10 things to know before you travel to Peru

Learn about safety precautions, how to dress for the Peruvian climate, and foods to try.

Know before you go

If you're thinking of heading to Peru, planning ahead with these top 10 things to know will help you get the most out of your holiday.

Need to print this information or view it easily on your tablet or phone while on the go? Download the CHOICE Peru travel guide PDF.

1. Top safety tips

Be very careful when you're travelling to Peru as the country has a high level of serious crime. These tips should help keep you safe.

  • Don't drink the tap water – boil the water or drink bottled instead. You should also avoid ice.
  • Violent crimes such as muggings, carjackings, sexual assaults and armed robberies are common in Peru, especially in Lima, Cusco and Arequipa. Avoid walking alone after dark, be aware of your surroundings and try not to carry valuable items with you when you're out and about. This includes keeping a minimal amount of cash on you.
  • Exchange money in banks, your hotel or in currency exchange bureaus rather than through street spruikers to avoid being robbed or given counterfeit money.
  • Food and drink spiking can occur in Peru, so don't accept items offered to you by strangers or leave anything you plan to eat or drink unattended.
  • Petty crimes such as pickpocketing and bag snatching are also common, particularly in crowded areas such as hotels, restaurants and bars. Keep your belongings close at all times and don't leave anything unattended. Be cautious before and after using an ATM.
  • Thieves target baggage placed in overhead racks or under seats on buses and trains, particularly on the Lima, Ica, Nazca and Cusco routes. Keep your possessions close and avoid falling asleep or getting distracted.
  • So-called express kidnappings, where you might be forced to take money out of an ATM by a crook, have been known to happen in Peru.
  • Unlicensed taxis can be dangerous. Stick to official taxi counters at airports and ask your hotel or restaurant to help you book registered taxis.
  • If you hire a car, make sure you store any bags or valuables out of sight, keep the doors locked and windows closed. In Lima near Jorge Chávez International Airport, the intersection on Avenida de la Marina and Avenida Elmer Faucett is a notorious spot for muggings, with criminals known to smash windows and steal stuff from passengers' laps and off back seats. 
  • Avoid travelling by car outside of major cities after dark, as criminals are known to set up fake roadblocks or checkpoints.
  • If you're on a cruise ship in the Amazon region, be aware that armed criminals have been known to assault and rob travellers. You should ask your tour provider what precautions they take to avoid such incidents before booking a trip.
  • Be wary of ayahuasca tourism, in which shamans give travellers a psychedelic brew they claim has medicinal properties. While it isn't against the law, there are security risks involved, as some tourists have reported being assaulted or robbed while under the influence of the brew.

2. Areas of Peru to avoid

Travellers should avoid some parts of Peru altogether due to the risk of serious unrest or violence. Here's where you shouldn't go.

  • Don't travel within 20km of the Colombian border, as you may run into drug traffickers and armed guerrilla forces.
  • Avoid going within 20km of the Ecuadorian border in the regions of Loreto, Amazonas (Cordillera del Cóndor) and Cajamarca. These areas may still contain hidden landmines. Cross the border into Ecuador at official checkpoints only. You can read more in CHOICE's Travelling to Peru guide.
  • There may still be terrorists from the Shining Path group in isolated areas in the Southern Highlands such as San Martin, Huánuco, Pasco, Junín, Ucayali, Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Apurimac. Avoid these areas if you can, and be vigilant if you intend to visit.

3. Which vaccinations do you need in Peru?

Here are the vaccinations and medications you may need before travelling to Peru.

  • Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations are advised for all travellers as these diseases are spread through contaminated food and water, regardless of where you are staying.
  • If you intend to get a tattoo or piercing, have sex with a new partner, or you may require medical procedures, you should consider getting a hepatitis B vaccination. Hepatitis B is spread through sexual contact, contaminated needles and blood products.
  • Travellers who are likely to participate in outdoor adventure activities such as caving, working with animals or travelling to remote areas in Peru should get a rabies vaccine.
  • Consider taking malaria preventative medication, especially if you're planning on spending a lot of time outdoors or will be sleeping outside. You should also take steps to protect yourself from insect bites.

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a mosquito-transmitted viral disease that can cause serious illness and death. To get the jab, you'll need to go to an approved yellow fever vaccination clinic, which will be able to provide you with a special certificate in a form approved by the World Health Organization. You'll be protected after 10 days from the day you get the jab, and it'll last for life. 

  • You can find a list of yellow fever vaccination clinics on the Australian Department of Health website.
  • You'll need a yellow fever vaccination if you're travelling to the following areas at elevations below 2300m: the regions of Amazonas, Loreto, Madre de Dios, San Martin, Ucayali, Puno, Cusco, Junín, Pasco, and Huánuco, and certain areas of the far north of Apurimac, far northern Huancavelica, far north-eastern Ancash, eastern La Libertad, northern and eastern Cajamarca, northern and north-eastern Ayacucho, and eastern Piura. 
  • You won't need a yellow fever vaccination if you stick to these areas west of the Andes: the regions of Lambayeque and Tumbes, specific parts of western Piura, and south, west, and central Cajamarca. You'll also be ok if you stay in areas above 2300m elevation, including the city of Cusco, Lima, Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail.
  • If you have visited Peru within six days of returning to Australia, customs will ask you to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate when you come home. If you don't have one, you'll still be allowed to enter the country.

Zika virus

Lower altitude areas of Peru are currently experiencing an outbreak of the Zika virus. Women who are pregnant or plan to get pregnant face the greatest risk from Zika, as it can cause complications including preterm birth and miscarriage, as well as microcephaly in babies (a seriously underdeveloped head and brain).

Zika is mainly transmitted through mosquito bites (although there have been some cases of the disease being sexually transmitted) so it is rare in areas of Peru above 2000m altitude, where you're unlikely to find mozzies.

To protect yourself from Zika, try to avoid mosquito bites by covering up in light coloured clothing and wearing repellent containing DEET or picaridin.

Check the World Health Organization's Zika factsheet for the latest advice, and read CHOICE's article about how the Zika virus could affect your travel insurance.

4. Altitude sickness in Peru

Even if you're very fit, if you climb to altitudes higher than 2500m, which includes areas such as Cusco, Machu Picchu, Puno and the Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca, you risk getting altitude sickness, which is life-threatening.

While it can affect anyone, you're more likely to get altitude sickness if you've had it before, exercise or drink alcohol before acclimatising to high altitudes or suffer from health problems that may affect your breathing.

If you plan to travel to areas at high altitude, see your doctor before you travel and take your time on the way up. More information about acclimatising is available in our guide to Machu Picchu.

5. Visas and passports

You don't need a visa if you're an Australian travelling to Peru for a holiday of up to six months, but there are some things you should know before you go.

  • Your passport should be valid for at least six months from the day you plan to return to Australia.
  • If you lose your passport, you'll need a new entry stamp. You can get one at the Superintendencia Nacional de Migraciones. You'll also have to contact the Australian embassy in Lima.
  • Australian/Peruvian dual nationals under 18 years of age travelling alone or with only one parent may be asked to show certain documents, such as a letter of consent from the other parent and a copy of the child's birth certificate. Before you start your trip, contact the Peruvian embassy or consulate in Australia to check what you'll need.
  • Dual nationals under the age of 18 must travel with both their passports.
  • Make sure you cross Peru's borders with Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile at official checkpoints where you'll need to get an entry stamp in your passport. If you don't, you may not be able to leave the country as planned.

6. Local laws

Australians in Peru are subject to the local laws, and ignorance is no excuse. Here are some of the rules you should know.

  • Visitors (and locals) must carry photo ID at all times. As that can be a magnet for the wily pickpocket, you can get around the rule by having a notarised copy of the photo page of your passport. You can get a notarised copy at the Australian Embassy in Lima.
  • Peru has rules about how you can behave at sacred and historical sites, and you could be arrested or detained if you do something considered indecent.
  • You're not allowed to take photos of military establishments, equipment and personnel, public water and electricity plants, police stations, harbours, mines and bridges in Peru.
  • If you're caught with illegal drugs, you could get a very long jail sentence.
  • You can't take antiques or artefacts dating from pre-colonial civilisations out of Peru. You can buy reproductions from dealers, but use a well-known dealer who can provide documentation allowing export.
  • Handicrafts and goods that are culturally or historically significant can also be tricky to bring home with you. If you want these as a souvenir, you'll need permission from the National Institute for Culture of Peru (INC).

7. How to dress for the Peruvian climate

Peru has three main climate zones: a desert coastal strip where winters are mild, cloudy and foggy and summers are warm; the Andean highlands zone, which tends to be colder regardless of the season, and the Amazonian rainforest, which is hot and humid throughout the year. Here's what you should bring to wear on your trip.

  • If you're sticking to the coastal strips in the summer months between November and March, pack light clothing. During the rest of the year, bring a light jacket or jumper and pants.
  • Cusco's rainy season falls between November and March, and while days may be warm, you will need a raincoat or waterproof jacket and good shoes. It can get cold in the winter months, especially at night and particularly in the surrounding highlands, so pack warm clothes.
  • If you're trekking to Machu Picchu, bring comfortable clothes and shoes. While it can be hot, make sure you have a jumper or jacket with you, as it can get chilly.
  • You'll need hiking boots for the Inca Trail, and cold-weather gear for the cool nights.
  • The Amazon is hot all year round and tends to be rainy, so bring plenty of changes of clothes.

8. Top foods to try

Peruvian food is built around the staples of corn, potatoes and chillies. Here are some of the top foods to try when you're in Peru.

  • Cuy, or guinea pig, is a gamey meat that tends to be baked or barbecued on a spit and served whole, with the head still attached.
  • Ceviche is a sliced raw fish marinated in citrus juice.
  • Causa is a potato casserole layered with avocados and other ingredients; it's served cold.
  • Aji de gallina is a spicy chicken stew made with condensed milk or cream, bread and Parmesan cheese. Its bright yellow colour comes from the aji chilli.
  • Lomo saltado is a stir-fry-like dish with beef, tomatoes and onions over fried potatoes and rice.
  • Papa rellena are mashed potato croquettes filled with spicy minced beef, onions, garlic, tomatoes and herbs.
  • Rocoto relleno are spicy capsicums stuffed with minced beef, onions, olives, raisins and herbs and spices, topped with cheese and baked in a sauce made out of egg and milk.
  • Pollo a la brasa is a very popular grilled or roasted chicken dish.
  • Anticuchos are skewers of grilled and marinated meat and the beef heart variety, called anticuchos de corazon, is a popular street food.
  • Lucuma, a maple syrup-flavoured fruit, is in all sorts of desserts including ice cream and drinks.

9. Getting around Peru

Travelling around Peru can be hazardous, with people in Peru 2.5 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident than in Australia. Here are the top tips to ensure you get from A to B safely.

  • Poor weather conditions can make roads undriveable. Check with the National Service of Meteorology and Hydrology of Peru before you leave. If you don't speak Spanish, you can contact the Peruvian tourism office, iPeru, via phone on +51 1 574 8000 (available 24 hours) or email iperu@promperu.gob.pe.
  • When you're travelling from the airport, arrange a taxi at one of the counters inside and ask your hotel, restaurant or bar to book a licensed taxi for you.
  • Peruvian roads and vehicles can be poorly maintained, drivers tend to be aggressive, and crashes that involve buses are common. Try to use reputable bus and transport companies. 
  • Safety standards in Peru might be lax, so be careful if you plan to take part in adventure activities such as rafting or diving. If you do decide to go ahead, ask the company whether it has the right safety equipment and check ahead about weather conditions.
  • If you're hiking the Inca Trail, it's a good idea to use an experienced guide and always check weather reports in case of heavy rain, which can make the trek dangerous.
  • Avoid travelling by light aircraft and helicopter in Peru if you can, as these can be dangerous in bad weather due to the country's geography. If you're thinking about taking a scenic sightseeing flight over the Nazca Lines, make sure the company you use is licensed. 

10. Emergency contacts in Peru

Peru country code: +51

Police: 105

Tourist police: +51 0800 22221 (English-speaking operators available 24 hours)

Ambulance: 106

Fire brigade: 116

iPeru information offices for English-language tourism information in major cities: +51 1 574 8000, 24 hours a day. 

Consumer protection agency: INDECOPI operates a 24-hour hotline with English-speaking operators on +51 1 224 7777

For consular emergencies: The Consular Emergency Centre is available 24/7 on +61 2 6261 3305

Australian Embassy, Lima

Avenida La Paz 1049, 10th Floor

Miraflores, Lima, 18, Peru

Phone: +51 1 630 0500

E-mail: consular.lima@dfat.gov.au

Website: peru.embassy.gov.au

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