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How to Avoid Machu Picchu Altitude Sickness – Symptoms & Treatment Tips

Marko Andinauta is Inca Trail Guide and experienced guide of high altitude as the Andes. He is the founder of Happy Gringo Travel Agency; and one of the most expert Inca Trail guide to Machu Picchu, who almost lost his left knee hiking at high elevation of mountains and he knows ¿where the famous altitude sickness lives? Therefore; he is familiar with Mountain illness or soroche.

Here; we leave you – how to acclimate to the hight altitude of Machu Picchu and Cusco? Perhaps, you want to hike the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – We are sure, this article will help you to survive the Cusco and Machu Picchu altitude sickness. If you like conquering the mountains; you need to read to be safe and what to do? This post has helped hundred of travelers who came to Peru, how to train for Machu Picchu? 


Machu Pichu 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. Altitude Sickness in 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. In this case only happens in Cusco or higher than Cusco city.

Wheter you are thinking to hike the legendary Inca Trail or hiking to Machu Picchu – the point is to prepare your body to support Macchu Picchu altitude while you hike al high elevation.

On the other hand, we have the famous 4 day Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Many clients arrive to Cusco 2 or 3 in advance to acclimate and get ready for hiking the Inca Trail.

Machu Picchu High Altitude Sickness

Normally; most Machu Pichu travelers feel altitude illness in Cusco and only 15% of visitors suffer high altitude sickness in Machu Picchu.

Are you scared of visiting Cusco? Many future travellers are scared too. Before traveling to Peru, travelers normally browse through internet in search for information on hot 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. 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.

♥ Our most sold package – Machu Picchu day trip from Cusco without feeling a lot of Machu Picchu altitude sickness; where Machu Picchu elevation is lower than Cusco altitude feet.

Another tour with less fisical activity is 2 Day Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu tour – the trip has almost the same elevation of Machu Picchu where the mountain sickness disapears.

The Cusco city and Machu Picchu citadel are amazing places worth at least visit once 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.

► Traditional tours to acclimate around the city to survive Cusco altitude sickness. Full day Sacred valley tour of the Inkas, Half-day Maras Moray tour (the laboratory of agriculture from 15th century), half-day Cusco city tour, rainbow mountain hike day trip and Sacred valley vip trip.

Let us know in advance to organize as group or private tour (the group tour takes 16 people max and private tour takes only a specific number of you).

Machu Picchu Altitude?

Many travelers who come to visit Peru think that Machu Picchu is located higher than Cusco city; but this is wrong. Altitude of Machu Picchu is at 2,400 meters = 7,972 feet above sea level.

Can you get altitude sickness in Machu Picchu?

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

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 any serious activity.

The Altitude of Cusco

The capital of the Incan empire is in the middle of the mountains and all toursits who come to visit Machu Picchu must pass thru Cusco city. Therefore, the Cusco of Peru altitude reaches 3,350 meters = 11,100 feet above sea level.

Note: Altitude sickness of Cusco will be on your way to Machu Picchu – see the prevention and symptoms below.

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

Whether you are going on a high altitude trek; learn about altitude sickness, its symptoms and how to treat it.

Machu Picchu Altitude Sickness
Machu Picchu Altitude Sickness – Do not smoke – Drink plenty of water

Important Things to Notice in Cusco and Machu Picchu

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 Lima stop in Cusco too.

The perfect 2 day tour to Machu Picchu that you won’t feel the altitude illness of Cusco and Machu Picchu.

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 that they have booked with Happy Gringo Tours.

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

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 almost 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 practice in many times.

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 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 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 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.

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.

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 (natural home remedy). It may turn your teeth green, but it isn’t bad at all. Perhaps you will not never get sick from the 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.

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.

This natural remedy for mountain illness is used from the Incas time and Coca is home medecine.

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. Also; Happy Gringo can help you to book nice hotels in Cusco.

Note: when you hike to Machu Picchu ith us, our crew always take the first aid kit including the tank of oxygen to prevent emergencies of altitude sickness.

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 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 Peruvian country. Most travelers who visit Machu Picchu go through the beautiful city of Cusco; which is over 11,000 feet above sea level.

On the other hand; we want to remind you that all tours and treks to Machu Picchu with Happy Gringo Travel – the first aid kit will be with you including the tank of oxygen; with us you won’t need the bottle of oxyshot.

How to prevent altitude sickness of Machu Picchu?


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