Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Peru is opening up again! After having one of the strictest and longest lockdowns (starting 16 March), the country's borders opened again on 1 October (to limited flights) and again on 1 November to flights from the USA and further afield. Tourist destinations are open, so you can tick Machu Picchu and the Amazon off your bucket list, and many movement restrictions are being rolled back quickly. Theaters and casinos are open, children can accompany parents on shopping trips, and domestic flights are roaring back.
Front of the main terminal at the Lima International Airport (LIM)
But is it safe? That was my main question as I ironed out the details for a work trip from 23 Nov-10 December 2020. As coronavirus cases sky-rocketed in the US, I checked out multiple sources of information on the situation in Peru, and found the exact opposite trend. New daily cases in Peru have been dropping rapidly since October, and by mid-November, new daily cases in the Amazon region were in single digits, with MONTHLY deaths also in single digits. How is this possible, considering the situation further north? The regional director of health, Dr. Carlos Calampa, reports that up to 75% of the population of Iquitos is now testing positive for antibodies, indicating (as I predicted in another blog) that Iquitos and the region has now achieved true herd immunity.
You can read a recent Yahoo article about the dramatically changed Covid-19 situation in Iquitos (Spanish only) here.
The conclusion of herd immunity is broadly supported by what people told me on my recent trip. The months of April and May were horrible. Ambulance sirens were constant, and at the Iquitos Regional Hospital alone, 70 to 80 patients were dying daily. Patients were being told to go home to die, as there was no space in the hospital. With no funerals and public gatherings allowed, bodies were wrapped in plastic, loaded into trucks, and buried in mass graves outside of the city. All of our crew reported knowing family members or neighbors (often elderly) who had died. As I also noted in another blog, social distancing and adequate sanitation measures to control the spread of Covid-19 were simply impossible to implement for most of the population.
While some parts of Peru may yet face a second-wave of infections, most of the country, including the Amazon regions of Peru, will not. The harsh price came early in the pandemic, and now the country has a respite - hopefully until vaccines are widely available. Does this mean that Peru is letting down its guard? Definitely not! Here is what I learned from my recent travel*
*This information is accurate as of my dates of travel, but travel requirements may change quickly, so do not rely on this blog as a definitive guide. Check with the airlines and other sources for the MOST RECENT guidelines.
(If you want to get to the Step-by-Step requirements, skip the following several paragraphs & photos)
By and large, Peru and Peruvians are taking social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing far more seriously than citizens of the USA. After what the country experienced in April and May, there are no anti-maskers or Covid-19 skeptics. There are no selfish demonstrations by individuals demanding the right to infect everyone else around them. Everywhere you go there are reminders to take precautions, and those reminders start well before you even land in Peru.
On flights to Peru, wearing a mask and face-shield is obligatory for the entire flight (except when eating/drinking). They are also obligatory for check-in, and you aren't allowed to board your plane without both. Meal and drink services are minimized to reduce contact, and planes are deep cleaned between flights.
Me in my full Darth Vader gear, ready for take-off from Miami to Lima, Peru (and no, you can't remove the dorky "Face Shield" signage!)
On arrival, disembarking is strictly by rows, starting at the front of the plane, and once in the airport terminal, social distancing indicators are EVERYWHERE.
Social distancing indicators on the floor inside the airport
Social distancing indicators outside the airport terminal
Social distancing markers on the seats in the Iquitos airport
Social distancing indicators in the food court of Lima airport
Social distance markers on escalators - Lima airport
Signage for additional safety measures are highly visible everywhere you look
Even at the ATMs, use of mask and face shield are mandatory
At the check-in machines and counters, social distancing, hand sanitizer and plexiglass barriers are ubiquitous
At all entrances to the airport, there are forehead temperature scanners set up to monitor everyone entering the building. The airport hotel and many restaurants and shops will also check your wrist temperature with a scanning device when you enter the premises. If you never knew exactly how to wash your hands correctly before, just spend some time in the airports.... There are lots of opportunities to practice.
Hand-washing signs and stations are located both within and outside of the airports
There are even contactless apps available for paying for your parking at the Lima airport
Using a payphone? There are safety instructions there too. And every time I made a call on my Movistar account, I would get a "Siempre manten tu distancia social" (always maintain social distance) message
Restaurants everywhere have covid prevention signs (notice the hand sanitizer available at the top left). This sign is at one of my favorite Iquitos restaurants - the Amazon Bistro (a genuine touch of French/Belgian cuisine in the heart of the jungle).
With near-ubiquitous mask-wearing, sanitizing stations, and visual reminders everywhere you look, have Peruvians perhaps gone a wee bit overboard? Decide for yourself.
Maybe just a wee bit (pun intended), but hey, better safe than sorry!
And Peruvians are really so sweet and think of everything. Who else would have come up with handy "beer hammocks", so a weary Cusqueña beer can can rest bottoms-up?
Enough of the fun - now for the STEP BY STEP guidelines
Check the current travel requirements at least a week before your planned departure, and keep checking - they can change quickly.
1. COVID-19 PCR test - Peru currently requires that arriving travelers show a negative PCR (the nasal swab) test taken within 72 hours (3 days) of travel. This will require some research - lots of labs will give you results within 3-4 days, but that isn't good enough. You want a guarantee to have results within 24-36 hours. If you don't have this in hand at the airport, you will be denied boarding. If the test comes back positive, you will also be denied boarding (but airlines will rebook you without penalty for a later date). In South Florida, there was only one lab that guaranteed results in 24 hours - it was an hour drive each way and $179 for the test, but it was fast, not that uncomfortable, and I did get the results in less than 24 hours.
2. With vaccinations becoming available, I expect that proof of vaccination will soon be accepted as an alternative to a negative PCR test, but don't take that for granted! Check before you (attempt to) fly.
3. Plan ahead, and get to the airport 3 hours in advance - this time they really mean it. Check in is slow, baggage handling is slow, security is slow. Multiple people were turned away from my flight and rebooked on later flights for not having all of the required paperwork. Be forewarned. If you have a connection in the USA prior to getting to the flight that will actually take you to Peru, make sure you have plenty of connecting time. An hour connection probably isn't going to cut it.
4. Peru also requires a Declaracion Jurada de Salud ("sworn declaration of health"). This is a digital form that must be filled out before you are allowed to board your flight. It is also checked (along with your PCR results) upon arrival in Lima, Peru. Fill this out at home a day or two prior to travel - you'll need either a print-out or a screenshot of the declaration in order to travel. The app has an English version, but it is buggy, and some of the instructions are still in Spanish, and are not intuitive. I filled mine out on my cell phone at the airport, and had to start over 5 or 6 times before the form was successfully submitted. Then I had to figure out how to take a screen shot of it - just hold down the "down volume" and the "power" buttons simultaneously for 2 seconds - so obvious!
5. The link to the form is:
6. The page that pops up will be titled "Affidavit of Health and Geolocation Authorization"
Select your country of citizenship (for USA, that will be EE.UU, for "Estados Unidos, you won't find "USA" on the list.
Select the type of document - choose "PAS" for passport
Enter your 9-digit passport # (for US passport holders)
Enter your date of birth - clicking twice on the "year" in the upper left hand corner will take you to a range of years so that you don't have to scroll through month after month for X-number of years to get to your actual birth month.
Select your birth year, and then your birth month (months are given with the Spanish abbreviations, but the only one that you might not figure out very easily is ENE (January).
Select the day of the month, and then click the "SEARCH" button
The next page that pops up will be: 1. Personal Information (it should be already populated with your name, nationality, passport # and DOB). You may notice that it has two spaces for "last name" - no worries, most Latin Americans have two surnames, while most Anglos only have one surname. As long as the first surname box is filled and matches what you have in your passport, you are A-OK.
If not already selected, click the "international trip" button
Select your date of arrival in Peru (actual date you land, not the date you depart the USA (or elsewhere).
Select your flight class (commercial, unless you are chartering your own aircraft!)
Select country of origin (EE.UU again, for the USA)
Select Destination Department - there are 24 Departments (=States) in Peru plus the special administrative region of Callao. If you are traveling with Project Amazonas or MT Amazon Expeditions, you'll most likely be traveling to LORETO. If you are traveling just to Lima, you would select LIMA, if to Cusco and Machu Picchu, you would select CUZCO.
Select the destination Province - again, if you are traveling with Project Amazonas or MT Amazon Expeditions to Iquitos, you would select MAYNAS as the destination province.
Select the destination District - for travelers to Iquitos, you would select IQUITOS.
Even if you might be traveling onward to the Madre Selva Biological Station or Santa Cruz Forest Reserve (which are in different provinces and districts, stick with LORETO - MAYNAS - IQUITOS, you'll see why below.
Contact phone or cell number. You will need to fill out BOTH SETS OF PHONE NUMBERS for the website to allow you to advance (but you can enter the same cell number twice). What the form doesn't indicate is that the numbers you enter MUST BE PERUVIAN PHONE NUMBERS. Your US land-line or cell numbers will not be accepted and you won't be able to complete the sworn declaration. If you have reservations at a hotel in Peru, you can provide that number. If you are traveling with Project Amazonas and/or MT Amazon Expeditions, we will provide you with the name, cell number and email address of our transfer agent - Guillermo Guerra Perez. Guillermo is located in Iquitos, but is in regular contact with groups, so he is the best contact. On my recent trip, the Ministry of Health DID call up to ask if I was experiencing any Covid-19 symptoms, and Guillermo was able to tell them "no". Even if you might have a Peru chip for your cell phone, there is no or spotty service at the field stations, so putting that number isn't a good option.
The country code for Peru is: 51
City code for Iquitos is: 94 (even though you don't need to dial in a city code for Peru cell numbers, the form requires that you put something in that box!)
An actual cell number will be 9-digits long in Peru (not including the 51 or 94)
Add the email of your Peru contact (either hotel, or of Guillermo Guerra)
Indicate cities/countries you were in over the previous 15 days (I just put Miami, USA, and it worked fine).
Click yes or no on whether you have any dependents, and that is the end of the Personal Information section.
The next page is: 2: Personal Itinerary
Here you'll have to fill out your destination again - eg: LORETO - MAYNAS - IQUITOS
Select means of transport (most likely "Air Transport")
Select the name of the transportation company (most likely Latam or Lan Peru [same thing]), but there are a couple of additional airlines now flying the Lima-Iquitos route.
Select date of your flight to your final destination within Peru
Add the name and address of your hotel in Iquitos (or final destination). If you are headed to one of our field stations or on a boat-based medical service trip, we'll give you the street address for our transfer agent.
To the right of the street address box, you'll see a red button that says "+Agregar" ("add"). Click it and cross your fingers. If the website is satisfied that you've filled out all the boxes correctly, you'll advance to the next section. If not, you'll have to re-add some of the information and try again.
If a green bar appears at the bottom of this section with Date, Transport and District indicated, you are good to move on.
This brings you to section 3: III. IF YOU ARE RESIDENT IN PERU
click on the box that says "Extranjero no Residente" (foreign non-resident)
Even though this section is ostensibly for persons who are residents in Peru, other travelers still need to fill out the red (required) boxes.
"Address information during the isolation" sounds kind of ominous, but it does NOT MEAN that you have to undergo quarantine or isolation upon arrival. If you were to come down with symptoms and subsequently test positive, this would be where you would self-isolate.
Again start with LORETO - MAYNAS - IQUITOS
Then for "current address during isolation" either put in your hotel address, or if traveling with Project Amazonas / MT Amazon Expeditions, put our transfer agents street address (which we'll provide).
Then fill out the name of the person who will be with you at the isolation address (that would be the transfer agents name for PA / MTAE travelers), add in gender and age.
If you are healthy, you won't find any boxes to check under the drop-down menu under "symptoms of family member or companion" or under "family or companion illnesses"
Click on the red "+Agregar" button, and watch for the green bar to appear immediately below.
The next section is "Real Address after the Isolation". If you are traveling around Peru, this could be the contact info for a hotel later on in your itinerary, but for PA / MTAE travelers, the easiest thing will be to enter the exact same data as in the previous section. That is what I did on my recent trip, and it was no problem.
Once again, select the red "+Agregar" button and watch for the green bar to appear.
Section 4 is: IV. HEALTH INFORMATION
Select the appropriate boxes on the form. You'll have to agree to the final three conditions in order to submit the form.
Then click the "REGISTER" button, and you should receive confirmation of success. If you filled out the form on your phone, take a screenshot of it to show prior to boarding and upon arrival in Peru. If you filled it out on your computer, you can always print out a hard copy, or also take a screenshot and send that to your phone.
I do highly recommend filling out the form BEFORE you head to the airport! It is much easier to fill out on a laptop than on a cell phone (particularly for large clumsy fingers!), and there will be less stress overall.
7. At check-in for your flight to Peru, the flight attendants will verify that you have the "Sworn Declaration" and also the negative PCR test before you are allowed to compete check-in.
8. Be sure to have your face-shield in advance as well. I was not allowed to check my luggage until I had a face-shield in hand, which meant pushing my luggage halfway down the concourse until I found a shop that sold me 30 cents worth of plastic, foam and elastic for $10 (plus tax). With face-shield in hand, I was able to complete check-in. Most pharmacies should be selling them cheaply by now.
9. On arrival in Peru, have the following documents available even before you get to the immigration officers: passport (open to photo page), sworn declaration, and negative PCR test results. These will be checked before you get to the immigration counters. You may also have your temperature checked upon arrival. There were personnel taking temperature checks in the corridor leading to the immigration area, but it looked like they were only checking 1 in 8 or 10 passengers.
10. The rest of the process is pretty much as smooth as it was before, except for the requirement to have a mask on at all times in the airport (but you can dispense with the face-shield - but keep it for the domestic and return flights!).
11. Domestic flights. Mask and face shields ARE also required for domestic flights in Peru. You will also be given a one-sheet "health declaration form" to fill out, so be sure to have a pen handy. These are collected from you on the plane, and are simple and easy to fill out. They have the feel of "meeting the requirements" rather than the feel of being something that will actually be useful in tracking cases (unlike the digital sworn declaration of health).
Once I was at my destination of Iquitos, there were no additional precautions that needed to be taken. No temperature check, questions, or forms as I left the airport, and no health checks during travel through the city, or onward to our field station at Santa Cruz. While I did wear a mask all the time in the city itself, I dispensed of it at the field station as I was there with a small group of our Peruvian staff for an extended period of time, and at no time did anyone experience any potential Covid-19 symptoms.
12. Returning to the USA. Apart from the mask and face shield requirements on the flight itself, there were no additional measures that needed to be taken on the return. No temperature check, no questionnaire, no forms, nada, zip, zilch. Tells you a lot about how the US got to the unenviable position of being #1 in everything Covid-19.
If you are traveling with PA / MTAE and have any questions, don't hesitate to get in contact and ask.
Safe and Happy Travels.