Let’s start by looking at what high altitude means. High altitude starts to have an effect on our bodies from between 1,500m – 2,000m (4921ft – 6561ft) when our bodies start to react differently to make up for the changes in oxygen levels.
So, as you go higher the air pressure gets lower (the air gets ‘thinner’) so that for every breath there will be less oxygen for your body. Your body gradually adapts to getting less oxygen – you breathe faster and deeper and the body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen molecules. This takes time, so this is why if you go from low to high altitude too quickly, you may feel symptoms of altitude sickness until your body acclimatizes.
Cusco is located at an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,200ft) and it is common for many visitors to experience some mild symptoms of altitude sickness or ‘soroche’ as it is known locally. It’s hard to tell if you will be affected by altitude sickness as some people can be more susceptible than others regardless of age, sex or physical condition.
How might altitude sickness affect my trip?
Mild altitude sickness should not interfere too much with your normal activity. Symptoms are usually felt within 12 – 24 hours of arrival and tend to subside within 3 days. It is recommended to give yourself 2 to 3 days to adjust to the altitude before doing a trek!
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Common mild symptoms of altitude sickness may include:
Eight tips to avoid altitude sickness in Cusco
Relax and take it easy! Take a few days at the start of your trip to acclimatize to the altitude before attempting any treks or strenuous activity. This is the best advice we can share! Take it easy for the first few days and your body will thank you later.
Get lots of sleep. Sleep is the best remedy of all! Do not be afraid to just sleep it off as your body adjusts.
Avoid alcohol & drugs. This includes sleeping tablets and tranquilizers as these can all make the symptoms worse.
Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated prior to and throughout your trip is crucial to avoiding unpleasant altitude sickness symptoms.
Drink coca tea. Nearly every hotel in Cusco and the Sacred Valley offers fresh coca tea to guests and for a good reason too! Coca tea is completely safe to drink and a cup or two each day can ease altitude symptoms.
Go lower to acclimatize. Head straight to the lower altitude of the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu. Believe it or not, Cusco is at an altitude of 3400m (11,154ft) so heading to Ollantaytambo at 2,900m (9,514ft) or Machu Picchu at 2,400m (7,874ft) can make a huge difference
Get an Oxishot. Oxishot is a small dischargeable can that contains 8 litres of oxygen that you can take when you arrive in Cusco and anytime you need a boost. It can help reduce headaches and fatigue associated with altitude sickness.
Visit your doctor. If you are still worried before you to travel, head to your doctor and ask for an acetazolamide prescription (also known as brand name Diamox) which can be taken to help avoid altitude sickness symptoms. Regardless of altitude worries, you should always visit your doctor or a travel clinic prior to travel to Peru.
Medical practitioners and hospitals in Cusco are quite used to treating altitude sickness, so if something does go wrong there are medical facilities available here. There are several private clinics who offer doctors fluent in English.