With the birth of the Republic of Peru in 1821, the newly independent Peruvian government converted the nation’s former colonial administrative regions into eight departments. Over time, increasing support for less centralization and a push towards regionalization promoted the creation of further administrative areas. By the 1980s, Peru was divided into 24 departments and one special province, the Constitutional Province of Callao.
Despite the eternal push and pull of Peruvian politics -- including attempts to reorganize the nation’s administrative boundaries -- Peru’s main subnational divisions have remained relatively unchanged. Today, Peru consists of 25 administrative regions (including Callao) run by regional governments: the gobiernos regionales. These regions of Peru are still known as departments (departamentos); each department is subdivided into provinces and districts.
Administrative Regions of Northern Peru
Northern Peru is home to the following eight departments (with departmental capitals in brackets):
- Tumbes (Tumbes)
- Piura (Piura)
- Lambayeque (Chiclayo)
- La Libertad (Trujillo)
- Cajamarca (Cajamarca)
- San Martin (Moyobamba)
- Amazonas (Chachapoyas)
- Loreto (Iquitos)
Loreto is the largest department in Peru, but has the second lowest population density. This vast jungle region is the only Peruvian department to share a border with three countries: Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil.
The north coast of Peru is home to many of the nation’s most fascination pre-Inca ruins, especially in the departments of La Libertad and Lambayeque. Head inland from Chiclayo and you’ll reach the Amazonas department, once the realm of the Chachapoyas culture (and home to Kuelap fortress). The main west-to-east highway continues as far as Tarapoto in the department of San Martin, from where you can travel overland to Yurimaguas before boarding a boat to Iquitos, the deep-jungle capital of Loreto.
The departments of Northern Peru receive far fewer tourists than those of the south, but the Peruvian government has plans to promote and develop tourism in this fascinating region.
Administrative Regions of Central Peru
The following seven departments are located in Central Peru:
- Ancash (Huaraz)
- Callao (Callao)
- Huánuco (Huánuco)
- Pasco (Cerro de Pasco)
- Junín (Huancayo)
- Ucayali (Pucallpa)
Despite attempts at decentralization, all roads still lead to Lima. The urban sprawl of the Peruvian capital is home to the country’s government and a large percentage of the Peruvian population, as well as the main hub for commerce and transport. Callao, now engulfed by the larger Lima Metropolitan Area and lying within the department of Lima, retains its own regional government and the title of Constitutional Province of Callao.
Head east from Lima and you’ll soon been in the rugged highlands of Central Peru, home to the country’s highest city, Cerro de Pasco (located at 14,200 feet above sea level, so prepare for altitude sickness). In the department of Ancash, meanwhile, lies Peru’s highest peak, the towering Nevado Huascaran.
To the far east of Central Peru lies the large department of Ucayali, a jungle region pierced by the Ucayali River. The department’s capital, Pucallpa, is a large port city from where boats depart to Iquitos and beyond.
Administrative Regions of Southern Peru
Southern Peru consists of the following 10 departments:
- Ica (Ica)
- Huancavelica (Huancavelica)
- Ayacucho (Ayacucho)
- Apurímac (Abancay)
- Arequipa (Arequipa)
- Moquegua (Moquegua)
- Tacna (Tacna)
- Cusco (Cusco)
- Puno (Puno)
- Madre de Dios (Puerto Maldonado)
Southern Peru is the nation’s tourism hotspot. The department of Cusco is the main draw for both local and international tourists, with the city of Cusco (the former Inca capital) and Machu Picchu drawing in the crowds. The classic Peruvian “gringo trail” itinerary lies almost entirely within the southern departments, and includes popular destinations such as the Nazca Lines (department of Ica), the colonial city of Arequipa and Lake Titicaca (department of Puno).
To the northeast (and sharing a border with both Brazil and Bolivia) lies Madre de Dios, the department with the lowest population density in Peru. To the far south lies the department of Tacna, the gateway to Chile.
References:INEI: Información SocioDemográfica