5 recommendations to avoid altitude sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu

Altitude of Machu Picchu

One of the biggest fears for tourists when researching recurring destinations in Cusco is altitude sickness, or also known as soroche. This condition despite not distinguish between gender, age or physical condition should not be a reason to fear to know the tourist attractions that has the city of Cusco, for this we offer certain recommendations, tips and ways to treat and avoid altitude sickness or soroche. Take note!

What is the altitude of Cusco and Machu Picchu?

It is commonly thought that the altitude of Machu Picchu is higher than that of the Imperial City of Cusco, but this is inaccurate. The city of Cusco is 3,399 meters/11,152 feet above sea level; while Machu Picchu’s altitude is 2,430 meters/7,972 feet above sea level. This distinguishes them at almost a 1000 meters/3,281 feet difference in altitude.

La Compañia de Jesus Cusco Loex
Cuzco Main Square

What causes altitude sickness or soroche?

Due to the great differences in altitude, oxygen is scarce in a more abundant form, and our body, being used to receive large amounts of oxygen for the brain to function in the best way, is not supplied, feels the difference and begins to make us feel a discomfort called soroche.

According to experts, altitude sickness or soroche can begin to take its toll on you when you reach 2,400 meters/7,874 feet above sea level. This does not mean that every time you visit a place with this altitude or higher, your body will be affected, as each body works in a different and particular way.

Machu Picchu altitude sickness
Machu Picchu

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?

The symptoms of altitude sickness are easily recognizable and are usually mild and of immediate attention, so you should not need the help of a medical professional.

Thus, the lack of sufficient oxygen can cause: headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, lack of appetite, sleep disorders, increased heart rate and shortness of breath.

Tips to avoid altitude sickness or soroche

As previously mentioned, there is no need to fear suffering from altitude sickness. Although its symptoms are not pleasant and make us feel terrible, there are many ways to treat altitude sickness. Here are some tips that will help you prevent and deal with altitude sickness:

  • Avoid large meals: One of the measures you should take before traveling to a place located at high altitude is to eat enough. It is advisable to eat meals rich in carbohydrates and natural sugars during the two days before starting the trip.
  • Rest when you arrive at your destination: The best decision you can make is to make the ascent slowly and with enough stops, but as we know that this is not always possible, we recommend taking the first days in Cusco lightly and without making activities that demand great physical efforts.
  • Drink coca leaf tea or take pills for soroche: Preventively, you can prevent the negative symptoms of altitude sickness by drinking coca leaf tea (you will find coca leaves in any store, bar or hostel in Cusco). You can also go to a pharmacy in town and buy pills for soroche.
  • Drink plenty of water: Generally the air is drier in places with altitude and, consequently, our body needs more water to maintain homeostasis. Thus, our recommendation is to always carry a bottle of water in your backpack and stay hydrated at all times, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol: One of the properties of alcohol is that it causes dehydration in the body, so we recommend drinking moderately (if you choose to) during your visit to Cusco.

As previously explained not all visitors will suffer from altitude sickness, many of them do not have any problems and are not affected by altitude sickness, but it is always good to be prepared and avoid any type of complication during your trip.

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