As any visitor lucky enough to take a Peru tour with us will soon see, this is a very diverse country. The complicated history of Peru over several thousand years has led to a country which is poor in economic terms but extremely rich in cultural and natural wealth. According to figures from the World Bank (2012) Peru has GDP per capita of US$ 6009 compared with US$ 48,442 for the USA.
Peru has a privileged geographical position in the tropics and an exaggerated terrain which provides the country with 95% of all climate zones that exist, as well as an amazing range of flora and fauna, since over half the country is covered by the mighty Amazon Rainforest. From the driest desert on Earth to some of the highest snowy mountains and the immense rainforest, Peru has it all. Its geographical diversity combined with a long and tortured history have led to Peru being home to many indigenous peoples, most of whom live mainly as they have for centuries, speaking their native languages and following age-old traditions.
Before the Spanish conquest in the 1530s it is estimated that there were around 2000 different tribes in Peru, arriving via the Bering Strait from Asia thousands of years previous to Pizarro. The first Spanish conquistadors called them Indians and that is how they are known today. The 1993 census counted 8,793,395 indigenous people (who knows if they all were counted!). This represented 45% of the total population with the others being of mixed Spanish descent. This 45% indigenous people were comprised of 98% Andean origins and 2% Amazonian, with there being 65 distinct tribes in the Amazon.
This huge diversity in ethnic groups probably has much to do with the Incan empire s method of conquest. The Incas were the leaders of the Quechua people and around 1000A.D. decided they could be bigger. They began a series of conquests which took them from one more tribe in South America to hold lands from Columbia in the north to central Chile in the south, and Bolivia in the east. However, conquest is a war-like word and rather misleading in this case the Incas often did not even lift a finger in anger in order to gain control of a tribe and its lands. They just bought them instead.
The Inca would send people to find out about a target tribe, such as its culture, wealth and military abilities. He would then send emissaries with gifts of luxury goods and tell them how much better off they would be as part of his empire. Often they accepted their new ruler without a fight, at which point their children would be taken to Cusco to be educated in the Inca tradition of empire administration so that they would run their lands properly as part of the greater empire.
Abduction combined with excellent roads meant for great mobility of ethnic groups around the Incan Empire, so of course a wide variety of ethnic origins could be found in Cusco. When the Spanish arrived, many of the subjugated groups surrendered without a fight, having no reason to fight against one tyrant on behalf of another. They were left alone to live where they willed and Cusco, as capital of the empire, probably still had much to offer even after the Spanish Conquest.
In contrast, the Amazonian tribes mainly stayed where they were, and for one very good reason. Much as the Romans could not conquer the Celts in the Scottish highlands two thousand years ago, so the Incas were never able to penetrate the Amazon rainforest sufficiently to subjugate the tribes living there. The ethnic groups of the Amazon remained untouched by either Inca or conquistador and there are many whose existence is only coming to light today.