The Port of Callao is Peru's main commercial seaport. Just 12 kilometers from downtown Lima (Spanish), the country's capital, the Port of Callao is part of the Lima-Callao metropolitan area. The Port of Callaois 765 kilometers northwest of Peru's southern Port of Matarani and 960 kilometers southwest of the relatively isolated Port of Iquitos on the Amazon River in the country's far northeast region. The Port of Callao has one of South America's few good natural harbors on the Pacific Ocean. In 2005, almost 390 thousand people lived in the Port of Callao, although the Lima-Callao metropolitan area is home to more than 8.4 million.
The Port of Callao lies south of the Rimac River at the tip of a peninsula protected by the offshore island of San Lorenzo and a promontory. The Port of Callao exports mainly refined metals, minerals, fish meal, and fish oil. Its principal imports are wheat, lumber, and machinery. The Port of Callao is home to a wide range of industries that include breweries, fish meal factories, and shipbuilding yards. The Port of Callao is also home to a large naval base and the Jorge Chavez International Airport. It is also the site of several islands that support a large colony of sea lions and seabirds in a relatively pristine ecosystem.
Francisco Pizarro founded the Port of Callao in 1537, and it was soon Spain's main Pacific port in the New World. At the peak of Spain's power in Peru, the Port of Callao was the shipment point for goods from Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina to go to Panama and then to Spain through Cuba. Much of the cargo transported out of the Port of Callao was gold and silver that the Spanish conquistadores took from the Inca Empire. The Port of Callao was attacked often by pirates and Spain's European rivals. Sir Francis Drake pillaged the city in 1578.
In 1746, a tidal wave destroyed the Port of Callao after a serious earthquake. Rebuilt about a kilometer from the original site, the new Port of Callao was fortified by the Real Felipe fortress that ended up defending the Peruvians from Spain during the wars of independence.
In 1823, Simon Bolivar arrived at the Port of Callao. Three years later, Spain surrendered at the Real Felipe fortress in the Port of Callao. During the period of the Peru-Bolivian Confederacy, the Callao Province was created with relative political autonomy.
South America's first railroad started operating in 1851 between the Port of Callao and Lima. In 1857, the Port of Callao was entitled a "Constitutional Province." The name had no real value, except it was the only province in Peru to be given that status under constitutional mandate.
The Port of Callao was bombed by the Spanish fleet in the 1866 Battle of Callao when the Spanish attempted to re-conquer Peru. In 1881, Chilean forces occupied the Port of Callao during the War of the Pacific. It was returned to Peru under the terms of the 1883 Treaty of Ancon.
In 1940, a devastating earthquake destroyed much of the Port of Callao, which was rebuilt in the following years. By 1949, the Port of Callao was one of the biggest centers for coca-based products in the world, and it was known for its traffic in cocaine.
Before the Empresa Nacional de Puertos SA (ENAPU) was created in 1970, Peru's ports were managed by different organizations, both public and private. In the 1960s, the Port Administration in the Ministry of Finance increased nationwide port capacity when it built four new ports at Salaverry, Paita, Ilo, and General San Martin. The government attempted to integrate the nation's ports in 1968 by creating the Corporacion Nacional Portuaria, but the new body was not effective.
In January 1970, ENAPU was formed by law as a decentralized public organization under the Transports and Communications Sector. ENAPU was made responsible for the operation, maintenance, and administration of all ports in the Republic of Peru. This included 11 ports in the northern regions, three in the southern regions, four in the eastern interior regions, and five in the central region, including the Port of Callao.
Over the years since ENAPU was formed, it has transferred management of some terminals to other groups, especially those ports operating under the lighterage system that were redirected to support commercial activities of municipalities and regions.
In 2002, as the country underwent a decentralization process, the Port of Callao Region was created and separated from the Lima Region.