What NOT to do in Cuzco, Peru
With so many blogs singing the praises of beautiful Cuzco, Peru and giving great advice on what to do there, what about advice on what NOT to do? That’s where I come in! As a traveler who has had a mishap or two, here are a few pieces of advice of things you should avoid if you’ve asked yourself “Is Cuzco safe”? :
DON’T come to the city not knowing much about its history. It won’t be nearly as interesting or meaningful if you come to the ancient Inca capital without having read up on its background. I recommend these two books to get you in the right direction: Turn Right at Machu Picchu & The Last Days of the Inca. I’ve read both and really did like them!
DON’T fall victim to the “photo opp trap“. There are little girls dressed in traditional Inca clothing running around the city, and they have cute baby lambs. They’ll try to get you to take a photo with them. You might think it’s harmless- but once that camera clicks, they will hassle you and demand money. Don’t do it. They are mean, and downright fierce! This one girl seriously followed me for three blocks saying the money I gave her wasn’t enough. It was awkward.
DON’T eat at the McDonald’s in the middle of the Plaza de Armas. I can’t even believe there’s one there anyways. Yes. Don’t be that person. However- Have I ever been that person because I was sick and lost 10 pounds in a week and was really desperate for french fries? Maybe…
DON’T give money to beggars. This is the case in most places around the world. It’s always better to donate or volunteer with local, established charities. In Cuzco, there are many organized “begging rings” that exploit families, and especially small children. It may be tempting to give a few coins when you see their eager faces, but it is often a set up. It also encourages unsustainable travel practices. What to do instead? Give to a local charity that you know will truly help.
DON’T be too lenient with your eating habits. Exercise caution with where and what you eat. Avoid those food-borne illnesses that many a gringo fall victim to. The fare offered by street vendors is certainly tempting, and often delicious. However, be cautious about it- especially if it’s meat. If you want to be extra cautious, ask if all greens or veggies you eat are prepared with filtered water.
DON’T come without speaking any Spanish at all, and being unwilling to do so. Take some time to at least learn a few basic phrases. Effort and a positive attitude will go a long way. I recommend the language-learning app DuoLingo for a quick refresher, or the Lonely Planet Phrase Books to get you started.
DON’T enter a crowded place without a strong grip on your bag or wallet. Of course Cuzco is quite safe overall, but some of the tourist places and markets have those shady people who will take advantage of your shining “gringo-ness”. If you want to walk around with a designer purse hanging half open, they will take the invitation. Be careful with backpacks too, you won’t feel a professional pickpocket unzipping it in a crowd.
Pro Tip: I attach this guy to my backpack when I’m in a crowd- easy to undo when I need to access my bag, but prevents theft without much effort.
DON’T carry a lot of cash with you at one time. If you must, invest in a money-belt. There are many comfortable options. My husband and myself have personally used the following items:
DON’T set your bag down to take a photo without wrapping it around your foot first, or stepping inside the strap. The same goes for restaurants. Don’t hang your purse on your chair! There’s always the chance that a thief will come running by and snag it. Remember that you are a gringo and like it or not, you have a floating target above you at all times.
DON’T carry your passport around with you. Leave it in your hotel, in a secure place. I truly believe it is safer there than on your person all day. Instead, carry a color copy with you. Odds are you won’t need it, but if you do- your copy will be just fine.
DON’T buy or discuss drugs with anyone trying to offer them to you. I think this is a no-brainer, but young tourists are often targeted as “only being there for the party scene”, and you likely will get offers. A man ran up to my husband right in the city center saying “ah an American- you want weed, yes?”- and we of course ran in the other direction. You don’t want to get caught up in the depths of the Peruvian legal system. Just say no kids!
DON’T take photos of locals without their permission. I always see so many people breaking this rule, and it’s not cool guys. Has my husband sniped a photo of a local from a distance? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? That’s debatable. If you’re going to be rude and obvious about it like some tourists I’ve seen though, think again.
DON’T underestimate the power of altitude! Make sure you take staying hydrated seriously. I was drinking tons of water while I was in Cuzco and still battled near-constant headaches the entire time I was there. Remember that this is a city at 11,150 feet (3,400m) above sea level. Come prepared with the right meds!
DON’T be surprised at how quickly you are out of breath. If you walk up three steps and are huffing and puffing and can’t breathe, it could be the fact that you are tired and out of shape, but most likely you can blame our friend, altitude.
…and most importantly- don’t forget to have fun and enjoy this fascinating and historical destination! Peru welcomes millions of tourists each year, it is not an unsafe destination. This article is to encourage common sense, not to scare you away!
Now that you’re informed- check out my blog post on the TOP TEN THINGS TO DO in Cuzco!
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, should you choose to book any of the above hotels or activities, please know that I will receive a small commission.
Altitude—Oh Yeah! But at least in Peru you can eat those Cacao (sp?) leaves, and they really worked for me. Did you guys eat those? Everywhere else I use liquid chlorophyll. New Mexico in the hot summer got to me pretty bad by the time I got to Taos one year, but that stuff helped a lot. Great post.
That’s true! I did have coca tea and chew on the leaves and it worked really well. I still had some minor headaches every morning though.
Very well written, thanks for the tips! Indeed, Peru has come a long way since the days of the military environment in the late 1970s, and is today one of the safer and more enjoyable countries to visit in South America.
However, there are still tourist-targeting scammers and petty crime to be wary of. Do be wary of the poor student scam, chile-peru border crossing scam, pirate taxis / black market taxis, car break-ins, sob story scam, currency switcheroo / sleight of hand and many more!
Oh my, there are so many! We actually got scammed going from Peru into Bolivia- An official looking man got on the bus charging us for an entry ticket (even gave us a pay stub!) and we later found out this “entry ticket” was completely bogus as we had just passed the border. Everywhere everyday a new scam right? 🙂