San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the most dangerous districts of Lima. Photo by Paul Silva, flickr.com.

Picking out the most dangerous areas of Lima is problematic. Different government agencies in Peru use different methods for determining “danger,” be it assaults, robberies, murders or an assortment of various factors. But by using a few different sources, it is possible to present a solid overview of the most dangerous districts of Lima (of which there are 43 in total).

Sources used here include Peru’s Observatorio de la Criminalidad, a branch of the Ministerio Publico; the NGO Lima Cómo Vamos; and the Peruvian National Police. They don’t always agree on the exact ranking of each district, but they do highlight the same districts in their lists of the most dangerous parts of Lima.

It’s also worth noting that all of Lima’s nine most populated districts (by population, not population density) are on the list below. It’s reasonable to argue, therefore, that crime rates are higher — to a certain extent — simply because of the number of people living in these districts. At the same time, some of these highly populated districts are also among the poorest in the capital.

The 12 Most Dangerous Districts of Lima

The following districts of Lima are considered the most dangerous in the city. They are ordered in approximate order of danger as defined by the sources mentioned above. Callao is included despite being a city in its own right (rather than a district), because it forms part of the contiguous Lima Metropolitan Area.

1. Central Lima (Cercado de Lima)
2. San Juan de Lurigancho
3. Callao
4. Ate Vitarte
5. La Victoria
6. San Martín de Porres

7. Villa El Salvador
8. Santa Anita
9. Villa María del Triunfo
10. San Juan de Miraflores*
11. Comas
12. El Agustino

*not to be confused with Miraflores

Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid strolling around these districts (with the exception of Central Lima, see below), especially at night.

I once went to San Juan de Lurigancho for some random reason, and after the sun had set I decided it was time to leave. I started trying to flag down a taxi on a fairly busy street, but none would stop. After about five minutes, a taxi finally pulled up and I jumped in. I told the driver I’d been waiting for a while but couldn’t get a taxi for some reason, and he replied: “Yes. Taxis don’t normally stop on this street at night, it’s far too dangerous.”

Why Is the Crime Rate So High in the Central Lima District?

Despite appearing at the top of this list of dangerous areas in Lima, Central Lima (Cercado de Lima) is also one of my recommended places to stay in Lima. So what’s that all about?

In an October 2015 interview with Perú21, Renzo Reggiardo, president of the Special Multiparty Congressional Committee of Security, put the bulk of the blame on one particular neighborhood within the Central Lima district: Barrios Altos.

According to Reggiardo, “There are many people [in Barrios Altos] who engage in crime. It’s not all of them, but a great proportion.” Barrios Altos is a stone’s throw from the Historic Center of Lima, which includes the Government Palace and Lima Cathedral. Despite being so close to Lima’s colonial center — all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site — Barrios Altos nonetheless suffers from high levels of poverty, urban decay and lack of infrastructure. For many of its residents, crime has become a way of life.

Tourists do not typically stay in Barrios Altos, for obvious reasons. But much of the rest of Central Lima is fairly safe, despite its high levels of reported crime (partly due to the Barrios Altos neighborhood and partly because of the high numbers of visitors to the district, both foreign and national, which leads to increased incidents of snatch theft and other opportunistic crimes).

It’s fine to stay in the reasonably well-policed historic center, or just to the south or southwest (Barrios Altos is to the east of the district) toward Plaza San Martin and the Parque de la Exposición. Just be careful of strolling too far afield, especially at night, as you can soon arrive in unsafe areas.