Is Peru Safe? What to Know about Peru Safety for Tourists

Is Peru safe for tourists to visit? You bet! But before you travel to Peru, take a look at the Peru safety information below so that your trip will be both safe and memorable.

Peru is a beautiful destination with a rich culture and history. But is Peru safe for tourists? Absolutely! Although Peru is still a developing country, it has made great strides in tourist infrastructure and is just as safe as many other popular tourist destinations. Below we have outlined all the information about safety in Peru that travelers need to take into consideration before their vacation. Following a few general guidelines will make your trip not only safe but also unforgettable!

For safety information regarding Covid-19, please review our updated post about coronavirus in Peru.

Table of contents

Crime
Social conflict
Transportation
Tours
Health
Natural disasters
Safety tips
FAQs

Crime

Theft

Like many other destinations, petty crime is the most common form of crime in Peru. Pickpockets may wander through crowded areas. Muggers may also cause a distraction in order to more easily steal someone’s belongings. In rare instances, someone may commit armed robbery with a knife or gun.

However, in the more touristy areas of Peru, theft is no more rampant than in other popular travel destinations. When traveling somewhere new, whether it’s Peru or a more developed country, it is always important to be aware of your surroundings. Keep valuables out of sight either in a hidden belt or in a completely closed purse or backpack. Also avoid isolated areas, especially at night.

A man and woman stand at the corner of a building in Cusco while they look at a map.

Always be sure to walk in well-lit, populated streets. Check a map if necessary to keep you on the right path! Photo by Ana Castañeda.

It is also important to be vigilant when inside a vehicle. It is not uncommon for thieves to break the window of a car stopped at a red light to rob phones and/or wallets. When driving in Peru, taking a taxi, or any other vehicle, keep the doors locked and windows rolled up. It is also a good idea to keep phones and wallets tucked away until you reach your hotel.

Money scams

Although uncommon, tourists can fall victim to credit card fraud in Peru. Untrustworthy establishments can make a copy of someone’s credit card, or devices can be placed in ATMs to copy card information. In order to avoid this, make sure that cashiers keep your card in sight and use ATMs that are located inside banks or supermarkets with security guards.

A more common problem that travelers face is counterfeit currency. Normally, counterfeiters focus on large bills, such as 100 and 200 soles notes. However, it is possible to stumble upon fake coins as well. It can be tricky to spot fake currency, especially when it’s foreign. Before you go, be sure to learn how to spot fake Peruvian currency.

Peruvian coins on top of Peruvian bills inside of a box lined with red woven Andean textile.

Although it’s more common to receive counterfeit bills, you should take a quick look at your coins, too. Image: by Amelia Wells, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Social conflict

Violent conflict

During the 1980s and 1990s, Peru suffered from violent internal conflict. This conflict pitted the Peruvian government against the Maoist guerilla militia Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The majority of the fighting took place in the most rural regions of Peru. Even still, the violence from both sides took its toll on thousands of civilians.

The government under President Alberto Fujimori defeated both guerrilla groups in the 1990s. Today, small factions of the Shining Path terrorist group exist in the most remote parts of the country. Even so, tourist destinations are completely free of these fighters.

There are only two areas that tourists shouldn’t visit. Luckily, these areas are far away from the most popular places to visit in Peru. One is the VRAEM, located in the rural mountains between Ayacucho and Cusco. Here, Shining Path members are still active, as well as illicit coca traders. (Coca can only be grown legally if destined for local and traditional use, such as for chewing and making tea).

The second area that tourists should avoid is the deep Peruvian Amazon. This is especially true for the Colombian border. This is due, for the most part, to illegal drug and mining operations. In any case, there are no tourist sites in the VRAEM or Amazonian borders.

Protests

On the whole, Peru is a calm and peaceful country. However, protests occur from time to time. These are most common in the capital city of Lima and in Cusco.

Protests in Lima mostly center around national politics. One example of such a protest is in 2016 when Peruvians gathered in opposition to the TPP trade agreement. Thankfully, these demonstrations are often peaceful.

Four Peruvian police officers standing with shields in front of the Presidential Palace.

It’s a common sight to see police officers standing in front of the Presidential Palace in Lima’s historic center. Image by F Delventhal, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

It’s common to see police officers with police shields lining the Plaza de Armas outside the Presidential Palace during any sort of event in the area, big or small. Their presence shouldn’t be cause for alarm when touring the historic center.

Cusco and Machu Picchu are other common regions for protests. These tend to correspond with new regulations that have economic consequences for workers. Since Cusco is a major hub for tourism in Peru, these demonstrations will often take place during the high tourist season (May-September). This allows the most economic impact for their cause. 

Protests in Cusco usually involve blocking roads and train tracks. In some instances, protesters may throw rocks and light tires on fire. Although this is not done with the intention to harm tourists, travelers should always avoid protests. A helpful tip is to set a Google alert for Peruvian current events to stay up to date before your trip.

Transportation

Public transportation

Public transportation can be very complicated for foreigners, especially those with limited Spanish. You won’t find any route maps and timetables to tell you how to get to your destination. Instead, you would need to rely on asking locals and bus drivers.

This makes using public transportation as a tourist risky. Unless you have a good level of Spanish, as well as a good sense of direction, there’s a high chance that you’ll end up in an unfamiliar and potentially unsafe part of town. This is also true for colectivos, large public vans, that have routes between rural towns and villages. A misunderstanding on a colectivo could mean ending up in a place where they don’t speak Spanish at all, only Quechua.

Taxis

A taxi is parked in front of a row of arches on Cusco's Plaza de Armas as people walk by.

Always use a reputable taxi company when traveling in Peru. Your hotel can call one for you if you need! Image by Adrian Dascal on Unsplash.

The best way to get around in Peru, outside of guided tours, is by taxi. It is recommended that you call a vetted taxi company or have your hotel call one for you. Airports also have official taxi companies inside the building that have fixed rates around the city. In Lima, it is also possible to call a taxi with a number of taxi apps, including Uber, Taxi Beat, and Cabify.

When hailing a taxi on the street, you risk getting an unreliable driver, unreliable vehicle, or both. It is quite common for street taxis to be missing seatbelts and to be in generally poor conditions. Plus, taxis in Peru do not use meters and the fare must be negotiated before getting in. If you’re unsure of distances or what rates to expect, the driver has the advantage of overcharging.

Renting a car and traffic

If you decide to rent a car in Peru, be extra vigilant when getting behind the wheel. Driving conditions, in general, are poorer in Peru than in developed countries. Roads may be poorly maintained or unpaved, especially in rural areas. Also, mountain roads are notorious for being narrow, winding, and having steep drop-offs. It is not recommended to drive on these roads at night.

Other advice when it comes to getting around is to pay attention to traffic when out in the city. This is true whether you are driving or walking. If driving, be respectful of traffic flow whether or not those around you are following the rules of the road. Local drivers can be aggressive, so be sure to remain calm. If you decide to hoof it, always look both ways when crossing the street, even if you have a green pedestrian light.

Tours

Adventure tours

Tourism is the third major industry in Peru. You will find a wide variety of local agencies from very posh services to basic ones. It is always recommended that you check the reputation of the tour agency you choose to go with. If not for safety—a Cusco City Tour is probably the safest tour out there—at least to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Five people in yellow shirts and red helmets raft down a river.

It may be a bit more expensive, but it’s well worth booking an adventure tour with a reputable provider in order to ensure your safety. Image: By Rupert Taylor-Price. Used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Checking that an agency is reputable is especially true for adventure tours. Adventure tours include everything from hiking to horseback riding, ATV tours, kayaking and ziplining. These activities require strict regulations to ensure the safety of tourists. Adventure tour guides should be specifically trained for the activity, as well as first aid. If special equipment is needed, like ATVs and kayaks, it should also be properly maintained.

Peru has come a long way in its regulation of tourism. However, regulations still aren’t uniformly enforced. Some adventure tour providers may be operating informally and thus not adhering to safety rules. Although not common, accidents can occur during adventure tours with informal providers with disastrous outcomes.

Spiritual tours

While some may come to Peru looking for adventure, others may seek out a more spiritual experience. Peru has a long history of spiritual connections to the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, from Incan civilization to remote Amazon tribes.

A shaman in a beaded hat with ear flaps and red poncho holds up a package in a rural landscape.

Having a local shaman help you connect to the Pachamama can be a very rewarding experience. Image: By McKay Savage. Used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

A popular spiritual experience that travelers seek in Peru is the ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a vine native to the Amazon jungle that has hallucinogenic properties. For generations, Amazonian shamans have used the vine to connect with the spirits of the natural world.

However, reaching the level of a shaman takes years of practice. Although ayahuasca ceremonies can still be an eye-opening experience for beginners, for others it can lead to health concerns. Although vomiting and physical discomfort are common during the ceremony, some can experience worse effects, such as paranoic episodes.

Because you will be in an altered state of mind, it’s extremely important that you are in a safe environment. Untrustworthy providers could put your life at risk if you need medical attention during your ceremony. Moreover, fake spiritual guides can take advantage of participants when they are in a vulnerable state. 

Health

Altitude sickness

As the name suggests, altitude sickness is a negative health effect that occurs when traveling at high elevations. Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), it usually affects travelers around 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). Keep in mind that Machu Picchu sits at 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) while Cusco is at 11,152 feet (3,399 meters).

Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and insomnia. These, of course, vary from person to person. Some may fly from sea level to Cusco and feel perfectly fine while others are stuck in bed their first day. However severe your symptoms are, they will subside in about two days. Because of this discomfort, it is very important to be fully acclimated before doing any strenuous activity, especially trekking.

A woman sits on a pile of boulders looking out at snow-capped mountains with a turquoise lake below.

Trekking in Peru is almost exclusively at high altitude. Give yourself at least two days to acclimate before heading out on a hike. Image: By Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash.

To avoid altitude sickness, be sure to drink plenty of water, eat light meals and take it easy on your first day. If you suffer any symptoms, there are some remedies and medications you can consider. Local remedies include coca and muña tea or coca sucking candies. For medications, there are the over-the-counter Peruvian medicines Sorojchi Pills and Alti Vital, as well as prescription Diamox. Always consult your doctor before trying any of these remedies.

Tap water and food poisoning

Not even locals will drink the tap water. Peruvians will filter or boil tap water or buy bottled water. Although improvements have been made to local sanitation and water treatment plants, water coming in through pipes still has trace amounts of bacteria, heavy metals, and/or minerals depending on the region.

Small amounts of tap water to brush your teeth or rinse off a piece of fruit is fine for most travelers. However, for drinking, make sure that your water is either from a filtered or bottled source. Those with particularly sensitive stomachs may want to opt for filtered or bottled water for all uses. Most hotels will have filtered water available for guests at breakfast or in the lobby where they can refill their water bottles. Restaurants, too, will serve filtered or bottled water and use filtered water to prepare meals. 

A woman in a burgundy beanie and purple woven poncho drinks from a large reusable water bottle.

It’s important to stay hydrated while traveling, especially at high elevations. Hotels will often have filtered water to fill your reusable water bottle. Image: By Autri Taheri on Unsplash.

Along the same line, always be sure that your food is being properly prepared. To avoid foodborne illnesses, your meals should always be served hot rather than room temperature. Meats, fish, and eggs should also be thoroughly cooked. If you are tempted by Peru’s world-renowned seafood, like ceviche, dine at a reputable establishment.

Be cautious when venturing into hole-in-wall restaurants, local food markets, street vendors or rural establishments. Check that they are using both clean water and proper food preparation techniques to avoid illness.

Illnesses

Although Peru has a few harmful diseases, most travelers don’t need to worry. The CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date with their routine vaccinations. Vaccines for other diseases that are transmitted through contaminated water, such as Hepatitis A or typhoid, aren’t necessary so long as travelers are being cautious about their food and water.

Tropical diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and dengue are present in the Amazon region of Peru. However, they are rare around touristic areas such as Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. Those travelers who are planning to spend weeks in the jungle or venture deeper into the reserves may want to consider vaccinations and medications for these diseases. However, all travelers to tropical and subtropical regions of Peru should be prepared with long-sleeved clothing and insect repellent to protect themselves from mosquitos.

Natural disasters

Peru’s geography is diverse and breathtakingly beautiful. But certain areas are prone to varying degrees of inclement weather and natural disasters.

Like the coast of California, Peru’s coast lies close to the meeting point of two tectonic plates, making it a seismic zone. This was well known among the Incas, which is why they employed trapezoidal shapes capable of absorbing shock waves into their architecture. Most modern-day buildings are also built with earthquakes in mind. However, it is still important to be aware of earthquake safety measures in case one happens during your visit.

A strong enough earthquake can also lead to a tsunami. The capital city of Lima has systems in place to protect its citizens from a potential tsunami, including emergency exit routes from the beaches and public meeting points.

A green sign with a white wave and arrow says, "Tsunami, ruta de evacuación. Evacuation route."

Lima is well marked with tsunami evacuation routes from Lima’s beaches and meeting points in case of an earthquake. Image: By KaMpErƎ & Le-tticia. Used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Another potential natural disaster to be aware of are mudslides, locally known as huaycos. These can happen during the rainy season in Peru from December to March. In fact, this is part of the reason why there is bimodal (bus + train) transportation between Cusco and Machu Picchu from January through April. High rainfall can cause flooding along the Urubamba River and mudslides in the mountains that can affect roadways.

Safety tips

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Keep valuables safely stowed out of sight in a money belt, purse, or backpack.
  • Leave expensive or flashy jewelry in your hotel safe (or at home).
  • Walk on well-lit and populated streets.
  • Use reputable tour and transportation services.
  • Drink filtered or bottled water.
  • Stay well hydrated and protect yourself from the sun.
  • Wear insect repellent in tropical and subtropical regions of Peru.
  • Pay attention to traffic when walking or driving.
  • Make copies of important documents, like passports, visas, and credit cards. Keep them in a safe place in case of theft.

FAQs

Is Peru safe to travel alone?

Yes. Traveling to Peru alone is perfectly safe. Just take the same precautions you would while traveling anywhere else in the world. Pay attention to your surroundings, stick to well-lit and frequented areas, and keep valuables securely stowed.

Is Peru safe for solo female travelers?

Yes, it is safe to visit Peru as a solo female traveler. We even have a guide dedicated to women traveling solo.

A young woman in a sagging gray knit beanie and light, puffy, dark blue jacket walks through a Peruvian souvenir market.

Peru is a great destination for solo women travelers. Just take the same precautions you would at any other popular tourist destination. Image: By Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash.

Is Peru safe to visit for LGBTQ+ travelers?

Yes, Peru is safe for LGBTQ+ travelers. Peru is a staunchly Catholic country, but violence towards those in the LGBTQ+ community is rare. In fact, the Peruvian government passed a law in 2017 prohibiting the discrimination of anyone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Is Peru safe to visit for kids?

Peru is a safe and great place to travel with kids of all ages. Many kids find Machu Picchu’s history fascinating. There are also tons of kid-friendly activities to do, such as hiking with llamas and chocolate making workshops.

Is lima safe to visit?

Short answer: yes. Visiting Lima is just like visiting any other metropolitan area. There is, of course, a risk of petty crime. But Lima is largely safe if you stick to the main touristic areas, such as Miraflores and Barranco. Take the same safety precautions you would when visiting any other city. Pay attention to your surroundings, keep valuables safe, and stick to well-lit and populated areas at night.

Note that for the historic center, since it is close to insecure areas, it is recommended to only visit during the day.

Is Cusco safe?

Yes. Cusco is a safe place for tourists to visit. It’s a small city with most of its tourist sites concentrated in the historic center and the adjoining hillside. Petty theft and pickpocketing can occur in Cusco, so pay attention to your surroundings and belongings.

Is Machu Picchu safe?

Yes. Machu Picchu is very safe for tourists. The archeological site itself has many security guards and tour guides keeping an eye on things. Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of the mountain, is small and generally calm. There may be the occasional instance of pickpocketing, but nothing more severe than that.

How can I keep my valuables safe during my Peru vacation?

Keep valuables like smartphones and wallets out of sight and secured inside a money belt, purse, or backpack. Leave any expensive or flashy jewelry in your hotel safe or back at home.

A black hotel safe with its door open and a keypad lock sits on a wooden night stand.

Keep your valuables locked up in your hotel safe when you’re out exploring. Image: By Marco Verch. Used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

What does the Peru tourist police do?

Peru’s tourist police specialize in the safety, protection, and orientation of tourists during their visit. They patrol commercial areas, hotels, archaeological sites, and museums. They can also speak English.

The tourist police’s phone number is 0800-22221.

What should I do if I’m robbed?

In the unlikely event that you are robbed during your trip to Peru, contact the local authorities as soon as possible. You may need to make a statement, so be prepared to set aside time from your day.

Who you can call:

  • Tourist police — 0800-22221
  • National police* — 105
  • US Embassy — +51-1-618-2000

*The national police may not have an English speaker readily available.

How can I avoid getting altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness affects most people at and above 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) above sea level. There are a few ways to combat altitude sickness:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat light meals on the first few days at high elevation.
  • Avoid strenuous activity during the first few days at high elevation.
  • Gradually travel to higher elevations (i.e., travel to the Sacred Valley first before circling back to Cusco).
  • Use local remedies, such as coca tea, if recommended by your doctor.
  • Use over-the-counter or prescription medication if recommended by your doctor.
Close up of a woman's hands holding a white mug of coca tea infused with whole coca leaves.

Coca tea is the local remedy for soroche, or altitude sickness. Image: By Nick Jewell. Used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Can you drink the tap water in Peru?

No. It is not safe to drink the tap water. While traveling in Peru, always drink filtered or bottled water.

Are there any vaccinations required for Peru?

Peru does not require any special vaccinations in order to enter the country. All travelers should, however, be up-to-date on their routine vaccinations. For special vaccine considerations, you can visit the CDC’s website or speak with a specialized travel doctor.

Should I bring malaria medication on my Peru trip?

Malaria does exist in the Amazon region of Peru. However, tourists visiting the Amazon for a relatively short time (a few days to a week) rarely catch the disease, especially if they are adequately protecting themselves from mosquitos. If you are planning to stay in the Amazon for a longer period of time or to visit more remote jungle locations, check with your doctor or a specialized travel doctor if you should bring malaria medication.

Is there Zika in Peru?

Yes, there have been cases of Zika in Peru. However, there haven’t been any significant outbreaks. When visiting areas with a lot of mosquitos, notably the Amazon jungle, be sure to protect yourself from bites. Use bug repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

Is it safe to hail a taxi off the street in Peru?

It is a bit risky to hail a taxi off the street in Peru. Street taxis are sometimes poorly maintained, lack rear-seat seatbelts, or are unlicensed. It is more advisable to call a reputable taxi service (or use a taxi app if in Lima).

Is it safe to drive in Peru?

Although not particularly dangerous, driving conditions in Peru are not on the same level as more developed countries. In poor urban areas and more rural ones, road conditions may be poorly maintained. Some areas only have dirt roads and often are poorly marked. Highways through the mountains are notoriously narrow and winding. It is not recommended to drive on these roads at night.

A man and woman in sports clothes walk hand in hand on the sidewalk of a bridge as cars pass.

Stay safe when walking around the city by sticking to the sidewalk and watching for cars when you cross the road, even if you have the green light. Photo by Ana Castañeda for Peru For Less.

Are adventure tours safe in Peru?

Reputable adventure tour providers who regularly maintain their equipment and have valid certifications offer perfectly safe adventure tours. Do not reserve such a tour with a provider who is informally operating or doesn’t have proper certifications.

Are ayahuasca ceremonies safe?

Ayahuasca ceremonies can be a safe and enlightening experience so long as they are performed with participants’ health and safety in mind. It is easy to take advantage of someone under the influence of this hallucinogenic substance. Do your research and only go with a trustworthy shaman.

How frequent are earthquakes in Peru?

Earthquakes are difficult to predict. Peru may have a few earthquakes one year and none the next. These range in magnitude from minor rumbles to intense quakes like the 2007 earthquake.

How frequent are tsunamis in Peru?

Tsunamis in this region are most often the result of earthquakes. This means that predicting a tsunami is just as difficult as predicting an earthquake. However, the good news is that a severe earthquake is necessary to create a tsunami and such powerful quakes are few and far between.

Should I get insurance before traveling to Peru?

It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance before any big international trip! Although Peru is a perfectly safe travel destination, things don’t always go according to plan. This could be because of inclement weather that cancels a flight or lost luggage from a connecting flight. Trip insurance ensures that your investment is protected.

Where can I stay up to date on Peru travel advisories?

To stay up to date on current events in Peru, including Peru travel warnings and health notices, you can check the following:

A man in a black baseball cap and white shirt with a gray backpack smiles in front of Machu Picchu.

When you take basic safety precautions, you’re sure to have a fun and memorable trip! Image: By Ray Berry on Unsplash.

Although Peru is still developing, it has come a long way.  Today traveling to Peru is just like visiting any other international destination. By taking a few safety precautions, you are sure to have an enjoyable trip that will go off without a hitch. Not only is Peru safe, but it’s also welcoming for all travelers!

Want a bit of extra assurance that your trip will go smoothly? Contact our team to plan your Peru vacation from start to finish.