For many travelers, South America is still a continent with an unsafe image. Crime, diseases, dangerous altitudes and traffic accidents seem to be all the media write about when relating to South America. Nevertheless, most people who travel the continent say the contrary! As Peru travel specialists, we believe Peru is a safe country to travel to; especially if you do it with us. Still, like in most countries around the world, it’s wise to take some things into account. Here are the most important aspects on how to stay safe and healthy when traveling in Peru.
Stay healthy in Peru
Prepare well before leaving
- Visit a travel doctor who can give you professional advice on what vaccinations may be necessary. Some routine vaccinations are obligatory, like DTP, Hepatitis A and B. If you go into the Amazon jungle, a yellow fever injection might be necessary and malaria prophylaxis is recommended. (Official CDC info here.)
- Of course, make sure you have a valid COVID-19 vaccination.
- Packed insect repellent (DEET and/or approved plant-based) and a travel first-aid kit. To be very well prepared, read our blog What to Pack for your Trip to Peru and download our free Packing List.
How to avoid altitude sickness when traveling in Peru
Most cities and attractions of Peru are located high in the Andes. During a standard itinerary through Peru, you will sleep many nights above three thousand meters (11.000 feet) above sea level and occasionally reach altitudes well above four thousand meters (13.000 feet). If you want to learn how to stay safe and healthy when traveling in Peru, taking the altitude into account should definitely be on the top of your list.
Altitude sickness is usually a problem for travelers who ascend too quickly; for example those who fly or take a bus directly into Cusco or Huaraz from lower altitude levels. Although not everyone is equally affected by the altitude, it usually takes a few days for the body to adjust to the low oxygen levels. You should be aware as well, that even if you have been to high altitude destinations before without having any problems, that does not mean you won’t have them this time. Our reaction to the altitude can change throughout our lives. Therefore, upon arriving, it is possible that you experience shortness of breath from only minor physical exercise as well as dizziness, insomnia and a loss of appetite. Make sure that you always drink enough: the rule of thumb is to drink one liter of water per day for every 1.000 meters.
Apart from drinking a lot, be attentive to not dehydrating yourself either: don’t drink too much alcohol or coffee, protect yourself from the very strong sun, take it easy and if you sweat: drink even more! Your food habits are also important: don’t eat too heavy the days before you will travel higher into the Andes.
Plan your trip wisely
With RESPONSible Travel Peru, you can learn more about how to plan your trip to Peru taking into account the altitude. When we design custom itineraries to Peru, a correct adaptation to the altitudes is one of our priorities (next to sustainability, of course).
Before you leave for your trip, you might want to ask your doctor about available preventive and symptom controlling medications. This is optional: our recommendations above are the most important.
The best way to treat altitude sickness, should you experience serious symptoms, is to descend as soon as possible. A light headache and slight dizziness isn’t something to worry about too much, but you should definitely listen very carefully to your body (and certainly to your guide, as well).
Avoid Travelers’ Diarrhea when traveling in Peru
Changing rhythm, climate, water and food can affect your intestines. Diarrhea is something most travelers doget at some stage, and there’s little to be done about it except drinking a lot (no alcohol) and taking oral rehydration salts. The famous “dieta de pollo” chicken broth is a good (non-vegetarian) option that you can find in any restaurant and most hotels.
When on the road, you can take medicines (loperamide) slowing your digestion. However, this doesn’t cure the source of the infection – it is best to use these medicines only when you aren’t able to go to the bathroom for a longer time.
If diarrhea continues for more than 2 days or when side effects occur such as fever or blood, please see a doctor.
You can minimize the risk of diarrhea by being careful about what you eat, washing your hands regularly and not drinking tap water. We highly recommend the use of filter bottles like WaterToGo or LifeStraw but there are other good options available to ensure you always have access to clean drinking water without the use of chemicals or plastic bottles.
Take care of your skin whilst traveling in Peru
Always apply sunblock as the sun is very strong so close to the equator and at this altitude. Don’t be mistaken: even when it’s cloudy, you can easily get burned! Protect your head with a hat or bandana.
At high altitudes, your skin will become very dry in the dry season (May – November). Chapped hands and dry lips are very common, so make sure to bring creams and lip balm that include a high Sun Protection Factor and have them at hand during the day.
Take little cuts serious – apply disinfectant and band-aid – especially when traveling in the tropical climate of the Peruvian jungle little injuries can easily get infected. Don’t scratch mosquito bites (try using “biteaway” if you tend to scratch a lot). Avoid using strong perfumes, deodorant and aftershaves, as they attract stinging insects.
Avoid a Sunstrike when traveling in Peru
The Peruvian sun is very strong with generally high degrees of UV beams. Avoid a sunstroke (and eye problems) by wearing a hat and sunglasses with a UV filter. Always carry enough water, especially when hiking in an environment without drinking water available. (Remember the rule of thumb: one liter of water per day for every 1.000 meters of altitude!) Chances of altitude sickness are also higher when you don’t protect yourself well from the sun. Symptoms of a sunstroke may include dizziness and light-headedness – if these symptoms occur, drink and stay in the shade.
Back at home
If you suffer from fever, intestinal problems or other medical problems that cannot easily be accounted for once returned home, don’t hesitate to see your doctor telling them how long, when and where you have been travelling. Be aware that some diseases have several months of incubation time before problems start to become visible.
How to Stay Safe when traveling in Peru
Over the years, Peru has turned into a stable and friendly country for all visitors. At the same time, however, there has been a growing division between the poor and rich populations. Since tourists are likely to attract attention, it is wise to travel ‘low profile’ avoiding showing valuable items (cameras, iPods, wallets, smartwatches) and watching your luggage closely at all times.
It is always advisable not to bring valuables and documents when strolling in towns. Instead, keep them in lockers provided at your hotel. When on the road, it is best to keep documents, cards and cash in a money belt around your waist.
Tips to stay safe
- Don’t bring items that you can’t afford to lose
- Don’t look like you may carry valuable items
- Don’t wear fancy clothes or nice jewellery
- Don’t leave your things unattended at any time
- Don’t hang your bag from your seat in a restaurant
- Don’t forget any belongings on a bus or in a taxi
- Don’t use an enormous wallet full of cards and cash
- Have a bit of money ready in case you get robbed
- Listen to local advice about certain areas
- Don’t think everyone is after robbing you
Generally spoken, thieves in Peru are opportunistic ones, who act when they see an opportunity. As long as you don’t look like a potential victim and you don’t give an opportunity (like leaving a bag unattended for a moment), they won’t bother you. So act as if you have been living here for years, and if you spot a suspicious person, show him/her that you are paying attention to him/her and to your belongings.
In case of any emergency get in contact with the local authority, your guide or travel advisor available at the moment. You can also get in contact with our office crew without hesitation.
Some more Frequently Asked Questions about How to Stay Safe and Healthy When Traveling in Peru
As long as you take into account the same recommendations that apply to any other traveler, you should be fine traveling alone in Peru as a woman. You can try to make appointments for taxis beforehand for example with a hotel transfer (and otherwise take only official taxis you’ll find at any bus terminal and airport). Iif you have a night out, make sure you always go with a group that takes care of you. Like any solo traveler, it is nice to make use of group tours and shared transportation to lower costs and meet other travelers. Like that, you’ll always be accompanied when you want to!
If you’d like to book a custom itinerary with RESPONSible Travel Peru, we’ll make sure to find the right balance between shared tours and private experiences. Or check our Community-Based Tourism offer to enjoy the company of our host families!
Like in any big city, there are parts of Lima that are not recommendable to travel to, but then these are the areas that you don’t necessarily need to see as a tourist. In the safe areas of Miraflores, San Isidro and Barranco you are just as safe as in any big European or American city. And if you’d like to venture out into any of the other areas: do it with any of our Day Tours in Lima, that will take you to Callao, the city center and even outskirt areas to get a great impression of the rest of Lima.
Traditionally, Miraflores is “the safe neighbourhood for tourists” and it’s where you will find most hotels and backpacker accommodations. However, we also like the central parts of Barranco very much. It’s very safe, the hotels you’ll find here generally have more charm and the area is hip, artistic and authentic.
In general, Peru is very safe and the Peruvians are kind and honest. But like in any country, there are always the exceptions that confirm the rule. The gap between rich and poor is big, and this can draw pickpockets and thieves to touristic areas. As mentioned above, as long as you don’t give them the opportunity, chances are low something will happen to you. The further away from urban areas, the safer it tends to get. So check our Off the Beaten Path excursions if that’s what you’re looking for. In general, just follow our advice and don’t forget to enjoy the country. Be kind and careful.
If your asthma is well controlled with medication you don’t necessarily need to worry more about the altitude. You might even feel better because of the clean and allergen-free air. However, some types of asthma are triggered by exercise or specific allergens. If that’s what you have, you should consult your doctor. In any case, bring enough medicines that have proven to be effective for you.
When you’re enjoying one of our gastronomic tours in Peru, or on your own in most tourist restaurants and homestays in Peru, it is definitely safe to have salad, because the vegetables are washed in safe drinking water. Just like the ice cubes are made with safe drinking water. In restaurants along the road or local neighborhoods, it might indeed be unsafe to have salads and some other dishes so if you have to eat in those places, opt for the safest dishes (like an omelette, vegetable soup or the day menu, if available.)
No, in most cases it is not. Mineral water is available everywhere but the most ecofriendly manner (and also cheaper on longer trips) is to use a water filter. There are many options, like water bottles with a built-in filter, filter pumps or UV filters. Make sure to check if they also kill bacteria before buying.
Like in any big city, there are unsafer areas in Trujillo, although it’s much smaller than Lima, so again, you won’t have to pass through these areas. The city center, Huanchaco and the area around the highlights are very safe for you as a foreign traveler.
Well, the answer changes over time, that’s why we’ve dedicated a complete article to the Covid measurements in Peru for travelers. Read all about them here: Traveling to Peru in Covid times: measures, restrictions and conditions.