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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Peru 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Lima. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Peru. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Peru at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution. Do not travel to the Colombian border area in the Loreto Region due to crime, or the area in central Peru known as the Valley of the Rivers Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro (VRAEM) due to crime and terrorism. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

Crime Threats 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lima as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. According to the Peruvian National Police (PNP), crime increased 13% in 2019. Foreign residents and visitors may be more vulnerable to crime, as criminals perceive them to be wealthier and more likely to carry large amounts of cash and other valuables on their person. However, this uptick in crime has affected Peruvians and foreigners alike. The most common types of crime in Lima and many parts of the country include armed robbery, assault, burglary, and petty theft. Crimes can turn violent quickly, and often escalate when a victim attempts to resist. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

In Lima, there is a continuing trend of armed assailants robbing individuals between the airport and their hotel, often following the individual directly from the airport. This type of crime usually happens late night or early morning, and occurs en route to or upon arrival at the hotel, or while in the lobby checking into the hotel.  

Another trend in Lima, according to police and local media reports, involves armed assailants riding on motorcycles in pairs targeting individuals that display valuables. In many cases, these criminals look for vehicles stopped in traffic with visible handbags or electronics such as cell phones. The assailants snatch items through open windows, or smash windows and grab the valuables, then quickly flee on the motorcycle.  

Vehicular vandalism and theft occur throughout Peru. Criminals steal spare parts and sell them on the black market. Park vehicles in well-lighted areas, preferably in a paid parking lot.   

Counterfeit currency is a concern. Peru has more circulating counterfeit U.S. currency than any other country in the world. Criminals also target individuals that withdraw money from ATMs; many banks offer withdrawal insurance. Criminals have inserted skim readers on ATMs to obtain bank / credit card information, allowing them to clone cards and make unauthorized withdrawals. Credit cards are in wide use in Lima, with official identification usually required for any transaction. In restaurants, it is common for the waiter to bring a remote scanner to the table to pay the bill.  Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

There have been some instances of drugging in bars and clubs for the purpose of robbery. Pay careful attention to drinks being poured, and do not leave a drink unattended. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad. 

While U.S. Embassy personnel and foreign residents normally reside in affluent areas with significant private security and local police presence, they are not immune. Crime targeting these areas has risen over the past year. Residential burglaries are most common when houses are vacant, but thieves will also attempt to enter occupied residences via unsecured doors and windows, tricking domestic employees, or forcing access through residential perimeters.   

Many areas of Peru are very remote. Medical assistance or search and rescue services are often unavailable. Weather conditions, especially in mountainous areas, can change quickly. Fully prepare for low temperatures and wet weather before venturing into the wilderness. Jungle travel can be extremely hazardous without an experienced guide. 

The Embassy maintains two restricted travel zones within Peru due to possible terrorist and/or significant criminal activity. These are the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM); and an area 20 km south of the Colombian border, except for travel on the Amazon River itself. The VRAEM consists of emergency zones as declared by the Government of Peru. There are virtually no facilities or tourist sites in these areas: 

·         Ayacucho: Restricted - Most districts in the provinces of La Mar and Huanta.

·         Cusco: Restricted - Several districts in the province of La Convención, especially those areas adjacent to the Apurimac River.

·         Huancavelica: Restricted - Many districts within the provinces of Churcampa and Tayacaja.   

·         Junín: Restricted - Districts within the provinces of Satipo, Concepción, and Huancayo. 

Peruvian law requires all persons to carry one form of valid photo identification. Avoid carrying original passports whenever possible; lock them in a hotel safe or another secure location and carry a photocopy of the data/biographic page, the page containing the visa, and a copy of the Peruvian immigration form received at the port of entry.   

Several competent private security businesses operate in Peru, many of which offer a wide variety of services such as executive protection, private investigations, guard services for large events, armored car services, and physical security for work and residential locations. The Regional Security Office is available to discuss security concerns or to assist OSAC constituents. 

Transportation-Safety Situation 

Review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights. 

Road Safety and Road Conditions  

Drivers often ignore traffic laws and authorities rarely enforce them, creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians. Seat belts are mandatory for driver and front-seat passengers in a private vehicle. It is against the law to talk on a cellular phone while driving, and violators may receive fines. When driving in urban areas, taxis and buses often block lanes impeding traffic. Drivers often do not use turn signals. Vehicles frequently turn from the middle through traffic lanes. While driving outside major cities and on the Pan-American Highway, you must have your headlights on.

Roads often lack proper maintenance and may lack crash barriers, guardrails, signs, and streetlights. Fog is common on coastal and mountain highways, making conditions more treacherous. Slow-moving buses and trucks frequently stop in the middle of the road unexpectedly. Traveling in a group is preferable to solo travel. Have extra spare tires, parts, and fuel when traveling in remote areas, where distances between service areas are long.

Due to poor infrastructure and some criminal activity, travel by road at night is especially hazardous. The U.S. Embassy travel policy prohibits nighttime road travel outside of cities, except for on the Pan-American Highway north to Huacho and south to Paracas. The Embassy does allow personnel to take night buses along the entire Pan-American Highway, to Huaraz, on the route to Arequipa, and from Arequipa to Cusco. Private bus companies charge higher prices, but are generally safer. 

If a traffic officer signals you to stop, you must stop. Traffic officers must wear uniforms and identification cards that include their last name on their chest. Traffic officers may not retain your personal identification or vehicle documents. Under no circumstances should you offer or agree to pay money to traffic officers.

If you are involved in an accident, you must contact local police and remain at the scene without moving your vehicle until authorities arrive. Authorities strictly enforce this rule; moving a vehicle or leaving the scene of an accident may constitute an admission of guilt under Peruvian law.

Many roads, especially in the mountains, are unpaved and narrow with sudden drop-offs. Landslides occur frequently during the rainy season; occasional landslides have also affected urban areas such as the Costa Verde in Lima. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions  

Many buses are overcrowded, poorly maintained, and lack safety features such as seat belts. Bus accidents resulting in multiple deaths and injuries are common due to routes along narrow, winding roads without a shoulder and steep drop-offs. Accidents are common due to excessive speed, poor bus maintenance, poor road conditions, and driver fatigue.

The Embassy recommends using a trusted driver or taxi services that have stands in the airport. Before paying for a service, ask if the car has lamina, a security film that prevents windows from shattering if struck. For taking taxis around Lima, the Embassy recommends using app-based taxi services, such as Uber or Taxi Satelital. Arranging a taxi service known to or contracted by hotels is another good option. 

Terrorism Threat 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns  

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lima as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Terrorism in Peru is now uncommon; however, remnants of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group are active in the VRAEM, a particularly remote region that is a known safe haven for narcotraffickers. In 2019, Sendero Luminoso successfully targeted Peruvian security forces in this area. International terrorism is always a concern, but there is little evidence of continued significant activity by known international terrorist groups.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

Civil Unrest  

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lima as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Protests are common throughout Peru, but are usually peaceful. Protesters may block roads and sometimes burn tires, throw rocks, and damage property. Police occasionally use tear gas to maintain public order if protests get out of control, but they usually use restraint. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Anti-U.S. Sentiment  

There is little anti-U.S. sentiment in Peru; however, certain sectors of Peruvian society, including illegal coca growers, resent U.S. counternarcotic policies.   

Post-specific Concerns  

Environmental Hazards 

Earthquakes are commonplace. Several devastating earthquakes have occurred throughout Peru’s history. Strong recent earthquakes have caused casualties and infrastructure damage. In May 2019, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Loreto region, causing one fatality in the Cajamarca region and 11 injuries, as well as isolated power outages and some infrastructure damage.

Floods and landslides occur frequently during the rainy season and may result in extended road closures. In 2017, heavy rains near the coast resulted in 62 deaths and 12,000 destroyed homes. 

Personal Identity Concerns 

A 2017 presidential decree prohibits all forms of discrimination and hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Peru. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Peru suffers high rates of gender-based violence. Half of Peruvian women between the ages of 15-49 have faced some sort of violence. Enforcement remains weak, partially due to a deep-rooted patriarchal culture. In 2019, authorities reported 166 femicide cases -- the highest number in the past decade. Senior Peruvian government officials view this issue as a priority, and are a taking stronger position to protect vulnerable populations. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Peruvian law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and mandates that public spaces be free of barriers and accessible to persons with disabilities. However, the government of Peru has devoted limited resources to enforcement and training, and has made little effort to ensure access to public buildings and areas. Sidewalks (if they exist) are uneven and rarely have ramps at intersections. Pedestrian crossings are infrequent, and motorists almost never give pedestrians the right of way. Buses and taxis do not have special accommodations for disabled persons. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes 

Narcotics production and trafficking continues to be a problem; Peru is one of the world’s top two producers of cocaine. Peru exports the vast majority of the refined product, but the widespread production of cocaine in the VRAEM has contributed to a growing illegal drug presence in Peruvian cities.   

Ayahuasca retreats, in which tourists use a traditional hallucinogen made from the Ayahuasca vine, are popular. Tourists have suffered severe medical problems, including brain damage, from Ayahuasca use. Unscrupulous purveyors of Ayahuasca may not be qualified in traditional preparation techniques. Tourists have reported sexual abuse while under the influence.   

Police Response 

The Peruvian National Police (PNP) has nationwide jurisdiction. The force is modernizing, but officers often lack the training and resources for full effectiveness. In general, police may be slow to respond and do not conduct effective investigations, although filing a police report after a theft may be useful for insurance purposes. Motorists report that some police ask for bribes during traffic stops. 

In Lima and other towns, many municipalities supplement PNP presence through an unarmed security force known as Serenazgo; however, there are conflicting reports regarding their effectiveness. 

There is little government presence in many remote areas of the Andes and Amazon basin. Illicit activities, such as illegal mining and logging, and coca production, are common. Drug trafficking and other criminal activity, combined with poor infrastructure, limit the capability and effectiveness of Peruvian law enforcement in this area. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens along the Colombian border and in the VRAEM, as U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling in these regions.    

Foreign victims of a crime should contact the Policía de Turismo (tourism police) whenever possible. Found in major tourist areas, they are generally helpful and are more likely to speak English. These officers receive training on how to interact with tourists. If tourism police are not available, ask for the nearest police station (comisaría). Lima Tourism Police: 460-1060; North Downtown: 423-3500; Central 105; Office: 332-3222 

Medical Emergencies

Emergency medical service is generally reliable in Peru. The U.S. Embassy health unit recommends using private ambulance services whenever possible. The quality of medical facilities varies from location to location. Providers almost never accept U.S. health insurance; for this reason, patients must provide cash or credit card to receive treatment.                 

Many popular tourist destinations, such as Cusco/Machu Picchu, Arequipa/Colca Canyon, Kuelap/Chachapoyas, Puno/Lake Titicaca, are at high altitudes. Altitude illness affects many people who are in otherwise good health, sometimes severely. Do not underestimate its potential effects. Its onset can be rapid, and may be life threatening if untreated. Learn about it before you go, and ask your doctor whether high altitude may adversely affect any pre-existing condition. Physical training or fitness has no impact on altitude sickness susceptibility. Refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling in High Altitude.

Peruvian National Police High Mountain Rescue Unit ("USAM"): +51-1-575-4696/4698/1555; ceopol_diravpol@hotmail.com.     

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate website. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

The following diseases are present in some parts of Peru: Dengue; Diarrheal disease; Guillain-Barré Syndrome; Hepatitis A and B; Leishmaniasis; Malaria; Rabies; Tuberculosis; Yellow fever; and Zika. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Peru. 

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information  

There is an active OSAC Country Council in Lima that encourages all eligible companies to join. For further information, contact OSAC’s Latin America Team.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information  

Avenida La Encalada cdra. 17 s/n Surco, Lima 33 

Monday–Friday 0800-1700 
Telephone: (51-1) 618-2000 

Security Office: (51-1) 618-2308 

Marine Guard (24 Hours): (51-1) 618-2001 

Website: http://pe.usembassy.gov  

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

·         OSAC Risk Matrix

·         OSAC Travelers Toolkit

·         State Department Traveler’s Checklist

·         Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

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