If you are traveling to Peru’s most popular tourist destinations, it is likely that the altitude there will be higher than what you are accustomed to at home.
When I flew into Cusco, 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 this journey, including areas at lower altitude, such as Machu Picchu.
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.
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 Cusco, 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 prepare yourself 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.
I experienced a slight shortness of breath after my arrival, but I powered through it by climbing hills and seeing the sights.
A recommendation is to avoid taking 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 hydrated also assists in overcoming symptoms as well.
An additional recommendation is not to drink alcohol (okay, just a glass!) or eat too much food during your first 24 hours in Cusco.
Coca leaves can be your saving grace. Whether it be chewing them, or enjoying them in a nice hot cup of coca leaf 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 will avoid feeling the effects of altitude sickness. 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!
Cover photo: AmaraPhotos.com