Crime in Peru: Our Top Travel Safety Tips

Peru's popularity among travelers is growing every year – a trend that the government and locals are determined to maintain. Before you go, here's what you need to know about crime and safety.

Shares

Working hard to protect tourists and actively pursuing the criminals who target them, the Peruvians have fostered an atmosphere of safety throughout the country.

The threat of violent crime in most of Peru is no greater than many of the world's major cities. Travel around the country is relatively safe and reliable and the rebel element has been largely disbanded. The Peru of today is a far cry from the militaristic repression, rebellion, corruption and terror of its history.

Petty Crime in Peru

Despite this continuing improvement, poverty is still a problem so there's no guarantee you won't come across dark corners and desperate individuals. However with some research, planning and common sense you can easily avoid the bad apples and ensure you have a safe and exciting stay.

The country's penchant for petty thievery is infamous, even among its South American neighbours. This doesn't mean you need to be forever clutching your valuables to your chest but you should practice your street smarts.

Here are some tips to keep your valuables safe:

  • Less is more. Don't wear a lot of jewellery or designer clothes. Dress down when you are out and about in town rather than wearing all your new hiking gear.
  • Photograph or photocopy your passport, travel documents, bank cards and driver's license before you head to Peru. Leave those copies at home or on a virtual drive.
  • Register your passport at the embassy in Lima. It won't take long and can save you days and days of precious holiday time if your documents are lost or stolen.
  • Don't carry any more cash than you need for the day, keep it along with your passport and documents close to your body.
  • Keep your camera packed away when not in use. Consider using a reinforced bag strap and camera strap.
  • At restaurants, avoid hanging your bag over the back of a chair, keep it in sight and close. Similarly, don't leave your wallet or purse sitting on the table top which makes for an easy snatch and grab.

Distraction is a favored technique of petty criminals around the world. An elderly woman distracts you by spraying sauce or paint on your clothing, falling in front of you, or dropping change at your feet. Thieves then use a razor to cut bags open, swoop in and grab any loose luggage or simply snatch and run.

Beware of groups working in concert at tourist hotspots, crowded markets, bus depots and even in hotel lobbies.

Credit Card and Money Crime in Peru

Credit card fraud is widespread in Peru accoring to the US Bureau of Diplomatic Safety. Always keep your card in sight when making purchases. If the shop assistant is taking too long to give you a receipt, there's a good chance they are skimming your card. Keep an eye on suspicous transactions in your bank account while traveling and after you arrive home.

ATM fraud is also common throughout Peru so avoid withdrawing money at night or from dodgy looking parts of town. 

Counterfeit notes are becoming more widely circulated. If you need to exchange money, only use reputable places such as banks or foreign exchanges within hotels. Avoid exchanging money on the streets as the risk of receiving counterfeit money increases as does being robbed for your dollars. You may be also not given the exact amount of money exchanged due to slight of hand tricks by the money changer.

Express Kidnappings in Peru

Although far less common, there are a few overt thievery techniques to be mindful of as well.

"Express kidnappings" have become more frequent, as the frightening practice spreads across South America. Travellers are held against their will and forced to tour the city's ATMs, extracting as much cash as the thugs can squeeze out of your account.

In most cases the victim is released quickly after the withdrawal limit is reached although some have been held for several days until the account is well and truly emptied.

Having a separate travelling account you can top-up as needed means you won't be left penniless if this happens to you. It is also a good way to make sure card skimmers can't bankrupt you behind your back.

Muggings in Peru

The Sacsayhuaman ruins that overlook Cusco are notorious for muggings. The sunset and sunrise views may be beautiful but they're also prime time for banditos. If you do head up there, make sure you're in a group.

The Sacsayhuaman ruins, overlooking Cusco.

There have also been reports of "strangle muggings" in Cusco, Arequipa and Lima in which lone travellers are put in a choke hold from behind and relieved of their possessions while unconscious.

These, like regular muggings, tend to occur on dark, quiet areas when the victim is alone. For this reason wandering by yourself isn't a great idea, especially at night. Even if you're travelling with a group it's a good idea to take a taxi after sundown

Arrmed criminals have also been known to target foreigners while cruising in the Amazon region. Check with your cruise company or boat tour operator what their security arrangements are. Many have armed police onboard their vessels 24/7 for the safety of passengers and staff.

Local police and coast guards have also increased their presence along the rivers throughout the region including checkpoints and high speed boats in the event of an emergency.

Women's Safety in Peru

Female tourists can feel generally confident whilst in Peru, but should expect to draw a little attention, especially if travelling alone. Fortunately this attention often manifests itself as protective treatment from locals.

However sometimes you may get some unwanted advances or comments from smooth talking locals known as bricheros. These are usually abandoned as soon as you express your discomfort but if you feel unsafe, talk to a security guard or duck into a shop or restaurant. 

Despite this, there have been cases of female tourists being raped in the past few years. Women should be particularly careful to avoid isolated areas and should not get into cabs alone. Hitchhiking is also a bad idea.

Groping does happen on the cramped minibuses (combis). Should it unfortunately happen, let the driver or ticket seller know. There is also nothing wrong with causing a scene to embarass the offender in front of other passengers.

Be aware of the possibility of drink spiking as well. Hallucinogenic plants, generally part of traditional shamanic rituals, have been used render tourists senseless before a robbery or assault. Never leave your drink unattended and don't drink anything you didn't buy yourself, or at least see poured.

If travelling out of the city areas to more rural areas, dress more conservatively. Some female travelers also wear a ring on their hand to show they are married (whether they are really or not) to thwart any potential Peruvian casanovas.

Peru's Tourist Police

You won't have to look far to find a member of the Peruvian police force. Hopefully your only contact with them will be while travelling through borders and control points.

Most of the time you'll pass through without a problem, but there is a chance they'll want to check your luggage. These searches are rare but very thorough and can be frustratingly slow.

Despite this, always go out of your way to be polite and cooperative in these situations. The police are there to help you but some of Peru's law enforcement has a tendency to regard foreigners as either drug runners or political subversives, particularly near the cocaine-plagued Colombian border.

As a side note, possession of any drugs is considered a very serious offence in Peru, carrying lengthy jail sentences.

If you are the victim of a theft or assault, the Policia de Turismo (Tourism Police) should be your first port of call. Established specially to protect you and the lucrative tourism industry, they speak at least some English and are trained in handling all sorts of crimes against tourists.

The nearest POLTUR office will be able to provide case reports if something is stolen and will contact your embassy in the event of any more serious crimes.

Due to a string of false reporting of theft around tourist spots, you may be questioned quite sternly about your testimony. They may even search your hotel room. Don't be offended by this, they're just doing their job. Again, being polite and cooperative is the best way to speed up the process and get you back to your holiday.

If you have any complaints about a hotel, tour company, bus company or even customs agents, the Servicio de Proteccion al Turista, or INDECOPI, has a 24-hour hotline and staff who speak both English and Spanish.

Peruvian Rebels and Conflict

Despite constant reports and rumours about the danger of travelling overland in Peru, there is really very little to be worried about.

The country's two major rebel organisations, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and Tupac Amaro Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) have largely dissipated. There has been no major attack or activity in a tourist area since 2002 and what few rebels remain seem to be scattered in the country's remote north. Many government travel advisories have issued a "Do not travel" notice regarding areas near the Colombian border due to narcotics trafficking and occasional insurgent activity from across the border.

The US Bureau of Diplomatic Security reports that tourists hiking near Choquequirao ruins have been held up and robbed by armed bandits affliated with politically motivated groups.

Rarely, buses traversing these remote jungle areas may be stopped, but these seizures are more likely to result in some strangely generous "voluntary donations" than any hostage taking.

Although tourists have been injured in past incidents, neither group has focused on using foreigners or tourists to make political statements.

Nevertheless, roaming bandits and the pattern of armed holdups in the past indicate travelling overland by night is not your best option, especially in the north.

Aside from these infrequent violent attacks, some travellers have had their passports, wallets and other possessions pilfered while sleeping on the bus. It may be slightly uncomfortable, but try to keep your wallet and passport on you while you're snoozing.

Get a travel insurance quote for Peru

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

21 Comments

  • ART said

    Good article on Peru. I recently returned form a 2 week G-adventures tour and had a great time. My advice to anyone staying in Lima is to stay in Millaflores. The district feels very safe and there are lots of people walking out and about at all hours. There is also a police/security presence. I ventured to other areas of Lima by day in a guided tour and it felt perfecly safe and fine but I know the city can get dangerous at night. While driving through the Peruvian countryside, some of the small towns certainly felt abit dodgy and rundown. But overall in general it felt safe as long as you use common sense and take basic precautions.

  • Alejandro Sosa said

    Peru is not only dangerous for fireigners. Woman, particularly single mothers and Indigenious girls often become prey of rich man from the Northern countreis. One of the Indigenious girls I know, K. Miranda from Lima, has been repeaditly conntacted by a man twice her age calling himsemf Nedzad from Tesanj. The man send innapropriate, seductive messages, youvenille stickers and attempted to arrangee meeting in Peru. He even made promisses that he will help her immigrate. The family found out before it was too late but this man is probably now looking for an other naive young girl. Not sure how do we protect young people from this hidden danger. There should be a place to report this type of behaviour

  • Shawna said

    Peru is very dangerous for tourists. I was on a private tour organized by a very well-known agency and I had a very nasty experience in Cusco. Upon arrival at the Cusco airport, everyone found themselves locked in the airport as a major riot was going on. Cars were burning and people were yelling. Once the situation seemed better, the guide said that we would be escorted by the police to our hotel in our minibus. Once the gate was opened, we soon saw that there was no police. Towards the end of the road, we were literally attacked by locals. Our vehicle was swarmed by at least 20 men that started to shake our vehicle.One man had a large rock in his hand and began to hit the tires. They were yelling at us in Spanish to abandon the vehicle. The driver told us that he would lose his job if something would have happened to the minibus so we were taken to a side street and abandoned there with our suitcases. Another couple decided to walk to their hotel but we didn't as we feared for our safety. For some reason the police never showed up. My husband and I headed back to the airport and flew back to Lima. Many tourists were stranded for two full days in the mountains and local shops refused to open their doors to tourists so many were forced to walk long distances to get to the airport. Trains were not runnng as locals were blockng the tracks. We met a group of Brazilians that were abandoned on a train and therefore had to walk over 10km's to get back to Cusco.

  • richard said

    Comment 31. Section in Lima is Miraflores

  • Philip Jones said

    We were booked to go to Peru in 2 weeks but having read various safety / security advice warnings I am cancelling the trip.

    Peru needs to sort this out, they don't deserve tourists money and they won't now be getting mine.

    No more 3rd world countries for me thank you very much.

  • Anthony said

    I have been in Cusco and its surrounding areas for 4 days now and I feel the area is very safe for tourists. In Cusco there is always police presence and everyone I met were polite and helpful.
    In addition the recent flood has not affected this area at all.

    I got mugged at gun point in New York so there is danger everywhere. I always keep my guard up when traveling to unfamiliar places. A little research in advance on places to avoid and what to watch out for goes a long way to keep my traveling safe.

    Peru has a lot to offer and it's a great destination for travelers.

  • Anonymous said

    When goint to Nasca, AVOIS the Loki hotel! Just go to Google and have a look for "Wilberth Luis Cancho Meza ".

    Anyway, I swear you, Peru is a breathtaking country, full of emotions and good people.

  • Jacob said

    Honestly, Peru is a different level of dangerous than they say, it's not dangerous.

  • Jacob said

    Philip Jones, about the "no more third world countries for me", some developed countries are actually quite dangerous (like the USA) and some developing countries are very safe (like most of Asia and the Pacific Islands)

  • Kevin Casey said

    According to the 2017 Global peace Index, Peru is ranked 71 in global safety. The USA is way down at 114...

  • GORGE said

    PHILLIP Jones, you should think before you write, your comment was ignorant and disrespectful, you are not the centre of the universe, if you weren't such an idiot you would know that there is crime everywhere now, Peru unfortunately has a few percentage higher than countries like Australia for example, you can shove your "tourist money" up your behind and stay in you narcissistic bubble.

  • Nick Mollenkopf said

    HAHAHAH Bro Why did you get into the car if there was a riot I go to peru all the time and if there is a riot you either stay in the airport or find a store they arent trying to hurt you they are just gonna destroy things due to what is being protested once I was in truijo and there was a giant mob yelling and marching pushing police and all I did was walk into the market and I was fine the worst thing you can do is leave or just try not to stand out Shawna

  • Will wheaton said

    Peru isn’t dangerous at all. Well if your not a moron anyway. The US, as a whole, is more dangerous than Peru, as a whole. Obviously there are areas you want to avoid in any city. Also, I wouldn’t consider Peru “third world”. Yes Cusco is very old, but it’s quite modernized. Calling Lima third world is like calling New York City third world. That’s an ignorant statement, stay home.

  • S. Martin said

    My 15 year old daughter and I took the Haku Shanty Town Tour in June. We were led by Jimmy whom we'd toured with the preceding day (City Tour). We were the only ones on the tour, which should have been a red flag, but we trusted Jimmy and the driver. On the first tour with this group we were to told to leave our belongings in the van, which we did, but not on the Shanty Town tour (another red flag). We shopped at the market but then were taken to a remote location to 'see an overview' of the area. Sitting outside a very small shop with bars on the windows, two armed men approached us and robbed us of everything. EVERYTHING. It's funny but the shop owner sold us a couple of drinks then disappeared and did not return (another red flag). Our passports, money ($700), credit cards, jewelry that hadn't been transferred to the Marriott safe because we had only arrived 2 days earlier, Kindle, an expensive camera (don't carry one), medications, camera bag with accessories, handbag, and 2 cell phones were taken. It was quite tramautic, still is. The men had arrived by taxi which was still sitting there when we hurriedly departed. The license plate was turned over to the police but they seemed somewhat disinterested in the event. It was odd but Jimmy told me he had seen these men watching us in the market. What? Then why take us to a remote area?

    Thankfully, we had copies of our passports and credit cards in the hotel safe. This was almost certainly a setup by Jimmy and his 2 'friends'. We never saw him again although we took several comped tours with this company as we were essentially stuck in Lima for 12 days waiting for passports and credit cards.

    The owner of the company was a great help with getting new passports issued and stamped, taking us to various shops to replace items, free tours, retrieving the police report, and giving us some money to survive for a couple of days. The amount wouldn't have covered 3 nights at the Marriott but it was appreciated for food and sundry items.

    Needless to say, our trip was altered if not ruined. At the very least it was distressful and upsetting. We had planned a 9 day Amazon cruise that left 2 days later, without us, because we had no passports and couldn't take air transport. After receiving temporary passports, we were able to take another trip that we had booked to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. The trip was amazing.

    Although we met many wonderful people on the trip , we will never return to Lima. It is a dangerous city and the police were of absolutely no help in Shanty Town. I'd stick to the Historic Center, Miraflores and Barranco. Although we still would like to tour the Amazon, it'll likely be from another country.

    Although this has nothing to do with the robbery, my husband and my daughter's father died in March and this trip was supposed to bring us peace and solace.

  • Martin said

    Me and my girlfriend travelled Peru about a year and a half ago as part of a trip around the whole of South America.
    At no point did we feel unsafe and we didn't exactly play by the rules. In fact we've decided that, mainly thanks to the people of Peru, this is one country we would return to in a heartbeat!
    Only scary moments we remember is the ubiquitous **** street dogs and severe turbulence on a domestic flight to Iquitos. That was it!

  • Roz said

    Useful blog. I am travelling to Peru this summer with Kuoda travel as I am too afraid to travel to USA anymore. There are far too many guns and random shootings in USA... from rock concerts, to shopping malls, movie theatres, and schools. I won't go back any time soon. Would it be wise to take my old Samsung tablet vs. my new ipad? Should I forgo taking my go pro camera? Being from Canada and travelling mostly to Cuba (super super safe) I am not used to crime!

  • Patrick said

    I am from the United States and I will say this. I am a prior United States Marine. And Peru is extremely safe compared to the States. All you people trolling and saying comments about other countrys is really ignorant. There is problems in every country in the world today if you choose to find it. I don't care what country you go to if you don't have some common sense trouble will find you. You would not walk to South Chicago in the middle of the night or Eastern Moscow. So don't do stupid things in Peru you will be fine it's a very safe country.

  • Linda said

    As an Aussie, middle aged white female tourist, nearing 60 years of age.. I have backpacked around Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador several times independently over the past 20 years,. NEVER had any issues. Don't know where all these morons are going to get into so much trouble.
    I've been to remote villages, long overnight altiplano bus rides that have taken almost 24 hours.. often been the only "gringo" in the place. and found the Andean people generally to be very friendly ; if a little shy and restrained at first, a smile breaks down all barriers. Most just want to know where you've come from, not what you've got in your back pack that they can steal. Don't flash your cash, don't dress like a hiking add for Katmandu. You don't need those $300 walking shoes, unless you have serious feet issues, look at what the locals wear, cheap knock off runners, Do the same.. dress like the locals, this way you give them no reason to be jealous of you. Unless your hiking or climbing up Wyna Pichu or the Glaciers of northern Peru, do you really need those $400 "wank" " wank" hiking pants & super-down jacket? seriously.. All you do is make yourself a target for young guys who want your stuff because they'll never be able to afford one of your shoes, let alone the pair of them in the foreseeable future , and other tourist see you as a wanker asking to be robbed.
    You have to realise that Latin America is a few decades behind in gender equality so leave your feminist ideals at home, they'll just get you into trouble. If a man wolf whistles or shows you some attention, do as the locals do, wiggle your butt a bit more and smile graciously.! Don't start hurling abuse, it'll get you nowhere except insults.! ( possible even hurt their male ego and push them into something they feel they have to do to defend their male honour in front of their friends that might actually be dangerous )
    USE your common sense if you've got any.. Don't do things you wouldn't do at home. if something doesn't "feel" right then it most probably isn't. don't be polite. be safe.
    Humour instead of anger will get you a lot further. LEARN some basic Spanish, for gods sake you're in a foreign country, don't expect them to speak your lingo, you have to speak theirs.
    If you don't walk around dark alleys and bars at home at 2am in the morning then don't do it whilst on holidays. Are you nuts? Are you just asking for trouble? Do as the locals do.
    if there are no locals out at night, or on the streets, then why should you be ?
    If some one does attack you, in the highly unlikely chance..Peruvians don't carry guns like people in the USA, they might have a knife, or a belt that they use like a whip, but they aren't gonna kill you for you to bring attention and an international incident down on themselves, with foreign police and embassies breathing down the local cops necks to hang them for a crime that you possible invited them to do by your very ignorance.
    Cant believe most of the dribble written here, Stay home, don't come to Peru. they don't need people like you there anyway.!

  • adam smith said

    While this is a good article, the line about it being about as safe as any other large city in the world is a complete lie. I'm in NYC on almost a weekly basis driving for Uber. Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, never Staten Island for some reason, but I've never once had to follow any of those rules there. Or in Boston, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or even my home town of New Haven, CT, one of the most dangerous cities in America. Lima sounds like the South side of Chicago multiplied by a factor of ten. My wife is from Mira Flores. She tells me all the time how much violence there is. For example, her mother had a friend who withdrew a large sum of cash at the bank. She was robbed in her taxi, shot three times in the stomach and later died. Police there are corrupt so no investigation took place and no one went to jail. She keeps trying to get me to go visit and I'm like, "Really? No, I like my vacations to be fun and care-free, I don't want to have to focus on staying alive".

  • JoeG said

    Jacob, yes there are also dangerous areas in the US, a "first world" nation, but these are areas populated by 3rd world people. Blacks in the US are 3rd world people, regardless of how long they've been in the US. Most of the violent crime in the US is committed by 3rd world peoples - black and brown people.

  • eric said

    JoeG, you literally made one of the most ignorant and racist statements I've ever seen on the internet....You ate everything that is wrong in the world....LET ME REPEAT.....You are the problem....Hope you meet a fate deserving of someone as completely ignorant as you...

Add a Comment