Safety in Peru

When I decided to write about safety in Peru, I started to have a look at statistics and all kind of articles. The result was: Latin America is the most violent region of the world! According to data released by the Brazilian Igarapé Institute, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela account for 25% of all murders worldwide. Well, I’m not an expert on statistics but I’d suspect that war crimes or crimes committed by warlords in some African countries don’t count here. The above-mentioned report also says that 17 of the 20 top homicidal countries are located in Latin American and the Caribbean, as well as 43 of the 50 most dangerous cities. Well, now what? Does this make Peru and the whole region unsafe and a place you should avoid?

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Personal perceptions of feeling safe vs what you read

No matter where you come from, your government’s website will most likely have a lot of warnings for you. About Peru and about all other countries. If you speak Spanish and have a look at Peruvian newspapers, you’ll find a lot of stories about armed robberies, homicides, rape, people who disappeared etc. I’ve found that some members of expat groups on Facebook love to share such stories and often wonder if they’d continue living here if they really felt that unsafe.

While I don’t want to encourage anyone to neglect political turbulences completely, I also think that it doesn’t make sense to focus only on the negative things. Peru’s (and Bolivia’s) Andean streets and even the Panamerica at some points are considered to be dangerous and there are accidents happening. However, thousands of travellers explore Peru by bus every year and have safe journeys.

I try to stay informed about what’s going on in the world but I’ve stopped reading stories about crimes. For the simple reason that it’s not good for my emotional well-being. What you read can affect you negatively, can prevent you from pursuing your dreams. However, if you read travel stories where everything went well and people had a great time, it will affect you positively. You’ll be anxious to go and have a similar experience instead of constantly wondering what might go wrong.

Once again, this doesn’t mean that you should be careless. Common sense normally works wonders and a life totally without risks doesn’t exist.

Safety in Peru – What do the statistics say?

Starting an article with a lot of bad and terrifying facts is not nice, is it? Well, I have good news, too: Peru is not among the Top 20 countries as far as homicides are concerned. Its homicide rate was 7.7 per 100.000 inhabitants in 2016 – compare this to El Salvador’s rate of 60. El Salvador is currently the country with the highest homicide rate. And no Peruvian city is listed among the 50 cities with the highest homicide rates (but 4 US cities are on that list). However, Peru ranks high as far as robberies in general and violent robberies, in particular, are concerned. Unlike with homicides, tourists and travellers run a relatively high risk of being robbed in Peru – according to statistics.

How safe do Peruvians feel in their country?

According to the Igarapé Institute, only 40% of Peruvians feel safe in Peru. That coincides with the fact that 39% of Peruvians were victims of some sort of crime in 2016 (topped only by Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina and the Dominican Republic). Just like other Latin Americans, Peruvians don’t trust their judicial institutions and believe that their police is corrupt. Well, I’m not going to comment on this.

Safety in Peru – What do travel bloggers say?

I thought it would make sense to combine numbers and statistics with personal experiences. That’s why I asked some other bloggers who visited Peru how safe they felt here and if they had any bad experiences.

Personally and as someone who travelled extensively in Latin America in the 1990s and who now has her residence in Peru, I’ve never felt particularly unsafe and have never been the victim of a crime. As a female solo traveller, I may run a higher risk but on the other hand, I’m hardly ever in the street after 11 pm and am extremely careful with my stuff, never leaving it out of sight and having it close to me. I’m aware that I may nevertheless be the victim of a crime one day but from a personal point of view, I don’t feel unsafer in Lima than in any other big city. And just like in other big cities, I avoid certain neighbourhoods, especially in the evening.

So let me hand over to my blogger colleagues now. Here are the answers they gave me:

1. Ellis: “My biggest fears were about the capital Lima”

Ellis is a cultural anthropologist from the Netherlands who visited more than 50 countries along the ancient Silk Road. On the photo below you can see you during her hike in the Colca Canyon near Arequipa. Follow Ellis on Instagram for amazing pictures from all around the world and read here how safe she felt during her Peru trip in 2016. 

In 2016 I travelled as a woman alone through Peru using a mix of Peru Hop and public transportation. My overall experience as a solo female traveller was very positive and I can’t remember a time that I was worried about my safety. That said, I took the usual precautions that I always follow when I travel. I didn’t go out alone at night, didn’t wear revealing clothes and used my instinct to walk away from situations that felt wrong.  

My biggest fears were about the capital Lima. I heard there was a lot of crime, but to me, it didn’t feel more dangerous than my hometown Amsterdam where pickpockets are also common. If you keep your valuables in a safe place you should not have any problems.

In the end, it was my health safety that I should have been more concerned about. After travelling in India I thought the restaurants in Peru looked very hygienic, but I got food poisoning twice. On top of that, I had to struggle with altitude sickness in the Colca Canyon and at Lake Titicaca. The local remedy of chewing cocoa leaves seemed to ease the symptoms a little bit, but I was still out of breath with every step I took. The beautiful views that were worth all the effort literally took my breath away.

My health issues were a minor discomfort on a great journey. Peru is an amazing country and I am hoping to visit it again. This time with pills against altitude sickness and plenty of hand sanitizer.

2. Claire: “Take extra care of your belongings”

Claire and her husband Terry are Canadians who have always loved travelling, eventually got themselves teaching jobs in Mexico and Trinidad and are travelling teachers who share their adventures on their blog. Follow them on Instagram for more amazing photos from all around the world. 

Barranco Plaza

Barranco Plaza at night

My husband and I spent a month travelling in Peru although my parents, sister and nephew visited us for 2 weeks in Huacachina and Lima.  Our group ranged from 65 to 7 years old!  We took buses around and between cities and the metro around the city of Lima.  Mostly though, we did a LOT of walking!
During our two weeks in Lima, we rented an apartment in Barranco and explored Miraflores and the downtown area.  With a rambunctious 7-year-old, we walked to the main plaza in Barranco every evening so my nephew could play soccer in the open space.  Within minutes he found himself in a pickup game with local kids.  Every night we would walk back to our apartment well after 10 pm without incident.
Having said all this, I did have my backpack stolen one day.  My parents and I sat in an empty area of the rocky Miraflores beach as my husband and nephew prepared to surf.  I reached for my backpack and it was gone.  Local police were sympathetic but not particularly helpful, making no attempt to check the security camera beside us.  Luckily I had just pulled the GoPro out of it to record the surfing but everything else was gone.
We never met a person who wasn’t friendly and kind but there is a lot of poverty and crimes of opportunity are common.  And they’re good – my bag was right beside us on an empty, stone beach!  Take extra care of your belongings in Peru but we never had a moment’s concern for our personal safety.

3. Riley: “Now I have the confidence to return to South America as a solo traveler”

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Riley is an outdoors fan from the US who likes to move to a new place every 6 months. She works at national parks and has recently extended her travels to Europe and South America. Follow her on Instagram for amazing outdoor photos. 

I travelled to Peru in January 2019 and quickly fell in love. As a twenty-six-year-old female who had never been to South America, I’ll admit I was nervous about safety. Therefore, I invited a good friend of mine. We had travelled together frequently over the six years we had known each other, and I knew we could stand each other’s company for three weeks. Most importantly, he was a very tall thirty-nine-year-old man. 

It’s hard to say whether I would have been completely safe without him, but now that I’ve been to Peru I have the confidence to return to South America as a solo traveller. 

The most nervous I got was meeting a tour group for pick-up at a square in Cusco at 3:00 a.m. It was a short walk from our hostel, but in the dark with many drunks leaving the clubs and bars. If I had been solo, I would have been much more nervous about standing on that street corner alone waiting for the tour guide. 

Strangely enough, my friend may have a different take than I do. Twice, unbeknownst to me, he was offered drugs while we walked down crowded tourist streets in broad daylight. I was shocked when he told me. 

Otherwise, getting around Peru was easy. We made sure to only ride in taxis with license numbers, chose PeruHop buses for navigating between cities, and our flight from Lima to Cusco was perfect. All of our guides, including treks to Humantay Lake and Palccoyo, were knowledgable and courteous. I have absolutely nothing to complain about. 

If you asked me to return to Peru alone tomorrow, I would ask if I could leave today instead. 

4. Clare: “Never put bags on the rack above you”

Clare is originally from the UK but spends most of her time in Peru nowadays and has travelled the country extensively. Like her facebook page if you plan to visit Peru or have already been here. 

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

I have travelled to Peru 6 times and each time I have travelled solo, though I have joined groups when I have been trekking through the mountains.  

I have done a few flights around Peru and generally find myself at some point on each trip sleeping on the floor in the airport in Lima.  Just make sure you keep your bag with your valuables attached to you and try and padlock any other bags so no one can get into them.

I find myself generally on the overnight buses and have not had problems on these either, I keep the bag with my valuables on the floor beside my feet and padlocked.  Never put bags on the racks above you, I have heard so many stories of people being robbed this way.

I have been out many times at night and partied all over Peru!!  I lived in Arequipa for over 3 months, Cusco for several months and am now living up north in a surf town.

My personal experience is that Peru is as safe as anywhere else in the world.  Where I live in Huanchaco in the north of Peru, it is very safe and I have no problem walking the streets at 3 or 4 in the morning.  There is no way I would be able to do this where I am from in the UK.

I know though in Arequipa/Cusco this late at night you have to be really careful, I personally have never had problems but have had friends in Cusco who had their bags stolen while walking alone late at night and was always advised to take taxis even for short distances.

Personally, I do not feel Peru is any more dangerous than anywhere else in the world, just be aware of your surroundings and watch your belongings.

5. Wendy: “Peru was one of the countries we were least worried about”

Wendy is a vegan foodie and polyglot who has travelled to more than 100 countries. Follow her on Instagram for vegan food and travel inspiration. 

Painted sarcophagi in Karajia, Northern Peru

I travelled around Peru for about five weeks with my husband, who was my fiancé at the time. It was part of a much larger, nine-month trip throughout Central and South America.
We were on a tight budget, so we travelled everywhere by public bus. We explored the country pretty thoroughly from north to south and did not feel unsafe in any of the places we visited. It’s worth noting, however, that we skipped Lima.
This was partly due to safety concerns, and also because there wasn’t much about Lima that appealed to us at the time. Earlier in the trip, we had avoided several Central American capitals because of their alarming crime rates, so it seemed natural to do the same in Peru. If I were to return to Peru now, though, I would definitely visit Lima to taste the amazing vegan food there.
We did go out to eat at night, and we never had any concerns about walking back from the restaurant to our hotel after dark. We didn’t stay out much later than that, though, but that’s just because the nightlife is not really our thing.
When starting out on our Central and South America trip, we did have some concerns about safety, but Peru was one of the countries we were least worried about. Compared to El Salvador, Nicaragua or Colombia, Peru seemed to have quite a good track record when it comes to safety. We never had any bad experiences while we were there.

6. Sarah and Nigel: “Always lock valuables in a portable safe”

Sarah and Nigel are a British couple who also lived in the US and are now travelling the world with their laptop and backpack. Follow them on Instagram for awesome travel pictures. 

Huacachina

Desert oasis Huacachina

We’re a couple of 48 and 56 travelling together through Peru primarily through long distance buses (although avoiding night buses apart from our exit from Ecuador – mainly because we like to see the countryside).  There are some local buses involved too. And of course the train back from Machu Picchu. There wasn’t any one place that we felt less safe than any other, although borders always have a slightly sketchy feeling to them.  We tend to eat dinner at night, but are usually back to our hostel, hotel or homestay by around 9 pm at the latest, always carrying a torch.

There are all sorts of aspects to safety in Peru – from personal safety in geographic areas to the safety of your gear when you’re not with it. We always lock valuables in a portable safe and attach it to something solid in our room, that’s a personal choice we make in every country, not just Peru.  When it comes to water safety, we always also use a Steripen and a filter water bottle, as the water isn’t safe to drink in Peru, and using these gadgets helps save plastic waste as well as our health!

No bad experiences to report and Peru isn’t, to us, any more or less safe than other countries, there are bad elements everywhere.  But there are also great elements too – caution and self-awareness are probably the two best precautions you can take when travelling in Peru.

7. Dayanne: “Traffic is the scariest thing I’ve encountered in Lima”

Dayanne is a digital nomad from Brazil who travels together with her boyfriend is currently spending some months in Peru. She runs the online review management company 5starRocket and shares her travel experiences on Instagram

Ocean view from Barranco, Lima

Ocean view from Barranco, Lima

I’ve been in Lima with my boyfriend for about 3 weeks now. We feel pretty safe walking around in Miraflores. There’s always police cars nearby and people on the streets, but I know this is not the reality of other neighborhoods.
If I was to go anywhere alone, I’d certainly be more cautious, especially at night. I feel I’m not as free to wander around as my boyfriend, and I rarely go out alone because of that. I’m from Brazil, so this is no shock: I’m used to being careful where I go. Some locals even advised me it would be safer for us to always walk around in groups or pairs.
I’m afraid of taking an Uber/taxi by myself, but this is the same as any other place since the drivers are usually men.
For now, traffic is the scariest thing I’ve encountered in Lima. I’m afraid to cross the streets. I feel there’s zero respect for pedestrians. The drivers run as if they were in a race and will only stop when they hit you. It’s definitely a rush I do not enjoy.”

8. Claire: “At first, I was a little worried”

Claire lived in Barcelona and backpacked South America. She wants to encourage more women to travel solo and share her own experiences. Follow her on Facebook where she shares photos and stories from her journeys. 

Claire at Machu Picchu

Claire at Machu Picchu

At first, I was a little worried about travelling to Peru alone.  It was my first trip to South America, and I wasn’t sure what to expect!  I usually travelled by bus, although when I first arrived in Peru, I had come from Bolivia on a group tour.  I went from Cusco to Lima by bus with Peru Hop as I was nervous about travelling by public bus on my own.  However, after that initial trip, I spent another 6 weeks or so travelling all around Peru (including back to Cusco) by public bus.  Within cities or getting from the bus stations to my accommodation I would usually take a taxi or walk if it was close enough!  I speak Spanish very well, so I could chat with taxi drivers and ask people for directions if I need them.  During the day I was happy walking around by myself, but rarely went out at night, and if I did, I wasn’t alone – unless it was a short walk to a restaurant for dinner.  I don’t usually go to bars by myself so didn’t party very much, unless someone was with me.

In big cities like Lima, and even in Cusco, I was more wary about pickpockets or nervous about being mugged as I’d heard some stories about Lima, but I didn’t have any problems the whole time I in Peru (about 2 months in total).  I wouldn’t say that bad thing can’t happen in Peru, but I found Peru to be as safe as anywhere else I’d been in Europe (apart from not going out at night) and I didn’t behave any differently there.

9. Daniel: “Walking around with a lot of travel gear”

You may have noticed that Daniel is the only male blogger sharing his opinion about safety in Peru. Discussing whether men are less worried about safety when travelling or may not want to share their possible fears would be an interesting topic for another post. Just like me, Daniel is a digital nomad in Latin America. Follow him on Instagram for awesome pictures from this amazing continent. 

metropolitano lima

Metropolitano Lima

As a backpacker and digital nomad who resides in Latin America, I have found Peru to be one of the places where fellow travellers have been concerned for their safety.

Travelling solo as a male and walking around with a lot of travel gear, I myself have had to adopt some new ways of staying safe. When I travelled to Lima in Peru for the first time I exercised some of the following safety precautions.

  1. Keeping my bag close to me at all times. During meal times is when I usually let my guard down, so I avoided hanging my bag over the back of chairs etc.
  2.  Not getting my camera out in random neighbours. I was staying in Barranco, the bohemian part of town, but I had to walk through a few streets to get to the main square.
  3. Dressing down most of the time. Wearing flashy designer clothes is not a good idea unless you’re going somewhere specific, otherwise, I found that what you wear can attract unwanted attention.

Despite the stories, I’d heard, by exercising the above precautions I generally felt safe walking around some parts of Lima. The transport is also quite reliable so whenever in Lima make sure you pick up a travel card and use it wherever you feel it’s convenient.

10. Rhiannon: “The taxi driver seemed concerned”

Rhiannon is originally from Wales and has travelled to over 40 countries across all continents. Follow her on Instagram for awesome pictures from all around the world. 

Santa Catalina Monastery Arequipa

The novices’ cloister at the Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa

The first time I visited Peru, I was 18 years old and travelling completely alone. It was my first solo international trip, and I
couldn’t have asked for a better country! I fell so madly in love with Peru during this trip that I’ve since returned twice – once with an ex, and once solo. To get around the country I always choose to take long-distance buses, local buses and
taxis over flights. Based on personal experience, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Peru to any solo traveller!

Safety-wise, Peru is much the same as many other South American countries. Of course, it’s not 100% safe, but with a bit of common sense and awareness of your belongings (I often witnessed thefts on buses and bus stations), there’s no reason to worry. The only time I ever felt truly unsafe in Peru was when I arrived in Trujillo at 2 am and hailed a taxi to take me to my pre-booked hotel in the outskirts of the city. The taxi driver seemed concerned, asked if I really wanted to go to this place as it wasn’t in a nice area. I’d fallen victim to the whole “Oh, this hotel is fully booked – let me take you to a different one” scam before, so I stubbornly insisted he take me there. Turns it out it really wasn’t a nice area! After a terrifying night of barricading myself in my room, I quickly moved to a more central part of the city. Other than that, I’ve always felt comfortable wandering around a city or town at night and have found that if ever there was a situation where I could have potentially been in danger, a friendly local (like the taxi driver!) would let me know.

Conclusion

Were you surprised that apart from a theft nobody who contributed to this post had bad experiences in Peru or felt particularly unsafe?

Everything which was mentioned coincides with my own perceptions of safety in Peru. However, I’d like to add that I received an email from a woman who was kidnapped in Peru some years ago. She didn’t tell me any details and wasn’t sure whether she wanted to share her story (in the end, she obviously decided against it). This is an extreme case, of course, and I feel very sorry for her as it must have been a very traumatic experience.

However, I also believe that it’s very unlikely that someone like that will happen to you when you travel to Peru.

When reading what other bloggers wrote, I noticed that Lima seems to be regarded as the most dangerous part of Peru. Well, it’s a huge city and ALL huge cities have unsafe parts and neighbourhoods. I just recommend staying away from Callao (with the exception of La Punta) and that includes not taking any risks when arriving in Lima as the airport is located in Callao. Take the Airport Express Bus to Miraflores or a taxi.

 


How to make it difficult for pickpockets and thieves

Taking precautions is never bad, so here are some recommended things to make it difficult for thieves and pickpockets. For me, arrival days tend to make me most anxious because I have all my belongings with me and don’t know my surrounding. I never keep all my valuables close to each other and often have only an expired credit card in my purse and all other cards plus some extra cash close to my body. I’ve recently come to like travel pocket underwear. May sound and look ridiculous but they actually comfortable to wear. There exists some similar for guys. If you’ve tried such boxers, feel free to write in the comments what you think of them.



 

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