Andes is heavily influenced by its rural Amerindian heritage.
✎ The Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth.

Next: 5.3 Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay

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Image and additional information credits:

Chile map
By Burmesedays, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22698511
Peru map
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32649822
Macchu Picchu
By Martin St-Amant (S23678) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8123877
Andean fox
By Christian Mehlführer, User:Chmehl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6678850
By Alexandre Buisse (Nattfodd) – self-made (http://www.alexandrebuisse.org), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2957128
By I, Luca Galuzzi, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1810796
By Octavio espinosa campodonico – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59559673
By Gerd Breitenbach – Own work, see http://gerdbreitenbach.de/anden/bolivia_1/potosi_en.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39514
St. Domingo church
By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42781079
Lima, Peru
By McKay Savage – Flickr: Peru – Lima 087 – colourful neighbourhoods climb the hill, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21520355
Bolivia map
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34854834
Norsk Folkehjelp Norwegian – Urfolk i Bolivia – CC BY 2.0.
El Sauce, Bolivia
By Madereugeneandrew – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48971733
Man in Bolivia
By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada – Bolivia-133, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22601766
By Dtarazona – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3442784
Rocoto relleno
By HugoMon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12132523
Bolivian cuisine
By Gonzalo Rivero – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4455327
By Baptiste Pons from Gandia / Burjassot, País Valencià, Spain – bunyol de carabassa, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6248638
Alpaca meat
By Dtarazona – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3442871
Family in Peru
By Peter van der Sluijs – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15636315
By cobaltcigs – incorporates elements of:File:Atacamadesertmap.jpg by Chiton magnificus at en.wikipediaFile:South America (orthographic projection).svg by Luan, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11716750
Conguillio Nat. Park
By lautaroj – Flickr: conguillio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17052862
By Ministerio Bienes Nacionales – Ministro Osorio entrega terreno a Comunidad Mapuche Lorenzo Quintrileo de Tirúa, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64194501
By Nellu Mazilu from Mobile, Terra, Sol, Milky Way – IMG_1655, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15336269
Chilean cuisine:
Lucumas fruit
By OtterAM – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42752568
By blairingmedia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9486992
CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3073648

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