What NOT to do in Cuzco, Peru : A Visitor’s Guide to Safety

With so much advice on what TO do in Cuzco, Peru, what about advice on what NOT to do?

As a traveler who has had a mishap or two, here are some safety pitfalls, scams, and other general things to avoid before you travel here. Especially if you’ve ever asked yourself, “is Cuzco safe”? :

Some links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these, I may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!).

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! Knowing the incredible stories behind the buildings, walls, and places you see will only make them that much more fascinating.cuzco peru car, is cuzco safe

DON’T fall victim to the “photo opp trap”. There are (typically) 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 downright fierce! This one girl seriously followed me for three blocks saying the money I gave her wasn’t enough. It was awkward.
llamas. cuzco peru scam.
Pre-negotiate the cost of a photo (if you must get one), so you don’t get into an awkward situation

DON’T travel abroad without getting travel insurance. I can’t believe in my earlier travel experiences I’d head abroad without any sort of travel insurance. I blame ignorance, or youth, but now I know better 😉!
While your personal health insurance may cover some things during your trip, it’s best to get a dedicated travel insurance policy to cover things like medical emergencies, flight issues, and even theft.
When my camera was stolen (on a trip to Europe), my policy allowed me to (eventually) be reimbursed for that cost. Depending on your trip, some policies are as a cheap as $60- it’s absolutely worth the investment!
plaza de armas.

Read more: My itinerary for a journey through Peru (and Bolivia!)

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, 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.
Giving to street beggars also encourages unsustainable travel practices. What to do instead? Give to a local charity that you know will truly help.cuzco, peru. begging rings.

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 diligent, ask if all greens or veggies you eat are prepared with filtered water versus local tap water.
cuzco peru. street food and altitude safety.

Read more: The top ten things TO do in Cuzco

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. Can you tell I’m a high school Spanish teacher? 😉
cuzco peru. is it safe.

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 “tourist-ness”.
If you want to walk around with a 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 mini lock to my backpack when I’m in a crowd. It’s easy to undo when I need to access my bag, but prevents theft without much effort on my part.cuzco peru. what to wear. plaza de armas

DON’T carry a lot of cash with you at one time. I know it’s tough as many places will only take cash (not card). So, invest in something to cleverly conceal it! 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! Don’t leave your phone sitting out on the table! There’s always the chance a thief will come running by and snag it.
Remember you are a tourist and like it or not, you have a floating target above you at all times.
If you tend to absentmindedly set your phone down, you could consider getting something like this  wearable phone case to have around your neck so you don’t misplace it or fall victim to theft!
cuzco peru. ways to be safe.

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 of your passport with you. Odds are you won’t need it, but if you do- your copy will be just fine.Cuzco Peru

DON’T buy or discuss drugs with anyone trying to offer them to you! I would think this is a no-brainer, but young tourists are often targeted as “only being there for the party scene”, and likely will get offers.
A man ran up to my husband in the city center saying “ah an American- you want drugs, yes?”- and we of course bolted in the other direction. You don’t want to get caught up in the depths of the Peruvian legal system. Just say no, kids!cuzco peru. visitors guide to safety. pickpocketing and begging.

DON’T take photos of locals without their permission. I always see so many people breaking this rule. 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.
cuzco peru inca
My husband got this photo from a distance

DON’T underestimate the power of altitude! Make sure you take staying hydrated very seriously. I was drinking tons of water while I was in Cuzco and still battled near-constant headaches the entire time.
Remember that this is a city at 11,150 feet (3,400m) above sea level. Come prepared with the right altitude meds! Also be sure to take advantage of the coca tea that most hotels will have for you.
Cuzco high altitude tips for safety

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.
old town cuzco peru. cusco is it a safe destination?
Taking a rest- Altitude, or being in poor shape? Who knows…
…and most importantly- don’t forget to have fun and enjoy this fascinating 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!

More helpful links:

♥ Buy travel insurance– honestly, don’t go abroad without it!
Book your Cuzco hotel
♥ Find organized Cuzco day trips or walking tours
♥ Browse my Amazon storefront to see my favorite travel products
♥ Read my Peru itinerary post, and my post on things to do in Cuzco
♥ Follow me on Instagram, and send me a DM with any questions!

Other Common Questions:

Is Cuzco safe for American tourists? Yes, just as safe as it would be for tourists from any other country. Try your best to follow common sense, and don’t openly display valuables. Be wary of scams, and be extra cautious going out after dark.
Is Cuzco safe for solo female travelers? Overall, yes. There is a great tourism infrastructure in the city, and locals are accustomed to seeing solo travelers. You may receive some catcalls, but overall you will feel safe- especially if you stay in the populated areas of the city, and avoid going out too far in the dark.

Pin it for later!

What not to do in Cuzco, Peru - Tips for a safe and scam free visit

Is Cuzco safe? Generally… yes!


  • Reply Michelle W. August 20, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    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.

  • Reply David from Travelscams.org November 17, 2018 at 11:25 am

    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!

    • Reply Michelle W. December 10, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      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? 🙂

  • Reply Machupicchu Peru October 23, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Hi Michelle, Congratulation you provide a good information and recommendation to all tourists, the people in Cusco and Machupicchu are very friendly but there are also people who take advantage and offer gifts and tours at a very low cost, especially in the streets, so always check if they are a serious company 🙂

  • Leave a Reply