If you’re going to Peru, chances are your plan is to head straight to Machu Picchu and hit the Inca Trail. But if you do that, you’ll be missing out on Lima, one of the greatest places in South America.
Why? Well, for one thing, Lima is Peru’s largest city, with over 25% of Peruvians calling it home. It has world-class restaurants, the fantastic Circuito Mágico (the world’s largest waterfall), a buzzing and relatively cheap nightlife and, of course, the amazing Miraflores cliffs which should be on everyone’s bucket list.
But, of course, you’re a bit concerned – is Lima safe? What do I need to know? Should I take a course in Krav Maga before I fly out, y’know, just in case? Well, before you start googling self-defence classes, read on……
How Safe is Lima? (Our Take)
Peru has always been a great place to backpack. You’ll see many amazing sights, meet some great people, and probably drink far too many pisca cocktails. And, if you know what to look out for, it’s a safe place to travel.
Like any popular destination, Lima has its fair share of thieves and pickpockets, ready to pounce on unprepared tourists. By day you’ll need to look out for pickpockets and taxi drivers who’ll try to charge you three times the real price, whereas by night you’ll need to look out for, well, everything else. Lima has seen a rise in ‘express kidnappings’, where tourists are forced to hand over cash from different ATMs until their account is empty. Also rife are ‘struggle muggings’ where you’re put in a stranglehold from behind and, well, you get the picture.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Lima is most definitely focussed on keeping its tourist areas safe. Stay in the brightly-lit areas and you’ll be under the protection of Lima’s 24-hour (non-corrupt) police force; look up and you’ll be reassured by CCTV surveillance practically everywhere.
So if you stay vigilant and don’t wave your brand new phone around too much, you should be fine.
Is Lima Safe to Visit (The Facts)?
Peru is the second most dangerous country in Latin America, beaten only by Venezuela. A 2017 government study found that 30% of Peruvians believe that crime is their country’s biggest problem, with unarmed robbery being the single biggest crime. The most recently published figures show that crimes against the public have increased by 8%, whereas fatal crimes actually fell by a very small amount.
Lima also suffers from heavy air pollution, with the percentage of fine dust particles often exceeding the WHO recommended limit by as much as three times.
In an exhaustive survey carried out in 2011, 75% of Peruvians considered Lima the worst city in Peru. Of the same residents, 91% believed that over half of the country’s politicians were corrupt in some way.
Is Lima Safe For Solo Travellers?
Although Lima is not the safest city in Peru, taking common-sense precautions, especially when you’re travelling alone, means you can still have a great trip!
First of all: plan ahead. Find a reputable taxi service and arrange for them to pick you up from the airport. It might be an expensive start to your trip but, trust us, it won’t be a waste of money. Another good idea is to find other solo travellers and form a group. There are always plenty of backpackers going to Peru, and there are many groups on social media so maybe start there. It definitely helps to have a ‘backpack buddy’!
If you really prefer travelling alone, then consider pre-booking some guided tours and excursions – at least this way you’ll have the safety of a large, supervised group for much of the day. Most hostels and hotels can help you with this, or save some money and book online before you leave.
Make sure you read our ‘Top Ten Tips’ for some other good advice.
Is The Tap Water Safe To Drink In Lima?
In a word: no! Drinking tap water in Lima is not a good idea. Or, if you want the official version: “Local tap water in Peru is not considered potable” (U.S. Department of State).
Even though Peru’s water and sanitation systems have improved over the last few decades – and you’ll see many locals happy to drink from the tap – you should stick to buying bottled water or using a filter (or purification pills). If you’re going to be staying a while, you should also consider buying one of the 20-litre bottles that are available pretty much everywhere.
As in most Latin American countries, it’s safe enough to use the local water for brushing your teeth, washing your hair and taking a shower. But if you need water for a medical reason, you should filter or at least boil it first.
Is The Food In Lima Safe?
In a word: yes! According to British ‘Restaurant Magazine’, some of Lima’s restaurants are amongst the World’s Top 50 and the (quite expensive) Central Restaurant made it all the way to number 4 a few years ago. Lima has the greatest variety of food in all of Peru and there really is something for everyone. You should definitely try the ceviche, which is Peru’s national dish made from salt, garlic, onions, hot Peruvian peppers and raw fish that’s all marinated in lime. Some say El Rincon de Bigote in Miraflores is the best place, some say the internationally-famed La Mar is better. Why not try them both and let us know!
And if you’re going to eat ceviche, then you’re going to be drinking pisco, a local brandy made from grapes. It usually comes in cocktail form, with the most famous being the pisco sour. (Fun fact: it’s also the national drink in Chile, and there’s a big ‘rivalry’ over the true birthplace.) Oh, and if you’d rather just have a beer, then you’re in luck – the local Cusqueña is pretty decent.
One more thing on food: if you simply must go to KFC or Maccy D’s then you should know they’re not that cheap in Lima and most locals can’t afford to eat there.
Is Driving Safe In Lima?
Driving in Lima can be a nightmare! The roads are in terrible condition, broken-down buses block the way at nearly every turn, hardly anyone obeys the rules of the road and illegal taxis seem to make constant U-turns in the hope of picking up a fare. And even if you manage to negotiate all of that, you still need to look out for the beggars and ‘human billboards’ who will try to sell you something at every traffic light. If you were thinking of hiring a car to drive around Lima, our advice is: don’t!
Are Taxis Safe In Lima?
Every local with a car will tell you they are a taxi driver and most of them are out to scam you, or worse. You should only use reputable taxi services, recommended by your hotel or a tour guide. We’ll say that again: you should only use reputable taxi services. Make sure you’ve agreed to a price before you get in, and always keep your valuables well-hidden. Try to stay aware of any strange behaviour from your driver – such as him always looking in the rearview mirror for his ‘friend’ to arrive – and if you feel at all nervous then politely ask him to pull over, pay him and get out.
Of course, there’s always Uber, and most tourists say that the service is pretty good, although the newer ‘Lima Beat’ service is sometimes a bit cheaper. Bear in mind that you’ll need a wifi signal to use the app (unless you can afford data roaming) so make sure you’re pickup point has good wifi coverage.
Is Public Transport Safe In Lima?
Buses are the number one method of public transport in Lima. But there are good and bad bus services and it’s important to know which is which. Firstly, forget the cheap option. Just like with the taxis, many are not licensed and there’s no guarantee they’ll last the whole trip. Instead, use the Metropolitano, which is a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system that connects North and South Lima using special, dedicated bus lanes.
Using the Metropolitano is pretty simple, and pretty comfortable too! And because it uses the special bus lanes, you won’t get stuck in the terrible traffic jams on the main roads. Check whether your route can use the express service or not (it’s faster), buy a Tarjeta Inteligente (an electronic rechargeable card), swipe it and wait for your bus. It costs 5 soles for a card, which works out to just over a dollar, and then 2.50 soles for each ride. Try not to use the Metropolitano at peak times, as it gets really packed.
Is Lima Safe To Live?
Like in most of Latin America, how safe you are in Peru depends on where you choose to live and how much you choose to spend. A single man or woman can live a good life in Lima for $1500 a month and a great one for $2000. It’s true that we’ve seen many locals living very poor lives and many of them turn to crime in order to put food on the table.
There are four main areas of Lima that are generally considered safe, and so you should look at properties in San Borja (middle-class), Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro (all more upscale). We can confidently state that these four districts are some of the safest areas you can find in Latin America. Bear in mind that, although Peru was once a relatively cheap place to live, prices in Lima are now about 10-15% more expensive than in Bogota or Mexico City.
Top 10 Safety Tips For Travelling to Lima
So, is Lima safe? Yes, it can be. Here’s our list of things to remember to ensure you stay safe in Lima.
- Before you leave home, write down all your travel details and give them to a friend. You’ll feel safer knowing someone back home can track you down if necessary.
- Make sure you get all the required vaccinations before you leave.
- Pack some toilet paper! And remember that, in many places, the used paper goes in the trash and not the toilet.
- Buy plenty of filtered water and keep a few bottles with you when you’re outside. Lima can get very, very hot!
- Try to avoid travelling by yourself. Stay in a group of friends or use guided tours to see the sights.
- Only use reputable taxi services (yes, we know we’ve already told you twice!)
- If you want to party, stay away from Downtown. Stick to the bars and clubs in Barranco or Miraflores. Also, if you’re going out for a night of drinking then you should know the bars never close. So pace yourself. (Oh, and the drinking age is 18, not 21 like in the US.)
- Steer clear of drugs in Lima. On paper Peru’s drug laws might seem fair, but some local police have thrown away that rule book. Even one joint is enough to get you in significant trouble, legal or otherwise.
- If someone tries to mug you, just hand over whatever they want. It’s better to lose an iPhone than lose an eye. And only leave the hotel with as much cash as you’ll need for the day.
- And lastly, we’ve been asked to pass on a message from the Peruvian government to all our backpacking friends: “Stop getting naked at Machu Picchu!”
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