Peru is an incredible country and, as such, it can be found on many people’s bucket lists. Peru is known for many things, but its biggest attraction is the amazing ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. This unique UNESCO site is certainly a worthy entry in the New Modern Wonders of the World and it more than deserves the thousands of visitors it attracts every year. However, for many visitors to Machu Picchu and Cusco, altitude sickness can cause discomfort as the altitude at Machu Picchu and the rest of the Andean region of Peru is high enough to cause difficulties. Here are some recommendations for how you can to deal with Peru’s high altitudes on your next visit — perhaps on our Best of Peru tour or our 4-day Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
What is Altitude Sickness & What Causes It?
Altitude sickness happens when your body doesn’t have time to acclimatize correctly to high altitudes. At altitudes around 2,400m (7,874 ft) above sea level and higher, the air pressure is lower, and the amount of oxygen that you breathe into your lungs and blood is lower. If you gradually increase altitude or already live in a high-altitude area, your body will naturally adapt or acclimatize to the lower air pressure. However, if you don’t give your body time to adapt, you may well suffer from altitude sickness as your body struggles to get the oxygen it needs. In South America, altitude sickness is called “Soroche” (from the Quechua language) and it usually affects most visitors to Cusco and Machu Picchu who have arrived in the city from a lower elevation.
Altitude Sickness Symptoms
A headache, shortness of breath and tiredness are typical in places with a higher altitude than you are used to and most people’s symptoms stop after a day or two — once their bodies acclimatize to the new elevation. However, if you experience more severe symptoms, such as dizziness, vomiting, and disorientation you should seek medical help immediately. With quick treatment you should recover quickly. Just be aware of the warning signs, and make sure you tell your travel companions how you are feeling, so that they can get help, if needed.
Altitude sickness symptoms can include any of the following:
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Problems with sleep
- Low appetite
How to Prevent Altitude Sickness
The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to acclimatize gradually to a higher altitude, slowly increasing the altitude over a few days so that your body has time to adjust the flow of oxygen around your body.
To help your body deal with the higher altitude, it’s important to keep well hydrated. Drink lots of water, avoid drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Remember: hangovers are 10 times worse at high altitudes! Your whole body slows down as it tries to cope with the altitude, so your digestive system will be sluggish too. Try to avoid heavy meals; instead, eat lighter meals, such as soups and vegetarian dishes. Avoid heavy meals that require a lot of energy to digest, such a steak, other red meat, and high-fat foods. Slow-release carbs are ideal when living at high altitudes.
You can help prevent altitude sickness in the following ways:
- Increase altitude slowly, giving your body time to acclimatize
- Drink lots of water & hydration salts
- Avoid alcohol
- Do not smoke
- Eat light meals
- Drink coca tea
Here at Gulliver Expeditions, we have the experience and expertise to look after everyone who comes on our range of Peruvian trips and expeditions.
If you have any questions for us, or you’d like help planning your next big trip, please feel free to contact us.
Come explore Peru with Gulliver Expeditions!