If you’re planning a trip to Lima, or to Machu Picchu and thinking about stopping over in Lima, you might be wondering: is it safe? Like always with this question, it’s tough to answer definitively. On the one hand, Peru in general has lower crime rates than its neighbors Colombia and Brazil; on the other, crime is much more frequent in Peruvian cities than in the United States or Europe. We have had a great time visiting Lima – we never felt unsafe and strongly recommend the city. But every visitor to Lima needs to be aware of their surroundings and take precautions to avoid an infuriating pickpocketing or a much more scary mugging.
So what parts of Lima are safe to visit?
Lima is a giant city of 8 million people, many of whom are very poor and sadly live in parts of the city controlled by drug gangs, and are faced with the constant and very real threat of violent crime. This shows in the statistics: homicide rates in Lima are 5 times higher (or more in some areas) than in New York City. But don’t let these stats put you off from visiting! The risk of crime varies greatly across the city (as it does everywhere), and by sticking to right areas you can greatly reduce your risk.
We stayed in the region of Lima called Miraflores, and we’ve loved it. Yes, it’s far more upscale than the rest of the city, and you’ll see many other tourists. But it also has a great collection of restaurants, bars, and shops, and you can safely walk, day or night, on most of its streets. To us, this is a huge benefit – there are few things more annoying than feeling like you need to take a taxi to go out after sunset (which is at 6pm – all year!)
Nearby to Miraflores is Barranco – this is perhaps a “cooler” area, with lots of bars and restaurants, and much fewer fancy stores. It’s also a great, safe place to stay – although it is much smaller, really only a few streets. This might limit your walking at night.
Some people stay in the historical center of Lima, and while this is a great area to visit during the day, we really don’t recommend staying here for first time visitors. Like is often the case in city centers, it just clears out at night. You never want to be the only one out on a street – especially if you can’t help but stand out as gringos (like we do!)
Other than these areas, there aren’t many parts of Lima that are particularly amenable to travelers. We usually love staying in quirky, local neighborhoods far from the tourist zones – but Lima really just isn’t that kind of city. Most other neighborhoods are completely devoid of other travelers, and you’ll stand out – in a city like Lima, this is bad. As a visitor it can be extremely hard to tell whether a neighborhood is just a bit run down, or truly not somewhere that you should be. Unless you know where you’re going, we’d recommend sticking to Miraflores or Barancco. And there are great, cheap options from hostels to Airbnbs to hotels in both of these regions!
How to stay safe in Lima
The rules in Lima are the same as for any other large, somewhat crime-prone city. These are the top 3 safety guidelines that we always follow.
- NEVER walk on empty streets, night or day. It’s just dumb. You make yourself a target, and maybe there’s a reason locals aren’t out walking around. Take the bigger streets with people on them. In particular, there are some staircases leading from Miraflores down to the beach that should be 100% avoided. And the beach at night is really not somewhere you should be.
- LEAVE YOUR VALUABLES IN YOUR HOSTEL/AIRBNB! We see people walking around with Apple Watches, rings, iPhones hanging out of their pockets, DSLRs slung over one shoulder. What are they thinking!? Sometimes we’re even tempted to rob them! Seriously, when you go out walking you should have your travel phone, some cash for the day, maybe one credit card, and a COPY of your passport (leave the real one secured at home). If you carry a camera, put it away except when you’re using it. Don’t walk down the street staring at your phone. You might do this at home, but you’re not at home – people get robbed here, and you don’t want it to be you. This is not paranoia, it’s just basic common sense.
- Take Ubers. While almost all taxi drivers are great, some are not, and many robberies occur inside taxis. If you do take a taxi, call a taxi company and have one dispatched to you – do not hail one off the street. But for most travelers, using Uber is just easier – the cars are generally better quality, and the prices are set in advance so you won’t get overcharged.
Follow these rules, and you’ll probably have an incident-free trip. There’s often a tendency to either discount all warnings about crime as scaremongering by people who have never traveled, or to be scared off by the threat of crime all together. Neither of these makes sense. Of course, most people in Lima are honest and not out to cause you harm, just like everywhere else in the world. But at the same time, crime and insecurity are the number one complaints raised by locals, and you would be foolish not to take the issue seriously.
Finally, if you are unfortunate enough to be robbed, don’t even for a second think about resisting. Hand over your phone and wallet, and replace them later. The robber is probably just as scared as you, and may very well be armed. Almost all the injuries or deaths associated with crime come from resisting robbery. Your stuff is not worth it!
All this said, we love Lima! Remember that these issues are not unique to Lima – they could be said about Rio, Medellin, Mexico City, parts of Chicago, etc, etc. Take some minor precautions and you’ll almost surely be fine. Be prepared, and enjoy Lima!
Did you feel safe in Lima? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!