Is Peru a safe place to visit?
Approximately 350,000 trips are made by U.S. citizens through Peru each year. A small but growing number of U.S. travelers have been victims of serious crimes. The information below is intended to raise awareness of the potential for crime and suggest measures visitors can take to avoid becoming a victim.
Violent Crime: Violent crime, including carjacking, assault, sexual assault, and armed robbery is common in Lima and other large cities. The Embassy is aware of reports of women being sexually assaulted in their place of lodging, or after their drinks were drugged while visiting bars or nightclubs. Women travelling alone should be especially careful to avoid situations in which they are vulnerable due to impaired judgment or isolation. Resistance to attempted robberies often provokes greater violence, while victims who do not resist usually do not suffer serious physical harm. "Express kidnappings," in which criminals kidnap victims and seek to obtain funds from their bank accounts via automatic teller machines, occur frequently.
In the recent past, there have been a number of cases of armed robbery, rape, other sexual assault, and attempted rape of U.S. citizens and other foreign tourists in Arequipa and in Cuscocity, as well as in the outlying areas in the vicinity of various Incan ruins. These assaults have occurred both during daylight hours and at night.
Taxis and Road Crime: Passengers who hail taxis on the street have been assaulted and robbed. Street taxis are not well regulated and are often used as a front by criminals to rob unsuspecting victims. The Embassy’s Regional Security Officer recommends that all Embassy personnel use telephone-dispatched radio taxis or car services associated with major hotels and not hail taxis on the street.
In the city of Arequipa, express kidnappings have become such a problem that all U.S. government personnel are prohibited from hailing taxis off the street. U.S. government personnel there must utilize cabs from well-established dispatch taxi companies. The Embassy’s Regional Security Officer recommends that all U.S. citizens visiting Arequipa also use dispatch taxi companies.
Some crimes in the city of Cuscoand in Arequipa have involved the drivers of rogue (or unregistered) taxis. Travelers should use only licensed, registered taxis such as those available from taxi stands in Cuscodisplaying a blue decal issued by the municipal government on the windshield of the vehicle. Visitors should not accept offers of transportation or guide services from individuals seeking clients on the streets. In recent years there have been several reports of U.S. citizens falling victim to so-called “express kidnappings” in Arequipa after taking taxis hailed on the street. On occasion, the victim was bound, beaten, and held for over 24 hours as the assailants attempted to empty cash from bank accounts with the victim’s stolen ATM card.
Theft: Travelers should guard against the theft of luggage and other belongings, particularly U.S. passports, at the Lima airport. Passengers arriving at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport should be cautious in making arrangements for ground transportation. Upon exiting the airport, travelers may be approached by persons seeming to know them, or who claim that a pre-arranged taxi has been sent to take them to their hotel. Some travelers have been charged exorbitant rates or been taken to marginal hotels in unsafe parts of town. Travelers who are not being met by a known party or by a reputable travel agent or hotel shuttle are advised to arrange for a taxi inside the airport. At least two taxi companies maintain counters inside the international arrival area (between immigration clearance and baggage claim). An additional two companies have agents at the information kiosk just before the exit from the passenger arrival area.
Travelers should not leave any valuables in sight or unattended in parked vehicles as these become inviting targets for thieves. Visitors should also ensure they secure purses and other personal belongings when in cafés and restaurants as street criminals are adept at surreptitiously removing items of value from purses or clothing slung over chairs.
Street Crime: Thieves often smash car windows at traffic lights to grab jewelry, purses, backpacks, or other visible items from a car. This type of assault is very common on main roads leading to and from Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport, specifically along De la Marina and Faucett Avenues and Via de Evitamiento, but it can occur anywhere in congested traffic, particularly in downtown Lima. Travelers are encouraged to put all belongings, including purses, in the trunk of a car or taxi.
The threat of street crime is greatest in areas that attract large crowds, particularly crowds of tourists or wealthy Peruvians. A crowd allows a thief (or thieves, since petty thieves often operate in a group) the opportunity to select and approach the potential victim without attracting attention. Visitors should be especially careful when visiting tourist areas in Lima such as the Plaza de Armas (Government Square), the Plaza San Martin, Acho Bullring, Pachacamac, and any location in downtown Lima. Additionally, visitors to municipal markets as well as the Gamarra textile district of La Victoria should be extremely cautious. Street crime is also prevalent in cities in Peru's interior, including Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, and Juliaca. U.S. citizens traveling alone or in unescorted groups are more vulnerable to street crime.
Visitors are advised to keep cash and identification in their front pockets and to limit their cash on hand and unnecessary credit cards. Replacing items such as credit cards, U.S. driver’s licenses, and other identification while in Peru can be difficult and time-consuming. Handbags should not be carried, but if they are, they should be tucked into the crook of an arm or, if carrying a bag with a shoulder strap, do not allow the bag to hang freely, but keep a hand over the clasp. It is generally recommended that all jewelry be removed prior to going to a market or other crowded areas.
Visitors are advised not to carry their U.S. passports if they are not needed. If the police request identification, a copy of the passport is acceptable. A copy of the data page, the page with the Peruvian visa, and a copy of the page with the Peruvian entry stamp should be carried.
Tourists should be particularly cautious when visiting the Sacsayhuaman ruins outside Cusco. They should not travel alone, but ratherin as large a group as possible. Visitors should also avoid these areas at dawn, dusk, or nighttime, since roving gangs are known to frequent these areas and prey on unsuspecting tourists. There have also been reports of tourists hiking near the ruins of Choquequirao being robbed by armed men who may be affiliated with politically motivated terrorist groups. U.S. citizen backpackers have also been victims of armed robbery while hiking on trails other than the Inca Trail.
Crime also occurs on roads, particularly at night and outside urban areas. Clandestine, impromptu roadblocks can appear on even major highways, where bus and automobile passengers are robbed. The risk is even greater on rural roads after dark. In addition, numerous U.S. citizens have reported the theft of passports, cameras, and other valuables on overnight bus rides, by thieves who take advantage of sleeping passengers or their stowed luggage in the cargo area underneath when opened during scheduled stops for passengers to disembark or enter the bus.
Fraud: Counterfeit U.S. currency is a growing and serious problem in Peru. In many areas of Lima, moneychangers openly change money on the street. These individuals should be avoided as they are a conduit for counterfeit currency, and in many cases, work togetherwith pickpockets by pointing out potential victims. In addition, these individuals have frequently been the victims of violent robberies in which bystanders have been injured. There have also been several reported incidents of counterfeit currency being paid out as winnings by casinos, though the Embassy has not received reports of this happening at larger, well-known casinos.
Incidents of credit card fraud are on the rise, particularly the electronic “skimming” of credit card data. Travelers should keep their credit cards within their sight while making transactions.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may also be breaking local law.
One increasingly common extortion technique is known as the “grandparent scam.” It involves calls placed by persons alleging to be attorneys, local law enforcement or U.S. government employees claiming that a person’s relative—nearly always a grandchild—has been in a car accident (or other ruse) in Peru and has been arrested/detained. Often the caller will put another person on the line purporting to be the grandchild, who claims he doesn’t sound like himself because he has a cold or has been crying. The caller asks for a large sum of money to be sent by Western Union to ensure the subject’s release and admonishes the relative not to speak to any other family members. If you receive a call like this, BEFORE YOU SEND ANY MONEY, contact family members to confirm the actual whereabouts of the supposedly detained grandchild. If it turns out he or she might actually have traveled to Peru, contact the State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 or the U.S. Embassy in Lima for assistance.