Peru was the second South American country I have visited and I knew from my prior holidaymaking in Argentina that Peru was going to be a little rough-around-the-edges.
In preparation for this girls’ trip, Jessi, Sara, and I read online articles and blog posts and what we found is that there is a lot of misinformation on the internet about Lima and Peru in general.
All large cities have good and bad neighborhoods, including Lima. The information contained in this post is written from our experiences exploring the Miraflores and Barranco neighborhoods of Lima. These two neighborhoods are considered the two safest neighborhoods in Lima, partially because these are the neighborhoods where most tourists stay and explore.
What we read: Peru is primarily a cash-based society and credit cards are seldom accepted. It was recommended to bring both Peruvian Soles and US Dollars as both currencies are widely accepted.
What we experienced: Credit cards are accepted everywhere and paying in cash is typically problematic. We found that businesses typically do not carry a lot of cash-on-hand because cash payments are rare.
With our first cash transaction, we recognized that S/200 (this is the common citation for prices in Soles) is considered a very large note (~$60 USD). Every time we attempted to pay with a S/200 note, the note was scrutinized for authenticity and usually required a manager’s involvement. At one restaurant, the manager took the S/200 and left the restaurant, only to return 20 minutes later with our change.
In Lima, we found that cash payments are inconvenient, slow and cumbersome.
Note: We never tried to pay with US Dollars in Lima but I doing so would have been met with the same response as paying in Peruvian Soles.
In Cusco, we found that there was sometimes an upcharge to pay in Peruvian Soles and that paying in US Dollars was preferred when paying in cash. This aggravated me because I was paying in the local currency and being penalized for doing so. We also found that many businesses and restaurants accepted credit cards, however, there was often a 4% fee to pay by card (always true when paying for tours by credit card).
What we read: Uber is unsafe.
What we experienced: On average, we waited five minutes for our Uber drivers to arrive. The majority of cars in Lima, including Uber’s “Comfort” level cars, have bald tires and are falling apart and all drivers in Lima are very aggressive but other than that, we did not feel as though we were going to be robbed or kidnapped but keep in mind that there is safety in numbers.
What we read: The city is unsafe (especially at night). It is advised to always be on alert for pickpocketers and women will be catcalled/stared at/whistled at constantly, regardless of the time of day.
What we experienced: Miraflores and Barranco felt safe, we were never catcalled/stared at/whistled at. We were treated with respect and I never felt as though I was going to be pickpocketed.
Note: We met a Lima resident on our train to Machu Picchu who explained the crime in Lima and how unsafe the city is, so there seems to be a false sense of safety in Miraflores and Barranco.
What we read: Police are armed with automatic weapons and roamed the streets like ants.
What we experienced: Police presence was rare and on the few occasions we saw policemen/women, none of them were carrying automatic weapons.
Note: On September 30th, 2019 (when we were in Lima), the president of Peru resigned after being pushed toward impeachment. Even under this extreme circumstance, we did not see any police presence in Lima. We did, however, see police presence in the main square in Cusco the following day. A peaceful political art installation was erected in Plaza de Armas and the police were present just in case things turned chaotic (which did not happen).
What we read: It is unsafe to withdraw cash from ATMs because it increases your risk of being pickpocketed/robbed.
What we experienced: As long as you keep your wits about you, it is safe to withdraw cash from an ATM.