Peru is generally a safe country, so travelers should not feel paranoid. But as in any other place in the world, follow commonsense rules and realize that thieves target travelers because they have cash and valuable electronics on them. You will be easy prey for thieves only if you are distracted.
Be alert and organized and watch your valuables at all times. Your money and passport should be carried under your clothes in a pouch or locked in a safety box at your hotel. Keep a constant eye on your luggage in bus stations. When in markets, place your backpack in front of you so that it cannot be slit open. When in restaurants or buses, keep your purse or bag close to you.When in markets, place your backpack in front of you so that it cannot be slit open.
Make yourself less of a target. Do not wear jewelry or fancy watches, and keep your camera in a beat-up hip bag that is unlikely to draw attention. Be alert when in crowded places like markets or bus stations, where pickpockets abound. Go only to nightspots that have been recommended. Walk with a sense of purpose, like you belong exactly where you are. When withdrawing money from an ATM, be with a friend or have a taxi waiting.
Experienced travelers can sense a scam or theft right before it happens, and nine times out of ten it involves momentary distraction or misplaced trust. If someone spits on you, latch onto your camera instead of cleaning yourself. If someone falls in the street in front of you or drops something, move away quickly. If an old man asks for your help in reading a lottery ticket, say no. If a stranger motions you over or offers a piece of candy, keep going. Be distrusting of people you do not know.
At nightspots, do not accept alcohol from strangers, as it might be laced with a sleeping drug. Do not do drugs. If you have been drinking, take a taxi home instead of walking.
Be careful when taking taxis and when changing money. When riding to Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez in Lima, lock your luggage in the trunk and hold onto your valuables. When traffic becomes heavy on Avenida La Marina, teams of delinquents often break windows and snatch bags before speeding away on a motorcycle.
It is a common misconception that traveling through Peru’s remote countryside is risky while spending time in a tourist town like Cusco is safe. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Taxi assaults, where cab drivers rob their passengers, are on the rise in Cusco. Most of these are simple robberies, though some have involved violence. Here are some tips for staying out of trouble:
- Take only authorized taxis; these can be easily recognized by a hexagonal yellow sticker on the windshield. Even better, go with a radio taxi company—these have advertising and phone numbers on their roofs.
- Look at the taxi driver and decide whether you feel comfortable. If you feel nervous, wave the taxi on and choose another.
- Always take a taxi late at night, especially after drinking. Night taxis anywhere in town cost about US$2.
- Walk in a group at night. Women should never walk alone.
- Carry your wallet in your front pocket and keep your backpack in front of you in a market or other crowded area. In markets, it is often better to leave most of your money and your passport at home.
- Walk with purpose and confidence.
- Stay in the main tourist areas. Avoid lesser-known suburbs and take care in the areas around San Pedro market and the bus terminal.
- When riding on a bus, store your luggage below or keep it on your lap. Do not put it on the racks above you where others can reach it as you sleep.
- Be wary of new friends at bars and on the street—many scams involve misplaced trust or the lure of drugs and sex and are hatched over the space of hours. Think twice before you go somewhere out of the way with someone you just met.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Machu Picchu.