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Peru - Health and safety
With Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth
In general, you should stay safe and healthy on a trip to Peru. You won’t need an extensive medical kit full of drugs and bandages as a typical tour is very safe. Your tour operator ought to provide guidelines and information on what you will need though, to balance sensible caution with realistic risk.
There are no requirements for vaccination regardless of where you are coming from. It is wise, however, to be up-to-date with tetanus, polio, diphtheria, typhoid and hepatitis A.
Yellow fever vaccination is likely to be recommended if you are travelling to areas east of the Andes, and occasionally for longer-term travellers to the west coast. This vaccine is not suitable for everyone and needs to be discussed with a travel health expert. You may also choose to consider immunisation against hepatitis B, rabies, cholera and tuberculosis.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that can be found in parts of Peru. Consider taking antimalarial tablets unless your trip is restricted to Lima, the coastal region south of the capital or the highlands including Arequipa, Cusco and surrounds, and Lake Titicaca. In general, it is better to be safe than sorry as the disease is particularly unpleasant and can even be fatal.
There is no vaccine, but several types of oral prophylactics are available. Malarone (proguanil and atovaquone) is recommended for short trips as, although it’s expensive, it is effective and has fewer side effects. Chloroquine may be recommended for trips to the jungle around Puerto Maldonado and this is a weekly tablet, which is easy to take and very cheap. Jungle areas around Iquitos require different medication, including Malarone, doxycycline or Mefloquine (lariam). None of the drugs is 100% effective. Visit a travel clinic for upto- date advice about the most suitable option.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Most people affected by crime are victims of opportunistic theft. In general though, Peru is very safe. If you are in a tour group the chances of serious crime are small. Watch out for bag snatchers and pickpockets in large crowds, close to money changing facilities, tourist hotspots or at markets and train stations. If you are accustomed to the security of a larger group, be extra vigilant when out walking on your own or in smaller numbers.
To make yourself less of a target, leave expensive items at home, leave valuables in a hotel safe, use a money belt or keep your wallet in an inside pocket, don’t get large amounts of cash out in public places, carry cameras and other equipment in a day pack or by their straps, and appear vigilant. Watch out for unusual activity designed to distract you and alert others if you see something suspicious.
Keep copies of important documents such as your passport, and note down serial numbers for cameras and the like; you may want to email them to yourself. If you are the victim of theft or a scam, report it to the police or local authorities immediately. The police will provide you with a report and incident number, which is vital for an insurance claim.
Peru abides by all the usual drug laws so don’t dabble. If someone does offer you drugs, be aware that they may be an undercover policeman and you may be being set up in order to extract a bribe.
Sentences for possession and trafficking are high and prison conditions are not pleasant. However, coca leaf is grown and used legally for medicinal and cultural purposes; you may find that you can’t bring it back to your home country though.
Women travelling alone in Peru ought to have fewer gender-related issues compared with visiting some parts of the world. On an organised tour, guides and facilities staff should be highly professional.
That said, machismo is alive and well in Latin America and you may encounter staring, flirtation and wolf-whistles in public places. If you are fairskinned or have blonde hair, then be prepared for this to escalate. In general this behaviour is not meant to be insulting and shouldn’t be that bothersome; either ignoring the provocation or issuing a firm ‘no’ should diffuse the situation.
At the risk of stating the obvious, single women travellers might want to be especially circumspect when choosing what to wear; in the highlands and traditional communities clothing is quite conservative. Skimpy clothing might not only offend but, however unfair this seems, be perceived as provocative or an advertisement of availability.
Generally speaking, if you use common sense, don’t walk alone at night in unfamiliar places, don’t take unlicensed taxis, and always remain aware of your surroundings, you ought to avoid any unpleasant encounters.
Travellers with a disability
Peru isn’t especially accommodating of travellers with disabilities. There are virtually no signs in Braille or telephones for the hard of hearing, for instance. Public places and streets rarely accommodate mobility- or sight-impaired people and you will need the assistance of a companion more than you might in a Western city. There are, however, upmarket hotels in most major centres that will have disability-adapted features. What’s more, increasingly large numbers of tour operators are conscious of meeting the needs of less-mobile or otherwise less-able travellers. When planning your trip make sure to enquire of your tour operator which facilities accommodate disabled travellers.