How Safe is Tap Water in Peru?

A water bottling plant in Tarapoto, Peru

A water bottling plant in Tarapoto, Peru (photo © Tony Dunnell)

You shouldn’t drink the tap water in Peru. Parasites, amoebae and other unwitnessed wonders can lurk within, more than capable of causing serious infections or at least a few days spent in close proximity to a bathroom.

It’s up to you to decide how far you will go to avoid contact with tap water – some people obsess about it, while others throw caution to the wind.

Quick Tip:  If traveling to or from Lima Airport, it is strongly recommended to use the luxury Airport Express Lima  bus to get to or from your hotel. Safer and cheaper than a taxi with no baggage limit as well as Free WiFi and USB chargers onboard, it is ideal for travelers.

Is the Water Safe to Drink in Peru?

It’s not a good idea to drink tap water in Peru. According to the U.S. Department of State:

“Local tap water in Peru is not considered potable. Only bottled or treated (disinfected) water should be used for drinking. Fruits and vegetables should be washed and/or disinfected with care, and meats and fish should be thoroughly cooked.”

Buying bottled water is a pain but it’s definitely the way to go, and it’s not too expensive. When you buy bottled water, make sure the seal at the top of the bottle is not broken – some shopkeepers refill empty bottles with tap water. If you’re staying in one place for a week or more, it might be worth buying a large 20-liter barrel of water, which costs about S/.4 or S/.5 soles in most parts of Peru (more in Lima). You will need to pay a deposit for the barrel.

Water Purification When Traveling in Peru

The other option is to treat tap water before drinking it. Purification and sterilizing tablets are handy when you are in remote areas, whether taking water from the tap or from natural sources. Portable water filters can also be used. Boiling water in Peru is another option; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, you should “Boil water vigorously for 1 minute and allow it to cool to room temperature (do not add ice).”

You can find more information about all of these water treatment methods at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Can You Use Tap Water to Brush Your Teeth in Peru?

Travelers are often advised to avoid brushing their teeth with tap water in Peru. This may seem excessive, but the logic is sound. Personally, I’ve always use tap water to brush my teeth in Peru, but you can make your own mind up about this issue. If you have bottled water then it probably makes sense to use it, just to be on the safe side.

Other Water Problems in Peru

Peruvian restaurants normally wash their raw ingredients in tap water. If you are having stomach problems while traveling in Peru, you may want to consider avoiding raw foods (salads etc.) in restaurants. Ice poses another problem – ask for drinks without ice (sin hielo) if you have doubts.

Some street vendors also make their fruit juices and refrescos with tap water, so be careful where you buy your drinks. You can always ask if it is made with potable water (“está hecho con agua potable?”), but there’s no guarantee you’ll receive a truthful answer.

(Update: for more information and opinions about tap water in Peru, see Drinking Water in Peru: Safe or Unsound?)

  21 comments for “How Safe is Tap Water in Peru?

  1. July 8, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Tony

    Water is actually treated in all public water supplies in the major cities. Considering that Peru is lacking effective re-cycling infrastructure for collecting used plastic bottles, we are not doing the environment a favour by constantly purchasing mineral water when the tap is completely safe.

    The main problem in causing tourism diarrhea in Peru is not the water or the ice in the drinks, but for not washing the hands frequently enough. People put their fingers in their faces more than they realize.

    I run a bird tour operation in Lima with trips all over Peru. We provide water treated with micropore to our clients in order not to additionally add to the craziness of buying treated water on bottle (don’t fool yourself thinking bottled water = Mienral water. It is not). Our water is either taken from tap – from safe sources such as springs or streams originating from forested areas.
    The tap water has already been treated once with chlorine, so this is a double protection.

    My best tip to avoid infections. Wash your hands often.

  2. July 8, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Oh, and I forgot …there us this wiki article about tap water in Peru…
    http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agua_potable_y_saneamiento_en_el_Per%C3%BA

  3. July 8, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Hi Gunnar,

    Thanks for the comments. You make a good point about the problem with recycling plastic bottles, but I’m still not convinced about the safety of the water. I would certainly not go as far to say that tap water in Peru is “completely safe”.

    The Travel.State.Gov website (used as a source for the article) is, I know, very cautious with its advice. However, I still believe that drinking tap water is a potential problem for backpackers, and the difference between “treated” water in urban areas and rural areas is not always clear-cut. The Wikipedia article states that there are very few cases where chlorine is absent in urban water distribution networks. It then states that 59% of water network systems in rural areas do not disinfect the water.

    Accordingly, water in Lima should be safe to drink straight from the tap. However, I know a lot of Peruvians who would disagree with that (I just had a chat with my landlady who spends her time between Lima and Tarapoto. She did not have anything good to say about the water in Lima and does not drink it herself. She’s quite a negative person to be honest, but a fairly reliable source!).

    In rural areas, the situation does not look so good. But what is a rural area in Peru? Are mid-sized urban settlements in the selva rural? I live in Tarapoto, very much an urban area. By all accounts, the tap water here is definitely not safe to drink. I don’t drink it, but I do brush my teeth and shave with it. I, like nearly all of my neighbours, buy large plastic barrels of water – the barrels are reused indefinitely. The tap water is said to contain parasites and other strange and wonderful things. Much of it is also collected in individual storage tanks on the rooftops of the houses – these storage tanks often look fairly unhealthy themselves.

    I think it’s great that you filter tap water or naturally occurring water to supply your clients. It’s environmentally friendly and I guess it saves money – independent backpackers could do the same by carrying individual microfiltration systems. It’s something I’ll look into at a later date. You have made a lot of valid points, but I would still be hesitant about advising backpackers to go ahead and drink tap water in Peru. Feel free to comment on anything that I have said.

    Thanks again,

    Tony.

  4. Chris Fitzgerald
    August 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Just my two cents.

    Treated water or not is just part of the problem,
    I lived in Lima for four years and never trusted
    or drank the city water, why?
    1. Water is pumped to the top of the apartment to a tank
    chlorine does not last forever so how long has the water been
    sitting there static? Ever look in a tank! try it some time.
    2. My land lord had our tank covered with boards,Hmmm wonder
    how those seeds got stuck in the shower head and what is that
    white stuff on top of the boards, hint birds….
    So why take the chance, umm and what about lead in the pipes
    not possible, think again.

    just my thoughts, Chris.

  5. gonzalo meneses valer
    September 11, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    hola,
    cual es el ph del agua de grifo en lima.?
    gracias

  6. September 11, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    No estoy seguro pero creo que está entre 7.5 y 8.5. Buscar en la Internet para obtener más información – no pude encontrar mucho, pero hay unos pocos sitios con algunos detalles. Lo siento, no puedo ayudarte mucho! Usted podría comprar un kit de prueba.

  7. j c wong
    November 18, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Hi Tony
    I also think you’re exagerating more than a bit. I’ve drunk tap water, ice etc in different districts in Lima without any problem (2 recent trips, I live in Europe now), the rural areas are a different story of course but the cities (Arequipa and Cusco in my experience) are also quite. In general, SOME of the water bottle companies provide better water because of the source and the lack of chemicals, this is true everywhere. I agree that washing your hands often is the best remedy, and that filling the world with empty plastic bottle is an ENORMOUS mistake. There’s enough landfills and lakes, seas, etc full of material that will never decompose. The wiki article is excellent, I recommend it (thanks Gunnar) Water stored in tanks in apt. bldgs. is pretty common (nyc std. since 19th century)and lots of places without enough (eastern mediterranean countries fro example)\
    Congratulations on your blog,
    J C Wong

  8. gonzalo meneses
    November 18, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    gracias tony.

  9. November 22, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Hi J. C., and thanks for the comment.

    I’ll be posting a follow-up article about this Peru tap water issue soon – it seems to divide opinion, so I’m currently getting some more thoughts on the matter from various sources. I’ll include a link above when the article is posted.

    Thanks,
    Tony.

  10. Gabriela
    April 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Could pls let me know why everytime i go to Peru and wash my hair, my hair turns healthy and curly, in America my hair turns extremely stright and dull.

  11. April 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Hi Gabriela. To be honest, I have no idea. It’s an interesting question, but I’m certainly no expert when it comes to hair. Where do you live in the U.S.A. and where do you normally spend time in Peru? I guess different water fluoride levels could make a difference.

    Hopefully someone else might have a better answer for you…

    Thanks, Tony.

  12. Carla
    August 29, 2011 at 5:25 am

    I have had the same experience as Gabriela. I have naturally curly hair and it looked great in Peru. In the States my hair looks terrible after I wash it. Dry and the curl doesn’t stay. Also, is it true a person can get a parasite from drinking tap water in Peru that causes stomach cancer? I drank tap water at all the Hotels I stayed in, whick was about five and then someone said don’t do it. I didn’t get sick, but I was told this parasite can live inside of a person for years before it strikes. Yuck, now I feel like the movie “Alien”.

  13. August 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Carla. Parasites are a possibility, but I’m not sure if they can cause stomach cancer. The parasites can linger before the effects become apparent (and long-lasting if not treated), but I think you’d know quite quickly if you had something (but don’t quote me on that). As for “Alien”… great film, but definitely unpleasant in parts!

  14. Yvonne
    January 9, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Hi Tony, great blog!
    I will be travelling to Peru the first time and want to stay a longer time in the Amazon, some weeks or even month. How is the drinking water situation there? I am pretty sensitive and usually stick to bottled water, but I cannot imagine bringing a sufficient amount of this with me into the selva. What is you opinion?

    • January 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Thanks Yvonne!

      It depends on what exactly you are doing and how you are traveling in the Amazon. You’ll obviously be able to buy bottled water in large towns and cities (Iquitos, Pucallpa etc). If you’re going on a cruise, water will be provided. If you’re planning on traveling by standard riverboat, you can take a decent water supply with you on board (where additional water should be available, either bottled, boiled or filtered).

      If you’re going off grid in the deep Amazon, then you’re basically in “survival mode.”

      Feel free to give me some more details (either here or through the contact page) and I’ll see what else I can think of.

      Cheers,

      Tony.

  15. Yvonne
    January 10, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you 😀 No river cruises for me. I will be living in retreat or village for some time in the deep amazon. Not expecting piped water or even electricity. I guess I will have to do as the locals do, but how do they do? From reading these pages it looks like the river water unfortunately is pretty aweful, so any further tips are very appreciated. Also I am considering taking a Steripen with me just to be on the save side. What do you think?

    • January 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Ah, sounds like an adventure! Depending on the location and the size of the village, the water could come from a stream, spring, well or straight from the river. Boiling is always an option, but taking a Steripen is definitely a good idea, maybe chuck in some water purification tablets too. You might also find someone who makes regular boat trips to the nearest town — you could have them bring you bottled water whenever they return. Good luck, sounds like fun!

      • Tammy (from NE Atlanta)
        July 30, 2012 at 1:54 am

        Hi Tony,

        Thanks for your input on Yvonne’s post. 🙂 I’m going to keep this short since I practically wrote a huge article reply to her. LOL! 😀 I liked your idea of water purifying tablets and wondered which kind you would suggest? I have easy access to REI who has several different kinds. Based on my research, Iodine tablets/drops are good for killing most bacteria within 30 minutes or so but won’t kill Cryptosporidium (found in feces infested water) but this tablet product in the following link will kill it after 4 hours:

        http://www.rei.com/product/695229/katadyn-micropur-purification-tablets-package-of-30

        Aside from boiling and filtering water, is this the tablet product you use or do you use a better tablet or means of purifying your water?

        If you read my reply to Yvonne, you’ll see my tentative destinations and my detailed plan of action/prevention for the nasties down there. You’ll also notice right away that I’m quite paranoid of the icky bad water in Peru but not enough to make me change my travel plans… I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL!! 🙂

        Thanks for taking the time to answer at my post. I’d appreciate your telling me the names of the water purifying tablets you use when you travel to places like Peru and whether or not your tablets kill Cryptosporidium.

        Have a great week! Many, many safe and awesome adventures to you! :-d

        Best Wishes and Thanks Again,
        Tammy 🙂

  16. ed
    April 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    The Peruvians drink tap water. What happens is that when you prepare coffee, plenty of water and let cool in the bowl, do not get rid of it because we will not continually spend on gas, and obviously thought the doubly purified water is boiled. A newborn children will prepare their drinks with water and heated to boiling it first needs.

    There is not a direct relationship as to say that Peruvians think the tap water is infected. We are not alarmed by it. If we are in the field will take water from a stream, but beware, if the water is not brown or dark weedy rare. No problem about it.

    In the jungle villages where there are no water treatment system, then there if we boil the water, because it is obvious that there are bugs, but we bathe with smooth river water to freshen up.
    In Lima the increased incidence of stomach cancer is on young people, because they buy the raw water tanks, and other districts in affluent Miraflores, no incidence of this type of cancer.

  17. Amy
    March 23, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Hi! I am not so worried about the bacteria in the tap water but the metals. Those can’t be taken out just by boiling the water or treating it with a tablet. We use a Sole water filter in our house and it saves us a bunch of money on water. It also helps take out bacteria as well as metals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *