Traveling solo is on the rise—and women are leading the pack. As a result, female solo travel in Peru is also increasingly popular. Studies show that solo travel by women accounts for more than 75 percent of solo travel worldwide. In fact, one in five women have traveled on their own, according to a study by Visa.
I am one of them! I’ve traveled solo all over the United States, as well as in India, Poland, Australia, and above all, Peru, where I have lived for nearly two years. From temples on the outskirts of Lima, to tiny remote villages in the Andes, to Amazonian jungle, I have—with a bit of my New York street smart, intermediate Spanish, and light planning—traveled solo and had a magical time doing so.
And I’m not alone, I’ve reached out to other woman solo travelers here in Peru who have shared invaluable advice. Before you strap on your backpack and hit the Peruvian pavement, check out these pointers.
Is Peru Safe?
The question of all questions. The simple answer is yes—travel around the country is stable and reliable. The threat of crime is no bigger in Peru than in other major cities and tourist destinations. Like any metropolitan area, however, there are of course some safety threats to keep in mind. These may include petty crime, pick-pocketing, credit card fraud, and muggings.
Travel Advisor Laura Olds shares, “The areas you’ll likely be visiting are touristy and therefore are very safe, provided that you practice normal precautions that you would in any unfamiliar area. You should avoid wearing expensive jewelry, walking down dark, quiet streets alone at night, etc. Violent crimes are uncommon in the areas you’ll be visiting, but of the crimes that occur, pick-pocketing is most common, as is the case in many crowded tourist areas around the world.”
Luckily, these potential dangers can be combated with some travel wisdom, which leads me to the next tip.
“Common sense is key!” says Peru Travel Advisor and Lima resident Michelle Talsma. “I backpacked solo through Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Cusco, and Puerto Maldonado during my three month trip in Peru. Not once did I run into any situations that made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I always had an eye on my backpack, I kept my phone tucked away, and I avoided wandering around alone at night (especially if I’ve been drinking).”
Common sense checklist:
- Keep your wallet, passport, and valuables close at all times.
- Only carry the money you need for the day.
- Divide and hide your cash—check out this guide for ideas.
- Do not flash around money, expensive items, or jewelry.
- Avoid guarding valuables in your back pocket.
- Dress casually like the locals when you are out and about.
- Have photocopies of your passport on you, on your virtual drive, and at home with a loved one.
- Use secure bank ATMs rather than those on the street (and do a quick check for ATM skimmers).
- Have your cell phone tucked away securely when in public.
- Do not rest valuables on the table or hang them on the chair when at restaurants. Have them securely on your person.
- Keep aware of your surroundings (e.g., do not stare at your cellphone while walking around).
- Use reputable tour companies and agents.
- Do not wander abandoned areas alone at night.
- Check-in regularly with loved ones at home, and ensure someone has a general idea of your itinerary.
“I would say that walking with confidence is crucial. Or just generally being confident in all respects,” says Peru for Less’ Rachel Walker, who has lived in Peru for three years. “Often times it’s easy to pick out a tourist because they may look disoriented or unsure, no matter their gender. The more confident you appear in where you are going and what you’re doing, the more people think that you belong there and will respect your space. So study the map, plan your route, and go forth!” This tip ties in closely to the next.
Learn some Spanish
A little bit of Spanish will go a long way in Peru. Confidence is a bit difficult to achieve when you do not have the basics of the local language. Common greetings, asking directions, introducing yourself, ordering food, asking what time it is, basic small talk, asking for help—these are all incredibly useful and will guide you through your adventure with ease.
Pro-tip: “Download Google Translate on your cell phone!” says Talsma. “This is a life saver, you can even download the entire Spanish language so that it works when you’re offline!”
Uber or Taxi?
Transport and transfers can easily be the most stressful part of traveling solo. Therefore, having a grasp on the best local modes of getting around is very helpful. “Uber or Cabify all the way! I use Uber every single day [here in Peru]. I love it because I know that I’m going to be charged what a local is charged, and I don’t have to communicate in Spanish with the driver because the app tells them where I’m going,” says Talsma.
Peru for Less’ Leila Dancuart, who has traveled extensively throughout Peru, Brazil, and Argentina, agrees, “If you are taking a taxi, preferably use an app like Cabify or Taxi Satelital. I would personally not take a street taxi on my own. Also, if you can take a bus, make sure there are more people on it (don’t get in if it’s just the driver and one or two people; it can be dangerous, especially at night).”
There is some debate about Uber and other transport apps, but it is generally agreed upon that these services are safer than a street taxi. You can also organize a secure taxi through your hotel or airport if you prefer. For travel between cities, airlines like Latam and Avianca, and buses like Cruz del Sur and Civa, are great options.
Whether on the street or at the bar, being a woman solo traveler may attract a bit of unwanted attention. “You do not owe it to anyone to be friendly,” Walker says. “If someone is giving you too much attention, do not be embarrassed or ashamed to bluntly deny his advances.” Always go with your gut feeling. If something feels off, it probably is.
“Ignore when men catcall you and avoid eye contact with them,” adds Dancuart. “Also, do not accept drinks from a stranger if you’ve not watched how it has been served/made.” Basically, the same common sense you would apply in your home city applies in Peru. While solo travel is a great opportunity to make friends and meet fellow travelers as well, it is important, as always, to use your best judgment.
Have a Plan
I am all for spontaneity. But getting into a taxi from the Iquitos or Cusco or Lima airport and not having a destination in mind is not a good idea. Even with a concrete plan, taxi drivers may try to suggest tours or hotels, many of which may not be reputable. Always be firm about where you would like to go, and stick with providers that have a good reputation.
You may be someone who likes to have every last detail of your itinerary planned out ahead of time, for which a reputable travel agency can assist greatly. However, if you want to keep your schedule open ended, just make sure you have the general outline of your experience, such as what hotel to land at upon arrival, what the secure transportation of the area is, and an idea of the best tour outfitters if you plan to go on excursions.
Even if the person advertising their day tour from the street is the sweetest person in the world, which they often are, it is imperative that you always use reputable tour companies throughout your time in Peru—backed by reviews on sites/publications like Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. This is not only for your safety on the social front, but in terms of equipment, transport, and general quality of the tour itself.
To illustrate, the roads in the Andes can be quite windy and at times narrow, so ensuring that your operator has the best cars, vans, and drivers is important. Similarly with adventure activities like rafting and biking, you need to know it is a solid company with years of experience and happy travelers, because this helps ensure that the rafts and bikes you’ll be using are top notch.
Yes you’re alone, but that does not mean you need to spend your entire trip in the Plaza de Armas. Take a cue from Robert Frost and go off the beaten path a bit! This might mean embarking on a lesser-known, multi-day group trek, such as the Lares Trek. Or, it can mean taking a brief departure from restaurant dining and trying some crazy delicious Peruvian street food (picarones, please!).
For me, it meant getting to know the amazing little city of Pisac, nestled in the Sacred Valley. I fully expected to only be there for one night max, but loved it so much that I spent five days there hiking the surrounding trails, stargazing, eating local vegan food, connecting with local families, and making a couple wonderful friends. It was actually the highlight of my trip in the Andes because of the organic spontaneity of it. Within the realm of safety, do not hesitate to get a little adventurous and experience your time in Peru to the fullest.
A Note about Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca may be built in to your travel plans, or maybe it is a theme that comes up unexpectedly during your time in the jungle. Of late, this entheogenic brew has attracted many travelers to the Amazon, whether they are soul-searching or simply following the trend. Please note that this is not a recreational activity—it is a psychoactive plant with a powerful effect, consisting of both bodily reactions such as vomiting, and vivid hallucinations that may be pleasant or unpleasant. There is no way to predict the effect that may occur.
This traditional spirit medicine has ceremonial uses, and if you are planning to partake, you must use a legitimate, reputable guide. It is important to enter with a deep respect for the traditions that surround this substance, and a full understanding of the possible effects. It is very common in areas like Iquitos and even Cusco for various self-proclaimed “shamans” or even just random people at a club or hostel to approach and invite you to their ayahuasca ceremony. This can be extremely dangerous and there have be instances of rape, robbery, and assault while attendees are under the influence. With ayahuasca, it is absolutely crucial that you do your research beforehand; and that you are are as mindful as possible with your decision.
One of the joys of traveling solo is being unapologetically yourself. You do not need to compromise in any area—even little things like how long to sit in the parks of Lima watching the ocean waves, what cafe to scope out for coffee in Arequipa, and what time to hit the Plaza de Armas of Cusco in the morning. It’s all up to your tastes and rhythm.
As Dancuart puts it: “Do WHATEVER you want—you can be your true self because no one probably knows you anyway. Eat whatever you want, learn what kind of things YOU like to do since you are all alone you won’t be influenced by others’ opinions.” This no-strings-attached freedom is one of the joys that comes with solo travel.
If you want help planning your solo adventure through one of the most beautiful countries in the world, feel free to reach out to us. We’ve got your back!