Health and Safety in Peru
With a little preparation and education, most travelers won’t experience serious health problems in Peru—traveler’s diarrhea is often the worse thing that happens. The following guide offers helpful health and safety information concerning travel in Peru.
Food & Water
Tap water is usually not safe to drink in Peru. It’s best to purchase bottled water or fill up a reusable water bottle at your hotel (many hotels have filtered water available for guests). You can also bring iodine pills or a small water filter along with you.
To avoid traveler’s diarrhea, only drink purified water and order drinks without ice. Eat fruits and vegetables that you have to peel, including bananas and oranges. Wash your hands before eating, and carry hand sanitizer around with you. Hot foods are usually safe to eat—this includes soups, pastas, rice, and cooked vegetables.
Protecting yourself from insects is another sensible way to remain disease-free while traveling in Peru. Mosquitos can transmit malaria, yellow fever, and dengue; ticks can transmit Chagas’ disease. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and use insect repellent (you may even want to spray your clothes with it too). Sleep in screened-in rooms or rooms that have mosquito nets over the beds.
Altitude & Cold
The weather in Peru can vary significantly dependent upon which region of the country you find yourself in, which is why the best time visit Peru is relative. Peru’s mountainous regions are set at high elevations. Cusco is located at 11,150 feet (3,400 m) and travelers sometimes get altitude sickness when visiting this area. Symptoms of altitude sickness include fatigue, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. Although there is no way to avoid altitude sickness, the best way to minimize the effect is by acclimatizing for a day or two before engaging in exercise and by drinking plenty of water. Doctors can also prescribe acetazolamide, or Diamox, to help treat altitude sickness. Peruvians support coca leaf tea as a cure, and it seems to work.
Peru is a tropical country and can be quite hot in places. To avoid heat exhaustion, drink plenty of water and avoid strenuous activity on hot days. It’s also a good idea to wear a hat, loose fitting clothing, and always apply plenty of sunscreen.
On the flip side, Peru’s higher elevation areas can be cold and rainy, and create conditions in which hypothermia may occur. To prevent hypothermia, wear artificial fibers (like polypropylene or fleece) that wick away moisture, and bring several layers of clothing during a hike. You should also eat and drink water regularly while exerting yourself in cold conditions.
Finally, earthquakes in Peru are actually a relatively common occurrence, due to the country straddling two tectonic plates. Because earthquakes are difficlt to predict, we recommend that you read this article to get safety tips, in the event that you encounter one during your vacation.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting the typhoid and hepatitis A vaccinations before traveling to Peru, although neither are required. If you’ll be traveling in the Amazon jungle below 7,550 feet (2,300 m) then you may also want to get a yellow fever vaccination. Yellow fever vaccination is not required to enter the country unless you are traveling from a region where yellow fever is endemic. While traveling in the Amazon it’s also a good idea to take malaria medicine.
Hepatitis B is recommended for health care workers (or others who may be exposed to blood) and those that plan on staying in Peru for more than six months. You should also be vaccinated against chicken pox and measles and have received a tetanus/diphtheria shot within the last ten years.
Most shots take about two weeks to be effective, so it’s recommended to schedule your vaccinations at least 2–4 weeks before traveling. Some shots may require second or third visits.
For up-to-date information on the health conditions in Peru, please visit the CDC website.
Doctors, Clinics, and Hospitals
Peru has an excellent healthcare system. Medium and larger cities will have several government hospitals and a range of private clinics. The clinics are usually high-tech and personalized, and the state hospitals provide excellent healthcare. Even small villages will usually have a medical post, and pharmacies offering you easy access to basic medications. The doctors in Peru are university-trained and competent.
The hospitals in Lima are the best in the country; serious medical problems should be addressed here. It’s recommended to look into international medical policies—nearly all of them will cover evacuation to your home country if needed. Insurance companies may deal directly with hospitals in Lima, but in other destinations, travelers might be required to pay in cash and then seek reimbursement later.
Peru is a safe country. The people here are usually very friendly with travelers and open to cross-cultural exchanges. That said, travelers should take some basic precautions to avoid petty theft.
Remain alert and watch your valuables. Don’t wear flashy jewelry and if you have nice electronics, don’t flaunt them—it's a good idea to keep them in an older bag when they aren’t being used. Carry money and passports in a money belt, or else leave them in a safety deposit box at your hotel. Be watchful while withdrawing money from an ATM. Only visit recommended areas at night and walk with confidence when you’re going somewhere. If you’ve been drinking at night, take a cab home.
Speaking of cabs, be mindful of how you travel about the country. There are several transportation options you can enjoy during your stay in Peru, but some are better than others. It's advisable that you not drive yourself around due to the country's rugged terrain, weather changes, and aggressive driving style. Additionally, when taking buses (a great option and favorite of locals) be sure to keep a close eye on your luggage to avoid theft.