Top 5 Tips for Avoiding Altitude Sickness in Peru
If you’re planning to visit Cusco, Machu Picchu or Lake Titicaca, you’re probably concerned about altitude sickness. Here are some tips for avoiding its symptoms.
Many of Peru’s top destinations are located at several thousand feet above sea level. Cusco alone is at 11,512 feet (3,400 m.) above sea level, while Machu Picchu is at 7,972 ft. (2,430m.). That is not your typical hike, and for most of us, this will most likely result in altitude sickness or “soroche”, as Peruvians call it. Because there’s less oxygen at these high altitudes, our bodies need time to adjust. There’s no cure for soroche, but here are 5 tips for making the transition easier:
1. Lay down for a few hours
Yes, you need to rest. As soon as you arrive at your hotel, make it a point to lay down and rest. There’s no point in sightseeing right away if you’re going to feel sick. Take it easy the first few hours, and your body will thank you.
2. Don’t eat too much the first couple of days
I know Peru is known for its varied cuisine, and there are so many delicious and tempting foods you’d like to try, but digestion is slower at higher altitudes and eating too much before you acclimate will make you sick. Drink lots of liquids and enjoy light meals the first day or two. Perhaps a nice chicken soup in the evening.
3. Drink coca leaf tea
Locals swear by this tea, and it’s offered at hotels as a welcome drink. Go ahead, take advantage of this unique elixir, but don’t drink too much as it might cause palpitations. If you have a heart condition, high blood pressure or suffer from diabetes, it’s best to avoid it and stick to water.
4. Try a lower altitude first, and slowly ascend to higher ones
Most travelers will begin their trips in Cusco, which has the highest altitude in the area. A more paused, yet still magnificent itinerary begins in the Sacred Valley of Urubamba (50 min. drive from Cusco). The altitude is much lower there, the climate is fantastic, and there are several important Inca ruins and authentic food/textile markets to visit in the area. After a couple of days, you can travel by train to Macchu Picchu in the town of Aguas Calientes, which is still much lower than Cusco. Stay in Aguas Calientes for the night and then travel to Cusco the following day.
This will help your body adjust to the altitude slowly and you will have a more enjoyable vacation.
5. As a last resort, try some oxygen
Small oxygen tanks are generally available at hotels for emergencies. Some 5-star hotels have rooms with oxygen too, so if you can afford this category of hotel, ask your travel advisor about the hotels where this service is available. Finally, many private service tour companies carry small oxygen units in their cars/vans/buses, again, for emergencies. While this seldom is necessary, it is nice to know it’s there.