Peru may be an Andean nation, but 60 percent of the country is jungle, a fact that becomes evident the following morning when the President and his party heli­copter past native longhouses partially obscured by canopies of variegated green en route to an Indian village of Yahuas beside a river the color of well-steeped tea. Beyond Iquitos, in the Amazon there are no power lines or cellphone antennas. Instead, there are women in grass skirts, hunters bearing blowguns, and old men with pet anacondas in the villages.

"Kuelap and Machu Picchu are in the high jungle, while the Amazon is Peru's low jungle," says Toledo as we return to Iquitos. "The Amazon has spectacular jungle lodges. Okay, the phones don't work and there is no TV. So kick back, drink a pisco sour, have a great fish dinner, and enjoy the chorus of monkeys, birds, and frogs.

"Seriously, ecotourism is the only way I know to save the Amazon," the President continues as the helicopter soars over small plots of mango, sugar cane, and bananas. "The world can't afford to lose a river basin that contains 20 percent of the world's fresh water. Modern medicine wouldn't exist without the pharmacological wonders of that rain forest," he says, gesturing out the window. "Insects found only here produce venom that immobilizes without paralyzing. Men in the village we just visited dip their darts in the venom before going out to hunt. Heart surgeons use a derivative of the same substance when they operate."

PERU IS ROUGHLY THE SIZE of Alaska and contains more than 90 climate zones, the most dramatic of which is Ica. A vast desert located midway between Lima and the Chilean border, Ica is filled with mountainous sand dunes, irrigated vineyards that produce the grape liquor called pisco, and a vast pampas that contains the mysterious Nazca Lines. Etched into the landscape around 500 AD, the Nazca's giant astronomical calendar (at least that's what some academics think it is) contains more than 70 large figures covering 400 square miles of desert and is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Mankind site. Pictographs shaped like monkeys, hummingbirds, and spiders are easily visible from airplanes flying south from Lima to cities in Chile and Argentina.