How to Avoid Altitude Sickness When Traveling in Peru


Are you traveling to Peru soon, or plan to sometime within the foreseeable future? If so, you may want to think about the elevation difference.

If you are traveling to the many popular tourist destinations in Peru, it is likely that the altitude there will be higher than what you are accustomed to at home.

When I flew into Cuzco, it was instantly recognizable that I was much higher up in elevation than I was used to. One who does not travel frequently may not realize that with great altitude comes great headaches. Altitude sickness is extremely common to people who make the journey, especially those who travel to areas surrounding Cuzco, like Machu Picchu.

So, how do you relieve, or even prevent altitude sickness altogether?

I personally knew nothing about this plaguing effect until I read some prominent literature before I arrived in Peru. The effects of this temporary condition can include headaches, trouble sleeping, nausea, shortness of breath, and inability to exercise.

Trekking to Machu Picchu (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The cases can range from mild to life-threatening in very extreme cases and can last up to three days. It will be easy to figure out if you are experiencing these conditions, as they will appear within hours of your arrival. This can dampen any spirits of adventure, especially since I know I get anxious to explore and make memories as soon as I get to my travel destination.

I can honestly say that I experienced no altitude sickness after my arrival, and to say the least, I was pleasantly surprised.

I was able to explore the city of Cuzco, and all of its amenities the second after we checked into the Del Prado Inn. Hindsight is 20/20, but I attribute my success to several factors; being in shape, physical activity upon arrival, and coca leaf tea/leaves.

When you travel to Peru, it’s almost expected that some sort of physical activity will be involved. Whether it’s pacing the endless streets, climbing to see Sacsayhuaman, or heading to Machu Picchu, it’s a good idea to be in shape for your trip. Overall, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine are the best ways to stay in shape longterm, but if you’re not there yet, just make sure to give yourself a nice kick in the butt before your trip. You owe it to yourself anyway, and it will make your travels to Peru that much more enjoyable, especially if your body can endure the increased stress of heightened elevation.

On Top of Machu Picchu (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I experienced a slight shortness of breath after my arrival, but I powered through it by climbing hills and seeing the sights.

My suggestions:

Don’t take a nap when you get to your hotel, go see the Jesus statue, Sacsayhuaman, or any number of museums in Cuzco. Stay active, and it’s likely that your body will continue to perform the way you want it to. Don’t overwork yourself though, make sure to take nice deep breaths and gradually ascend any hills or mountains. Staying extra hydrating can assist in overcoming symptoms as well.

Editor’s note: additional recommendation is not to drink alcohol (okay, just a glass!) or eat too much food during your first 24 hours in Cuzco, you will thank me later!

Lastly, and I think most importantly, coca leaves can be your saving grace. Whether it be chewing them, or enjoying them in a nice hot cup of tea, they are very well known for relieving, or even preventing the effects of altitude sickness. This Peruvian staple has a unique flavor that I didn’t find off-putting, especially the tea. You can purchase a nice hot cup at any number of locations around the city.

Follow these simple guidelines and you won’t be disappointed. If anything, you will experience minor symptoms that you’ll find easily manageable. If your conditions worsen, or you are having trouble breathing or moving, consult a local doctor. You may need a little extra oxygen and some care from a professional. Be careful out there and enjoy your stay in Peru!

Elevation at Cuzco- 3,399 m
Elevation at Machu Picchu- 2,430 m
Elevation at Huayna Picchu- 2,693 m
Elevation at Salkantay- 6, 271 m

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Garrett Heng

Author, dedicated father, and gym nut. I spend most of my days either working, planning future travels, or watching the seasons battle each other in Wisconsin.