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Cusco has the highest rate of tourist-targeted crime in Peru. Towns in the Sacred Valley are generally much safer, but it is wise to still be on your guard. Just taking a few precautions can help keep you safe. Pick-pocketing is the most common crime, and pickpockets are sneaky-it's unlikely that you will realize you've been pick-pocketed until after the fact. Reduce the likelihood of it happening by keeping a close eye on your belongings at all times-wear or hold your bags on your front, and don't put anything in your back pockets. Be particularly alert in bustling areas such as markets and train or bus stations. Only take the absolute minimum out with you: leave valuables back in your hotel, carry just a small amount of cash and avoid wearing expensive (or even just expensive-looking) jewelry. Lock valuables up in the hotel safe, if there is one.

Thieves often like to work in a team to remove you of your possessions without you knowing. A common trick is for one person (while you're not looking) to spit on you or throw a substance such as mustard or syrup on your clothing or even in your hair. The other person will then appear out of nowhere, point out the offending substance and helpfully offer to clean it off with some handy tissues. As this is going on, the first person will be deftly removing your wallet, camera and anything valuable from your person. This little scenario happens most commonly on the street or on buses. If you realize that you are suddenly covered in any sticky substance, don't stop; grip your bags tightly and walk quickly until you are in a safe place.

In Cusco, there are frequent reports of drink spiking. Be very careful in bars and clubs-never leave your drink unattended and don't accept drinks from anyone. The easiest away to avoid drink spiking is to only drink bottled drinks; watch the barman open them so that you can be certain that they are safe.


Wherever you are in Cusco or the Sacred Valley, avoid walking alone late at night and early in the morning: take a taxi instead. Whether you're taking a taxi at night or during the day though, always be on your guard. It is very important to take only registered taxis: people getting robbed, kidnapped or attacked in taxis in Cusco is not unheard of. Ask someone at your hotel or the restaurant you're at to call you a taxi, or, if you are hailing one on the street, be sure to only take a taxi with the official diamond-shaped sticker on their windshields. Taxis in the Sacred Valley towns can vary in appearance; ask your hotel for advice.


Altitude sickness is the most common health complaint in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Symptoms include rapid breathing and heartbeat, headaches, dehydration, loss of appetite, vomiting, dizziness and fatigue. Altitude sickness can develop very quickly and even the healthiest person can suffer. Ascending slowly is important (e.g. don't go off for a hike as soon as you arrive at altitude), and resting and keeping hydrated are the best ways to avoid or combat altitude sickness: drink plenty of (bottled) water and reduce or stop caffeine and alcohol intake, particularly in your first few days at altitude. Chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea also helps. If you need something a little stronger, you can dry Diamox (acetazolamide), a common medicine for preventing or treating altitude sickness which is available without prescription in pharmacies in Peru. There can be side-effects however, so it is advisable to consult your doctor before taking it. If symptoms of altitude sickness persist, seek medical attention, and whatever you do, do not ascend any higher-this can be dangerous or even fatal.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley: Safety , Acclimatization, Earthquakes in Cusco and Planning Your Time .

15 Mar 2012

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