Machu Picchu Altitude Sickness, also known as 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. Machu Picchu Altitude Sickness 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 sickness. Diagnosis is supported in those who have a moderate to severe reduction in activities. Can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema 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. In this case only happens in Cusco or higher than Cusco city.
Machu Picchu Altitude Sickness
Are you scared of visiting Cusco? Many future travellers are scred too. Before travelling to Peru, travellers normally browse through internet in search for information on hot to prevent altitude sickness in Cucso. There were some who came across a bunch of articles which highlighted the death of tourists at higher altitude due to lack of Oxygen. Fret not! 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.
The Cusco city and Machu Picchu citadel are amazing places worth at least one visit in your lifetime.
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 lungs problems are prone to be short of breath at higher altitudes. Those with sleep apnea may also endure to 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.
Best Ways to Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco
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.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
- Difficulty in breathing
- Light headedness
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Heart Racing
Important Things to Notice
There isn’t really a cure for altitude sickness, other than descending back down to the normal elevation.
Cusco is at 11,152 feet – 3,350 meters. Machu Picchu is significantly lower at 7,972 ft – 2,400 meters. 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 must pass through Cusco. Flights land here and the buses from also Lima stop here.
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 pounding headache for a couple of hours or a couple of days. Although, their headache were not so bad, they could easily participate in activities they have booked.
Below are some tips to be safe with altitude sickness
Take it easy! This is most ignored piece of advice for avoiding altitude sickness.
Remember, your body is trying to get adopted to the lower amount of oxygen it’s getting; therefore it is of an utmost importance that you take it easy the first few days in Cusco. Don’t go 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 and keep 5 seconds at least in then breathe out like working out.
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 google about it to practice in many ways.
Don’t drink alcohol.
The reasons for this is debated, but certain studies show that the effects of alcohol are enhanced at high elevation “i.e. You get drunk more easily or very quick”. Also, alcohol may exacerbate the effects of altitude sickness. Hold off on the Pisco Sours “Peruvian beverage” for the first couple of days while you’re in 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 for more water for proper hydration.
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 your plane lands in Cusco, you should go to stay in the Sacred Valley. It is about an hour outside of Cusco, and the elevation is about 2,000 feet lower. This allows you to acclimatise 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.
Don’t forget to bring chlorophyll drops.
(Chlorophyll as in plants) Many travellers carry a small bottle of chlorophyll 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 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.
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.
Bring Vitamin Shoppe Liquid Chlorophyll Drops
Put a few drops in with your water or Gatorade even in Muña tea – Andean mint tea. It may turn your teeth green, but it isn’t bad at all. Perhaps you will not never get sick from the altitude. 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.
Drink Andean Coca Tea
The green gold of the Incas. You will find it everywhere in Cusco. Let’s clarify a few things: Yes, 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 and yes, most luxury hotels in Cusco have a well equipped emergency rooms.
Carry a bottled oxygen (Oxyshot)
Oxyshots 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.
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.