The dangers of pickpockets and robberies cannot be over emphasized, though the situation does seem to have improved since the dark days of the late 1980s. Without encouraging a permanent state of paranoia and constant watchfulness in busy public situations, common sense and general alertness are recommended. The South American Explorers’ Club can give you the low-down on the latest thieving practices, some of which have developed over the years into quite elaborate and skilful techniques.
Generally speaking, thieves ( ladrones) work in teams of often smartly dressed young men and women, in crowded markets, bus depots and train stations, targeting anyone who looks like they’ve got money. One of them will distract your attention (an old woman falling over in front of you or someone splattering an ice cream down your jacket) while another picks your pocket, cuts open your bag with a razor, or simply runs off with it. Peruvians and tourists alike have even had earrings ripped out on the street. Bank ATMs are a target for muggers in cities, particularly after dark, so visit them with a friend or two during daylight hours or make sure there’s a policeman within visual contact. Armed mugging does happen in Lima, and it’s best not to resist, and “strangle mugging” has been a bit of a problem in Cusco and Arequipa, usually involving night attacks when the perpetrator tries to make the victim unconscious by strangulation. Again, be careful not to walk down badly lit streets alone in the early hours. Theft from cars and even more so, theft of car parts, is rife in Peru, particularly in Lima. Also, in some of the more popular hotels in the large cities, especially Lima, bandits masquerading as policemen break into rooms and steal the guests’ most valuable possessions while holding the hotel staff at gun point. Objects left on restaurant floors in busy parts of town, or in unlocked hotel rooms, are obviously liable to take a walk.
You’d need to spend the whole time visibly guarding your luggage to be sure of keeping hold of it; even then, though, a determined team of thieves will stand a chance. However, a few simple precautions can make life a lot easier. The most important is to keep your ticket, passport (and tourist card), money and traveller’s cheques on your person at all times (under your pillow while sleeping and on your person when washing in communal hotel bathrooms). Money belts are a good idea for traveller’s cheques and tickets, or a holder for your passport and money can be hung either under a shirt, or from a belt under trousers or skirts. A false pocket , secured by safety pins to the inside of trousers, skirts or shirts also makes it harder for thieves or muggers to find your cash reserve (and is easy to transfer between items of clothing). Some people go as far as lining their bags with chicken wire (called maya in Peru) to make them knife-proof, and wrapping wire around camera straps for the same reason (putting their necks in danger to save their cameras).
The only certain course is to insure your gear and cash before you go. Take refundable traveller’s cheques, register your passport at your embassy in Lima on arrival (this doesn’t take long and can save days should you lose yours), and keep your eyes open at all times. If you do get ripped off, report it to the tourist police in larger towns, or the local police in more remote places, and ask them for a certified denuncia – this can take a couple of days. Many insurance companies will require a copy of the police denuncia in order to reimburse you, though some only require proof of your whereabouts at the time of the incident (for example a hotel bill or a tour company letter or report). Check with your insurance company before leaving for Peru as to what their requirements are.

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