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Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu – Machu Picchu high altitude sickness

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu, or acute mountain illness, is a negative health effect of high altitude. It is caused by acute exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high altitude. 

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu presents as a collection of nonspecific symptoms, acquired at high altitude low air pressure, resembling a case of flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover.

While minor symptoms such as breathlessness may occur at altitudes of 1,400 meters – 4,700 ft, typically only occurs above 2,430 meters – 8,100 ft. It is hard to determine who is going to be affected by this altitude sickness of Machu Picchu in Peru. 

Diagnosis is supported in those who have a moderate to severe reduction in activities. Can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) both of which are potentially dangerous, and can only be cured by immediate descent to lower altitude or with normal oxygen administration. 

Chronic mountain sickness is a different condition that only occurs after long term exposure to high altitude.

Whether you are thinking of hiking the legendary Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek – the point is to prepare your body to support the altitude while you hike at high elevation.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Peru Altitude Sickness

Normally most travelers feel a little altitude sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu. However, only 15% of visitors suffer high altitude sickness in Machu Picchu.

Are you scared of visiting Cusco? Before traveling to Peru, travelers normally browse through the internet in search for information on how to prevent altitude sickness in Cusco

There were some who came across a bunch of articles which highlighted the death of tourists at higher altitude due to lack of oxygen. We have compiled this detailed post on how to cope up with altitude sickness based on our first hand experiences. You will surely be fine if you would consider the tips mentioned below.

First and foremost, you can never predict altitude sickness; you may not even get it. Age, physical fitness and gender have no bearing on whether you will be affected or not. However, people with acute heart or lung problems are prone to be short of breath at higher altitudes. 

Those with sleep apnea may also endure health issues at high altitudes. If you have a CPAP machine, we highly recommend you to carry it. But first, be sure to check that it is built to operate at higher altitudes as machines have their limitations too.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Can you get altitude sickness in Machu Picchu?

Definitely Yes. If you are planning to visit Machu Picchu; you can be at risk of getting altitude sickness in Machu Picchu.

The best thing you can do before traveling to Machu Picchu is spending the extra time allowing your body to adapt to the new altitude prior to any serious activity.

Inca Trail, Best way to travel from Lima to Cusco

The Altitude of Cusco

The capital of the Incan empire is in the middle of the mountains and all tourists who come to visit Machu Picchu must pass through Cusco city. Altitude of Cusco reaches 3,399 meters above sea level (11,152 feet).

What is Altitude Sickness?

SOROCHE as it is locally known in Peru, altitude sickness affects normally at higher elevations 3350 meters (8,000 feet). At this altitude, the air is usually “thinner” meaning it has less pressure. 

While the amount of oxygen would remain the same, the air is less dense. Therefore, each breath you would take at a higher altitude would have less oxygen.

In order to counteract this, your body will at first need to breathe faster and pump blood more rapidly in order to take in the same amount of oxygen it is accustomed to receive. For many visitors, this comes as a shock to the body, causing few symptoms.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches; which are usually throbbing. It gets worse during the night time and when you get up.
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, feeling sick to your stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Heart Racing
  • Not feeling like eating
  • Walking up during the night and not sleeping well
  • Feeling weak and tired. In severe cases, you don’t have the energy for eating.

There isn’t really a cure for altitude sickness, other than descending back down to the normal elevation.

Altitude sickness generally affects people at 8,000 feet or higher, so Machu Picchu isn’t really the potential problem but Cusco is. Everyone who goes to Machu Picchu will be travelling to Cusco. 

Cusco City Guided Tour

How to Cope With Altitude Sickness in Cusco?

First and foremost, you can never predict if you would be affected with altitude sickness.

We have had travellers who came to Cusco from sea level and have never been at altitudes as high as Cusco city. They had a pounding headache for a couple of hours or a couple of days. 

Some took Tylenol, a simple Paracetamol that is used to treat fever and pain and were relieved from the pain. Mostly, people drink hot cups of Coca Tea to recover from altitude sickness. Coca Leaves are a natural remedy for headache and high blood pressure.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Below are some tips to be safe with altitude sickness

Take it easy! This is the most ignored piece of advice for avoiding altitude sickness.

Remember, your body is trying to get accustomed to the lower amount of oxygen it’s getting. Therefore it is of utmost importance that you take it easy the first few days in Cusco. Avoid going on treks or long walks. Do not put any excess stress on your body, it’s already working overtime to oxygenate your blood.

Take many deep breaths. Staying hydrated helps a lot too. 

By practicing these techniques your body is going to adapt very quickly to low oxygen. So take deep breaths to try to get more air in. It is very simple but you must practice a lot.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Don’t drink alcohol.

The reasons for this are debated. However, studies show that the effects of alcohol are enhanced at high elevation. You get drunk more easily or very quickly. Also, alcohol may exacerbate the effects of altitude sickness. 

Hold on the Pisco Sours “Peruvian beverage” for the first couple of days while you acclimate at high altitude like Cusco.

Try to drink lots of water or electrolytes like gatorade. These may not alleviate altitude sickness exactly; but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between altitude sickness and dehydration and high elevations tend to be so dry, meaning you will be in need of more water for proper hydration.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Try to acclimate at a lower altitude, and ascend slowly.

This advice is sometimes hard to follow because it would involve changing your trip plans but doing this you may skip the altitude sickness. A lot of people recommend that the moment you arrive in Cusco; you should go to stay in the Sacred Valley of Cusco

It is about an hour outside of Cusco, and the elevation is about 2,000 feet lower. This allows you to acclimate at a somewhat lower altitude and then move back up to Cusco when your body is used to higher altitude.

The other option is to take a 23 hour bus ride from Lima to Cusco. Some people think the Lima-Cusco bus is a better option because it allows you to ascend gradually over the course of 23 hours. 

However, the bus route is very curvy and mountainous, so you will likely get very car sick if you’re prone to motion sickness.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Don’t forget to bring chlorophyll drops.

Many travellers carry a small bottle of chlorophyll (Chlorophyll as in plants) drops that they had bought at a pharmacy back home. As they intake few chlorophyll drops they were never affected by altitude sickness. 

This is a natural home treatment. The chlorophyll increases the amount of red blood cells in your system; the more red blood cells there are, the more opportunities you have to absorb oxygen, thereby reducing the effects of altitude sickness.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Take Diamox Pills.

In Canada and the USA, Diamox is a prescription drug often used to treat glaucoma; however, it can also treat altitude sickness. You need to take it 24 hours before reaching Cusco. 

And the side effect of this drug is that you’ll probably need to pee more frequently, not very convenient when you’re traveling. Many visitors brought Diamox with them, but some have never used it.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Bring Vitamin Shoppe Liquid Chlorophyll Drops

Put a few drops in with your water or Gatorade even in Muña tea – Andean mint tea (natural home remedy). It may turn your teeth green, but it isn’t bad at all. Perhaps you will not never get sick from altitude sickness. 

And you can get chlorophyll soft gel caps instead. Visitors really like using natural remedies, so a lot of them felt good about taking chlorophyll drops instead of Diamox.

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Drink Andean Coca Tea

The green gold of the Incas. You will find it everywhere in Cusco. Let’s clarify a few things, Coca is the plant from which cocaine is made. However, the leaves alone are not potent enough to be anything near to resembling the illegal drug. 

So yes, it’s totally safe to drink coca tea. However, it is recommended to drink more than four to five cups of coca tea to see quick recovery.

Stay in a luxury hotel

If your altitude sickness reaches EMERGENCY status, you will really need to get hooked up to a cylinder of oxygen as soon as possible. Most luxury hotels in Cusco have well equipped emergency rooms. 

Altitude Sickness Peru Machu Picchu

Carry a bottled oxygen (Oxishot)

Oxi Shots are plastic cans filled with oxygen! They’re sold in almost every drugstores in Cusco. However, many people claim it’s a gimmick. Yes, it contains real oxygen, but it’s such a small amount that it probably may not be effective for soroche.

While you shouldn’t let the fear of mountain illness cancel your trip, you should also take any symptoms of altitude sickness seriously. As long as you listen to your body and take precautions, you should be fine.

Hope this article will help you to prevent and treat altitude sickness while you explore Peru. 

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