Falling ill on vacation is a real downer and getting sick in a foreign country might be a frightening experience. Therefore, a little bit of pre-travel health preparation and knowing the medical situation might be wise to stay well and fit during your stay in Peru. To help you prepare your Peru stay - be it shorter or longer - we compiled some general health information and medical advice.
- Recommended vaccinations for Peru
- Medical care and hospitals in Peru
- Gastro-intestinal diseases in Peru
- Altitude sickness / Soroche in Peru
- Malaria in Peru
But please note, we from LimaEasy aren’t medical professionals. As in each individual case many medical aspects such as patient’s medical history, medication intake, exact travel destination, etc., must be considered, we strongly recommend consulting your family physician, or a doctor specialized in travel medicine before coming to Peru. Please view the following information as a general guidance only!
According to information of the Peruvian immigration and health authorities, the country currently doesn’t request any vaccinations upon entry.
This applies as well to a vaccination against Covid. The obligation to be either vaccinated or present a negative PCR test was repealed officially on October 27, 2022.
It is, however, highly recommended that all visitors should have their routine immunizations, such as tetanus, diphtheria, polio, pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella, up to date.
Furthermore, an immunization against Hepatitis A, a viral disease of the liver transmitted by contaminated water and food, is highly recommended. For off the beaten track travelers and those with close contact to the local population a vaccination against Hepatitis B, as well a viral disease affecting the liver transmitted by contaminated blood and bodily fluids, against typhoid fever, a bacterial infection caused by the consumption of contaminated water or food, and rabies, transmitted when being bitten by infected stray dogs or bats) is advisable.
The same applies to a vaccination against yellow fever, an acute viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is not obligatory when entering Peru. Nevertheless, it is recommended to have a yellow fever vaccination when travelling to the Peruvian Amazon region under 2300 m (7500 ft.) and to designated yellow fever areas in Peru. Please be also aware that some tour operators ask for an immunization against yellow fever when booking a trip to the Manu National Park or other destinations in the Peruvian Amazon, so might your home country on your return or a third country you are traveling after your Peru trip. So please have a talk with your physician explaining your exact itinerary.
The best medical care in Peru is provided by a few top private clinics, mainly located in Lima. Covering a wide range of specialties these clinics can withstand the comparison with hospitals in the US or Europe. They are well-resourced with state-of-the-art equipment and necessary medications. Qualified doctors - often trained in Europe or the US - and nurses care for patients in all sorts of medical situations according to international standards and methods.
A list of some good to excellent private clinics can be found in our article “International Hospitals”.
These private hospitals often as well provide ambulance services that can be accessed by having a health plan with the clinic or by calling the hospital directly and paying for the service. In our article "Ambulance Services" you find a list of recommended providers.
However, outside of Lima (and perhaps Arequipa) - even though there have been improvements over the past years - the standard of medical care in private clinics is much lower. This applies as well to Peru’s main tourist destination, Cusco. While routine medical care and the treatment of acute medical problems is appropriate, serious medical emergencies often require an evacuation to Lima.
The small progress made over the past decade in public medical care in Peru was wrecked when Covid hit Peru. The pandemic quite clearly showed the deficiencies and partly disastrous conditions in public clinics and medical care facilities.
Most public hospitals and health care centers in Lima and especially in the provinces by no means reach international standards or even a good necessary national standard and can’t be recommended. In rural areas, the situation is even worse. Patients with severe illnesses or serious medical emergencies / injuries should be transported to a private clinic in Lima or evacuated abroad as soon as possible.
Please note: Charges for doctors, hospitalization, treatments and surgeries vary heavily. But even those at the high end mostly only charge a fraction of the price you would have to pay for an equivalent private treatment in your home country. Anyhow, even if it is unusual for you, ask for exact fees and charges before you start your treatment! It is also common practice in Peru to pay for any medical treatment or examination in advance! Don't be surprised even in an emergency that you have to proceed to the cashier first to pay and then get examined or treated.
If you are living in Peru, we recommend having either a good private health insurance or sign up for a good health plan at one of the better private clinics. If you are traveling in Peru, we strongly suggest taking out an extensive travel health insurance that covers necessary medical treatments and prescribed medications, (air) rescue, hospitalization, transfer and repatriation.
One of the most common diseases among travelers, not only when visiting Peru, surely is diarrhea. Even though many gastro-intestinal diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses, unusual cooking methods, unknown ingredients, herbs, and spices as well as travel stress, changes in the climate and altitude might provoke the same problems.
So below some basic rules helping to minimize the risk of getting a stomach-intestine infection:
- Do not drink tap water! Only drink bottled water or possibly as well filtered, disinfected and/or boiled water.
- Avoid ice cubes; only in better restaurants, cafe's and bars, they are made using drinking water.
- Wash your hands thoroughly several times a day with water and soap.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before consumption with drinking water if necessary peel them.
- Travelers with sensitive stomachs should avoid leaf salads; in better restaurants they are washed with drinking water.
- Be careful with sauces and dips prepared with mayonnaise that might have spent the whole day on the table of a restaurant; better do without.
- Eat Ceviche only until noon or in better restaurants and make sure that the lime marinade cooked the fish through.
Peru is the world’s best culinary destination with amazing and delicious local dishes; fruits and veggies are extremely tasteful. You shouldn’t miss out on this important part of Peruvian culture while visiting out of fear. Obviously, consider general food and drinking water hygiene when eating out.
In case Montezuma’s revenge got you, try to evaluate if you just have a normal, unpleasant traveler’s diarrhea or a probably more serious diarrhea caused by bacteria or other organisms. Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea improve within a few days without treatment. Make sure to stay hydrated and to replace the fluids and salts lost with drinking water, sugared tea or electrolyte solutions which are available in every pharmacy in Peru. However, if your condition persists, gets worse including severe dehydration, vomiting, high fever, bloody stools, or severe pain, you should see a doctor.
Altitude sickness can occur when the body can’t adapt to an unfamiliar altitude. Mostly climbers are affected that ascend too quickly up to higher altitudes, but often Peru visitors as well get sick after flying from Lima with an elevation of 160 m (520 ft.) in the city center to for example Cusco on 3300 m (10800 ft.) or Puno / Lake Titicaca on 3860 m (12420 ft.).
Soroche, as altitude sickness is called in Peru, most probably is caused by the fact that the pressure and oxygen concentration in the air decrease with an increasing altitude. This results in an oxygen deficiency in the body, which affects especially the brain and lungs.
Altitude sickness can get to anyone; well-trained athlete as well as couch potato, young and old, with infants being affected particularly often. Why one gets sick, the other not, could not yet been explained adequately; but the risk increases with alcohol consumption, insufficient hydration, exhaustion, infections and lack of sleep. Giving the body time to gradually get used to higher altitudes is the only way to prevent suffering from altitude sickness.
The first signs of getting sick with Soroche appear at heights of about 2500 m (8000 ft.). Symptoms usually occur within 6 to 24 hours after arriving at high altitude and include headache, nausea and vomiting, difficulty in breathing, sleeplessness, dizziness and loss of appetite. These symptoms should be taken seriously; the body needs time to rest and adapt.
Hotels in and around Cusco are usually well prepared for visitors with a mild form of altitude sickness. So, if you feel sick, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Often inhaling some oxygen, drinking lots of water and resting brings patients back on their feet. Although not scientifically proven, Coca Tea (Mate de Coca) might help to prevent and treat mild forms of altitude sickness, either due to the ingredients or just due to an increased hydration.
If you don’t feel better after an extensive break or overnight, seek medical treatment; in some cases, it might be advisable to leave for lower grounds. If the first light symptoms of altitude sickness are ignored, they can worsen quickly and - even though rarely - become life threatening.
Anyone having problems with the altitude in Cusco can, for example, leave the city for Ollantaytambo, a good 500 m (1600 ft.) lower, and acclimatize there. Machu Picchu is another 400 m (1300 ft.) lower, so usually no problems with altitude sickness there.
In Peru, there is only a slight risk of a malaria infection in areas under 2000 m (6500 ft.), and here mostly only in tropical regions of Iquitos, Loreto, Madre de Dios, San Martin and Puerto Maldonado. Lima, the desert-like coastal areas north and south of the capital, Ica, Nazca, Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Andean highlands are completely malaria-free. Even though in trial for many years, there is no vaccination against malaria. Depending on the itinerary and way of travel, it might be wise to take malaria prophylaxis pills in particular cases.
Malaria is transmitted by some Anopheles mosquito species that are active at twilight and night. Preventing a malaria infection means protection from mosquito bites. As other diseases in parts of Peru such as dengue fever, oropouche fever and leishmaniasis are as well transmitted by mosquito species active at day, it is recommended to protect yourself in these areas by regularly applying insect repellent, wearing long trousers and long-sleeved shirts / blouses and sleeping under mosquito nets.