News: Perils in Peru

The popular getaway has seen an upsurge in violent robberies, but is it still safe? Simon Calder reports
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The Independent Travel

Rabid bats, rape and rogue taxi-drivers are three hazards facing visitors to Peru, according to new advice from the Foreign Office.

The country is the most popular among British travellers to South America, but prospective visitors face a number of challenges. For a week over Christmas, travellers were urged to have rabies jabs before departure because of reports of attacks on humans by rabid bats on beaches south of Lima.

The Foreign Office later amended its advice to recommend only people heading to the affected areas seek vaccinnations. Outbreaks of dengue fever are reported around Lima, and malaria is a threat in low-lying areas of the country.

The FO warns of a "significant increase in cases of street crime", most seriously rape. In June, a gang raped and robbed two British tourists on their way to Cuzco airport early in the morning in a taxi they hailed in the street. Last month, armed men robbed a group of 13 trekkers, including eight Britons, and their porters in camp on the first night of a trek to Machu Picchu. None of the trekkers was hurt, but some porters were assaulted.

The US State Department says independent budget travellers are the main victims: "Thieves are targeting young tourists who stay in inexpensive accommodations, carry backpacks, and travel alone or in pairs in isolated areas."

Rogue taxi-drivers are a problem as soon as you arrive at Lima airport, according to the Foreign Office. "One trick is for the rogue taxi to stop on the road back into town, at which point a gang smashes the window, reaches in and grabs handbags and luggage." A Peruvian national returning from the United States in October was murdered in such circumstances.

Another trick, the FO says, is to pick up a tourist on the street, and then a gang jumps into the taxi. They drive out of town, rob the tourist and leave them there.

But Andre de Mendonca, director of the specialist agency South American Experience, says he takes the current Foreign Office warnings about Peru with a pinch of salt.

"Their take on the world is a skewed one; if they were to do the same on Britain, no one would come. We don't think anything they currently say should dissuade anyone from going to Peru."

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