The following safety tips for solo female travelers in Peru might make you—and your parents—feel more hesitant than reassured. But don’t worry: the vast majority of women traveling alone in Peru never experience any major problems beyond catcalls and maybe an instance or two of petty theft.
But forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and the following advice is all about keeping you safe and out of trouble. At the same time, you certainly shouldn’t feel paranoid about traveling solo in Peru.
Sociable Solo Travel
Traveling solo doesn’t mean you’ll always be alone. Peru has a vibrant backpacker scene, so it’s easy to make friends, many of whom will be looking to tag along with new travel companions to attractions, restaurants, and between cities. Hostels are the best places to meet other travelers, so skip the hotels if you want a more sociable experience.
Machismo and male chauvinism are both alive and well in Peruvian culture. As a solo female traveler, you’ll almost certainly experience some form of street harassment in Peru—especially if you’re blonde. This type of harassment is rarely aggressive and is normally limited to childish comments and catcalls known as piropos. It’s also worth remembering that women in Peru don’t usually go to bars, clubs or even sporting events (particularly soccer) alone. As a foreigner and especially as a solo traveler, you might go against these social “norms”—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just expect an even higher degree of idiotic comments and amorous advances if you go to a bar or club alone.
Opportunistic crime is common in Peru. Theft is the greatest problem: leave any item unattended for a second or two and it will probably disappear. You also need to be extra cautious when it comes to snatch-theft, pickpocketing etc., as petty thieves often see solo female travelers as “soft” targets. You need to be particularly careful at night, especially when you're walking in the street or withdrawing money. Whenever possible, and most importantly after dark, try to walk around with fellow travelers from your hostel, hotel or tour group. You also need to watch out for scams and drink spiking. Some female travelers carry a whistle to blow in case of trouble; a few high-pitch whistles are sometimes enough to scare off would-be assailants.
Sexual harassment occurs on minibusses—known as combis—in Lima and other big cities. Male passengers sometimes take advantage of the cramped conditions inside these combis to grope female passengers, including foreign women. You can deal with the situation by asking the driver, the fee collector, or your fellow passengers for help. Don’t be afraid to make a scene in order to shame your harasser and draw the attention of other passengers. Taxis are potentially far more dangerous, and reports of lowlife taxi drivers mugging and/or raping female passengers occur all too frequently; foreign females traveling alone are particularly at risk. Ideally, you should always try to take taxis with a fellow traveler or reliable local, or get your hotel/hostel to call a taxi from a respectable agency rather than flagging down a taxi in the street. Always avoid beat-up, unmarked or generally dubious-looking taxis.
Good Guides and Bad Guides
Going to any site or attraction as part of a guided tour is normally safer than going independently and alone. Exercise extreme caution, however, if a male guide offers to take you on a solo tour (just you and him). This situation is particularly dangerous if the tour goes to a remote location.
Trekking and Hitchhiking
Great treks and trails exist throughout Peru—many wind through stunning landscapes far from the nearest town or city. If you like to trek alone, always ask about potential dangers—both natural and manmade—before setting off. Muggings and worse sometimes occur along known tourist trails. As always, it’s safest to go with a group, be it an organized tour or with travelers you’ve met in Peru. You should also be careful if you choose to hitchhike in Peru; as a female traveling alone, hitching is potentially a very risky way to get around.
What to Wear
There’s no dress code for women in Peru, but more revealing outfits will attract more male attention, more stupid comments, and potentially more aggressive advances. It’s entirely up to you what you wear, but dressing down will help keep the juvenile commentary under control. If you avoid expensive clothing and accessories, you’ll also draw less attention from potential thieves.
Wedding Rings, White Lies and Withholding Information
Never give out too much information—such as where you are staying or where you are going—to a male stranger, no matter how friendly he may seem. And feel free to lie when you want to get rid of an unwanted admirer. For example, “I’m meeting my husband here in two minutes” can work wonders. Some female travelers also recommend wearing a wedding ring (whether you’re married or not) as a way to discourage unwanted advances.
Bricheros and Broken Hearts
A brichero is a particular type of male Peruvian who targets female tourists with the intention of forging an intimate relationship for personal gain. These Lotharios happily play the role of enamored devotee, as long as their foreign conquest pays for everything, including, ideally, a plane ticket back to the foreigner’s home country. In short, they are unscrupulous slimebags who are always best avoided. Tread carefully.
Learn the Language
We’ve said it before and we’ll undoubtedly say it many times again: a little Spanish goes a long way in Peru. Do yourself a huge favor and learn some basic conversational Spanish before you go. Your trip will be more rewarding and you’ll be much safer and more capable of dealing with tricky situations.
Trust Your Instincts
This is perhaps the most important thing to remember when traveling: learn to trust your instincts, and always trust your instincts before you trust other people. If something doesn’t feel right, whether it’s a person, a situation or a location, trust your feelings, check your surroundings, and decide whether to stay or go. This might sound like some kind of Jedi technique, but you don’t have to be Yoda to make the most of your natural human instincts.