It has been home to several highly developed cultures including the Nazca empire and the Incas.
At its height, the mid-15th century CE, the Inca empire stretched from Ecuador and Colombia in the north into parts of Argentina and Chile to the south.
Since the 16th century CE, the wealth and political power in Peru has been monopolised by the European-descended inhabitants and by a relatively small number of mestizos (mixed Amerindian and white).
The majority of the mestizos and the indigenous people are labourers or subsistence farmers.
Toward the end of the 20th century, Peru became known for its civil unrest, bitter rivalry between leftist and right political groups, and an upsurge in activity by the Maoist guerrilla group, The Shining Path, operating out of the Andes mountain region.
The Shining Path is considered one of the most brutal of all revolutionary groups in Latin America.
Thier activities are believed to have caused more then 100,000 families to migrate to the cities, where many have been forced to live in squalid shanty towns.
By mid-1992, this political violence had been responsible for more than 250,000 deaths.
Until 1996, Peru was also considered the world's leading producer of the coca leaf.
The majority of this cocaine base is shipped into neighbouring Colombia for processing, but Peru is increasingly becoming one of the world's leading transhipment points for drug-trafficking, particularly into Brazil or to Europe and Africa.
The Shining Path and other revolutionary movements contribute to this trafficking by renting land to coca producers and protecting them from anti-drug military campaigns.
Official name: Republic of Peru
Government type: Constitutional republic
Population: 27,925,628 (July 2005 estimate)
The Peruvian flag
Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara, and a large number of minor Amazonian languages.
Ethnic diversity: Amerindian 45%, mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 37%, white 15%, black, Japanese, Chinese and other 3%.
Literacy rate: Total population aged over 15 years: 90.9%; male: 95.2%; female: 86.8% (2003 estimate).
Religion: Roman Catholic 90%, other 10%.
Political parties and leaders: Independent Moralising Front or FIM [Fernando Olivera Vega]; National Unity (Unidad Nacional) or UN, Lourdes Flores Nano; Peru Posible or PP, David Waisman; Peruvian Aprista Party or PAP (also referred to by its original name Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana or APRA), Alan Garcia; Popular Action or AP, Javier DiazOrihuela; Solucion Popular, Carlos Bolana; Somos Peru or SP, Alberto Andrade; Union for Peru or UPP, Roger Guerra Garcia.
Political pressure groups and leaders: Leftist guerrilla groups include Shining Path, Abimael Guaman Reynoso (imprisoned), Gabriel Macario (top leader at large); Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement or MRTA, Victor Polay (imprisoned), Hugo Avalleneda Valdez (top leader at large).
International organisation participation includes: APEC, CAN, FAO, G-15, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, , IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO (correspondent), ITU, LAES, LAIA, Mercosur (associate), MIGA, , OAS, ONUB, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNMEE, UNMIL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO.
Military branches: Army (Ejercito Peruano), Navy (Marina de Guerra del Peru; includes Naval Air, Naval Infantry, and Coast Guard), Air Force (Fuerza Aerea del Peru; FAP).
Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age for compulsory military service (1999).
Military manpower: There are approximately 6,647,874 (2005 estimate) males aged 18-49 available for military service.
Location: Western South America, bordering the South Pacific Ocean, between Chile and Ecuador.
Area: total: 1,285,220sq km; land: 1.28 millionsq km; water: 5220sq km
Land boundaries: Total: 5536km; border countries: Bolivia 900km, Brazil 1560km, Chile 160km, Colombia 1496km.
Maritime claims: Territorial sea: 200nm; continental shelf: 200nm
International shipping companies
dock in Peru's biggest port, Callao
Climate: Varies from tropical in east to dry desert in west; temperate to frigid in Andes.
Terrain: Western coastal plain (costa), high and rugged Andes in centre (sierra), eastern lowland jungle of Amazon Basin (selva).
Natural resources: Copper, silver, gold, petroleum, timber, fish, iron ore, coal, phosphate, potash, hydropower, natural gas.
Land use: Arable land: 2.89%; permanent crops: 0.4%; other: 96.71% (2001)
Natural hazards: Earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, landslides, and mild volcanic activity.
Environment - current issues: Deforestation (some the result of illegal logging); overgrazing of the slopes of the costa and sierra leading to soil erosion; desertification; air pollution in Lima; pollution of rivers and coastal waters from municipal and mining wastes.
Environment - international agreements: Party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
Unemployment and poverty in Peru have remained consistently high even though there is a low inflation rate and bouyant investor optimism.
Since the turn of the 21st century, the economy has grown at a steady 4% per year.
Peruvian anti-narcotic police
display bricks of cocaine in Lima
Peru has one of the largest fishing industries in the world and a large mining industry, particularly copper and silver.
There is, however, an overdependence on the mining industry and the fluctuation of world prices adversely effects the economy.
GDP: $4885.62 per person
GDP - real growth rate: 4.5% (2004 est)
Industries: Mining of metals, petroleum, fishing, textiles, clothing, food processing, cement, auto assembly, steel, shipbuilding, and metal fabrication.
Exports: Fish and fish products, gold, copper, zinc, crude petroleum and byproducts, lead, coffee, sugar, cotton
Imports: Machinery, transport equipment, foodstuffs, petroleum, iron and steel, chemicals, pharmaceuticals
Labour force: 11 million (2004 estimate)
Labour force - by occupation: Agriculture 9%, industry 18%, services 73% (2001)
Unemployment rate: 9.6% in metropolitan Lima; widespread underemployment (2004 estimate)
Currency: nuevo sol (PEN)
Disputes - international: Peru is involved in a maritime dispute with Chile; drug-trafficking operations are rife along Peru's border with Colombia; and Peru does not support Bolivia's right to reopen maritime access through Chile on the Peruvian border.
There are officially 60,000 internally displaced persons (predominantly indigenous peasants from the Andean and Amazonian regions).
Sources: Politinfo.com, CIA World Factbook, Infoplease.com, Nationmaster.com, mtholyoke.edu.