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Peru is divided into three regions. Although this simple division is a fair portrait of Peru's geography, the reality is much richer and far more complex: in Peru, nature appears to have taken on particular characteristics which have turned its mountains, plains, jungles and valleys into unique habitats. An extraordinary variety of eco-systems shelters a wide diversity of animals and plants.

The Nazca plate, which abuts Peru along the Pacific shore and constantiy forces the continental land mass upward. Although volcanism created numerous thermal springs throughout the coastal and highland region and created such striking volcanic cones as El Misti, which overlooks the city of Arequipa, it also poses the constant threat of severe earthquakes.

In the Sierra, much farmland rests at the foot of great, unstable mountains, such as those overlooking the spectacular valley of Callejon de Huaylas, which is replete with the evidence of past avalanches and seismic upheaval. It is also one of the most productive agricultural areas in the highlands. On May 31 , 1970, an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale staggered the department of Ancash and adjacent areas. A block of glacial ice split from the top of El Huascaran, Peru's tallest mountain (6,768 meters), and buried the provincial capital of Yungay under a blanket of mud and rock, killing about 5,000 people. In the affected region, 70,000 persons were killed, 140,000 injured, and over 500,000 left homeless. It was the most destructive disaster in the history of the Western Hemisphere and had major negative effects on the national economy and government reform programs at a critical moment during the administration of Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-75).

The Coast

The Peruvian coast, which features deserts, beautiful beaches and fertile valleys is formed by a long snaking desert hemmed in between the sea and the mountains. The Andes to the east and the cold Humboldt sea current that runs along the coast are what make this area so arid. From the Sechura desert to the Nazca plains and the Atacama desert, the dry coastal terrain is occasionally split by valleys covered by a thick layer of cloud and drizzle in the winter.

Humidity in these areas produces a sensation of cold, although temperatures rarely dip below 12C. During the summer, meanwhile, the sun beats down and temperatures often top 30C. The central and southern sections of the coast feature two well-defined seasons: winter from April to October, and summer from November to March. The north coast, meanwhile, is not touched by the effects of the cold current, which means it enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year and warm temperatures all year-long (as much as 35C in the summer). The rain season runs from November to March

The Highlands

In the Peruvian highlands, a mountainous area dominated by the Andes, where Mount Huascaran soars to 6,768 meters, there are two well-defined seasons: the dry season (from April to October), marked by sunny days, cold nights and the lack of rain (the ideal time for visiting); and the rainy season (November to March), when there are frequent rain showers (generally more than 1000 mm). A characteristic of the mountain region is the drop in temperature during the day: temperatures commonly range around 24C at midday before plunging to -3C at night.

The steep slopes of the Andes means temperatures gradually drop in the highest region, known as the puna, the highland plain. The dry and pleasant climate in the highlands makes it possible to grow a wide variety of crops there.

The Jungle

The vast Peruvian jungle, which surrounds the wide and winding Amazon river, is divided into two differentiated areas: the cloud forest (above 700 masl), which features a subtropical, balmy climate, with heavy rain showers (around 3000 mm a year) between November and March, and sunny days from April to October; and the lowland jungle (below 700 masl), where the dry season runs from April to October and is ideal for tourism, with sunshine and high temperatures often topping 35C.

During this season, the river levels dip and roads are easy to drive. The rainy season, meanwhile, which runs from November to March, features frequent rain showers (at least once a day) which can damage roads in the area.

The jungle features high humidity all year long. In the southern jungle, there are sometimes cold spells known locally as friajes or surazos, cold fronts which drift up from the far south of the continent between May and August, where temperatures can drop to 8-12C.

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