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Geography of Peru


Peru is South America's third-largest country, with an area of 1,285,220 m² (496,226 mi²), extending about 1,287 km (800 mi) southeast to northwest, and 563 km (350 mi) northeast to southwest. Comparatively, the area occupied by Peru is nearly twice the size of France or slightly smaller than the state of Alaska, USA. It is bounded on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean, with a total land boundary length of 5,536 km (3,440 mi) and a coastline of 2,414 km (1,500 mi).

Various offshore islands, chiefly the Chincha Islands off Pisco in southern Peru, are uninhabited, but at least 21 of these are important to the Peruvian economy and are protected by the government's guano monopoly. Peru's capital city, Lima, is located on the Pacific coast.

Peru is divided into three contrasting topographical regions: the coast (costa), the highlands (sierra), and the eastern rain forests (selva). The coastline is a narrow ribbon of desert plain from 16 to 160 km (10 to 100 mi) broad. It is scored by 50 rivers, which water some 40 oases. Only a few of these rivers, which have their source in the Andean snowbanks, reach the sea in all seasons. Although the coastal region constitutes only 12% of the national territory, it contains the ports and chief cities of Peru.

Inland, the low costa rises through the steep wastes of the high costa (760-2,000 m/2,500-6,500 ft), then ascends abruptly to the western cordillera (Cordillera Occidental) of the Andes, which, with its ridge of towering peaks, runs parallel to the coast and forms the Peruvian continental divide. The less regular Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental merge in central Peru with the Cordillera Occidental. They branch off to the southeast, meeting a transverse range that becomes a crescent of peaks forming the drainage basin of the 8,288 km² (3,200 mi²) Lake Titicaca, the highest large navigable lake in the world (about 3,810 m/12,500 ft high), which is bisected by the Peruvian-Bolivian border. Of the 10 Peruvian peaks that rise above 5,800 m (19,000 ft), Huascarán, 6,768 m (22,205 ft), is the highest.

The intermontane basins, deep-gashed canyons, and high treeless plateaus (punas) of the Andes form the sierra and constitute 27% of the country's surface. The most important rivers draining the Andes on the Atlantic watershed, such as the Marañón, Huallaga, and Ucayali, flow north or south and eventually east to form the Amazon Basin. The selva covers 61% of Peru and consists of the low selva (the Amazon rain forest) and the high selva, a steeply sloping transition zone about 100-160 km (60-100 mi) wide between the sierra and the rain forest.

Peru lies near the boundary of the Nazca and South American Teutonic Plates, which is a seismically active area. An 8.4 magnitude earthquake occurred near the coastal region on 23 June 2001, triggering a tsunami that affected parts of Chile and Bolivia. Over 100 people were killed by the event and over 2,600 more were injured. It was recorded as the largest earthquake of the year worldwide. One of the countries most devastating quakes on record occurred in May 1970 when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake killed 66,000 people.

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