Safety and health in Peru
Peru is not a dangerous country, but staying alert is a good idea. Below we provide you some safety tips and some situations you should avoid.
Safety in Peru
The best advice for a safe holiday in Peru: avoid unknown situations in which you could get isolated from possible help. Beside that, try not to attract too much attention: leave most jewelry at home. Don’t walk around with your wallet in your pocket. Don’t have too much money on you. Pay attention to your expensive camera and stay alert. Remember that it are the busy places like markets or bus stations where pickpockets operate. Avoid places or situations that you don’t trust. A well-known trick is that someone spits on you or that someone throws a liquid on you. Don’t react, walk on or enter a shop. It’s very likely that they will rob you and the people that are trying to help you in reality form part of the scam.
In Peru there are far more non-violent (for example pick-pocketing) than violent crimes. Especially in Cusco violence is very rare and safety is not a mayor issue. But like in every other country in the world (violent) crimes do occur. As a consequence it’s better not to walk around alone, especially at night (after a few beers…).
We can be short about drugs: it´s cheap and easy to get in Peru, but all possession of any kind of drugs is illegal. Don´t take any risks, if you get caught you are in very big trouble.
For your safety: use taxis, especially at night. Although most cabdrivers work illegally, that doesn’t mean they are criminals. Nevertheless, we want to advice you to take an official taxi if possible. You will recognize these taxis by the telephone number on the roof and radio communication in the car. Ask personnel of bars, restaurants or hotels to call a taxi for you. Never react to invitations of strangers to share a cab.
Social unrest and protests
In Peru there is quite a lot of social unrest. Stay on a safe distance when witnessing a strike, protest or a riot. Don’t look for sensation. Tourists are normally excluded from the problems and protests are mostly passive. But don´t go and stand in the middle of the protest to take a nice picture, although mostly the protesters wouldn´t mind. Protests are normal in Peru. The justice system doesn´t work that well in Peru, so people need to protest to get some attention for their case. But you’ll not be the first one to get hit by a stone flying around or getting some tear gas.
Roadblocks form a traditional element in demonstrations and can continue for days. This can make a real mess of your travel plans. We strongly advice you: don’t try to get through the blockades by for example taking a taxi that is ready to take the risk. Nothing is more important than your safety. Respect the protests and nothing will happen to you. And if you are stuck somewhere for a day, try to make the best of it.
Safety in Lima
Lima is a very big city. There are neighborhoods that are safe and parts of Lima where you don´t go. If you are having doubts on where to stay, please ask us. You probably arrive at Lima Airport. Don´t take a taxi on your own from the airport to the city center. If you want to arrange your own transport anyhow, choose one of the official companies that have a stand in the airport itself. Under no circumstance take one of the illegal taxis that are waiting outside the airport. The better hotels in Lima arrange pick-ups from the airport. Often that’s cheaper than arranging your own taxi. Mundo Antiguo can also arrange a safe pick-up for you in Lima. See our Lima Starters Program for more information.
Safety in Cusco
Cusco is a relatively safe city where you can walk around without any problems. Going out in Cusco is fun, and it will be a nice experience! Cusco is known for its nightlife, 7 nights a week. Bars, discos, restaurants, live music every day. People easily dance with you or chat with you. Beware though of accepting drinks from strangers. In a city like Cusco tourists ‘risk’ to spend a nice evening with a local beauty (man/woman). Keep in mind though that many of those charmers are in reality after your money (or, in case of a longer relation, after a visa). Peruvians are easy to talk with, but they arent´t easy… So if things are running ¨too smoothly¨, think twice before going home with that person. As long as you think clearly, safety in Cusco won´t be a big issue!
Health issues in Peru
The key to staying healthy on a journey is the combination of a good preparation, common sense and a bit of luck.
Large parts of Peru consist of rain forest. Here you can get the same diseases as elsewhere in the tropics like malaria, dengue or yellow fever. Moreover, everywhere in Peru you can get sick because of ingestion of contaminated food or water. Therefore it’s important to take your precautions already before the start of your journey: inform yourself about the recommended vaccinations, buy malaria pills when necessary and acquire a good travel and health insurance.
A yellow fever vaccine is strongly advised to anyone who visits the Peruvian jungle. This life threatening disease (about 40% of the people who get yellow fever die) is transmitted by mosquitoes. Symptoms are high fever, possible jaundice and hemorrhage. In Peru proof of vaccination is required from all travelers arriving from an area where yellow fever is endemic.
Hepatitis A and B
After travelers’ diarrhea, hepatitis A is the most common travel-related infection. You can get it by ingestion of contaminated food, ice or water, but also by direct contact with infected persons. Like hepatitis B, it occurs all over the world, but it’s more common in developing countries. Both are viral liver infections. You can get Hepatitis B by sexual contact or by exposure to infected blood.
Typhoid fever is an infection in the bowels. You can get it by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Symptoms are fever, stomach-, head- and muscle aches, dizziness, and sometimes diarrhea but also constipation.
A potential fatal disease caused by a bacterium that is common in street-refuse. Tetanus is also transmitted through an animal bite. It’s difficult to treat, but it’s preventable by immunization.
An almost always fatal viral infection, transmitted by bites (in rare occasions scratches or licks) of infected animals. You can get a series of three vaccinations. Normally it is only recommended if you travel for a long period. And if you are going to work with animals or if you travel to a remote area without access to appropriate medical care. During the incubation period you can still be treated: find medical help immediately when bitten or scratched!
In Peru malaria occurs. Malaria pills are recommended when travelling to Peru, except Lima and surroundings, the southern coastal region, and the highlands (where it’s at night to cold for mosquitoes). So for places as Huaraz, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Machu Picchu malaria pills are not needed. Ask your doctor for more advice.
Dengue is another disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Unfortunately there is no vaccine. Normally people get sick for 6 or 7 days with sudden fevers, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, muscle and joint pains. As for other diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes it’s important to protect yourself: wear body-covering clothes and use insect repellent (with DEET) for the unprotected skin.
Most travelers will get some diarrhea by taking contaminated food or water. Most important risk by diarrhea is dehydration. Use the glucose-salt preparation ORS (oral re-hydration salts). You can also drink Gatorade or other re-hydrating drinks. We recommend you to seek medical attention if you have diarrhea for more than 3 days. If you have to go more than 5 times a day to the bathroom for a longer period. If you have fever, cold shakes or body aches, or if there is blood in your defecation.
As travelers’ diarrhea, cholera is caused by taking contaminated food or water. There is a vaccine, but in most countries (like the USA) it’s no longer available due to inefficiency and side effects. Cholera can lead to watery diarrhea, sometimes to an extent that it causes live-threatening dehydration. Drink a lot of ORS and search medical attention! See also frequently asked questions, food.