Peru is a beautiful and exciting travel destination with a rich and vibrant culture. Whether you’re taking a long backpacking adventure around the country or just a short holiday, it’s sure to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
Before you hop on the plane though, there are a few things first-time travelers should know to stay safe and healthy and make sure your trip is memorable for all the right reasons.
1. Be mindful when visiting ancient sites
One of the most popular ‘bucket list’ challenges and a major draw for travelers to Peru is to hike the Inca trail to the famous ruined citadel of Machu Picchu.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, approximately 5,000 travelers journey to the site every day. It’s one of the most visited locations in the world and relatively safe for first-time travelers who are fit enough to conquer the climb, but there are still a few risks to keep in mind.
Assault and armed robbery have been reported by hikers travelling on the Inca trail, and earlier this year a German tourist fell to his death while posing for a selfie.
Also keep in that that the high altitude may make you feel weak and dizzy, so give yourself time to acclimatize in Cusco before setting off up the mountain.
- Always travel with an experienced guide or tour group.
- Make sure you carry plenty of clean drinking water and first aid supplies.
- Wear appropriate shoes and watch your footing at the site as the stairs and tracks can be very narrow and slippery.
- Don’t climb, sit or lean on the buildings or walls.
- Be very careful when approaching drop-offs as the edges can be crumbly.
2. Keep an eye on your belongings
While violent crime is a problem in some areas of Peru, petty theft such as pick pocketing is probably the most common crime travelers might encounter.
Watch yourself and your belongings on crowded public transport, busy marketplaces and restaurants where thieves often target tourists. You’re much easier to separate from your hard-earned cash while distracted or after enjoying a few piscos, so keep your wits about you.
- Be discreet and minimize advertising yourself as a tourist. Respect the local customs and culture, learn a few key phrases, be polite and walk like you know where you’re going.
- Keep your wallet and valuables concealed.
- Keep cash on hand to a minimum, and carry it in a concealed interior pocket or belt pouch under your clothing.
- Don’t travel with expensive jewellery or valuables. Leave them at home.
- Keep bags between your feet and an arm or leg through straps while on public transport, or use a carabiner to clip your bags onto racks on public transport.
- Don’t place items on tables or hang bags from the back of chairs.
- Don’t hand your phone or camera over to anyone who offers to take a photo for you.
Instead, take turns with your friends or tour group, or ask the staff at a restaurant or hotel.
- Avoid rough neighborhoods and walking alone in dimly lit areas or late at night.
- Enjoy a drink, but avoid drinking to excess which compromises your judgement and makes you an easier target for robbery or even assault.
- If your wallet or credit card has been stolen, contact your bank immediately to cancel your cards and obtain a police report.
- If your passport is stolen, contact your local embassy or consulate for advice.
3. Be cautious with transport
Crooked cab drivers have plenty of tricks up their sleeve to swindle tourists. From the classic scenic route tactic, claiming the meter is broken in order to overcharge you, or just conveniently not having any change for large notes, we’ve heard it all.
While most tourists get away with a red face and missing a few extra soles, some travelers have fallen victim to armed robberies and assaults after stepping into unlicensed taxis on the street. These are reportedly most common in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco so be cautious and follow these tips to minimize your risk.
- Do not hail taxis or accept a ride from anyone on the street.
- Book transport directly at the taxi counter in the airport, through hotel staff, or use a secure booking website or app.
- Keep your doors and windows locked at all times and travel in groups if possible.
- Agree on a fixed price before setting off and do not pay until you arrive at your destination.
- Don’t use large denomination notes if you want to receive change.
- Avoid travelling after dark if possible, especially in isolated or mountainous areas.
- If you find yourself in a dangerous situation it’s best to cooperate. Better to lose some cash and make a claim on your travel insurance than face injury or assault.
4. Take care of your health
It’s always a good idea to have a chat with your doctor before you head overseas. Not only to make sure you’re fit and healthy enough to travel, but also because you might need a course of vaccinations spread out over several months.
Yellow Fever is a potentially fatal disease transmitted by mosquitoes that’s endemic to Peru. The World Health Organization strongly recommends that all travelers be vaccinated before travelling and some airlines even require travelers to present a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate before boarding flights out of the country.
- Book a thorough health check-up with your doctor as soon as possible before you leave, as some vaccinations require multiple shots spread out over several months.
- Tell your doctor if you plan to do any strenuous activities like high altitude trekking.
- If you’re taking any prescription medication, make sure you have enough to last your entire trip plus extra in case you’re delayed.
- Pack some basic first aid supplies like band aids, antibacterial cream, paracetamol, sunscreen, and tropical-strength insect repellent.
5. Stay up to date with travel alerts and warnings
Be mindful that some areas of Peru are more dangerous than others and may not be worth the risk. The Peruvian government recommends that regions bordering Ecuador and Colombia are especially dangerous due to drug trafficking activity, and foreign travelers should avoid these areas wherever possible.
It’s a good idea to register your contact details and travel itinerary on a website like STEP(for US travelers) or Smart Traveller (for Australian travelers) to receive important travel alerts or changes to safety conditions. It will also allow the local embassy to contact you about important travel alerts as well as help your family and friends reach you in an emergency.
- Be informed and aware of any dangers in the areas you intend to travel in.
- Stay up-to-date with the prevalent scams in the regions you intend to travel.
- Lodge your details and travel itinerary with an online government travel registry.
- Download a travel advisory app to receive live updates and warnings for the areas you intend to travel in.
- Give a copy of your travel itinerary to your family or friends and check in regularly.
- Keep the local embassy and/or consulate phone number and address handy.