Is the water safe to drink in Peru?

by on 2nd May, 2014

Drinking water in Peru

Kathy Jarvis talks about water treatment and reducing a traveller’s plastic footprint.


Sacred valley Urubamba River Peru

Sacred Valley, Urubamba river, Peru


She writes:

“Can I drink the tap water?” is one of the most frequently asked questions we get here in our UK office from travellers heading to Peru.

We always advise people not to risk it. The tap water in Peruvian towns is probably OK nowadays, but the water in most rural areas is probably not OK, and if you are on a short holiday the last thing you want is to be confined to your hotel with a serious case of the squits.

So, you inevitably end up amassing a dozen or more plastic water bottles in a few weeks travelling through Peru – and plastic waste is undoubtedly becoming a huge environmental issue.

Peru is particularly bad for the mass production of plastic. Local people drink vast quantities of Inca Cola, Coke or any other fizzy drink all in plastic bottles while the tourists prefer to buy bottles of water rather than take the risk of drinking what comes out of the tap. Back yards, roadsides and river banks are littered with plastic bottles, unceremoniously dumped, and recycling is only just beginning.

Out with the old?

There have always been unwieldy filtering devices and chemical tablets to drop into water but they make the water taste pretty disgusting. Out on trek we have always boiled the water and as an extra precaution added water purification tablets before drinking it, which is laborious and energy consuming and doesn’t even produce good tasting water.

I have made the mistake of drinking untreated stream water while backpacking on the Santa Cruz trek, and suffered an immediate vomiting attack as a result. I haven’t done that again!

In with the new?

So, I was delighted to be given a SteriPEN UV water purifier to test out on my recent trekking adventure to Peru this April. WOW – what an amazing little tool!

The device is light weight and very simple to use. It  is proven to be safe and effective, eliminating over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause water-borne illness. The SteriPEN I was given  has a clear display, is rechargeable via a computer usb or portable solar panel, treating 50 litres on one fully charged battery, and 8,000 litres of water in the lifetime of its UV light. That’s a lot of treks.

It is simple to use – you fill up your water bottle, press the on button and hold the device inside the bottle for 90 seconds to purify a litre of water. The UV light comes on. After 90 seconds the light goes off and a smiley face assures you all is well. If not an unsmiling face let’s you know something went wrong.

This is an easy and effective way to treat water, and to avoid using endless platic bottles. Some Peruvian airports now have UV treated tanks of water available to refill personal water bottles too, and hopefully there’ll be more to come.

Kathy is director of Andean Trails and author of several guide books to Peru.”

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