Peru, safety and pitbulls

How safe is Peru? How dangerous are pitbulls?

Got an email from my mom a while back, loosely translated:

“… Two friends of mine were thinking about visiting Peru. They’ve planned out their trip to Lima, Machu Picchu, and Cusco, and have already bought their tickets. But someone told them Peru is dangerous, and then they also read that Peru is dangerous on some government website. Now they’re thinking about canceling their trip, what should they do?”

So is Peru dangerous in my opinion? Here’s my response, again loosely translated:

“… Jee if I had known how dangerous it is here I could have been scared for the last year and a half !! Peru is very safe in my experience, BUT, it is a poor country so you have to be mindful of petty crime. It often amazes me how some tourists walk around Cusco as if they’re in Disney World. You have to be aware of your belongings, especially in busy places and on buses. Pay attention when the bus stops. There are bad parts of town in Lima, just like anywhere else in the world, but there’s no reason an ordinary tourist would end up there. I imagine the reason the government website said Peru is dangerous is because in a few of the provinces along the border with Colombia there are drug cartels, but again there’s no reason the average tourist would end up there.”

And then I made the mistake of adding some humor…

“Besides if your friends are really scared they can borrow my Pitbull while they’re here…”
We think Manchita is a Blue Pitbull

We think Manchita is a Blue Pitbull

Response from my mother….

“O my God, I’m so worried about what you’re going to do with the dogs now that you’re going to have a baby…”

Sometimes you just can’t win. There are lots of documented benefits of having dogs around children. Needless to say if you have strong, protective dogs like ours you have to pay attention to them, especially around children. But the notion that pitbulls randomly attack people is even more ridiculous than the idea that Peru is some bad unsafe place that you shouldn’t visit.

Swine flu in Cusco?

Obvious disadvantage to living in a tourist town… From Diario del Cusco:

“El Ministro de Salud Oscar Ugarte precisó que se trata de una guía de turismo cusqueña que estuvo en contacto en días pasados con un grupo de turistas mexicanos que arribaron a la Ciudad Imperial el pasado viernes y desarrollaron la acostumbrada visita a los centros de atracción. La joven cuya identificación se mantiene en reserva por consideraciones al estado de salud, presentaba sintomatología similar al de la gripe porcina y fue sometida a exámenes inmediatos los cuales resultaron negativos en un primer estado. Este primer indicio motivó preocupación por la aparición del virus H1N1 causante de la crisis de salud que ha puesto al mundo al borde de la temida pandemia según precisó la Organización Mundial de la Salud no se trata de una gripe común.”

Hopefully these suspected cases will turn out ok. More info here regarding H1N1 swine flu.

One question that has been asked is why the “swine flu” is deadlier in Mexico than elsewhere. I’m no scientist, but I would look at the impact of the elevation of Mexico City (2,240 meters or 7,349 feet msl). Of course, Cusco is at an even higher elevation of 3,400 meters (~11,000 feet).

Here in Latin America there are several mega-cities, such as Mexico City (est. 19 million population) and Lima (est. 7-9 million population). Stuart has done a great job describing the mass migration to Lima over the past several decades. I’ve never been a big fan of mega-cities, and an outbreak such as the current swine flu only makes me wonder about the logic of millions of people living so close together.

Hopefully these reports of swine flu in Cusco will turn out to be the result of increased sensitivity, not actual cases of the swine flu.

UPDATE: according to El Comercio, swine flu has been ruled out in this case.


Last week we visited the seaside resort of Huanchaco, in the North of Peru. Huanchaco is a great little beach town, quiet, laidback and picturesque. The climate in the North of Peru is beautiful year round, and there is great surf on the Pacific Coast.

We took a walk down the malecon (boardwalk) and had lunch overlooking the ocean – after all, during our entire visit to Trujillo we were practically living like the Roman Emperor.

From Trujillo you can get to Huanchaco by taxi for about 20 Nuevos Soles (~ $7) or by public transportation, just ask the locals which bus to take. I highly recommend it!

Back in the USA – got fingerprints to prove it

I flew to the US on Thursday to renew my IA license and take care of some other odds and ends “back home”. On my arrival in Miami I got fingerprinted and my picture taken by the immigration folks. I noticed they did the same thing to other US residents (greencard holders), so I assume it must be new procedure.

Between US immigration and my Peruvian carné de extranjería I must have been fingerprinted at least a dozen times in the last 10 years or so. During the 4-year ordeal that was my post 9-11 green card application, I once got notified that my “fingerprints had expired”. Isn’t biometric data supposed to be permanent, and if fingerprints somehow expire, what’s the point?

Back to the trip home. As always, my first stop in the US after Miami is beautiful Conway, SC, since I leave my car there with my friend Dennis. Flying to Myrtle Beach is usually expensive, so I rented a car to get to SC. When I made my reservation online I got 2 options for the ridiculously low rate of $10.90: a van or a convertible. I thought I’d get a sneak preview of what my mid-life crisis will be like, and chose the convertible.

That worked out nice until I tried to put my suitcase in the trunk… Then I put the top down and cruised up I-95, next stop: a cheeseburger.

I got my fix of junkfood and had an uneventful drive to SC. After I dropped of the rental car I got lost driving around Myrtle Beach looking for million $ homes with Dennis and one of his equally proud redneck friends, but that’s another whole story. We eventually found the home they were looking for and afterwards went out for dinner to one of the nicest restaurants on the beach (“the Library”), thank goodness I was a guest!

Calle Procuradores, Cusco

I took a walk through Calle Procuradores on the way home last night. Procuradores is a narrow street on the NW side of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. There are a lot of small bars and restaurants on Procuradores, but to locals it’s known as the bad part of the Plaza de Armas because it’s the main hangout for the small-time drug dealers who peddle “weed” and cocaine (“Charley”) to the tourists.

Calle Procuradores seen from the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Calle Procuradores seen from the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Calle Procuradores, Cusco

Calle Procuradores, Cusco

Calle Procuradores looking towards the Plaza de Armas

Calle Procuradores looking towards the Plaza de Armas

Unfortunately local authorities don’t do anything to clean up Procuradores. I imagine plenty of kickbacks keep the status quo in place. It’s sad really, that people who come to a beautiful place like Cusco, with all of its attractions, entertainment and nightlife, still feel the need to fry their brains with cocaine to have a good time.

How not to visit Cusco

A friend of mine, alias “C”, was in town for a visit last week. Check out his story, a must read. While your visit will (should) likely be much more uneventful, his account gives you a good idea what to expect in Cusco from the viewpoint of a young, single guy.

My comments:

  • “C” is absolutely right that visiting the tourist areas of Cusco and Machupicchu does not constitute knowing Peru.
  • Service in the tourism industry here can be mixed, to say the least. Sounds like “C” got the typical treatment on the city tour: because you’re a gringo we’ll nickel-and-dime you to death.
  • Last I checked (about a year ago) you could buy a “city touristic ticket” for around 25 Nuevos Soles, and it gives entrance to nearly every tourist site around the city (including Sacsayhuaman). Instead of taking a city tour, just take a walk around the city yourself. “C” posted a pretty good list of places to see in Cusco on his blog.
  • I like Sacsayhuaman, but I agree listening to the tour guides can bore you silly.
  • Around the Plaza de Armas and San Blas you do find a ton of “gringos” in the bars and discos. But the residential areas where you can find bars and discos packed with mostly locals are only a few blocks away. Best to go in a small group though.
  • Sicuani is really not the smallest, poorest town around. It’s actually pretty representative of a provincial Andean town. If you really want to know how people live in the Andes of Peru, just take one of the local busses (like “C” did) and talk to some of the people. The bus “C” took was not for poor people per se, it’s what ordinary Peruvians use to travel in the provinces.

Final thoughts:

  • Your visit should by all means be less eventful than “C’s”.
  • If you do get in trouble, there is a “tourist police” agency on the Plaza Tupac Amaru.
  • Don’t drink like you’re at home. The elevation in Cusco is 3,460 meter (~11,000 feet), or about twice as high as Denver. Being away from home, combined with thin air, alcohol and bricheras makes for some wild scenes at the nightspots in Cusco.

Going home…

I spent a few days in the US last week and returned to Peru using my carné de extranjería for the first time!!!

On the flight back, as I walked down the airstair and across the airport ramp here in Cusco, I caught myself humming “Going home”… Rather interesting subconscious association I thought, for a Belgian guy who lived in the US for 15+ years, now strolling “home” to his beautiful wife in Cusco, Peru.

Here’s the song for your entertainment. Keep in mind like all of my music on this blog it’s very artsy rock music. If you’re not into that kind of thing… well I’m terribly sorry you were born too late for great rock and roll music 🙂


Hola a todos:

Bueno por milesima vez Ward y yo viajamos a Lima para hacer no otra cosa que tramites, esperando que esta sea la ultima en la categoria “TRAMITES”. Fuimos a sacar el bendito carne de extranjeria de Ward, segun algunos conocedores del tema nos dijeron que esto no duraria mas de tres dias, al llegar a Lima nos dijeron lo contrario, todo el papeleo duraria 7 dias…pero el tiempo era muy extenso para nuestros planes ya que mi querido esposito tenia que viajar a los Estados Unidos el miercoles a las 10 am, gracias a Dios y a los poderes del mas alla su vuelo se postergo para el jueves a las 00:00 horas lo cual nos dio al menos un dia mas… tuvimos que recurrir a las oficinas pidiendoles que por favor agilizaran los papeleos porque no teniamos mucho tiempo, despues de la odisea por la que atravesamos Ward finalmente obtuvo su carne de extranjeria.

Como Ward y yo habiamos salido de Cusco el sabado, tuvimos tiempo para darnos un saltito a Ancon, este lugar que alguna vez fue el lugar favorito de la gentita cool de Lima, ahora es el lugar favorito de aquellos que no son tan cool como diriamos. Este balneario aun mantiene los condominios que albergaron y que yo supongo siguen albergando en algun momento a aquellos que convirtieron Ancon en un lugar exclusivo. Nos tomo como dos horas llegar a este lugar ya que tomamos el servicio publico el cual paraba y paraba en cada esquina y era de nunca acabar, pero al final logramos llegar a lo que se convirtio en un reto, ya que cada vez que ibamos a Lima siempre quisimos ir a Ancon pero no se daba la oportunidad.

El reencuentroWard en AnconAnconNavidad en Larcomar

Visit to Accha, Peru

We visited Patricia’s grandmother “mama Vicky” in Accha this week. Accha is a very traditional Peruvian town about 4 hours outside of Cusco.

We see “mama Vicky” regularly here in Cusco, but this was the first time I was over at her house in Accha. She gets around great for her age, and is obviously way more in her element in Accha than at her other house here in the city.

The trip to Accha is a bit of an adventure in itself, with the Peruvian bus drivers apparently unfazed by the steep ravine along the side of most of the unpaved roads that lead to Accha. Once there, Patricia and I had a good time just relaxing in the sun, taking walks, and generally acting like city-slickers do out in the country.

Accha is a traditional Peruvian agricultural town, where the locals mostly raise sheep and grow corn and other typical Andean crops. Most of the work is still done by hand, I only noticed 2 or 3 farm tractors in town and we rarely saw more than 3 or 4 cars in one day. The tranquility was absolutely refreshing compared to life in the city.

All the locals were very friendly and greeted us everywhere. Since gringos don’t get out to Accha very often, the little kids in town tended to stare at me and tell their buddies “mira un gringo!”

I uploaded more pictures on our Flickr page.

Patricia and "mama Vicky" in Accha, Peru

Patricia and mama Vicky in Accha, Peru

In Accha, Peru

In Accha, Peru

Patricia was in Choquequirao

Hello there,

My class of “Autores” decided to go to lovely Choquequirao, which is one of the last places where the Inkas lived. We left Cusco on Thursday night around 8pm and we arrived to Ramadal around 11pm. We had to get all our stuff and start walking down to Cachora for around 3 hours, then we camped there in the middle of the main square. Early in the morning we got ready to start our trekking of 32 km to Choquequirao. The whole trip was terrible because my friends and I were always the last group to arrive to the points where we were supposed to rest. Also, I got bunch of mosquitos bites everywhere, I spent more money just on water and I also started to drink water from the springs, which was the yummiest water I have ever drunk. I can’t tell everything that I went thru on this trip, but at the end it turned out to be cool. I even miss the place, but I doubt I will go back to Choquequirao again…