Many people – especially women of course – wonder if it is save to travel alone as a female solo backpacker in South America. Unfortunately, some Latin American countries do not have a great reputation (Colombia, Mexico). There are horror stories to be found on the internet like “express kidnappings”, “armed robberies”or “carjackings” which you can stumble upon on the internet searching for “South America and safety“. Is it safe to travel in Latin America and in Peru as a female solo backpacker? How to be safe while travelling in Peru? Read our tips on travel in Peru as a female solo backpacker.
Peru is a popular tourist destination, and many backpackers and tourist of all kinds make trips to Peru. But is it a safe country to visit? What do you need to look out for? What precautions do you need to take in Peru – especially as a female traveler? Especially for you and based in the experienced of our female travelers, we wrote this Advice on travel in Peru as a female solo backpacker.
Top #10 safety tips for Peru
1) Do not display expensive objects and keep it low profile.
Pickpockets are a serious concern in Peru. You do not want to attract attention displaying your valuables in public. Conceal your wealth. In some areas of Peru – especially in Lima but also in crowed places in Cusco or Arequipa – you may better want to leave your expensive camera in the hostel. The same goes for places like (local) festivals, like e.g. Inti Raymi in Cusco. The local people in Cusco know that during this kind of festivities, groups of ‘rateros’ travel to Cusco to do ‘business’.
2) Learn Spanish and know about the local customs.
This is probably one of the most important advice. I started my trip doing an intensive Spanish language course in Cusco which was so worthwhile. Taking taxis, negotiating prices, asking for the way, buying or ordering food – it all becomes so much easier. And sometimes you may just want to be able to yell: „¡Señor circule más despacio por favor!“ to one of the many reckless drivers. Also you may want to be prepared to be frequently approached by local men with „guapa“ or „bonita“. Just take it as a compliment, do not pay special attention and walk on. In general one could say that you look less vulnerable, when you speak (at leaste some) Spanish.
4) Take care when hailing taxis in the streets – better call an Uber* or call a taxi
“When half a year ago, I for the first time put my feet on the South American continent in Lima Jorge Chavez Airport, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was excited about all the new places, different cultures, landscapes and people that I would discover and meet. On the other hand, not knowing any Spanish and only having had previous experience traveling solo in Japan, I wondered if I was sufficiently prepared for my 5-months backpacking journey. Would I be safe travelling in Peru? However, being a rather cautious person who is not quick to generalize single negative narratives of fellow travelers and used to listen to my own gut, I intuitively felt that I was going to be alright. And it proofed to be true.I had an amazing time, met wonderful people and nothing bad happened during my trip in Peru. (Karin, USA, 34 years old)
Express kidnappings when taking taxis may occur in some cities. This involves whisking passengers to far-off neighborhoods and holding them there while their ATM accounts are emptied. There fore it’s better to use ‘official taxi’s’ (the ones with a phone number that belong to a company), and always track the taxi ride using for instance apps like maps.me to check that the driver actually heads into the right direction. In a big cit like Lima, this will also help you to keep the costs down. (*Uber is not active all over Peru.)
5) When you arrive at a new place ask at the reception of your hostel about places that you should avoid or maybe are unsafe for you.
Normally the hostel staff will tell you right away which areas of the city you better want to avoid and they are happy to help you.
6) Do not walk home alone at night
I think this properly goes along for itself. However, especially in a small city like Cusco where many travelers stay I hostals in or nearby the city center, many backpackers prefer to walk to their hostal in order to safe a few soles (tips about Money in Peru). As long as you are in a group, you might be fine, otherwise you make yourself an easy target walking alone in abandoned and obscure places. (tips about Nightlife in Peru).
Money Tips for Peru
7) Join organized groups or head out with your fellow travels. Teamup!
“I remember one day arriving late at my hostel in Arequipa, feeling hungry. Hence, after the check-in, I headed out to find a restaurant. While walking up a nearby street, a feeling of unease started to grow on me making me walk slower, stopping and finally turning around. I realized the hostal was not in a great neighborhood and I didn’t feel safe. The next day, a girl of my hostel told me that in the exact same street at day time two guys threatened a friend of her with a knife to rob her off her valuables and the camera she was carrying around her neck. I was so happy I followed my instinct and turned around. (Anne Christine, Switzerland, 27)
Of course it is much safer and sometimes also more fun to visit certain places* and do hikes (e.g. Hikes to Machu Picchu) with a group of people. Having another pair of eyes watching over your belongings while you simply may want to go to the toilet can be so much easier. Also just walking around in the city not on your own but with travel mates will reduce unwanted attention drastically. 🙂
* Note: the Sacsayhuaman ruins in Cusco were notorious for muggings at some point. If you plan on visiting them during sunset or sunrise because of the gorgeous view they offer, please don’t go alone and remember that this is when the local banditos might be active. Always make sure you’re in a group when visiting these ruins and it is better to go during the day.
*Note: Machu Picchu is safe. Since is is Peru’s mayor tourist attractions, things are well organized and pickpocktes cannot just enter the citadel.
8) Be careful in crowded places or public transport in Peru
Make sure that your wallet is not easily accessible or use a money belt and stuck it into your jeans. Also grabbing maybe an issue. You may better want to spend more money on safe and comfortable transportation for long distance travels. Remember not to put your bag with valuables in the overhead compartment of buses. Better store it in between your feet.
9) If someone tries to stop you in the streets by asking for the time and you feel uncomfortable about it, do not stop and walk on.
This an important piece of advice and you should’t feel bad about just walking on, if this makes you feel safer. Unfortunately, these kind of situations have been used a lot to distract tourists. Also be aware of tricks and scams like substances being thrown upon you, followed by the appearance of a helping hand. One of the main tactic of pickpockets is making up ways to distract tourists, like an old woman asking for help, falling in front of you, or dropping something in front of your feet. Then someone else cuts your bag open with a razor, or simply swoop and grab your entire bag and you’re left penniless.
Important Phone Numbers in case of emergency in Peru
Of course you can call your embassy if you need help with your passport or have to get back home right away.
10) Always listen to your stomach and to your intuition.
Think twice before getting intimate with local people or fellow travellers, trust your gut and do watch your drinks in Peruvian bars. Be aware of the possibility of so called drink spiking. Hallucinogenic plants have been used render tourists senseless before a robbery or assault. Do not never leave your drink unattended and you better do not accept drinks you didn’t buy yourself, or at least see poured.
Bonus safety tips:
- When traveling by bus in Peru, choose a reputable bus operator – Sometimes the cheapest option isn’t the best one. Some of the cheap bus companies have the most reckless drivers and lots of breakdowns. Peru has some of the world’s worst traffic accident rates, so it pays off paying a bit more for bus ticket. Some of the better bus operators include Cruz del Sur, Oltursa, Civa, and Movil Tours.
- Make copies of your important documents, including your passport, identity card, insurance card. Keep electronic copies as well and store them on your phone and laptop, or upload them to a secure cloud server. If you have expensive valuables, take photos of those too; this will help prove you owned the item in case you need to make an insurance claim.
Last but not least, always use your common sense and you will be fine and ready to enjoy your beautiful trip in Peru. Peru is one of Latin America’s most popular travel destinations and it truly is an amazing country. With some preparation and taking preccautions while traveling in Peru, you will enjoy all of it. You’ll meet great people and enjoy the nature, the culture, the food, and all of it and have a safe and wonderful adventure in Peru
Safe and happy travels :-)!