Is Cusco Peru Safe? How to Travel Smart in 2024

Is Cusco, Peru safe for tourists?  In general, this incredible city is safe and is the gateway to some of the best sites in Peru.  However, taking a few precautions and being aware of your surroundings is always important when traveling to a foreign country. 

Kendall and I had an incredible time in Cusco, Peru, as part of our 7-day Peru itinerary and had no safety issues.  

However, we took some standard precautions with transportation and educated ourselves about local health facilities.  This article will run through the do’s and don’ts of having a safe and fun experience in the city and surrounding areas.  

llamas grazing in a field

General Safety in Cusco-The Basics

Cusco relies heavily on tourism and is considered much safer than other areas of Peru.  This might be one consideration for you when deciding how much time to spend in Lima vs Cusco

However, just as with visiting any city, there are some standard safety basics that we recommend always following, regardless of where you travel. 

  1. Don’t show off valuable items: We always try to keep things like cell phones, cameras, and money with us at all times and out of sight while walking around. 
  2. Be careful while using ATMs: This is one of the most important times to be aware of your surroundings.  For Kendall and I, we prefer to go together so one person can keep an eye out while the other withdraws cash.  And we prefer to use ATMs in the airport or at a bank if possible. 
  3. Use reputable transportation:  Taxis, Uber, colectivos, and buses are all good options.  We’ll discuss more about safe transportation below. 
  4. Don’t wander alone, especially at night.  
Cusco neighborhood at night
We did check out a few awesome neighborhoods at night

Crime Rates in Cusco Peru

When it comes to crime, Cusco, Peru, is considered much safer than other Peruvian cities.  According to Numbeo, Cusco has a safety index of 59.14, compared to Lima’s safety index of 28.9, which is higher than Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, 44.21 (we were trying to decide between Peru vs Costa Rica for that year).

Overhead view of Lima, Peru
Overhead view of Lima, Peru

Most Common Types of Crimes in Cusco, Peru That Affect Tourists

Fortunately, Cusco is much safer than other cities, but tourists can still have problems with petty theft or scams.  

 Petty Crime

Unfortunately, petty theft, including pickpocketing, is common in busy areas such as marketplaces, bus stops, and tourist attractions.  

Kendall and I never had a problem, but we were careful to keep our phones and credit cards in our backpacks while walking around.   

Scams

Bogus taxi drivers have targeted tourists, so it’s important to make sure you always use a registered taxi.

With tour companies, we always recommend researching ahead of time and booking with a reputable tour group.  Accepting services from a tour company off the street is risky.

central plaza de armas
Hanging out in the central Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Political Unrest in Peru

Political protests can happen in any city.  Although these are less common in Cusco than in other places, just keep your eyes open.  

The Peruvian government often keeps extra police forces in central plazas (we saw a few in the Plaza de Armas). 

Most importantly, if a protest is going on, don’t go near or get involved!  We didn’t see anything like this during our stay. 

Transportation Safety in Cusco

The CDC Yellowbook for Peru travel recommends against driving in Peru in general.  

Of course, this depends on the zone, but Cusco is a city full of narrow cobblestone streets that are difficult to navigate.  We recommend leaving the driving to the experts.  As mentioned before, make sure that you are using registered taxis and negotiating a price beforehand.  

stone tower with a bronze statue of a man, as seen from a car window
Our taxi ride from the Cusco airport

Using a Taxi in Cusco

Taxis are the most common way of getting around to all the awesome things to do in Cusco.  They are easy to use, as registered taxis will congregate around the central Plaza de Armas.   

Registered taxis will have a license sticker on the front window and the registration number on the side door. We always recommend verifying the route and price with the driver before getting in.  

In Cusco, we found that most drivers were willing to negotiate a final price beforehand (although some might prefer to use a taxi meter).  If using a taxi meter, be sure to clarify the route and take note of the meter.

Common Taxi Routes and Average Prices

Cusco Airport to Plaza de Armas: ranges from 10-20 Soles (approximately $3-7 USD) for a 20-minute trip.  

Plaza de Armas to Sacsayhuamán: ranges from 10 to 15 soles during the day. Prices will often increase at night.

red taxi parked next to the side of the road
Cuzco Peru – 11 May 2018 – Public transportation, taxi at Cuzco Peru. Very cheap and useful for tourists. But they do not have meter, so you need to negotiate price before get on.

Tips for Using Taxis in Cusco

Here are some transportation travel tips for safely using taxis in Cusco, Peru.

  1. Use Licensed Taxis: Again, only use licensed and registered taxis with a registration number on the side.
  2. Agree on a price before getting in: Especially for taxis that don’t use a meter (we found that most Cusco taxis did not use the meter). 
  3. Keep your belongings in your bag.
  4. Travel in Groups: This is always a good idea, especially at night.
  5. Keep a list of Emergency Contacts: I always carry a list of emergency contacts with me (even if it is just written down on a piece of paper).  Numbers for: the local police, local emergency services, and personal emergency contact numbers. 

If you like public transportation, combis (shared minivans) are a cheaper way of getting around Cusco, but they can often be crowded, and many of the vans we saw looked fairly run-down.  

Plug in ‘estación de colectivos’ or ‘terminal de colectivos’ in Google Maps to find colectivo stations. 

Cusco also has an extensive bus system.  This is by far the cheapest option.  However, the bus schedule can be unreliable, and buses are often crowded.  For finding routes and planning your trip, we recommend using Movit (they’ve got a desktop version and an app). 

Can You Use Uber in Cusco?

Yes, you can.  We heard mention that some Uber drivers don’t appreciate driving tourists up the steep cobblestone streets to the archeological sites above the city, such as Sacsayhuamán.  

Because of this, and because registered taxis were so easily accessible from the Plaza de Armas, we just used taxis during our stay.  

Tips to Stay Healthy in Cusco

Here are our top tips for staying healthy and feeling well so you can enjoy your entire trip!

Altitude Sickness

Cusco is a high-altitude city, and altitude sickness (or mountain sickness) can be an issue for some people.  

We recommend spending at least a few days in Cusco before doing any hiking or other physically demanding activities.    

Kendall and I didn’t have any issues with altitude sickness during our time in Cusco or during our 4-day Inca Trail trek with Alpaca Expeditions, but we could definitely feel the oxygen difference while walking up to Sacsayhuaman on our first day in the city.  

Just make sure to take things slow on those first few days!  This is one of the best tips for preparing for a trip to Machu Picchu.

hikers climbing stairs on the Inca Trail

Drink Treated Water

Most tap water in Cusco is not considered safe to drink without boiling it first.  We found that there were plenty of small stores and street vendors with water bottles; just make sure to purchase enough for the day before heading out.

We also always carry small water filters and a few water purification tablets with us whenever we travel, just to be prepared for emergencies. 

Food Safety in Cusco

Peru is known as a gastronomic capital, and Cusco has so many incredible dishes to try. Most of the restaurants near the central Plaza de Armas are quite touristy, and there is no concern with food poisoning.  

Plate of Peruvian cerviche
We tried some fantastic food during our trip

However, if purchasing from a street vendor or a small food cart, especially if it doesn’t seem to have a lot of customers, I would be more careful.

One of my favorite things we did in Cusco was visiting the San Pedro Market.  This is a unique experience where you can browse and purchase all kinds of local fruits, vegetables, packaged goods, and more.

plate of rice and fish
One of the cafeteria-style meals that Kendall purchased at the San Pedro Market

This is another place to be careful.  The CDC recommends avoiding uncooked, unpeeled fruits and vegetables (including fruit juice) if you aren’t sure if the fruits have been washed with treated water.

One of our favorite parts of hiking to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions was the incredible food. We got to try a whole variety of (safely prepared) traditional Peruvian dishes. This truly made our trip to Machu Picchu worth it to us.   

Avoiding Sunburns

Sometimes I forget about sun protection while traveling, and it’s SO important.  

I got very sunburned during a snorkeling tour in Drake Bay, Costa Rica, and felt pretty sick for the rest of the trip.

Burns aren’t only uncomfortable, but they can make you really dehydrated. 

One thing to note about sunscreen: it can be VERY expensive to purchase while on your trip.  We were surprised by how expensive sunscreen was at the pharmacies in Cusco.

We always pack at least a few travel-sized bottles of sunscreen and then carry them everywhere in our backpacks.  We also always carry hats and sunglasses with us.

hiker with llamas in the background
It was very sunny on the first day of our Machu Picchu trek, and we were glad to have long sleeves and sunscreen.

And, if you will be spending all day outside, we actually recommend packing at least one lightweight long-sleeved shirt.  Sometimes, if the sun is really bright, sunscreen alone just doesn’t cut it.

We hiked in May, one of the best times to visit Machu Picchu, but our first few days were quite hot and sunny.

Recommended Vaccines for Cusco Peru

Here are the recommended vaccines from the CDC before visiting Cusco. 

  • Yellow Fever: Recommended for travelers aged 9 months and older going to areas below 2,300 meters (≈7,550 feet) elevation in various regions, including Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca.
  • Hepatitis A: Recommended for unvaccinated travelers one year old or older visiting Peru.
  • Hepatitis B: Recommended for unvaccinated travelers younger than 60 years old traveling to Peru
  • Typhoid Fever: Recommended for travelers in Peru, especially if going to rural areas.
  • Routine Vaccines: Make sure you are up-to-date on all your routine vaccines as well, like measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, and tetanus.

I was not up to date on my tetanus shot before hiking in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.  And then I stepped on a rusty nail and was stressing out about it for the rest of the trip. 

Medical Care in Cusco, Peru

Peru has both private and public health care systems.  If you can, finding a private health center is better, as these are often better-quality facilities. 

Also, it’s more likely that staff at these facilities will speak English, as they sometimes do parts of their training in the US.  Most of these facilities expect payment upfront, but services tend to be inexpensive.

Regardless, we always recommend purchasing travel insurance so you can file a claim with your insurance company and receive reimbursement.  

The following is a map of private hospitals in Cusco, Peru.  We highly recommend one of the International Traveler’s Medical Assistance or the Traveler’s Medical Clinic O2 Network. 

Map of Private Medical Facilities in Cusco

Pharmacies in Cusco Peru

There are plenty of pharmacies in Cusco.  One thing we love about many cities in South America is the proximity of everything.  From where we were staying near the Plaza de Armas, we were within a 5-minute walk from at least three pharmacies.

One thing to expect: The pharmacies in Cusco are much smaller than those in the US and have fewer options. Also, they often won’t have many of the brands that you may be used to.  But we’ve always been able to find anti-inflammatories, anti-diarrheal medication, and basic first-aid supplies.

Emergency Services in Cusco, Peru

Here are the emergency contact numbers for Cusco, Peru.  I always keep a list of these numbers (as well as my personal emergency contacts) with me on a sheet of paper while I travel. 

  • The local equivalent of ‘911’ is ‘105.’
  • United States Embassy in Peru: 51-1-618-2000
  • For an ambulance: ‘106’

Safe Accommodation Choices in Cusco, Peru

Cusco has a huge range of safe hotels and Airbnbs.  We recommend staying close to the central Plaza de Armas.  

We stayed in an Airbnb on Avenida El Sol, about a 10-minute walk from the Plaza, and had a great experience.

Man sitting at the countertop at an Airbnb

The location was great, as the plaza is the central hub for most tour companies.  

Besides staying near the Plaza, the other safest area is the San Blas neighborhoods.  Many visitors love this district as it is a little further away from the bustle of the central plaza. 

Safety While Visiting Popular Tourist Attractions

Cusco, Peru, has so many incredible places to see, both within the city or as part of a day trip.  Here are a few safety things to keep in mind for the most popular tourist destination. 

Machu Picchu: How to Stay Safe 

  • Machu Picchu sits at 7,972 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level.  That’s why most people recommend spending a few days in Cusco (11,152 feet) before visiting Machu Picchu.  This is a great opportunity to do some awesome activities in the Sacred Valley. 
  • Use Licensed Tour Operators: Do your research ahead of time and choose one of the best Inca Trail Tour companiesThis can make such a difference!
  • Drink water and use lots of sunscreen.
overhead view of Machu Picchu
Our view of Machu Picchu after passing through the Sun Gate

Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain has gained SO much popularity in recent years.  Because it is so high up (17,100 feet), tourists need to be even more careful of the altitude. 

Again, just as with all adventure tours near Cusco, it’s important to do your research and book with a fantastic tour company.  We recommend Viator, GetYourGuide, or TripAdvisor. 

Kendall and I didn’t do Rainbow Mountain during our Peru trip, but we heard that more tourists have issues with the altitude here than most of the other popular tourist sites. 

Lake Titicaca

The altitude of Lake Titicaca is 3,812 meters (12,507 feet) above sea level, which makes it the world’s highest navigable lake (cool!).  Again, make sure you are acclimated to the altitude. 

Also, Lake Titicaca is very cold, so swimming is really not recommended. 

Being Respectful and Culturally Aware

Here are the bottom-line tips for being respectful during your stay in Cusco:

  • Learn basic Spanish phrases: While many people in Cusco speak English, knowing a few basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in communicating and is just a kind gesture! 
  • Arrive early for your tours: Please don’t be the person that arrives late.  This really makes things hard for tour companies, who are really working to make sure all their guests have a good experience.
  • Dress respectfully: When visiting religious sites, you should probably not wear your shorts and sandals. 

Is Cusco Peru Safe FAQ

Is Cusco, Peru Safe at Night?

Cusco is not considered a dangerous city, but like any other place in the world, crimes do happen, including theft and scams.  Avoid walking alone, especially at night, and be cautious in more crowded areas, where theft is more likely to happen.

Is Cusco, Peru Safe for Solo Travelers?

Cusco, Peru can be a safe destination for solo travelers, but it’s important to be careful. Solo travelers should always be aware of their surroundings, especially when visiting unfamiliar areas or walking alone at night. Keep valuable items hidden (cameras, cell phones). 

Is Lima Peru Safe?

Certain areas of Lima are very safe for tourists, such as the Miraflores neighborhoods, San Isidro, La Molina, and Barranco.  However, according to TheNewPeruvian, there are places that are best avoided, such as Callao, San Juan de Lurigancho, La Victoria, and more.

Is Peru Safe for Tourists?

Peru is listed as a travel advisory level of two.  Many areas of Peru are safe to visit.  However, according to countryreports.org, travelers should not go to the Colombian/Peruvian border or the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers. 

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