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SafetyTravel Safety: Americas: Peru

Peru:Republic of Peru
Capital: Lima
Population: 27,949,639
Currency: nuevo sol (PEN)
Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara
Religions: Roman Catholic 90%
Borders: Bolivia 900 km, Brazil 1,560 km, Chile 160 km, Colombia 1,496 km (est.), Ecuador 1,420 km

Peru is a developing country with an expanding tourism sector. A wide variety of tourist facilities and services are available, with quality varying according to price and location.

Activities of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) terrorist group have been generally restricted to certain parts of the interior of Peru, and its capabilities have been greatly diminished due to the many arrests of senior leaders. However, Shining Path is still capable of terrorist actions in urban areas, and it was re-designated by the Secretary of State in 2003 as a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" under 1996 anti-terrorism legislation. The Shining Path has targeted U.S. interests in the past, and there are indications that terrorist organizations such as the Shining Path are continuing to plan actions directed against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Peru. Sporadic, isolated incidents of Shining Path violence have occurred from 2000 to the present in rural provinces of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Junin, and San Martin. These have included kidnappings and attacks by large, heavily-armed groups believed to be members of Shining Path on Peruvian and foreign pipeline workers in a remote area of the Department of Ayacucho, as well as acts of urban terrorism that have caused fatalities. However, the most common incidents were roadblocks and armed confrontations between Shining Path columns and Peruvian army or police patrols in remote areas. None of these incidents occurred in areas normally visited by tourists. Mining prospectors, adventure travelers and others considering travel to remote areas of Peru, in particular, are strongly advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Lima for current security information.

A peace treaty ending the Peru/Ecuador border conflict was signed on October 26, 1998. The Peruvian Government is working to remove mines and unexploded ordnance left over from the conflict, but crossing or approaching the Peru-Ecuador border anywhere except at official checkpoints can still be dangerous. The entire Peru/Colombia border area is very dangerous because of narcotics trafficking and the occasional incursions of armed guerrilla forces from Colombia into Peru's remote areas.

Political demonstrations and labor-related strikes and marches regularly occur in urban and some rural areas and sometimes affect major highways. They can also cause serious disruptions to road, air and rail transportation. Demonstrations are usually announced in advance. While these activities are usually peaceful, they can escalate into violent confrontations. As a general rule, it is best to avoid large crowds and demonstrations. Visitors are encouraged to keep informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides.

While the great majority of the approximately 200,000 Americans who visit Peru each year have very positive experiences, a small but growing number 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, including carjacking, assault, and armed robbery, is common in Lima. Resistance to violent crime 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. 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 common on main roads leading to 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. Passengers who hail taxis on the street have been assaulted. Following the May 2003 armed robbery of a U.S. Embassy employee by a taxi driver, the Embassy's Regional Security Officer advised all embassy personnel not to hail taxis on the street. It is safer to use telephone-dispatched radio taxis or car services associated with major hotels. Travelers should guard against the theft of luggage and other belongings, particularly U.S. passports, at the Lima airport.

In downtown Lima and suburban areas frequented by tourists, the risk of street crime is high. American citizens traveling alone or in unescorted groups are more vulnerable to street crime. There is an increased level of criminal activity in Barranco, a popular Lima neighborhood. Visitors should avoid carrying unnecessary credit cards or ATM cards, and keep cash and ID in their front pockets.

Street crime is also prevalent in cities in Peru's interior, including Cusco, Arequipa, Puno and Juliaca, and pickpocketers frequent the market areas in these cities. In Cusco, "chokehold" or "strangle" muggings are common, particularly on streets leading off the main square, in the area around the train station, and in the San Blas neighborhood. In 2002 and 2003, there were a number of cases of armed robberies, rapes, other sexual assaults and attempted rapes of U.S. citizens and other foreign tourists in Cusco city and the outlying areas in the vicinity of various Incan ruins. These assaults have occurred during both daylight hours and at night. Some crimes in the city of Cusco have involved the drivers of rogue (or unregistered) taxis. Travelers should use only licensed, registered taxis such as those available from taxi stands in Cusco displaying 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. A U.S. citizen tourist died in Cusco under unexplained circumstances in November 2000, after taking a street-hailed taxi at night. Tourists should be particularly cautious when visiting the Sacsahuayman ruins and the surrounding areas. They should not travel alone, but do so in as large a group as possible. Visitors should also avoid these areas at dawn, dusk or night, since roving gangs are known to frequent these areas and prey on unsuspecting tourists. U.S. citizen backpackers have also been victims of armed robbery while hiking on trails other than the Inca Trail. A pattern emerging among U.S. citizen and other foreign visitors who are victims of crime in Cusco and its environs reveals that thieves are targeting young tourists who stay in inexpensive accommodations, carry backpacks, and travel alone or in pairs in isolated areas, rather than in large groups.

Peruvian law enforcement authorities have responded to rising crime by increasing the number of tourist police officers patrolling Cusco and its outskirts on horseback and motorcycles. The officers have been dispatched to bus and train terminals, taxi stands, automatic teller machine locations, and other sites frequented by tourists, such as discoteques, restaurants, and craft fairs and shops.

Pick pocketing and thefts of luggage and passports from locked hotel rooms, rental cars and restaurants have been reported by U.S. citizen travelers to Arequipa, another popular tourist destination. In April 2003, two young foreign tourists, one a minor, were raped in the jungle in Ucayali province, and a U.S. citizen teenage visitor was raped there in 2001. Two U.S. Embassy employees were robbed at gunpoint in 2002 while on a walking trail between Huaraz and Monterrey, a popular area for trekking and mountain climbing. Two other armed robberies of tourists have subsequently occurred in that vicinity. In 2002, a young American citizen trekker was shot and killed during a robbery while he and a Peruvian companion who strayed from the trekking trail were camped in a remote area outside of Huaraz.

U.S. citizen visitors to Peru should immediately report any criminal activity perpetrated against them to the nearest police station or tourist police ("POLTUR") office. Immediate action may result in the capture of the thieves and the recovery of stolen property. U.S. citizens should also report crimes to the U.S. Embassy in Lima (telephones 434-3000 during business hours, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or 434-3032 for after-hours emergencies if calling from within Lima; add the prefix 01 if calling from the provinces). Victims of crime in Cusco should contact the Consular Agent there (while in Cusco, telephones 84-9-62-1369, 84-22-4112, 23-1474, or 23-3541; from Lima, callers must dial the prefix 084 for Cusco). The telephone number for POLTUR in Lima is 225-8698 or 225-8699; the fax number is 476-7708. There are also tourist police offices in 15 other cities, including all major tourist destinations, such as Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno. Tourists may register complaints on a 24-hour hotline provided by INDECOPI (National Institute for the Defense of Competition and the Protection of Intellectual Property) by calling 224-7888 or 224-8600 while in Lima. Outside of Lima, callers should dial the prefix (01), then the aforementioned numbers, or call the toll-free number 0-800-42579 from any private telephone (the 800 number is not available from public payphones). The INDECOPI hotline will assist the caller in contacting the police to report a crime, but it is intended primarily to deal with non-emergency situations such as poor service from a travel agency or guide, lost property, or unfair charges.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Peruvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Peru are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Peruvian police are efficient at detecting drug smugglers at Lima's international airport and at land border crossings. Since 1995, scores of U.S. citizens have been convicted of narcotics trafficking in Peru. Many of these U.S. citizens were recruited in the United States by drug traffickers who offered free trips to Peru and the chance to earn quick cash. Anyone arrested on drug charges, regardless of nationality, will face protracted pre-trial detention in poor prison conditions. Further information on prison conditions and the judicial system is available in the Department of State's Human Rights Report on Peru, available via the Internet at

Travelers should be aware that some drugs and other products readily available over-the-counter or by prescription in Peru are illegal in the United States. The prescription sedative flumitrapezan, trade name rohypnol, is one such drug; others may come on the market at any time. Although coca-leaf tea is a popular beverage and folk remedy for altitude sickness in Peru, possession of these tea bags, which are sold in most Peruvian supermarkets, is illegal in the United States.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16 .

Medical care is generally good in Lima and usually adequate in other major cities, but it is less so elsewhere in Peru. Urban private health care facilities are often better staffed and equipped than public or rural ones. Public hospital facilities in Cusco, the prime tourist destination, are generally inadequate to handle serious medical conditions. Although some private hospital facilities in Cusco may be able to treat acute medical problems, in general the seriously ill traveler should return to Lima for further care as soon as is medically feasible.

Visitors to high-altitude Andean destinations such as Cusco (11,000 feet), Machu Picchu (8,000 feet), or Lake Titicaca (13,000 feet) should discuss the trip with their personal physician prior to departing the United States. Travel to high altitudes could pose a serious risk of illness, hospitalization, and even death, particularly if the traveler has a medical condition that affects blood circulation or breathing. Several U.S. citizens have died in Peru from medical conditions exacerbated by the high altitude. Tourists or business visitors, especially but not restricted to those who suffer from cardiac-related problems or high blood pressure, and who wish to travel to high-altitude areas in Peru should undergo a medical examination before traveling. All people, even healthy and fit persons, will feel symptoms of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) upon arrival at high-altitude. Most people will have increased respiration and increased heart rate. Many people will have headaches, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, minor gastric and intestinal upsets, and mood changes. Most people may need time to adjust to the altitude. To help prevent these complications, consider taking acetazolamide (Diamox) after consulting your personal physician, avoid alcohol and smoking for at least one week after arrival at high altitudes, and limit physical activity for the first 36 to 48 hours after arrival at high altitudes.

In jungle areas east of the Andes mountain range (cordillera), chloroquine-resistant malaria is a serious problem. Cholera, yellow fever, hepatitis, dengue fever and other exotic and contagious diseases are also present. Yellow fever is endemic in certain areas of Peru; in general, those areas are located on the eastern side of the cordillera and at lower elevations in jungle areas. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Peruvian government recommend that travelers to Peru receive a yellow fever vaccination and carry documentation of the vaccination with them on their trip. Diarrhea caused by contaminated food or water may affect travelers, and it is potentially serious. If it persists, please seek medical attention. Local tap water in Peru is not considered potable. Only bottled water or treated (disinfected) water should be used for drinking. Fruits and vegetables should be washed with care, and meats and fish should be thoroughly cooked. Eggs, meat, unpasteurized cheese, and seafood are common sources of the bacteria that can cause travelers' diarrhea, and they should be properly prepared or avoided.

Over the last two and one-half years, four U.S. citizen visitors have died during cosmetic surgery operations in Lima and another major city. The most recent death of this nature occurred in March 2003. All four patients were undergoing liposuction procedures.

Inca Trail hikers are significantly safer if they are part of a guided group trail hike. To protect natural resources along the Inca Trail, the Peruvian Government raised the fees for hiking the trail in 2001 and instituted limits on the numbers of hikers permitted on the trail. Hikers in peak season (June-August) are advised to make reservations for the Inca Trail in advance via a travel agency. Visitors should always register when entering national parks. Hikers should exercise extreme caution in steep or slippery areas, which are neither fenced nor marked. Several climbers have died or suffered serious injuries after falling while climbing Huayna Picchu, a peak near Machu Picchu. Only very basic medical assistance is available at Machu Picchu.

Adventure travelers should be aware that rescue capabilities are limited. In recent years, several hikers have died, and others have had to be rescued after serious accidents in the Huaraz region of the Cordillera Blanca Mountains, where Peru's highest peaks are located. Three experienced U.S. citizen mountain climbers perished in an avalanche on Huascaran Mountain in 2002. Most rescues are carried out on foot because helicopters cannot fly to the high-altitude areas where hikers are stranded. U.S. citizens who plan to visit these mountainous areas in Ancash province should contact the Peruvian National Police's High Mountain Rescue Unit ("USAM") at telephone 51-44-793327, 793291, or 793333, fax phone 51-44-793292, or E-mail: Some USAM officers read and/or speak English.

Swimmers, rafters and boaters should be aware of strong currents in the Pacific Ocean and fast-moving rivers. An American citizen was killed while white-water rafting in 2002. Travelers are advised to seek advice from local residents before swimming in jungle lakes or rivers, where large reptiles or other dangerous creatures may live; caymans, resembling alligators, are found in jungle areas of Peru. One crocodile species is native to the Tumbes area, but it is limited in numbers and range. All adventure travelers should leave detailed written plans and a timetable with a friend and with local authorities in the region, and they should carry waterproof identification and emergency contact information.

Travelers to all remote areas should check with local authorities about geographic, climatic and security conditions.

Peru is an earthquake-prone country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Peru is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Road travel at night is extremely dangerous due to poor road markings and frequent unmarked road hazards. Drivers should not travel alone on rural roads, even in daylight. Convoy travel is preferable. Spare tires, parts and fuel are needed when traveling in remote areas, where distances between service areas are great. Fog is common on coastal and mountain highways, and the resulting poor visibility frequently causes accidents. Inter-city bus travel is dangerous. In 2001, several inter-city buses were held up at night by armed robbers, who forced passengers off buses and stole all their belongings. Bus accidents resulting in multiple deaths and injuries are common, and they are frequently attributed to excessive speed, poor bus maintenance, and driver fatigue. Several foreigners, including four U.S. citizens, were killed or seriously injured in bus accidents in 1999-2003. For further information, travelers may contact their nearest automobile club, or (for information in Spanish) the Associacion Automotriz del Peru, 299 Avenida Dos de Mayo, San Isidro, Lima 27, Peru, telephone 51-1-440-0495.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Peru's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Peru's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at Because of reliability issues and operational concerns, the U.S. Embassy in Lima prohibited the use of one Peruvian carrier, Aero Continente, by employees of the U.S. government traveling on official business, unless they received special permission.

At present, a separate prohibition applies to all transactions with Aero Continente by U.S. persons.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

September 13, 2004

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