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Land of winds > The land > Geography | Issue 05. May.-Jun.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Peruvian Andes

The Peruvian Andes
The most important geographical feature in Peru is the Andean chain. The territory is divided in three regions clearly differentiated: the Pacific coast line on the west; the Sierra resembling a huge stone wall in the middle; and the Amazon rainforest, which stretches from the yungas (warm valleys) to the east


The Peruvian Andes
This mountain range reaches the south of Peru divided into several branches, which embrace the Altiplano or Meseta del Collao and surround the Titicaca Lake. The southern section of the Peruvian Andes is the widest and occupies most part of the south of the country. The Altiplano region, located at 3600 m.a.s.l, is arid, cold and usually cut by fierce winds. Vegetation consists of a mosaic of tolas, yaretas, pajonales and ichu, which proudly exhibit their resistance to severe conditions and their ability to make do with limited resources, while fauna includes Andean camelids, chinchillas (crepuscular rodents), armadillos (kirkinchos, placental mammals), foxes and condors. This region falls under the department of Puno and is inhabited by Aymara communities, which maintain cultural (and musical) traditions unique in the entire country. In fact, the city of Puno was declared capital of Peruvian folklore in 1985, because of its many distinct cultural events, such as the pandilla puneña, diablada (dance of the demons), morenada (dance of the black slaves), rey moreno (literally, black king), caporal (a progressive march style dance making fun of the capataz, slaves foreman), llamerada, kullahuada, waka waka and tuntuna dances. Most of them are performed during the celebration of the Virgen de la Candelaria Festival, declared Peru’s Cultural Heritage since 2003 by the National Institute of Culture (INC).


Lake Titicaca, in Wikipedia.
Altiplano, in Wikipedia.
Puno region, in Wikipedia.
Orographic map of Peru.

Aimara people, in Wikipedia.

Picture 01. Llamas in the Peruvian Altiplano.
Picture 02. Lake Titicaca, in Peru 01.
Picture 03. Lake Titicaca, in Peru 02.
Picture 04. Alpacas in the Peruvian Altiplano.
Picture 05. City of Puno.

Video 01. Lake Titicaca and Puno.
Video 02. City of Puno 01.
Video 03. City of Puno 02.
Video 04. Virgen de la Candelaria Festival (Puno).
Video 05. Puno, part 01.
Video 06. Puno, part 02.

Leaving the Lake Titicaca behind, the three branches of the Andes range come together near Arequipa, at the Vilcanota knot. The Altiplano disappears and is replaced by a single mountain chain, the highest section of the Peruvian Andes. Some of the highest peaks are Ausangate (6.384 m), Salcantay (6.271 m), Colpa Ananta (6.110 m), Chumpe (6.106 m) and Tunsho (5.730 m.), as well as Sara Sara volcano (6.000 m). There are several rivers that flow through this part of the Cordillera: the Urubamba (which presents a splendid valley landscape), the Vilnacota, the Apurímac, the Mantaro and the Huancavelica rivers.
This part of the Peruvian Central Andes (which falls under the departments of Cusco, Apurímac, Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Junín) houses important cities such as Cusco, Ayacucho, Abancay or Huancavelica, as well as imposing Inca archaeological sites like Machu Picchu, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman or Ollantaytambo. This region is also the cradle of the Quechua, the legendary Chanka (Andahuaylas province) and the Huanca (Wanka) peoples. A lot of variants of Quechua language are spoken here (Ayacucho or Chanka, Huanca, Cusco and Yauyos Quechua) and many cultural expressions such as the Qoyllur Rit’i Festival (at Quelccaya ice cap, Ausangate mountain), the Inti Raymi Festival, the Ayacucho Carnival and the Andean herranza (livestock branding festival) are held each year. This region comprises the land inhabited by the Q’eros and is the birthplace of a particular musical ensemble known as the Cusco “orquestín” (small band), the pampapiano (small organ operated with bellows), the danza de las tijeras (literally, scissors dance) and the muliza rhythm.

Urubamba River, in Wikipedia.
Apurímac River, in Wikipedia.
Mantaro River, in Wikipedia.
Ausangate (mountain), in Wikipedia.
Salcantay (mountain), in Wikipedia.
Cusco region, in Wikipedia.
Apurímac region, in Wikipedia.
Ayacucho region, in Wikipedia.
Huancavelica region, in Wikipedia.
Junín region, in Wikipedia.

Machu Picchu (Inca archaeological site), in Wikipedia.
Ollantaytambo (Inca archaeological site, in Wikipedia.
Sacsayhuamán (Inca archaeological site), in Wikipedia.

Quechua people, in Wikipedia.
Chanca people, in Wikipedia.
Wankas, in Wikipedia.

Picture 06. Machu Picchu.
Picture 07. Ollantaytambo.
Picture 08. Saqsaywaman.
Picture 09. Urubamba River.
Picture 10. Ayacucho.

Video 07. Machu Picchu.
Video 08. Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
Video 09. Sacsayhuaman.
Video 10. City of Cuzco.
Video 11. Cuzco.
Video 12. Ayacucho Carnival.

In the northern half of Peru (departments of Pasco, Huánuco, Ancash and Cajamarca), at the Pasco knot, the Cordillera splits in two: the Cordillera Blanca (the highest tropical chain of mountains in the world) and the Cordillera Negra, forming the fertile Callejón de Huaylas (literally, alley of Huaylas, a valley in the north-central highlands of Peru). The largest city of the Callejón is Huaraz, the capital of Ancash, which was partially destroyed as the town of Caraz after a major earthquake and landslide in 1970 that buried the town of Yungay.
The Laguna de Conococha (Coconocha lagoon), located at the head of the valley, is the main source of the Santa River running along it. Other rivers are the Marañón (after its confluence with the Ucayali River, it is given the name of the Amazon River) and the Chancay. The Cañón del Pato (Spanish for “Duck Canyon”) is on the Santa River at the north end of the Callejón. Both the lagoon and the canyon offer spectacular views to the visitor.
In the northern Peruvian Andes rises the lowest pass through the Andes throughout the entire length of the mountain chain: the Abra de Porculla, also known as the Paso de Porculla. The highest point in Peru is the snow capped peak of Huascarán (6.678 m) located in the Cordillera Blanca. The Yerupajá (6.617m) is the second-highest in Peru and is locally known as El Carnicero (Spanish for “The butcher”) referring to the knife-edge-sharpness of its summit ridge.
This area is home to both Ancash and Cajamarca Quechua languages and to unique musical expressions such as the “chuscadas” and the roncadoras.

Pasco Region, in Wikipedia.
Huánuco region, in Wikipedia.
Ancash region, in Wikipedia.
Cajamarca region, in Wikipedia.
Cordillera Blanca (mountain range), in Wikipedia.
Cordillera Negra (mountain range), in Wikipedia.
Callejón de Huaylas (valley), in Wikipedia.
Conococha Lake, in Wikipedia.
Huascarán (mountain), in Wikipedia.
Marañón River, in Wikipedia.
Santa River, in Wikipedia.

Picture 11. Callejón de Huaylas.
Picture 12. Conococha Lake.
Picture 13. Huascarán.
Picture 14. Santa River
Picture 15. City of Huaraz.

Video 13. Callejón de Huaylas.
Video 14. City of Cajamarca.
Video 15. City of Huánuco.
Video 16. Ancash region (tourism).

Throughout the history some very important civilizations inhabiting the Cordillera were established in the Peruvian Andes. This mountain range not only houses magnificent cultural expressions but also some of the most beautiful and imposing landscapes on earth, which continue to attract visitors who desire to further investigate these cultural and natural treasures.


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