Our Thoughts to the Kidnapping Warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu

February 28, 2013
Paul Jones Peru Travel Expert

My thoughts

On February 13, the Embassy of the United States of America in Lima published a security message on their website about a ‘Potential Kidnapping Threat in Cusco’. Such a message is quite a scary thought for anyone travelling to Peru in the next few months. But what truth does the message really have? And, should you be worried? Paul Jones, an ex-pat and Peru vacations expert living in Cusco takes a closer look, giving you the insider’s view to the Kidnapping Warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Clearly any warning like this is really quite worrying. For a travel agent like me, it is a disastrous message to read as the implications are potentially destructive to not only my business but also the entire tourism industry in Peru. The warning doesn’t go into great detail about the threat, but talks about information the U.S. embassy has received regarding a criminal organization that may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area. Furthermore, it bans all US Embassy workers for travelling to the area.

The first I heard of this kidnapping warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu was through forums on the popular travel website Trip Advisor. And, I have to say that my first reaction was of disbelief and “nah that can’t be true.” However, after a little searching on the internet, I found the warning and there it was in black and white clear as day.

The message itself is a little contradictory. It starts by telling people that there is a “potential Kidnapping Warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu,” yet then goes on to say “The U.S. Embassy remains confident of the Peruvian government’s efforts to ensure the safety of all tourists in the region.” So, they are saying be careful, but we believe you’ll be okay. The message uses words like ‘potential’ and ‘may be’ in the warning, which to me is like saying ‘may be’ today you have the ‘potential’ of winning the national lottery. It is worth nothing that the embassy states that the warning is ‘credible at least through the end of February 2013.

Clearly nowadays the United States of America and its citizens have many security issues and travel restrictions to be aware of. But what would have driven such a warning? Reading between the lines, it seems that intelligence was gained that members of a terrorist group were discussing plans to kidnap US citizens. How this information was gained, or where it came from is not disclosed.



ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostel Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bar is free even for non-guests

The only terrorist group of any great threat in Peru is a group known as the ‘Shining Path’ or ‘Sendero Luminoso’ (in Spanish). The Shining Path was a terrorist group that ravaged Peru for about 10 years from 1980 onwards. Since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992, the Shining Path has declined in activity, with only small incidents occurring in outlying Jungle areas in the last few years. The Peruvian army continues to battle with remnants of the Shining Path and drug traffickers today.

The warning was taken to greater heights when two backpackers from California were reported missing after they didn’t contact their friends and family for 1 month. However, it would seem that as the news unfolds today, that in fact these two backpackers were enjoying themselves in Peru’s northern Amazon Jungle, visiting remote villages along the Napo River. Of-course it’s great news that they are safe and sound, but the additional negative impact this has had on travel to Peru will run deep.

It is unclear whether the Kidnapping warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu and the disappearance of the two backpackers is linked, but certainly the two stories will have an irreparable impact on tourism in Peru.

I cannot stress strongly enough, that the likelihood of any American tourist being kidnapped is highly unlikely. The Shining Path has been active in Peru for many years now, and the tiny threat they pose has always been around; it’s nothing new. Furthermore the US Embassy’s Kidnapping Warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu is a fairly difficult concept to grasp. Both Machu Picchu and Cusco are busy and highly policed tourist areas, where a kidnapping would be very difficult to pull-off without going un-noticed. I can’t imagine for a moment it would happen in busy tourist areas, but much more likely in remote jungle regions, where it would go less noticed.

About 2 million tourists visit Peru every year without incident, and statistically speaking to put things into perspective you are far more likely to encounter trouble in your own country. According to official US census statistics on average each year 40,000 people are fatal killed in road traffic accidents in the US. And, of-course it hasn’t gone unnoticed that in 2012 (and many previous years) that many people have been shot and killed by crazed gunmen, in supposedly respectable and quite US communities. An American friend of mine that lives in Cusco recently quoted a figure of around 10,000 US gun related deaths in 2012 alone.

Peru is a wonderful country to visit, and if you are planning a trip to Peru or are just about to travel then please don’t change your plans. I cannot dismiss the Kidnapping warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu entirely, but I can certainly put it into perspective for anyone thinking of travelling. My advice is to keep an eye on the news and embassy warnings and follow how this story develops. But don’t blow this out of perspective, keep in-mind that this is a highly unlikely scenario. In the next few days the US Embassy are due to review their warning and I shall keep you all posted to the outcome.

This article ‘Our Thoughts to the Kidnapping Warning in Cusco and Machu Picchu’ was brought to you by the Peru travel experts at TheOnlyPeruGuide, experts in Peru travel and Machu Picchu Package vacations. For more information on Cusco visit our Guide to Cusco or for more general information visit our Guide to Peru.

On a side note, my thoughts are with the families and friends of anyone who has been shot and killed in the US in the last few years. Gun violence is un-necessary, and I sure hope that a way forward is found.



Did you know - The Lima Walking Tour leaves from the Tourist Information Center at 799 Avenida Jose Larco in Miraflores every day at 10:15 am. Visit our Blog for more information!

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