Women Traveling Alone
Machismo is alive and well in Peru, so women traveling in Peru should know what to expect. Most Latin men assume that a woman traveling on her own, especially a blonde, must be promiscuous. So you have to set the record straight.
At some level, there is the larger issue that some men feel threatened by women who travel abroad, study, work, and are generally independent because it conflicts with their perceptions of how women should be.
How you interact with men makes a huge difference. Speak with men you do not know in public places only. Treat them neutrally and avoid intimate conversation and behaviors, like friendly touches that might be misinterpreted. Wear modest clothing. Some say a fake wedding ring or reference to a nonexistent husband or boyfriend helps, but that can also result in the reply “no soy celoso” (“I’m not jealous”).
Peruvian men, and often teenagers, will ingratiate themselves with a group of female gringas and tag along for hours, even if they are completely ignored. The best way to deal with this is by telling them early on that you want to be alone: “quiero estar sola, por favor.” The next step would be a loud and clear request to be left alone: “déjeme, por favor.” The final step would be to ask passersby for help “por favor, ayúdeme.” The bad side of machismo is harassment, but the flip side is protection.
Be especially careful at night. Choose a hotel in a safe, well-lit part of town. Take care when flagging down a taxi and do not walk around alone at night, especially in tourist towns like Cusco. Walk with confidence and purpose, even if you do not know where you are going. Women who look lost are inevitably approached by strangers. Peruvian women ignore catcalls, aggressive come-ons, and flirtatious lines called piropos, which are almost a form of poetry among men. You should do the same.
Do not walk alone in out-of-the-way places in the countryside. We have heard reports of women who have been assaulted while walking alone on popular travelers’ routes. Trek or hike in the daylight and with at least one other person. If you are robbed, surrender your purse rather than risk physical harm. Mace, whistles, alarms, and self-defense skills are effective tools that are likely to catch most assailants off-guard.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition