Dangers & Annoyances
For newcomers, Peru can be busy and disorienting at first, making it easy to be caught off guard. Some things to be aware of:
- Travelers may experience periodic protests and strikes that can cut off transportation.
- While safety has improved, especially in Lima, street crimes such as pickpocketing, bag snatching and muggings are still common.
- Sneak theft is by far the most widespread type of crime.
- Bus drivers often act as if every bend in the road should be assaulted at Autobahn speeds.
All important documents (passport, credit cards, travel insurance policy, driver’s license etc) should be photocopied or photographed before you leave home. Leave one copy at home or on a cloud drive and keep another with you, separate from the originals.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hotspots.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/peru)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
Thefts, Muggings & Other Crime
Use basic precautions and a reasonable amount of awareness to avoid a robbery. Some tips:
- Crowded places such as bus terminals, train stations, markets and fiestas are the haunts of pickpockets; wear your day pack in front of you or carry a bag that fits snugly under your arm.
- Thieves look for easy targets, such as a bulging wallet in a back pocket or a camera held out in the open; keep spending money in your front pocket and your camera stowed when it’s not in use.
- Passports and larger sums of cash are best carried in a money belt or an inside pocket that can be zipped or closed – or better yet, stowed in a safe at your hotel.
- Snatch theft can occur if you place a bag on the ground (even for a few seconds), or while you’re asleep on an overnight bus; never leave a bag with your wallet and passport in the overhead rack of a bus.
- Don’t keep valuables in bags that will be unattended.
- Blending in helps: walking around town in brand-new hiking gear or a shiny leather jacket will draw attention; stick to simple clothing.
- Leave jewelry and fancy watches at home.
- Hotels – especially cheap ones – aren’t always trustworthy; lock valuables inside your luggage or use safety deposit services.
- Walk purposefully wherever you are going, even if you are lost; if you need to examine your map, duck into a shop or restaurant.
- Always take an official taxi at night and from the airport or bus terminals. If threatened, it’s better just to give up your goods than face harm.
Distraction Some thieves work in pairs or groups. One person creates a distraction as another robs. This can take the form of a bunch of kids fighting in front of you, an elderly person ‘accidentally’ bumping into you or perhaps someone spilling something on your clothes. Some may slit open your bag, whether it’s on your back or on the luggage rack of a bus.
Armed muggings In some cases, there have been robberies and armed muggings of trekkers on popular hiking trails around Huaraz, and jungle treks in the south. Going as part of a group with a local guide may help prevent this. In addition, the area around Tingo María, on the eastern edge of the central highlands, is a renowned bandit area, with armed robberies and other crimes regular occurrences. Keep any activities in the area, including bus rides, to daylight hours.
Express kidnapping ‘Express’ kidnappings have been recorded, particularly in some of the unsavory neighborhoods that surround the airport in Lima, and even just outside the airport. An armed attacker (or attackers) grabs someone out of a taxi or abducts them off the street, then forces them to go to the nearest bank to withdraw cash using their ATM cards. Victims who do not resist their attackers generally don’t suffer serious physical harm.
The policía de turismo (tourist police, aka Poltur) can be found in major cities and tourist areas and can be helpful with criminal matters. If you are unsure how to locate them, contact the main office in Lima. If you are the victim of a crime, file a report with the tourist police immediately. At some point, inform your country’s embassy about what has happened. They won’t be able to do much, but embassies do keep track of crime geared at foreigners as a way of alerting other travelers to potential dangers.
If you have taken out travel insurance and need to make a claim, Poltur will provide you with a police report. Stolen passports can be reissued at your embassy, though you may be asked for an alternative form of identification first. After receiving your new passport, go to the nearest Peruvian immigration office to get a new tourist card.
Corruption & Scams
Police The military and police (even sometimes the tourist police) have a reputation for corruption. While a foreigner may experience petty harassment (usually to procure payment of a bribe), most police officers are courteous to tourists or just leave them alone.
Touts Perhaps the most pernicious things travelers face are the persistent touts that gather at bus terminals, train stations, airports and other tourist spots to offer everything from discounted hotel rooms to local tours. Many touts – among them, many taxi drivers – will say just about anything to steer you to places they represent. They will tell you the establishment you’ve chosen is a notorious drug den, it’s closed down or is overbooked. Do not believe everything you hear. If you have doubts about a place you’ve decided to stay at, ask to see a room before paying up.
Travel agents It's not advisable to book hotels, travel arrangements or transportation through independent agents. Often, they will demand cash upfront for services that never materialize. Stick to reputable, well-recommended agencies and you’ll be assured a good time.
When taking buses, choose operators carefully. The cheapest companies will be the most likely to employ reckless drivers and have roadside breakdowns. Overnight travel by bus can get brutally cold in the highlands (take a blanket or a sleeping bag). In some parts, nighttime trips are also subject to the vagaries of roadside bandits, who create impromptu road blocks, then relieve passengers of their valuables. Armed robberies have been reported on the night buses between Trujillo and Cajabamba and Lima and Cuzco.
Some of Peru’s natural hazards include earthquakes and avalanches. Rescues in remote regions are often done on foot because of the inability of helicopters to reach some of the country’s more challenging topography. Perhaps the most common hazard is travelers’ diarrhea, which comes from consuming contaminated food or water. Other problems include altitude sickness, animal and insect bites, sunburn, heat exhaustion and even hypothermia. You can take precautions for most of these.
Protests & Other Conflict
Protests During the Internal Conflict, through the 1980s and into the 1990s, terrorism, civil strife and kidnappings meant that entire regions were off-limits to both foreign and domestic travelers. Now travelers visit much of the country without problems. Even so, public protests remain a familiar sight. Generally speaking, these have little effect on tourists. It is worth staying aware of current events while in the country; and if a road is blocked or an area cut off, respect the situation. Being a foreigner will not grant you immunity from violence.
Shining Path In the news, a Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) resurgence has brought isolated incidents of violence in the main coca growing areas in the provinces of Ayacucho, Cuzco (the trekking route to Espíritu Pampa), Huancavelica, Huánuco, Junín and San Martín. These are generally directed at the Peruvian military or the police. Even so, it is worth exercising caution: avoid transit through isolated areas in these regions at night and always check with reputable tour operators before heading out on a remote trekking route.
Drug trafficking Likewise, drug trafficking areas can be dangerous, especially at night. Travelers should avoid the upper Río Huallaga valley between Tingo María and Juanjuí, Puerto Bermúdez, and near Ayacucho, where the majority of Peru’s illegal drug-growing takes place. Exercise similar caution near the Colombian border, where trafficking also goes on.
A half century of armed conflict over the Cordillera del Condor region on Peru’s northeastern border with Ecuador was finally resolved in 1998. However, unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the area has not been completely cleaned up. Only use official border crossings and don’t stray from the beaten path when traveling in this region.