As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I found myself surprised by Lima. At least in the areas where we were (the historic center, San Isidro, and Miraflores), the city seemed clean and safe, and I would happily go back to explore more of the city. But that doesn’t mean that travelers to this sprawling city should throw caution to the wind. Lima residents themselves complain about the extensive crime in the city – and we couldn’t help noticing the extensive police presence around town.
On a sunny Saturday morning, Plaza San Martin had many tourists and locals out enjoying the day – along with a number of armed police with dogs. We asked Roberto if the area was safe and he said, “Oh yes.” So you’d recommend that we walk here at night? we asked. He hesitated. “Not really.” It’s good to remember that neighborhoods can change drastically when the sun goes down. Plan your visit accordingly.
With an eye out for safety, we strolled down the Jiron de la Union, the main street of Lima’s historic quarter. While it wasn’t crowded, we kept our bags close to our body – and noticed many backpackers wearing their packs in the front instead of the back. I also made sure that I didn’t have any valuables in my back purse pocket, which could be easier for a pickpocket to access. Lesson: Simple adjustments to how you carry your valuables can make a world of difference in preventing pickpockets or robberies. Leave your more important pieces – watches, jewelry, even flashy wedding rings – at home.
We were a little stunned to see an armed tank at the end of the road, until we realized that we were in front of the Presidential Palace. It’s not unusual in foreign countries to see noticeably armed guards, but a tank was new for me. It definitely sent the signal that this was not an area to linger. A good reminder: Note your surroundings and the behavior of others around you. If other tourists (or middle-class locals) aren’t there, maybe you shouldn’t be either.
You don’t need to travel with a guide in Lima, but I certainly felt better having Roberto around, at least in the historic center. I felt safer taking photos and enjoying the scene knowing that I had someone watching my back. Plus Lima has a glorious history that I might have missed out on without Roberto. If you have the means, hiring a city guide is a splurge worth considering in Lima, especially if you’re on a quick trip and you’re unfamilar with the city. I would also recommend using ATMs at hotels or airports instead of on city streets.
So to answer the question posed in the title of this post: Lima can be safe, as long as you are aware of your surroundings and take a few extra precautions. If I have Lima layovers in the future, I plan to explore other sites and musuems, such as the well-regarded Gold Museum, and eat at an authentic Chino-Peruvian chifa.
Thanks to LAN Airlines for sponsoring my visit.