Solo female travel in Peru: is it safe?
Reader Mail: Hi Trisha! My name is Maureen and I’m from Newark, USA. I haven’t traveled outside the USA and your blog is a good resource for females like me who wish to see the world. I saw on Instagram that you are in Peru and I would like to ask if solo female travel in Peru is safe? Do you think I can do it on my own? I appreciate all you do so thank you so much for everything!
– Maureen Martin, USA
Is solo female travel in Peru safe? To answer that question, let me give you a background of my relationship with Peru.
I first arrived in Peru in 2014, overland from Ecuador. It was a time in my life when I didn’t fear anything and Peru also didn’t have that bad press. Most of the backpackers I met when I started my South America travels in Colombia are raving about how beautiful Peru is.
So, I hopped on a 14-hour bus from Quito, Ecuador, and decided to see Peru for myself. I planned to stay for only 90 days but I ended up staying for a year. Up until today, on my second visit in 2020, I still find Peru one of the easiest countries to travel to, mainly because of its backpacker culture.
The thing with Peru is, you’re alone, but not really. Peru is a favorite of thousands of backpackers because of its friendly terrain. Believe it or not, I met all my long-term friends in Peru, and up until today, we’re still very close and in touch. When you’re traveling for long periods of time, staying in a hostel is a good way to get to know people.
Information also disseminates pretty fast when you’re staying in a hostel. You’ll be offered information you’re not looking for just by conversing with people at the hostel. I didn’t learn about most of my Peruvian adventures online – I learned it face to face from backpackers who already did the trip.
There is somewhat a pattern or a system when you’re traveling in Peru. Everyone does the same route and every person you’ll come across seem to be knowledgeable about traveling in Peru.
I am saying this so you won’t think (or stress) a lot when planning your travels to Peru. Whatever you do, wherever you go in Peru, I assure you will make friends who can potentially be your travel buddies.
Trisha’s favorite places to visit in Peru
I’ve stayed in Peru long enough to know the country but you need to understand that Peru is a big country – you can’t possibly see all in a short period of time. Below are the places I frequently visited and how I feel for each place in terms of safety.
Huaraz is not part of the usual full south Peru itinerary but it’s definitely one of my favorite places in Peru. Huaraz is rich in outdoor activities like hiking or camping and you’ll be surrounded by lakes, mountains, and trails. I am not a professional hiker but I still found Huaraz a place I can enjoy.
In terms of safety, I haven’t heard anyone who got lost (nor harmed) in the trails. Doing the treks on your own seems like a great adventure but you need to arrange a lot of logistics in order to do this. You need to have a car, a radio that will allow you to communicate in case you get lost, and many other things needed in order to be in the loop while out in the wilderness.
You can do the hikes yourself as Huaraz trails are usually filled with signs and directions. If you want to sign up for tours, they’re very cheap, too! Day trips to the mountains and lagoons start from 35 soles ($10 USD), with food. This can be easily booked in your hostel even without prior notice.
Also, a place where people go for day trips, Paracas is where I lived for a year! People don’t know much about Paracas and I often get the question of why I’d stay there for a long time when there are not many things to do. The thing I like the most about Paracas is that it’s very familiar.
Because of the Paracas National Reserve and the Islas Ballestas, Paracas is a highly touristic place but you will see how the local people have adapted to this touristic boom. People in Paracas are very friendly and since it is a small town, everyone knows everyone!
Personally, it was so easy for me to live in Paracas because there are beaches everywhere – it’s surely a great spot for a long-term stay.
Arequipa will easily top the best cities to live in Peru list because of its great weather! Arequipa always has the “spring-ish” weather and does not have high altitudes like Cusco so many people opt to visit Arequipa and stay longer. Arequipa is a very modern city where Peruvians come to obtain a higher level of schooling. I felt safe walking here at night as it is also a city that is kid-friendly. Children are always out on the streets (or in the plaza) which makes it a very comfortable environment to being in.
Cusco is not hard to sell because of Machu Picchu. There is no way people will skip this city because of the many famous wonders surrounding it, not only Machu Picchu but the Rainbow Mountain and areas like the Sacred Valley.
However, if we are only talking about the city itself, I found Cusco to be very similar with Rome, where the weather is awful (and often raining) but everyone still knows how to have fun. When I first came here in 2014, I expected to be curled with my pillow and in bed all day because of the cold weather but Cusco is so active, especially the nightlife!
It is very safe to walk at night. Cusco is a very walkable city. Beware when you’re in clubs though. In 2019, many bars closed because of drug raids. Be careful with who you are with because Cusco is trying its best to fight the rampant drug culture in the city. Don’t involve yourself in such things so you won’t get into serious trouble.
Peru travel and safety tips for solo female travelers
Unlike their South American neighbors, it is very rare for Peru to get bad press. People always visit because they have what other countries don’t: the Machu Picchu. I do think that this shouldn’t be the only reason why you should visit Peru but there are many other places that are equally attractive.
Don’t fret. Peru is not one of those countries where you have to be extremely vigilant but it is very important to take safety precautions when doing solo female travel in Peru. Below are some tips:
Always have Internet
There will be places in Peru where Internet is hard but if you can get a sim card as soon as you arrive, it will help you not just to navigate your travels but also to call someone when in need. I use a Travelwifi not just in Peru but in over 100+ countries to make sure I always have the means to call in case of emergency.
Always be with people (if you’re not confident to be alone)
When you are already doing your solo female travel in Peru, you will see what I mean when I said that you’ll always find a travel partner, especially when staying in hostels. Personally, I walked a couple of times by myself at night but because of this hostel culture, I’m almost never alone! It’s so effortless to make friends in Peru and I recommend that you hang out with people a lot, most especially if you are new to solo travel.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t walk by yourself, please don’t get me wrong. But I realized how women have different levels of confidence when it comes to traveling alone so if you don’t feel 100% confident in going somewhere by yourself, it is better to be with someone. After all, we’re not proving anything to anyone. It is better to say you’re not comfortable in doing it than risking your safety.
Speaking Spanish really helps a lot
Peru speaks Spanish like its neighbors and I find my Spanish-speaking skills very handy. When you can speak Spanish, it gives you more confidence to navigate your travels and go around by yourself. In my experience, my fluency in Spanish gave the people around me the many reasons why I shouldn’t be treated indifferently. When you speak the language, you become part of another culture and being a part of it gives you a big boost of self-reliance.
Consider your source
I know the news is one of the most reliable platforms we cling to as it appears to be the only resource we have when planning our travels but before saying no to solo female travel in Peru, make sure you’ve exhausted all your efforts to investigate.
You may contact locals on Couchsurfing to see the current situation (that’s what I do). Just make sure the person/local you are going to contact has enough Couchsurfing credentials. Check references and vouches from guests they hosted.
Get in touch with your country’s embassy/consulate in Peru
I always do this, especially when in doubt in the countries I visit. I send an email to the embassy or consulate of my country to see the situation. When I planned to go to Pakistan, I wrote to the Embassy of the Philippines there and asked if it’s safe for a Filipina woman to travel to Pakistan. The consulate staff, which was also a Filipina responded and told me it’s okay. She gave me a go signal and wished me well in my travels to Pakistan.
Please, please, please. Do not travel to Peru without travel insurance
I’ve had enough of people comfortably traveling without insurance. I know it’s another expenditure in your travels but more than anything else, it is important! I’ve had medical emergencies in the past where I found myself without travel insurance. It’s really painfully expensive!
I recently got hospitalized while I was in Peru and I am really thankful that I purchased travel insurance beforehand!
Female-friendly accommodations in Peru: where to stay
The hostel culture in Peru is very strong so if this is your first solo female travel in Peru escapade, I’d highly recommend you to stay in hostels. Do not isolate yourself. You’d be surprised how many people you’ll meet, how they’re going to change your life, and how you’ll learn about life at another level from people with different cultures.
Peru has dormitories exclusive for women that come at a higher price. The thing is, some new travelers are still availing this all-female dorm and that’s okay – I totally don’t have anything against that mindset. But I do believe that dormitories shouldn’t have gender biases.
Another level of looking at this is that girls dorms are more organized (and cleaner) than boys dorms but if you are not that picky with roommates, save some bucks by going into mix-dormitories.
Peruvian hostels are the best and most of them have branches in all the major cities in Peru. Below are some of my favorite hostel chains:
Selina is a new hostel chain in Peru and has boosted the level of prestige on how hostels should be: cheap and beautiful. Selina’s interior design is filled with colors (their designer is Mexican). They have also succeeded in making the beds affordable (at $10/bed) while making the hostel efficient and functional.
They have co-working spaces, a fully-equipped kitchen, a bar, and a restaurant. Selina really did their best foot forward in housing digital nomads and long-term backpackers. However, Selina’s format is not the usual backpacker type. People who stay in Selina are more quiet individuals who just want to stay somewhere cheap and nice. There is very little room in meeting people in Selina because the culture is just so different.
If you want a more social hostel, then Kokopelli is the place. Compared to other party hostels, Kokopelli has a very relaxed mood but not too relaxed, if you get what I mean? I mean, people who stay in Kokopelli know how to party! I lived in their Paracas branch where I was a bar manager for a year and my job was to get people drinking (aka spending their money on alcohol) but at the same time, control the craziness.
Kokopelli is where I met my now best friends forever and working there opened great opportunities for me. They have volunteering programs for bartenders for a minimum of 2 weeks. If you’re traveling long-term and want to work in Kokopelli as a bartender, let me know and I’ll hook you up!
I use Agoda and Booking.com to find the cheapest accommodations in Jordan and all over the world. I love the “pay at the property” feature which doesn’t require a credit card and has no cancellation fees. If you want to go really really really solo,
The best way to meet people in Peru
I already mentioned that hostels are the best way to meet people in Peru but if you are having a hard time doing this (and/or you’re not the type to stay in a hostel), here are some additional insights:
Go hostel hopping
90% of the hostels in Peru have their own bars where outsiders can come and hang out. If you want a peaceful place to stay in but still be part of the nightlife, go to hostel bars!
This new feature in the CS app allows you to get in touch and hang out with people who are traveling in Peru. I’ve used it a lot and find it one of the most effective (and quick) ways to meet people when I am traveling anywhere in the world.
Do a volunteering program
I traveled South America from 2013-2016 mainly doing volunteering. I worked in hostels, restaurants, etc, and got accommodations and food for free in exchange for a few hours of work per week. The jobs are not very hard. It will still give you time to explore the area you chose to work in. This is the best way to know a place not just in Peru but anywhere in the world. I really recommend you do it!