The U.S. Embassy in Lima has issued an official security message for American citizens warning about travel to the Cusco area of Peru, including Machu Picchu. The message, issued Thursday, says that the embassy received information that a criminal organization may be planning to kidnap American tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area. The report adds, “possible targets and methods are not known and the threat is credible at least through the end of February 2013.”

The embassy is currently prohibiting personnel from visiting the area on personal travel, and is restricting official visits. Though the embassy urges non-consular U.S. citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security” if traveling to the region, at this point the threat has not been elevated to an official Department of State travel alert or warning. (The embassy says it “remains confident of the Peruvian government’s efforts to ensure the safety of all tourists in the region.”) That, however, could change in the coming days.

The Peruvian government moved quickly to reassure the nearly one million travelers who visit Machu Picchu annually. José Luis Silva Martinot, Minister of Foreign Commerce and Tourism, said in a statement, “The United States is NOT recommending no travel to Peru, they are giving recommendations to take proper precautions.” Meanwhile, tour operators who bring travelers to the area say they are being extra vigilant about safety. Peruvian travel specialist Aracari told Travel + Leisure that while it is not aware of any incidents of kidnapping or attempted kidnapping of tourists by members of a criminal organization, it is taking the message seriously and adopting extra precautions.

If you have plans or are considering travel to Peru and Cusco, contact your tour operator directly to find out what additional security measures are being taken in light of this warning. Be sure to also sign up for the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which will send you security updates, and make it easy for the consulate to contact you in an emergency. (You can also download the department’s Smart Traveler app.) For updates on Peru, look for the Department of State’s official Peru country page. Links to any additional security messages, along with travel alerts and warnings, will appear at the top of the page.

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