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.