Dietary Distress

Visitors should drink only bottled water, which is widely available. Do not drink tap water, even in major hotels, and try to avoid drinks with ice. If you're trekking in the mountains or visiting remote rural areas where bottled water is not available, boil water to purify it or use water-purification tablets. Carry bottled water with you at all times (especially on long bus or train rides); the heat of the desert and the high altitudes of the Andes will dehydrate you very quickly.

You're safer eating fruits that you can peel or salads and fruits washed with purified water, as well as foods that have been thoroughly cooked. Shellfish should be avoided by most; although ceviche is one of Peru's classic dishes, travelers should at least know that the fish and shellfish in it are not cooked, but marinated. That said, many, if not most, travelers eat it with few or no problems. (Your best bet is to eat ceviche only at clean, upscale places.) Vegetarian restaurants can be found in most cities (look for branches of the chain Govinda in the largest cities). If no vegetarian restaurant is available, most others will be able to accommodate you with salads, fruits, and vegetables such as papas (potatoes) and palta (avocado), although palta rellena is usually stuffed with chicken or tuna.

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Health

No vaccinations are officially required of travelers to Peru, but you are wise to take certain precautions, especially if you are planning to travel to jungle regions. A yellow-fever vaccine is strongly recommended for trips to the Amazon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov; tel. 800/311-3435) warns that there is a risk of malaria and yellow fever in Lima and the highland tourist areas (Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca).

Visitors should drink only bottled water, which is widely available. Do not drink tap water, even in major hotels. Try to avoid drinks with ice. Agua con gas is carbonated; agua sin gas is still.

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As a tropical South American country, Peru presents certain health risks and issues, but major concerns are limited to those traveling outside urban areas and to the Amazon jungle. The most common ailments for visitors to Peru are common traveler’s diarrhea; altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness (AMS), called soroche locally; sun exposure; and dietary distress.

North American visitors can contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; www.iamat.org; tel. 716/754-4883, or 416/652-0137 in Canada) for tips on travel and health concerns. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov; tel. 888/232-6348) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country. If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. All visitors with such conditions as epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems should consider wearing a MedicAlert Identification Tag (www.medicalert.org; www.medicalert.org.uk in the U.K.; tel. 888/633-4298 or 209/668-3333), which will alert doctors to your condition if you become ill, and give them access to your records through MedicAlert’s 24-hour hotline.

Deep vein thrombosis, or as it’s known in the world of flying, “economy-class syndrome,” is a blood clot that develops in a deep vein. It’s a potentially deadly condition that can be caused by sitting in cramped conditions—such as an airplane cabin—for too long. During a flight (especially a long-haul flight), get up, walk around, and stretch your legs every 60 to 90 minutes to keep your blood flowing. Other preventative measures include frequent flexing of the legs while sitting, drinking lots of water, and avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills. If you have a history of deep vein thrombosis, heart disease, or another condition that puts you at high risk, some experts recommend wearing compression stockings or taking anticoagulants when you fly; always ask your family doctor about the best course for you. Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include leg pain or swelling, or even shortness of breath.

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Insurance

U.S. visitors should note that most domestic health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage abroad, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you after you return home. Try United Health Care SafeTrip (www.uhcsafetrip.com; tel. 800/732-5309) or Travel Assistance International (www.travelassistance.com; tel. 800/821-2828) for overseas medical insurance coverage. Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (www.hc-sc.gc.ca; tel. 866/225-0709) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated overseas.

For general travel insurance, it’s wise to consult one of the price comparison websites before making a purchase. U.S. visitors can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com (tel. 800/487-4722). Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information for prices from several providers. For U.K. travelers, Moneysupermarket (www.moneysupermarket.com) compares prices and coverage across a bewildering range of single- and multi-trip options. For all visitors, it’s also worth considering trip-cancellation insurance, which will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and travel advisories.

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Dentists

The best dentists are found in Lima, and some offices specialize in foreign visitors looking for work done that is more inexpensive than their home countries and therefore have English-speaking staff. Try Peru Dental, at 355 Monterrey St., 4th Floor, Chacarilla (www.perudental.com; tel. 01/202-2222) or Smiles Peru, at Av. José Prado 575, office 201 in Miraflores (www.smilesperu.com; tel. 01/242-2152).

Doctors

Skilled doctors and modern health-care facilities can be found primarily in Lima and other cities in Peru. In Lima, some of the major hospitals and clinics with English-speaking medical personnel and 24-hour emergency services include Clínica Anglo-Americana, Alfredo Salazar, Block 3, San Isidro (tel. 01/712-3000); Clínica San Borja, Guardia Civil 337, San Borja (tel. 01/475-4000); and Clínica Ricardo Palma, Av. Javier Prado Este 1066, San Isidro (www.crp.com.pe; tel. 01/224-2224).

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In Cusco, you will find English-speaking personnel at Hospital EsSalud, Av. Anselmo Álvarez s/n (tel. 084/237-341); Clínica Pardo, Av. de la Cultura 710 (tel. 084/624-186); Clinica San Jose, Av. Los Incas 1408 (tel. 084/232-295); and Mac Salud, Av. de la Cultura 1410 (www.macsalud.com; tel. 084/582-060).

You can also inquire at the U.S. and British embassies for lists of English-speaking doctors, dentists, and other health-care personnel in Lima.

If you need a non-emergency doctor, your hotel can recommend one, or contact your embassy or consulate. In any medical emergency, immediately call tel. 105.

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Drug & Drinking Laws

Until recently, Peru was the world's largest producer of coca leaves, the base product that is mostly shipped to Colombia for processing into cocaine. Cocaine and other illegal substances are perhaps not as ubiquitous in Peru as some might think, although in Lima and Cusco, they are sometimes offered to foreigners. (This is especially dangerous; many would-be dealers also operate as police informants, and some are said to be undercover narcotics officers themselves.) Penalties for the possession and use of or trafficking in illegal drugs in Peru are strict; convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and substantial fines. Peruvian police routinely detain drug smugglers at Lima's international airport and land-border crossings. Hundreds of U.S. citizens have been convicted of narcotics trafficking in Peru. If you are arrested on drug charges, you will face protracted pretrial detention in poor prison conditions. Coca leaves, either chewed or brewed for tea, are not illegal in Peru, where they’re not considered a narcotic. The use of coca leaves is an ancient tradition dating back to pre-Columbian civilizations in Peru. You might very well find that mate de coca (coca-leaf tea) is very helpful in battling altitude sickness. However, if you attempt to take coca leaves back to your home country from Peru, you should expect them to be confiscated, and you could even find yourself prosecuted. The hallucinogenic plants consumed in ayahuasca ceremonies are legal in Peru.

A legal drinking age is not strictly enforced in Peru, though officially it is 18. Anyone over the age of 16 is unlikely to have any problems ordering liquor in any bar or other establishment. Wine, beer, and alcohol are widely available—sold daily at grocery stores, liquor stores, and in all cafes, bars, and restaurants—and consumed widely, especially in public during festivals. There appears to be very little taboo associated with public inebriation at festivals.

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Emergencies

In case of an emergency, call the 24-hour traveler’s hotline at tel. 01/574-8000, the general police emergency number at tel. 105, or the tourist police (POLTUR; tel. 01/460-1060). The Tourist Protection Service can assist in contacting police to report a crime; call tel. 01/224-7888 in Lima, or 0800/4-2579 toll-free from any private phone (the toll-free number cannot be dialed from a public pay phone).

Pharmacies

Prescriptions can be filled at farmacias and boticas; it’s best to know the generic name of your drug. For most health matters that are not serious, a pharmacist will be able to help and prescribe something. In the case of more serious health issues, contact your hotel, the tourist information office, or, in the most extreme case, your consulate or embassy for a doctor referral. Two of the biggest pharmacy chains, with locations in most cities, are Botica Fasa and InkaFarma. Hospitals with English-speaking doctors are listed under "Doctors" above.

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Police

Losses, thefts, and other criminal matters should be reported to the nearest police station immediately. Peru has special tourist police forces (Policía Nacional de Turismo) with offices and personnel in all major tourist destinations, including Lima and Cusco, as well as a dozen other cities. You are more likely to get a satisfactory response, not to mention someone who speaks at least some English, from the tourist police rather than from the regular national police (PNP). The number for the tourist police in Lima is tel. 01/225-8698 or 01/225-8699. For other cities, see “Emergencies” above and “Fast Facts” in individual destination chapters. Tourist police officers are distinguished by their white shirts.

Safety

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Peru’s reputation for safety among travelers has greatly improved and the country is more stable and safer than it has ever been. While some general warnings are required, for the most part, the majority of travelers will find Peru a very safe country with few of the overt threats to belongings or one’s person that are sadly common in many parts of the world. Hopefully, the following warnings will seem over-the-top to travelers who enjoy Peru without incident.

The most precautions, as in most countries, are required in the largest cities: principally Lima and, to a lesser extent, Cusco. In most heavily touristed places in Peru, though, a heightened police presence is noticeable. Simple theft and pickpocketing are not uncommon; assaults and robbery are rare. Most thieves look for moments when travelers, laden with bags and struggling with maps, are distracted. In downtown Lima and the city’s residential and hotel areas, there is a risk of street crime. Occasional carjackings and armed attacks at ATMs have been reported, but they are very isolated incidents. Use ATMs during the day, with other people present. Street crime and pickpocketing are most likely to occur—when they do—at crowded public markets and bus and train stations. You should be vigilant with belongings in these places and should not walk alone late at night on deserted streets. In major cities, taxis hailed on the street can lead to assaults. (Use telephone-dispatched radio taxis, especially at night.) Ask your hotel or restaurant to call a cab, or use Uber or Easy Taxi, which have security protocol. Travelers should exercise caution on public city transportation and on long-distance buses, where thieves have been known to employ any number of strategies to relieve passengers of their bags. You need to be vigilant, even to the extreme of locking backpacks and suitcases to luggage racks.

In general, do not wear expensive jewelry; keep expensive camera equipment out of view as much as possible; use a money belt worn inside your pants or shirt to safeguard cash, credit cards, and passport. Wear your daypack on your chest rather than your back when walking in crowded areas. The time to be most careful is when you have most of your belongings on your person—such as when you’re in transit from airport or train or bus station to your hotel. At airports, it’s best to spend a little more for official airport taxis; if in doubt, request the driver’s official ID. Don’t venture beyond airport grounds for a street taxi. Have your hotel call a taxi for your trip to the airport or bus station.

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Peru’s terrorist past seems to be behind it. The terrorist activities of the local insurgency groups Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement)—which together waged a 2-decade guerrilla war against the Peruvian state, killing more than 30,000 people—were effectively stamped out in the early 1990s. It has now been years since there were significant concerns about a possible resurgence of those groups. Though it remains a situation worth watching, to date the most populous (and traveled) regions of the country have not been affected, and neither group is currently active in any of the areas covered in this book.

Smoking

Smoking is still quite common in Peru, despite a widespread smoke-free policy implemented in 2011. In major cities such as Lima or Cusco, it is difficult to find smoky restaurants or hotels. In rural areas, the laws are less enforced. 

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.