Bolivia – Karla Mendoza (2014)

• Be extremely cautious when crossing streets. Make eye contact with drivers and walk quickly across streets. Many streets in Bolivia don’t have pedestrian signals for walking and stopping. Car drivers are impatient and will advance as soon as the street light turns green, whether or not you’ve finished crossing the street.
• Only drink bottled, bagged, or boiled water. Bolivia is a land-locked country, so access to fresh water is impossible. Purification is not up to standards with developed countries, so faucet water contains amoebas, among other bacteria and impurities that will make you sick. Many Bolivians develop strong stomachs that can digest this water without getting sick, so they might use it to wash vegetables or make fruit juices to sell on the street, which leads to my next tip.
• Avoid eating street foods. Just play it safe. You don’t know the quality of ingredients used to make the empanadas or salteñas on the street. Odds are you’ll find a tastier, healthier meal in an established restaurant nearby for just a couple more Bolivianos.
• Avoid unlicensed taxis and be careful when using public transportation, “trufis.” Unlicensed taxis are usually a bit cheaper, but many drivers will take advantage of you if you look foreign. They are also less reliable because if they don’t work for a company, they can’t contact headquarters via radio for directions to any streets they don’t know, so they’ll just guess and/or expect you to guide them. Trufis are difficult because there’s no limit on how many people can enter the vehicle. There are also no stops on the routes the trufis take, so you have to call out to the drivers to stop, and that can be difficult if you don’t know the city.
• Be prepared for extreme weather. During my time in Bolivia, I experienced the temperature rise up to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and drop to 14 degrees Fahrenheit at night. It was usually very dry, though it did rain for three days in a row, randomly.

Peru – Kali Basman (2014)

I strongly encourage any reader to make the journey to Peru. From the serene villages nestled into the jungle along the Amazon River, to the endless stairways through the vivid streets of a crowded and colorful Cusco, Peru has something to offer every traveler. Of course, every traveler should go equipped with some basic knowledge of how to stay safe there:
• The Amazon Jungle is beyond amazing and I highly recommend paying this complex and vibrant landscape a visit. It offers much environmental diversity so when adventuring there make sure you are always with an experienced and knowledgeable guide. You should book any excursion there with an established touring company before visiting. MAKE SURE to bring extra strong mosquito repellant. Sleep in a mosquito net. Do not walk alone. Drink purified water only.
• In high elevations in Peru: Peru is home to some wondrous villages and cities at extremely high elevations. For instance, Cusco is over 11,000 feet. There are altitude sickness pills available and I recommend traveling with them just in case you begin to feel the effects of altitude. Some symptoms of altitude sickness include:
o A headache, usually throbbing. Worse during the night and when you wake up
o Loss of appetite
o Sick to your stomach
o Feeling weak and tired
o Feeling dizzy
If you are hiking, camping, or just traveling, you and those with you need to know the symptoms of altitude sickness. People often mistake altitude sickness for the flu, a hangover, or dehydration. As a rule, consider your symptoms to be altitude sickness unless you can prove they are not.
• Taxi Transportation throughout Peru: If you travel by taxi, know that there are no meters so you will need to preemptively arrange a price with your taxi driver. Only take trusted taxis, such as from the stations at the airport. You can always ask the hotel/hostel to arrange a taxi for you. Only use officially licensed taxis- there should be some sign of documentation in the front window or on the dashboard. Keep your windows rolled up while driving or stopped in a busy city because snatch theft is common. Keep your luggage with you, instead of in the trunk, as much as possible.
• Other Miscellaneous Tips
o Use a money belt! Having your wallet in your pocket or in a backpack behind you is vulnerable and increases your chances of theft.
o Split up your cash, credit cards, and other important documents and resources in case one of your bags gets stolen.
o Dress conservatively as not to draw attention to yourself.
o Travel with a trusted friend.

Ecuador – Taina Paredes (2013)

1. Make sure to visit your doctor and get all of the vaccinations and medications that you may need, especially if you are travel to different places in a country. In Ecuador, there are several health risks including malaria and altitude sickness. You want to be prepared and informed.
2. Get locks for your suitcases. There are several cases of robberies with airport luggage in Quito.
3. Travel through a specific organized program that you have done your research on. I originally was going to travel to Ecuador through another teaching organization. However, it proved itself to be very unprofessional and sketchy, leaving me with many unanswered questions and scared for my safety. I found out volunteers of the program previously had some of the same experiences, were not prepared for their trip to Ecuador, and many times were mugged or put into danger due to this. Luckily, due to my research and awareness, I was able to find a program that was well known, safe, gave me all the details of my travel. You don’t want to put yourself in danger at your own fault.
4. Make several copies of your passport and ONLY carry around copies. When you are out and about, the best form of identification is your passport. However, you do not want to lose it or have anything happen to it, so keep it safe and secured at your place of stay, and carry a copy whenever you are heading out.

5. Try to stay with someone from the community. This is a way of fitting into and emerging in the community and culture a bit faster. It will also help to get you more accustomed to the language, which is essential as the majority do not speak or understand English. It also serves as a safety precaution, as they know the do’s and don’ts of the community and can give you great pointers all throughout your trip.

6. Arrange for a cab to pick you up from the airport that has been recommended by someone you trust. This way is safer than just taking any cab that comes by the airport. If you do not have this luxury, make sure the cab has a certified cab number on it. If it does not, wait until you find one that does.
7. Always carry a purse that goes over your shoulder, and that does not have precious belongings in it. Quito is a beautiful city but there are still many thefts that go on, especially on buses. Make sure to hold them near to you on buses, as there are possibilities of theft and bag slashes. A small shoulder bag gives you more security and if, by chance, something were to happen, you will not have lost much.
8. Be careful about what you eat and drink. The water all over Ecuador is very different from the water in the United States, and can make you very sick. Several of the foods, particularly from street vendors, are cooked by this water without first sterilizing it. You do not want to be on a trip and sick. It will make you vulnerable and miserable.
9. Always plan your routes ahead of time, with full detail. Figure out which walkways and buses you need to take, and alternative routes. Get home before dark if you are alone, although it is best to travel in pairs or groups at all times, for security purposes and less vulnerability.
10. If you are going to a bar or club at night, do not drink a lot. Alcohol in Ecuador is much cheaper, but you put yourself at risk when drinking alcohol, even if you are legal in the country. Make smart and safe choices while still having fun.

Peru – Genevieve Smith (2013)

In mid February — before I was scheduled to leave for Cusco, Peru in early March – an issue was released by the U.S. Embassy to U.S. tourists of a potential kidnapping threat in the Cusco region. The U.S. embassy believed there was a threat from the Peruvian terrorist group, The Shining Path. The Shining Path was inspired by Maosim to lead a “People’ War” to overthrow what they called “bourgeois democracy” who emerged as a powerful and growing force in Peru in the 1980s. The Shining Path was severely weakened in the 1990s after failing to install a Communist state and the fall of the founder in 1992, but some remain active in southern Peru. In December 2011, Florindo Flores, the last of the original leaders of the Shining Path, admitted that the Shining Path ahead been defeated and said that remaining rebels were ready for talks with government. Shortly after that the U.S> Embassy released the warning based on information they believe they had intercepted from the group. (Note: Flores was sentenced to life in prison in early June 2013. )
Myself and my team members implementing our program for young indigenous women’s leadership and empowerment around sustainable development issues, took this threat extremely seriously. First, we got more information by contacting our three main partners on the ground in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. One of our partners on the ground works for SIT, a selective study abroad program consisting of largely Americans. She sent us a report, including information from the Peruvian government regarding the warning, that was being sent to all the American students arriving in the following several weeks, saying that there was no perceivable threat in Cusco and there are only certain areas in the jungle, which should be avoided and are dangerous due to drug trafficking centers from the Shining Path, largely cocaine. With information from our partners on the ground and their dedication to our safety, we were comfortable travelling as a team to the area, but only with strict safety precautions.
Our team added to a working list of safety precautions, including:
1. Do not take taxis form the airport when first arriving – be picked up by our program partners
2. Buy two phones immediately and exchange phone numbers with primary local contacts
3. Register our trip and dates with the US embassy: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
a. Link:
After a short time in Cusco and in the Sacred Valley, it became clear that the warning had little validity, and there was little to no threat in the general Cusco area. Allegedly, the threat had been issued after an isolated attack in a jungle area on Americans in December followed by the mistaken disappearance of an American couple – later realized had been travelling with no communication. Regardless, it is always important to take extra safety precautions when travelling in a foreign country.
Here are some additional tips for general travelling tips in Cusco and the Sacred Valley region:
I. Before leaving your home country
a. Travel and Health Insurance
i. Great website with various options to explore different health insurances and levels:
ii. Print our travel insurance and keep in a safe place
b. Medications
i. Cipro!!!!
c. Registering your trip with the US Consulate (STEP): Link above
d. Other:
i. Two copies of your passport – kept in different places than your actual passport
e. Debit cards and credit cards
i. Bring at least two debit cards
II. General Peru Info:
a. Health
i. No uncooked vegetables
b. Water
i. Buy sealed water bottles
ii. Bring a steripen: (my personal choice/ investment) or another method to purify your water
c. Land travel
i. Bus travel is the main form of travel between cities – it is important to note that often you will be recommended not to take night buses between the cities. This is because bus drivers have been known to drive drunk at night and it is more dangerous to traverse the windy roads that often connect Peru’s cities in the dark. If possible, take an established bus company, such as:
1. Cruz del Sur (perhaps the most reputable) –
ii. Combi cars – combi’s are like minibuses or large vans that typically take up to 20 packed people at one time between various destinations (Peru’s form of a cheap taxi)
1. I have found these to be quite safe for short trips, under one hour, but would not recommend them for longer trips as they can be quite uncomfortable with people boarding in and out.
Peru is a beautiful country with a friendly culture and I did not feel threatened once while I was there working on our program for over two months. The truth is, the majority of Peruvians are incredibly kind and helpful people. The Peruvian government protects travelers well, as tourism is an important component of their economy. Always be aware and knowledgeable of where you are going, but do not fear, and go with an open mind and heart to experience the incredible beauty of Peru.

Chile and Patagonia – Tammy Elwell (2013)

Before arrival
• Learn about area to know place names, modes of transportation, and local norms.
• Try to locate a local contact person through a trusted source, and establish communication with that local point person.
• Develop skills to listen to intuition and instincts. Meditation, yoga, and other practices help develop skills of self-awareness and self-listening.
• Share digital copies of passport and health insurance information with your emergency contact(s) at home. Talk with emergency contact(s) beforehand to establish a protocol for any health issue and how to deal with insurance.
• Consider registering with U.S. embassy, especially for lengthier stays. They then send you notices on any potentially risky situations such as national protests. In case of emergencies such as earthquakes, they know more or less where you are located.

When traveling
• Keep paper copy of passport with emergency contacts’ names and phone numbers written clearly. Include contacts from home and at least one person in local area. Keep this paper copy in wallet with small change.
• When possible, travel when rested and alert. When tired, consider paying to rest in a hotel and refresh before continuing travels.
• Blend in as much as possible and be aware of surroundings. If harassed, ignore the harasser and work to be equanimous and calm. Find a nice looking woman, and stick near her.
• Store cash in sock, sports bra, or money belt. Keep change and small bills for public transportation fare at hand. In the case misplaced or stolen, you still have bigger bills stored elsewhere. Store passport in safe spot, either on you or locked up.
• In buses, prefer mid-front seats since closer to bus driver assistant.
• In shared taxis, prefer front passenger seat since this most often has a working seatbelt.
• In Chiloé and other rural areas in southern Chile, foreign and national backpackers often hitchhike. If you choose to hitchhike, do so during the day with someone else you know and trust.
• In urban areas, find phone numbers for a radio taxi service and keep this number with you. In any case where you may be out late, or in the case there is no designated driver, opt to call the radio taxi and pay that service.
• In rural areas, public transportation tends to be scarce. Sometimes a bus or boat may be delayed due to poor weather. In these cases, know where you can stay, either in a hostel or with family members of a local you trust.
• Stay in tune with your inner voice and, if something seems fishy or dubious, listen to that instinct.
• Enjoy your experience!

Peru – Anna Kirsch (2012)

Anna Kirsch

Anna Kirschis a medical student at Georgia Health Sciences University.  Anna (Mariah) worked in Peru during the summer of 2012, leading a research team that is assessing the impact of cancer initiatives by a local clinic in the Andes.  Mariah received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Anna’s travel safety tips:

Peru has become a popular destination for many travelers of all ages.  Although relatively safe, when traveling to anywhere in the world, I would advise taking certain precautions in the unlikely event something unexpected happens while abroad.  In addition, it is important to remember basic awareness and common sense to keep you safe while traveling to ensure your health and safety.  Based on my recent travels to the Andean region of Peru, I have written out a few guidelines below to help ensure health and safety while enjoying your trip to Peru.

I.             Before you leave your home country:

A.             Vaccinations and Health Consideration

If you will not be traveling to the jungle on your own, yellow fever vaccination will not be necessary.  Antimalarial prophylaxis is also not necessary if you remain in the Andes Mountains (Cusco) or Lima.  However, if you will travel to Iquitos in the jungle region, malaria prophylaxis will be required.  Hepatitis A vaccination is suggested.  It is given in 2 doses spaced 6 months apart. It may be a good idea to bring:

  • Diamox (acetazolamide)- Altitude sickness: You may choose to take Diamox (acetazolamide) to help prevent acute high altitude sickness.  Diamox 125- 250mg every 12 hours should be started at least 24 hours prior to departure for Cusco.  This medication causes an increase in urination and respiratory rate.  The side effects include numbness, tingling, or vibrating sensations in your hands, feet, and lips, also an alteration in taste and a ringing in your ears.  Diamox should be continued until the second or third night at altitude.  If you are concerned with acclimatizing, talk to your doctor before you leave.
  • Ibuprofen: An anti-inflammatory and pain reliever wonderful for the first few days when adjusting to altitude!
  • A decongestant: High altitude and dry air make it very easy to get a respiratory infection (a cold) that is hard to kick.  A decongestant combined with hot, steamy showers is a wonderful relief in case you happen to catch a cold while on the trip.
  • Ciprofloxacin: Common anti-biotic for traveler’s diarrhea… something unfortunately not too uncommon while bouncing around developing countries and adjusting to the local cuisine.
  • Sunscreen/repellant: Peruvian sun, especially at altitude, is intense and sunscreen can be expensive in some touristy destinations.  Repellant is also great for Manchu Picchu, although other highland areas do not have many biting insects.  Both can be purchased in country, but may be more expensive than simply bringing a bit from home.
  • And any medications you normally take, including extra contacts/glasses.

Bring your medications in your carry on luggage.  Although most medications can be purchased in Peru, it is always better to be prepared.  You may access the CDC website ( for further information about precautions for Peru and South America.

B.             Travel and Health Insurance

MEDICAL EVACUATION INSURANCE: Call your medical insurance and ensure what is covered while traveling abroad.  In some cases, your medical insurance may not be valid outside of the US.  Consequently, it is smart to purchase short-term medical insurance from an external source, such as

  • Cultural Insurance Services (CISI) (800) 303-8120 or (203) 399-5132

Although accidents are unlikely to happen, medical evacuation insurance is strongly suggested just in case.  Short term plans are easy to sign up for and can be purchased on a trip-by-trip basis by a variety of services, such as:

Medical evacuation from Peru could cost more than $50,000 without evacuation insurance.  Although it is not something many of us like to dwell on before traveling, having insurance is a good safe guard against much hardship if an emergency does unfortunately occur.

Bring all insurance information with you, and leave another copy with someone you trust at home in case of an emergency!

C.             Political Security

Before traveling to any foreign country, it is good to know a bit about the current political security of where you are headed.  Check any news reports, upcoming election dates, and any US Dept. of State warnings, which for Peru, can be found at:

D.             Personal Documentation

  1. PassportAll travelers are required to have a valid passport (http: //  If you do not have a passport, get one quickly. Check the expiration date to make sure your passport is valid at least 6 months beyond your return date to the US and that there are blank pages available for entry/departure stamps.  Be sure to have your passport with you during travel to and from Peru, although a Visa is not necessary.  Extra copies of your passport should be made prior to leaving and stored either electronically, and/or in an area separate from where your actual passport will be stored while traveling.
  2. MoneyCredit cards and ATM cards are also good to have access to funds while traveling.  Make sure you notify your bank of travels before you leave, and make a copy of all your cards to store with your passport copy while traveling.  Also, include any international numbers for the appropriate banks with this documentation in case of theft or loss of a card.  Bring an extra ATM card!  I’ve had an ATM eat my card more than once while traveling, and in many small shops/towns, credit cards are a bit harder to use and will be harder to use as a primary means of currency.Also, it is a good idea to leave copies of such important documents with someone you trust at home in case of emergency.

E.             Emergency Contacts and Itinerary

Always good to have at least one person expecting to hear from you and have a rough idea where you are, no matter where you are in the world.  Leave a rough itinerary with someone you trust at home, and keep in touch with them throughout your trip.  In addition, bring a list of emergency contacts names, phone numbers (with international calling code), emails, etc. in case someone needs to help you reach home in an emergency abroad.  Put this information in your day bag and an extra in your main pack at the start of the trip, that way it will be there if you need it.

II.             Arriving to PERU!!!

A.             Lima

Getting to Cusco can be difficult, and most travelers will first arrive in Lima, Peru in route to Cusco.  Due to flight schedules, it is likely you may spend a night, or at least several hours in this airport.  Hanging out here isn’t always fun, but Internet is available at Starbucks as well as the bar in the hotel across the street from the airport can help pass the time.  Some people chose to sleep waiting for their connection, but you are not allowed thru the security line until much closer to your flight time, so if you are solo, take care to be aware of your surroundings and keep your luggage close by.  Anyone, traveling or not, has full access to this area of the airport.

B.             Cusco and Sacred Valley

Many travel agents will be overly friendly offering tours and hotels upon arrival, sometimes rather aggressively.  Although I cannot say much for the deals they offer, know that it is extremely easy, and probably more relaxing and cheaper, to find tourists offices all around Cusco and in most tourists towns throughout Peru.  Collect your luggage and head into the parking lot to escape.  There, taxis will be waiting.  If you walk to the back of the lot, you will find bartering goes a bit further and you can get a decent price into town.  If you do not know where you are staying for the first night, the Plaza del Arms is the center of Cusco’s touristy area and an easy place to find a coffee shop with tourist’s maps that will mark several hostels and restaurants to help get you oriented for your first night.

  1. High Altitude:If you choose to fly into Cusco from Lima, the first thing most travelers will notice is the effect of the high altitude.  Cusco is situated at 11,151 feet above sea level.  High altitude sickness is characterized by a headache with associated loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, and difficulty sleeping.  The best treatment of acute high altitude sickness is rest, fluids, and mild analgesics such as acetominophen or ibuprofen.  Symptoms will usually resolve in 1-2 days.In consideration of the effects of high altitude, please remember to take it easy, rest, and drink plenty of fluids.  It will be difficult to exercise at this altitude until you acclimate.  Normal physiologic changes in every one who goes to high altitude are hyperventilation, shortness of breath during exertion, changed breathing pattern at night, awakening frequently at night, and increased urination.  Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills (Diamox can be used as a sleeping pill, take upon arrival).Medication Options:   Diamox (acetazolamide)- Altitude sickness, Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills (Diamox can be used as a sleeping pill, take upon arrival). Coca tea or leaves: It is said that the drink helps reduce symptoms of high altitude illness.  However, please remember coca leaves are also used to make cocaine.  Ibuprofen –anti-inflammatory: Ibuprofen can be used to help reduce swelling of mucus membranes due to the altitude change.  In plane terms, it can help you regain your appetite and reduce any sinus pressure you may feel upon arrival.
  2. Food borne Illness and PrecautionsThere are many bacterial and parasitic food borne illnesses in Peru.  Please be very careful what and where you eat and drink.  DO NOT DRINK WATER FROM THE FAUCET OR SHOWER.  ONLY DRINK WATER FROM A SEALED BOTTLE OF PURIFIED/TREATED WATER.  Do not eat ice cubes.  Take precaution when brushing your teeth to not drink tap water.  The Peruvian tap water is not purified.  Keep your mouth closed when you take a shower.   Only eat food that has been cooked or boiled.  Do not eat food prepared on the street.  Also avoid vegetable and fruit salads and cold vegetables as they may have been washed in the local water.  Fruit that can be peeled is safe to eat.  Be extremely careful when eating at buffet type restaurants.  Do not eat raw seafood such as ceviche.Medications: Ciproflaxacin 500mg (#14) In case of acute gastroenteritis (fever, vomiting and diarrhea), you may want to bring a 7 day supply of Ciprofloxacin 500mg tablets #14, 1 tab orally twice daily) with you.
  3. Attire:Cusco is in the mountains and the average temperature during the daytime is 60° F and 40° F during the nighttime.  You can check for an idea of Cusco temperatures before leaving. We suggest that you bring a warm jacket or sweater for the evening.  A raincoat may be a good idea, particularly if you are there during the rainy season (November-March). If you will travel to Machu Picchu, consider bringing a short sleeve shirt and shorts or jeans.  The temperature will be warmer than Cusco with considerable humidity.   Because this region is known for warm alpaca clothes, you may want to purchase these items while in Peru.Hiking in Peru is amazing, but good quality hiking boots/clothes are a bit harder to come by if you are looking for normal US prices.  If you enjoy hiking, make sure you bring sturdy shoes and a few very warm layers in your pack along with you.
  4. Pickpockets:Although Cusco is a relatively safe part of Peru, common sense and awareness always helps keep you safe.  Be particularly cautious for theft of money, cell phones, laptops, cameras and documents.  Do not wear expensive jewelry or watches.  Be especially cautious if visiting local markets or downtown Lima.  A hidden money belt or pouch worn beneath your shirt may help prevent theft, and be sure to keep all zippers on bags securely closed, especially in crowded streets. Pickpockets: Walking around the tourist areas are rather safe during both day and night.  However, always be aware of pickpockets, especially during festivals.  Keep your bags/purses zipped up and if in crowds, in front of you so somebody cannot reach in and remove any of your valuables.San Blas: funky little artsy part of Cusco that is well worth a trip.  However, this area can get rather quiet and is known to be a bit more notorious for muggings and pickpockets.  Don’t walk around this area at night solo, and just be aware of your surroundings.
  5. Electricity:Because Peru uses 220 volts instead of 110 volts and a different electrical plug, an electrical adapter and voltage converter (transformer) will be required in Peru if you bring an electrical device from the US.  Some electrical devices, such as your laptop, have this built in and will not need an electrical adapter.
  6. Transportation:Taxis are relatively inexpensive in Cusco.  However, if traveling independently, always take secure taxis or call one if late at night.  Settle on a price to your destination before leaving or entering the taxi, most are slightly negotiable.  Locals generally are willing to tell you the appropriate price.  If taking a taxi from a hostel, ask the front desk owner to point out a secure taxi if it is late at night, and if possible, travel with a friend.  Carry bags with you instead of in the trunk if possible, a friend of mine had a taxi driver drive off before she was able to unload!If traveling to a more remote hostel/club/whatever at night, take a taxi in place of walking.  Don’t be a target for muggings, and if you talk to those that have lived in the area for a while, a traveler walking around in a quiet part of town at night is a great way to make yourself a target!Buses/collectivos: Vans and buses frequently make loops around the city.  Each one has a name on the top, and follows a set route.  Overall, they are pretty safe and cheap.  However, finding out the routes is sometimes a process of trial and error, or simply asking the locals.  Many are happy to help.If taking a bus or van to a near-by town, such as Pisac, try to find one in good repair, as these roads are rather full of twists and turns.  I often asked if I could sit in the front to avoid motion sickness and have the rare opportunity to buckle up for the journey.  However, I warn you that this is not the seat for the faint of heart- sometimes seeing the narrow mountain road can be rather, well, thrilling, by itself.  I recommend scheduling plenty of daylight on either end of the car journey to not only be safe on the road, but also allow you not to arrive in a strange new town or drop off location at night.
  7. Alcohol:Remember you are at altitude in a dry climate: this means not only will you become dehydrated quicker (think hangover), the alcohol will actually absorb faster into your bloodstream than at lower altitudes (think drunk faster).  If your choose to drink, which many do due to the wide array of nightlife offered here, go slower than you normally would at home and try to find purified water to sip in between beverages.Girls: some bars/bartenders, like in any location, are known to slip drugs in girls drinks out at clubs.  Try to always go out in groups, watch your drink being made, and never leave it unattended while you go off to dance or socialize.
  8. Drugs:Any street drugs such as cocaine and pot are offered fairly frequently on the streets of Cusco.  Remember that these drugs are illegal and penalties for foreigners can be harsh.  Use your head, and remember that staying in a foreign jail probably isn’t on the top of your to-do list.
  9. Money:You may exchange money in Peru, but it is easiest in larger cities like Lima and Cusco.  Bank ATM’s offer the best rates.  Hotels can exchange money, but the rates are generally not as good.  Credit cards can also be used in the major cities, but beware you may have to pay a fee or percentage for using the card abroad.  If traveling to rural settings, be sure to have some cash in local currency (nuevos soles).  Do not carry a large amount of cash.  Avoid changing money on the street, as there is a chance of receiving false currency.  Have CLEAN, NEW bills ($20s) for exchange only!!!!  Ripped or crumbled bills will not be accepted for exchange.
  10. Phone:Your cell phone may operate in Peru; however check with your service plan to assess charges.  Otherwise, calling cards or Skype (if you have internet) may used to call home.   Local cell phones can be purchased quite cheaply in most markets in Peru, and you simply purchase minutes, as you need them.  If staying in the country for a few weeks, this may be a great option not only for safety (sketch cab? Get lost? Dark sooner than expected? GREAT to have a phone at those moments), but also to keep in touch with friends along the way!

Last of all, have fun!  Staying safe while traveling mostly involves common sense, and building a few routines (extra document copies, making sure you have medical/evacuation insurance, keeping someone posted on your whereabouts, etc.) into your travel routine to keep you safe in case of the unexpected.

Ecuador – Gwen Niekamp (2012)

Gwen Niekamp

Gwen Niekampgraduated from Vassar College.  Gwen volunteered this summer at the summer camp in Ecuador founded by another SWF recipient,   Emma Coates-Finke.  Gwen received a $1000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Gwen’s travel safety tips:

Before you go, learn as much as you can about your destination—both the country as a whole and the specific city, neighborhood and/or community where you will be staying.

The travel I did with the help of Sara’s Wish brought me to San Clemente, Ecuador for the second time. I was fortunate because I could draw on my firsthand experiences from my previous trip in terms of bus schedules, accommodations and other things like local dialects. If you are preparing to travel somewhere new, look at blogs, travel guides and maps. Ask your friends or professors for recommendations and pick up key phrases in the local language (if you are headed to Ecuador, that means Spanish and Kichwa). If you are a big adventurer, you won’t be satisfied with only hearsay. Still, listening to the positive and negative experiences of other travelers is valuable, if only to help you build a list of must-sees and should-avoids. You can hit the ground running when you arrive in your host country and if a problem should arise, you will be familiar with effective coping strategies.

Register your travel information with the United States embassy.

This tip, like the first, isn’t specific to travelers to Ecuador. The U.S. State Department offers a free service called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You can enter your travel information about your trip abroad and subscribe to Travel Warnings and Alerts for your destination country, which can help in an emergency. You can enroll online.

Be prepared for traveler’s sickness.

At camp inauguration, Emma and I performed a skit for the campers in which we poked fun at ourselves and other travelers. We used a gallon-size ziploc full of pills, lozenges, sunscreen, bug spray and our other pooled toiletries as a prop, and the skit got a good laugh from the kids who are familiar with over-prepared tourists.

I didn’t use much of the first-aid baggie that I had packed, but it wasn’t useless. Advil and Tums can help you cure common traveler’s sicknesses or at least treat them until you can reach a doctor. Some toiletries—notably tampons and contact lenses/solution—aren’t as widely available or cheap in Ecuador as they are in the U.S. Stock up on your prescriptions before you go.

Most importantly, make a note of the nearest hospital, doctor and pharmacy. Keep the doctor’s number at hand. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s a relief to have if you do.

Familiarize yourself with domestic transportation and travel safety in Ecuador.

I stayed in Quito by myself for a few days so I could meet camp volunteers at the airport. While in the city alone, I joined with other independent travelers for sightseeing, cab rides and walking at night. To avoid being thought of as “easy targets” by pick-pocketers in the Centro Histórico and other tourist areas, we tried to travel in small groups and use as much Spanish as possible.

Taxis are widely available in the northern cities of Ecuador where I traveled. Hoy, a newspaper based in Quito, printed an article in 2010 claiming that about a third of the city’s 15,000 taxis are unregistered and illegal. Only travel in cabs that are marked (the side doors should display a company name and a registration number). If a cab doesn’t have a meter, negotiate a price with the driver before you get in.

If you are traveling around the country by bus, buy tickets in the terminal before you board so that you are guaranteed a seat. At departure there might be a dozen empty seats, but as the bus fills, passengers holding tickets can and will kick you out of your seat. That means a long bus ride standing up or sitting in the aisle, which is uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst.

Especially if you will be visiting the mountains, engaging in adventure tourism or hiking, bring a headlamp. Even Andean villages that are frequented by eco-tourists don’t have street lamps. With a flashlight or headlamp, you will be more visible to the drivers of cars and motorcycles that wind up mountain roads at top speeds. (I also found that my headlamp minimized my stumbling during nighttime trips to the outdoor bathroom!)

Be especially cautious when banking.

Due to service charges and exchange rates, using ATMs in other countries can be expensive. To avoid the expenses that add up after multiple transactions, I often withdrew larger amounts of cash at a time. If you are doing the same, do be cautious. Don’t take out cash in unfamiliar neighborhoods, when you are by yourself or after dark. As soon as the ATM spits out the cash, divide it and hide it in several different secure pockets. To do this as discreetly as possible, I recommend using ATMs that are inside banks and not in view of the passersby on a crowded city street. Needless to say, if you are out running errands, stop at the ATM towards the end of your trip so that you can minimize the amount of time you are walking around with large amounts of cash on your person.

Petty theft and pick-pocketing comprise the bulk of crime in Ecuador, especially around the city of Ibarra where I spent the summer. Thieves usually seek cash (again, do be conscious of those around you when you are banking), but the bright side is that identity theft and cybercrime are much less common. If your wallet is stolen, contact your bank and cancel your banking card, but don’t panic; your card has probably been tossed without a second look.

Seek immersion, but remove yourself from situations in which you feel unsafe.

Definitions of safety and security differ between Ecuador and the United States. I grew up accustomed to security cameras in stores, but in Ecuador I was followed up and down aisles by teenage security guards with machine guns. As another example: Ecuadorians, especially near Ibarra, tend to travel in the beds of pickup trucks without the slightest thought to buckle up, which has always been second nature to me.

Travel demands that you challenge yourself to adapt to a new culture. This could mean trying new foods, eating meals at new times, wearing clothes that do not automatically label you as a tourist, among many other examples. Seeking immersion is admirable… but trust your instincts when it comes to your safety.

If your cab driver seems to be drunk, get out of the car. If your host family mistreats you or if a member of the family does or says something inappropriate, switch host families. If a stranger offers to give you a ride to your destination while you are waiting for a bus, say no, gracias and wait the few extra minutes.

By all means be an open-minded adventurer, but your safety should never be a compromise.

Argentina – Kimberly Ellenson (2012)

Kimberly Ellenson

Kimberly Ellensonis a graduate of Cornell University.  Kimberly is living in Argentina for six months, where she is volunteering with the Foundation for Sustainable Development and focusing on increasing access to health care for impoverished citizens.  Kimberly received a $1500 scholarship  from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Kimberly’s travel safety tips:

The Argentine Northwest is replete with breathtaking landscapes, soaring mountains, and vertigo-inspiring scenery. If you are fortunate enough to travel through the region, there’s a lot to see within hours of each other – the Atacama Desert in Chile, the colonial city of Salta, the marketplaces and jungles of Jujuy, and mountain pueblos throughout the provinces steeped in tradition and culture of the indigenous people. The proximity of these wonders means that travel throughout the region is frequent and possible. Unfortunately, this also means that common and not-so-common travel awareness is necessary.

  1. Common travel tips: don’t carry large sums of money, make copies of your passport and put them in different places, travel with someone whenever possible, ensure others know of your travel plans and destinations.
  2. Read Lonely Planet or other travel books/blogs to familiarize yourself with the area before you go. Often you will find location-specific safety tips that will heighten your awareness and make you a savvier traveler.
  3. Prior to arriving in a larger city, find the number for the local remis (taxi) service. These remises are required to register their pick-up and drop-off points. Never enter an unmarked taxi, even though they will frequently stop if you need a cab. If you cannot access the remis number, only enter marked taxis, and be sure others know of your whereabouts.
  4. Always carry an extra phone card on you. Local cell phones operate on credit, and at times I would find myself out of credit but needing to call a taxi or friend. I always had an extra 30-peso (about $5) phone card on me just in case.
  5. Speak Spanish if and whenever possible. Locals will appreciate your efforts.
  6. Wear darker or subtler clothing. Argentines are conservative dressers and well-dressed, from blue-collar to white-collar individuals. Clothing with loud or bright patterns will peg you as a foreigner.
  7. If someone begs for money, respond with a polite “no gracias”. When you are courteous, the person simply turns around or stops asking; if you ignore them, they are more likely to follow you.
  8. If you are unsure about a destination or bus stop, just ask someone! Argentines are very friendly and love to help foreigners, and often times they will “have your back” and make sure you get to your final destination safely.
  9. Try not to engage in political talk. A common sentiment found in Argentina is that Americans have an Imperialist mindset and act entitled. The best approach is to remove yourself from such conversations or comment that your government doesn’t define your thinking.
  10. Stay away from plazas at night.

Traveling through Argentina is a life-changing experience. Be open to the wonderful people you will meet, things you will see and learn, and delicious food you will eat. Just use common sense and familiarize yourself with the places you’re going, and you will experience all the wonders this beautiful country has to offer!

Ecuador – Emma Coates-Finke (2010)

Emma Coates-Finke is a graduate of Northampton High School and a student at Vassar College. Emma worked in Ecuador teaching English and running a culture and arts-based summer camp in a small indigenous agricultural community. Emma received $1000 from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Read Emma’s travel safety tips:

1) If possible, travel with a buddy or a group. This gives you company and makes you less vulnerable, and two or three heads are always better than one when it comes to making decisions about when to take a risk and when to stay on the safe side.

2) Travel with as few valuables as possible. I always travel with a cheap point and shoot camera, as little cash as I think I need, and a copy of my passport rather than the real thing.

3) If you´re traveling with a large suitcase, you can send it in the luggage compartment under the bus, but keep any valuables with you in your seat. Keep an eye out the window when the bus stops to make sure no one´s getting away with your suitcase.

4) Travel during the day if possible. If you have to travel at night, make sure you know where you´re going when you arrive, and try to group together with other passengers to get there.

5) Look up some numbers of taxi companies if you will be spending time in Quito. Not all taxis that run the streets are legitimate, and calling a company to order a cab is a way to ensure a safe one. They usually only take 5-10 minutes to arrive.

6) Trust your local friends and acquaintances and ask their advice about travel safety. Hostal and restaurant owners, host families, guards at the bus terminals, travel company offices, etc. are all good sources for information on the go. If you aren´t sure, ask! Don´t let your concerns about travel safety inhibit you from experiencing the country.

Venezuela – Azita Jacobson (2006)

Azita Jacobson is a graduate student in Public Health at New York Medical College. Azita received a scholarship of $1500 from Sara’s Wish Foundation in order to support her study of the effects of harmful household environmental pollutants on pregnant women in Marcibo, Venezuela.

Here are Azita’s travel safety tips:

Maraciabo is blistering year round, so plan to take hot weather appropriate clothing. Most of my long distance travel in Maraciabo was by car. If you are the type to get out and see as much as you can, then I strongly suggest using registered taxis as opposed to unmarked taxi services. There are phone numbers for registered taxis published everywhere. Usually from public places, like a shopping district or tourist attractions, there are always registered taxis waiting. From other areas like residential areas and areas less traveled, you can call up a taxi. Registered taxis have clear published fares and radio their assignments to their headquarters.

Local bus travel can be particularly dangerous. This is not because of theft or violence, but instead due to the extreme over crowding. In the mornings I had to ride the bus from my home to the clinic in which I worked. People literally would hang on to the open windows panes from the outside of the bus (formally a school bus) because there were so many people squashed in the seats and aisle.

Most of my case studies and house visits were during my study were reached by walking.

By caring a calling card you can ensure a way to make a phone call in emergencies at the payphone booths. You can buy them online for a fraction of the cost that they are sold for on the streets. You can also access international calling from any of the numerous convenient phone kiosks/news stands around the city. These kiosks have multiple cell phones chained to a table, you can call anywhere locally for an extremely reasonable price.

During my time in Maraciabo, the metro train system was not up in running in my area. So I have no experience with this mode of transportation. However, I rode the Metro train in Caracas. There are subway maps around each train station and the individuals at the information desk are very helpful. In Caracas, most of the taxis in the city center are registered. So I highly recommend taking a taxi, indefinitely, during late, dark hours. I would strongly recommend investing in ground transportation, such as a shuttle or a taxi service to get to and from the airport as soon as you land in Caracas. This will ensure a return trip to the airport. I failed to do this and when the major bridge connecting Caracas to the airport (approximately a 30-45 minute drive) fell due to the rain waters, I had no way to return to the airport. Unregistered taxis will solicit their services for ridiculous amounts of money. What they fail to tell you is that their “alternate” route is though the extremely sketchy neighborhoods along the “Caretera Vieja” or the “Old Highway.” This is an area that not even the military will go without being highly armed. So try to confirm your way to and from the airport in advance if possible.

If you plan on traveling outside of Maraciabo via airplane, plan on paying with cash or with a credit card of a resident from Maraciabo. Most travel has to be arranged by a travel agent and they usually do not accept US credit cards. In my experience, travel agencies that were more lenient with accepting more forms of payment were more stringent in travel restrictions.

Most importantly, make sure that even though you may think as a pedestrian that you have the right away…think again, pay close attention, and be ready to run when crossing streets by foot.