Every guide book has a responsibility to warn you about the worst things that can happen to you whilst travelling in Peru .. thieves, drug pushers, corrupt police, prostitutes, terrorists and worse. It's easy to become paranoid and decide it's best to stay at home. But just how safe are you in your own town or city?
Peru recognizes that tourism plays an important part in its developing economy and has taken great steps in the last few years to change its poor security record. You'll find a lot more police, especially plain clothed officers, in the towns and cities most frequently visited by tourists.
Personal security is a very subjective thing to talk about. If we say that Peru is totally safe, then travellers will take fewer precautions; If we say that it's dangerous, then a huge number of potential travellers will avoid Peru and miss out on one of the most beautiful countries in the world. At the end of the day you need to be careful and use your common-sense. Thankfully the instances of assaults on tourists are very rare and, nine times out of ten, rarer than in your own country.
The possibility of being assaulted can be greatly reduced by taking a few simple precautions:
When taking taxis from an airport to your hotel, travel in the more expensive airport taxis and ensure that the drivers have official identification. Never take a taxi waiting outside the airport grounds.
When travelling from your hotel to the airport, go with a taxi recommended by the hotel.
Try not to arrive in a new city or town late at night.
Travel in a group if possible.
Learn the basics in Spanish before you arrive in Peru. Don't expect that people will speak English.
Keep your valuables hidden.
Avoid going on your own to remote areas/ruins where tourist would be expected to go. Seek local advice or take a guide.
Read the guide books and talk with other tourists to find out which areas are best avoided.
When leaving discos late at night take a taxi home no matter how close your hostel is. Outside most discos you'll find a street vendor selling cigarettes. Usually these people know all the taxi drivers and can recommend a safe one.
When arriving in a new town, keep to your original plan and stay in the hostel that you have decided on. Don't let the taxi driver persuade you that your hostel is fully booked and that he knows a cheaper and better one. He'll be working on commission and the hostel probably won't be in a safe part of town.
Even better, when arriving by plane/train in a new city, try to reserve your hotel in advance, preferably with a hotel that has an airport/station collection service.
Although assaults are rare, theft can be prevalent. However, your common thief won't threaten you with a knife and demand money , this again is rare and the precautions above should be followed. If this does happen to you the only sensible advice is to give the thief exactly what he wants. Don't put up a fight.
What Peruvian thieves are expert at, however, is making the most of a good opportunity - a moments lapse in a tourist's concentration is their business. Long bus trips, crowded streets and packed trains are all their territory. We don't recommend that you avoid these places because you can't, but again common-sense precautions should be taken:
Don't wear expensive looking jewellery.
On public transport have your day pack close to you at all times, preferably with the straps around your legs or padlocked to the luggage rack. On buses your backpack will normally go outside, either on top of the roof or in the external luggage compartments. On long distance buses ask for a receipt for your bags. On short rides just keep a careful eye out each time the bus stops to off-load bags. In the event of having your bags stolen, stay with the bus - you will probably require a declaration from the bus company accepting responsibility for the loss in order to claim any money from your insurance company.
Leave your valuables in your hotel safe when making day trips or longer tours. Obtain a receipt not just for your money belt/wallet etc. but for its contents, with each item listed. If you have to leave your passport and credits cards together place the credit card in a sealed envelope and sign your name across the flap. At least when you return you know for sure no-one else has been using it.
If planning on going to market areas, crowded streets, fiestas etc. don't go with all your valuables. Leave them in the hotel. If your planning on buying something expensive keep your money safely in a money belt. Try to be discreet when opening it! To protect small change in your pockets you can stuff a handkerchief in after.
If the pavements are really crowded, especially in market areas, walk in the road.
If you suspect someone is following you, stop and stare them in the eye until they go. If you really get a bad feeling about a place, go with your first instincts and leave.
Bag slashing is rare nowadays but for added safety you can wear your day pack on your chest. If it's on your back try to walk without stopping. If you need to stop, sway your pack gently from side to side so that you can feel if anyone is tampering with it.
When putting your bag down on the floor, to take a photo or just to sit in a café, remember to put your foot through the strap. Not only will it be impossible to snatch, you also won't forget it! This is the most common type of theft in Peru - tourists forgetting bags in cafes and on returning to ask if anyone has seen it, you've guessed it, it's gone.
The above precautions are not overly complicated and will soon become second nature. They are basic precautions to avoid being robbed, not just in Peru, but anywhere in the world ... even in your own home town.
If, at the end of the day, you are unfortunate enough to be robbed just accept it as a travel experience. Make sure that you have good insurance and that you've read the small print before arriving in Peru so you know what is required to make a successful claim. Excluding precious photos, most things can be replaced in Peru. Finally don't let it spoil your holiday and don't suddenly believe that every Peruvian is a thief. The overwhelming majority are kind, honest, hardworking people who detest the thieves probably more than you do - when they get robbed they usually don't have insurance!
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