Machismo is alive and well in Latin America. Most female travelers to Peru will experience little more than shouts of mi amor (my love) or an appreciative hiss. If you are fair-skinned with blond hair, however, be prepared to be the center of attention. Peruvian men consider foreign women to have looser morals and be easier sexual conquests than Peruvian women and will often make flirtatious comments to single women.
Unwanted attention Staring, whistling, hissing and catcalls in the streets are run-of-the-mill – and should be treated as such. Many men make a pastime of dropping piropos (cheeky, flirtatious or even vulgar ‘compliments’). However, these are generally not meant to be insulting. Most men rarely, if ever, follow up on the idle chatter (unless they feel you’ve insulted their manhood). Ignoring all provocation and staring ahead is generally the best response. If someone is particularly persistent, try a potentially ardor-smothering phrase such as soy casada (I’m married). If you appeal directly to locals, you’ll find most Peruvians to be protective of lone women, expressing surprise and concern if you tell them you’re traveling without your family or husband.
Bricheros It’s not uncommon for fast-talking charmers, especially in tourist towns such as Cuzco, to attach themselves to gringas. Known in Peru as bricheros, many of these young Casanovas are looking for a meal ticket, so approach any professions of undying love with extreme skepticism. This happens to men too.
First impressions Use common sense when meeting men in public places. In Peru, outside of a few big cities, it is rare for a woman to belly up to a bar for a beer, and the ones that do tend to be prostitutes. If you feel the need for an evening cocktail, opt for a restaurant. Likewise, heavy drinking by women might be misinterpreted by some men as a sign of promiscuity. When meeting someone, make it very clear if only friendship is intended. This goes double for tour and activity guides. When meeting someone for the first time, it is also wise not to divulge where you are staying until you feel sure that you are with someone you can trust.
- In highland towns, dress is generally fairly conservative and women rarely wear shorts, opting instead for long skirts. Shorts, miniskirts and revealing blouses may draw unwanted attention.
- Tampons are difficult to find in smaller towns, so stock up in major cities.
- Birth-control pills and other contraceptives (even condoms) are scarce outside metropolitan areas and not always reliable, so bring your own supply from home. Rates of HIV infection are on the rise, especially among young women.
- Abortions are illegal, except to save the life of the mother.
As in any part of the world, the possibilities of rape and assault do exist. Use your big city smarts (even in small towns).
Travelers who are sexually assaulted can report it to the nearest police station or to the tourist police. However, Peruvian attitudes toward sexual assaults favor the attackers, not the survivors. Rape is often seen as a disgrace, and it is difficult to prosecute. Because the police tend to be unhelpful, we recommend calling your own embassy or consulate to ask for advice, including on where to seek medical treatment, which should be an immediate priority.
A few tips:
- Skip the hitchhiking.
- Do not take unlicensed taxis, especially at night (licensed taxis have a number on the door and an authorization sticker on the windshield).
- Avoid walking alone in unfamiliar places at night.
- If a stranger approaches you on the street and asks a question, answer it if you feel comfortable – but don’t stop walking as it could allow potential attackers to surround you.
- Avoid overnight buses through bandit-ridden areas.
- Be aware of your surroundings; attacks have occurred in broad daylight around well-touristed sites and popular trekking trails.
- When hiring a private tour or activity guide, seek someone who comes from a recommended or reliable agency.
Centro de La Mujer Peruana Flora Tristán Feminist social and political advocacy group for women’s and human rights in Peru, with a Spanish-language website and a library in Lima.
Instituto Peruano de Paternidad Responsable Planned Parenthood–affiliated organization that runs a dozen sexual and reproductive health clinics for both women and men around the country, including in Lima.