Peru lies on the Pacific coast of South America just south of the Equator. To the Quechua Indians Peru means "land of abundance." Sites such as Machu Picchu and Cusco recall the wealth of the Inca civilization, destroyed in the early 16th century by Spaniards, who built an empire on Peru's gold and silver. Today Peru ranks among the world's top producers of silver, copper, lead, and zinc. Its petroleum industry is one of the world's oldest, and its fisheries are among the world's richest.
The Inca capital was Cusco, but the Spanish founded Lima in 1535 along the coast and made it their capital. The Spanish preferred the lowland coast because of the climate and for trade links to Spain. The western seaboard is desert, where rain seldom falls. Lima is an oasis containing more than a quarter of Peru's population—most of European descent or mestizo. The Andean highlands occupy about a third of the country and contain mostly Quechua-speaking Indians. Quechua was the language of the Inca Empire. East of the Andes lies a sparsely populated jungle; the major city of this region is Iquitos. Iquitos can be reached by ocean-going vessels coming 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) up the Amazon River; recent oil discoveries have brought more people.
Peru's recent history has seen it switch between periods of democracy and dictatorship. The desperate poverty of the Indian population gave rise to the ruthless Maoist guerrilla organization Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The guerrillas were largely defeated but problems with poverty and illegal coca production persist.