5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Peru

From the ruins of Machu Picchu and the jungles of the Amazon, to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca and the mysterious Nazca Lines, Peru is one the most rewarding countries to travel in the world.

Peru Photo © iStock/hadynyah

With archeological sites of pre-Colombian civilization, breathtaking mountain ranges, amazing diversity of plant and animal species, beautiful cathedrals, monasteries and unique Andean culture, this South American destination offers travelers all styles and interests to the journey of a lifetime.

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 approaching tourists.

If you choose to see the Nazca Lines from the air, ask a few questions to help you avoid the cowboy operators.

A few Nomads share their top safety precautions and useful tips that they wish they knew before their trip to Peru.

1. Learn Spanish and Know Your Surroundings

"Know your Spanish and surroundings, dress modestly, limit the jewelry, and keep money hidden and safe."

– Carrie Stiers

Our tip: Whenever you're traveling to a foreign country, it's always helpful to know a bit of the local language, learn a bit of Spanish with our Spanish Language Guide.

2. Trust Your Tour Operator

"Always travel with reputable service providers. On every trip to Peru I hear stories from travelers trusting someone representing themselves to be a local guide or porter, only to discover the guide and their personal belongings gone when the traveler arrives at their destination.

All guides must be licensed in Peru. Guides operating inside protected areas, such as Machu Picchu Sanctuary, must also have a special permit from SERNANP (National Service for Protected Area Management).

Also, there are many levels of service on the trains; some just for locals, some just for Peruvians, and others for tourists. Most local trains will not let foreigners ride, so don't assume you can catch any train of your choice – even if you offer to pay full tourist price you often will be denied a ticket, possibly leaving you stranded."

– Rich Tobin, Conservation VIP

3. Be Aware, and Don't Take Risks

"I have lived and worked intermittently for 27 years in the Cusco region and Peru, and I'd say that I feel safer now than ever.

Terrorist activity is practically non-existent. And in regards to thievery, I think the Peruvian people have worked hard to raise the consciousness that foreign visitors need to have a positive experience in Peru, so tourism will stay strong and people will want to return.

It used to be fairly common that a foreigner was pick-pocketed in the market, or had his/her backpack slashed and items removed. Petty theivery is much less than it used to be, and public tourist places seem to go out of their way to make a situation safe and comfortable for visitors.

Having said that, there are still common rules that one must be aware of: in particularly crowded local areas (like the market, or bus stations) only carry the money you need at the time, and be "mindful" of your camera. It's easy to tell which taxis are legitimate, and which ones are not. If a tourist is aware and does not take risks then he/she should be fine."

– Holly Wissler, Wilderness Travel

4. Fake Police in Peru

"Watch out for plain-clothed "policemen" in Peru.

Travelers might encounter a plain-clothed Peruvian claiming to be a policeman. While most individuals are real policemen, some have turned out to be thieves using this ruse to catch travelers off guard and steal from them.

If you come in contact with a Peruvian claiming to be a plain-clothed policeman, do not give him any valuable papers. Instead, insist on going straight to the local police station by foot."

– GeckoGo.com

5. Don't Let Hiccups Ruin Your Trip

"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.

Don't let it spoil your holiday, and don't go thinking 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!"

– Andean Web

If you've got some great tips of your own, share them below!

Want to know more about Peru? Check out our podcast. We chat about alternative treks to Machu Picchu, how Peru is the original home of surfing, and look at what vaccinations do you need when traveling to South America.

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  • Maria said

    Hi is there a website which lists the accredited/legitimate tour operators?

  • Donna said

    We were there 10 years ago and loved it. Felt safe everywhere except in parts of Lima. Found the people hard working and charming. Got to see the range of terrain from the Amazon to Nazca to Machu Picchu (even did the hike into Machu Picchu versus the train). As a matter of fact, Cuzco remains one of our favourite cities in the world, a must to experience. As long as you use common sense and the same precautions that you should use any time you travel, you should be safe. An amazing country with a huge range of cultural experiences and down to earth people. Speaking Spanish would have been a great asset!

  • Rodrigo said

    And another one: that you don't need to pay for the expensive train trip from Cuzco to Machu Picchu! You can do it with bus, taxi and walking along the train line, all for 10 USD!! It's all explained here: http://outofyourcomfortzone.net/how-to-get-from-cusco-to-machu-picchu-for-less-than-31-soles-or-10-usd/

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