Treating Altitude Sickness in Cusco, Peru

by | Apr 30, 2024 | Inca Trail, Machu Picchu | 1 comment

City Tour Cusco Half Day

Cusco, Peru sits at a high altitude (around 11,000 feet or 3400 meters), and visitors arriving from sea level often experience altitude sickness, also known as soroche. Here’s a breakdown of how to deal with it if it strikes:

Prevention is Key:

  • Acclimatization: Ideally, spend a few days at a lower altitude (like the Sacred Valley at 9,000 feet) before ascending to Cusco. This allows your body to adjust gradually.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Dehydration worsens altitude sickness. Aim for at least 4-5 liters per day.
  • Coca Leaves: Chew on coca leaves, a natural remedy used for centuries by Andean people. They can help with headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath. Coca-leaf tea is another option.

Treatment for Mild Altitude Sickness:

  • Rest: Take it easy! Avoid strenuous activity for the first 24-48 hours. Relax and let your body adjust.
  • Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with headaches and general discomfort.

Medication:

  • Acetazolamide (Diamox): This medication helps your body eliminate excess carbon dioxide, which can build up at high altitudes. Consult a doctor before taking it, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

If Symptoms Worsen:

  • See a Doctor: If you experience severe headaches, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately. Serious altitude sickness requires professional care.

Additional Tips:

  • Eat Light: Avoid heavy meals, opt for easily digestible carbohydrates and fruits.
  • Avoid Alcohol: Alcohol dehydrates you, which can worsen altitude sickness.
  • Stay Warm: Dress in layers so you can adjust to temperature changes.

Remember:

  • Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard. Descending to a lower altitude is the best remedy for severe altitude sickness.
  • Altitude sickness usually subsides within 1-3 days of acclimatization.

By following these tips, you can help prevent or manage altitude sickness in Cusco and enjoy visiting this magnificent city.

RELATED: When is the best time to Visit Machu Picchu?

How to Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu Peru

Machu Picchu sits at nearly 8,000 ft. above sea level, which, combined with the trek up the mountain, results in prime conditions for what is referred to as altitude sickness in Machu Picchu Peru.

Altitude sickness symptoms in the Andes Of Peru may include an increased heart rate, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and more and typically present between 12-24 hours after arriving at altitude and are common for visitors to Cusco.

Machu Picchu Trip Planning
Machu Picchu

How Worse Would Be Your Altitude Sickness Experience In Machu Picchu?

If you experience these symptoms in your journey to Machu Picchu, it could result in a trip cancelation, or possibly worse. It is essential to take proper precautions before taking off to avoid this.

Precautions Can Help Alleviate Some Or All Symptoms of Altitude Sickness In Machu Picchu.

Typically, we recommend allowing your body 2-3 days at the new altitude to become properly acclimated. In combination with this, you should also increase your daily water intake to help you replenish your body as it becomes acclimated.

As a result, alcohol, and cigarettes should be avoided as they will only interfere with the body’s ability to take in oxygen. Even when these precautions are taken, you may still experience some symptoms of altitude sickness. In this event, many people turn to drinking coca tea as it has been shown to reduce these symptoms.

Coca Tea And Site Effects

Coca tea is made from coca leaves, which are native to the South American continent. By steeping the dried leaves in hot water, many in the areas surrounding Machu Picchu have used the resulting tea to combat symptoms of altitude sickness.

By consuming coca tea. Many tourists report feeling less fatigue, fewer headaches, and nausea, all of which are symptoms that can be directly attributed to altitude sickness. Coca tea has become so widely used in the area; for this reason, it has become synonymous with the Peruvian Andes themselves!

Visiting Machu Picchu is a goal on many people’s bucket lists, which is why the town of Cusco, Peru sees such a large influx of travelers each year. But for visitors to fully appreciate the beauty that Machu Picchu has to offer.

Tour Leaders Peru Transper
How To Prevent Altitude Sickness in Cusco & Machu Picchu

What Is Cusco’s Altitude? and How to Prevent It

Avoid altitude sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu step by Step. 

Cusco’s altitude is 11,152 ft (3399 m). This blog post contains essential information on how to control altitude sickness on Cusco’s Inca Trail Elevation over 4.200 meters or 3.300 elevation that is the city of Cusco, and what to do if you are dizzy when you have altitude sickness. 

Personal Tips How Can You Prevent Altitude Sickness Hiking To Machu Picchu?

If you are hiking the Alternative Trail to Machu Picchu or the Inca Trail 4D/3N, be honest with your tour guide. As local Tour leaders and expert hikers, they can help you to manage altitude sickness symptoms when you get sick or dizzy. 

Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco

Where is the Inca Trail? How to manage symptoms of altitude sickness while hiking the Inca Trail.

The Inca Trail is a famous hiking path in Peru that leads to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Here’s some information about the trail and altitude sickness:

Where is the Inca Trail:

  • Located in the Cusco Region of Peru, nestled in the Andes Mountains.
  • It starts in the Sacred Valley near Cusco and ends at Machu Picchu.

How to Treat Altitude Sickness on the Inca Trail:

Altitude sickness is a common concern when hiking at high elevations. Here’s how to manage it:

  • Acclimatization: Spend a few days in Cusco (around 11,000 feet) before starting the hike to allow your body to adjust to the thinner air.
  • Ascend Gradually: Take the multi-day treks instead of the one-day option, allowing your body more time to adapt.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids, ideally water or coca tea, to stay hydrated.
  • Rest: Take breaks often and avoid strenuous activity, especially during the first few days.
  • Medication:
    1. Acetazolamide (Diamox): Helps your body eliminate excess carbon dioxide, reducing the stress of altitude on your body. Start taking it a day before your hike and continue during the trek.
    2. Ibuprofen: This can help with headaches, a common symptom of altitude sickness.

Important:

  • If your symptoms worsen, descend to a lower altitude immediately.
  • Consult your doctor before your trip to discuss medications and if you have any underlying health conditions.

RELATED BLOG: Guide to Inca Trail Safety: Exploring Altitude Sickness

What Is Machu Picchu Elevation? 

Machu Picchu’s altitude is significantly lower at 7,972f (2430m)

We are pretty sure all of this information is going to help you avoid altitude sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu by Walking around Cusco or Doing the most classic Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu 5 Days.

RELATED: Cusco Day Tours

Don’t miss your trip. Even when altitude sickness pills scare you. Do you know why acetazolamide makes your fingers numb or makes you pee all the time? Please keep reading and learn why and how to prevent it.

Visit Cusco-Peru! Follow our recommendation to keep learning from this blog post that we named Avoid Altitude Sickness Cusco and Machu Picchu and hike Peru without any problems. Find your Peru Travel Packages here

Are you Afraid Visit Machu Picchu?

If you are planning to visit Machu Picchu, there are no other options to avoid Cusco City. You Must make a Stop here.

As an expert hiker. I have been guiding for many years, and I know how afraid tourists are when they arrive in Cusco City.

Most of My customers got Altitude Sickness in Cusco Before their trip to the Salkantay trek, Some missed their trip, and I am sorry! for them, but probably they didn’t do the right thing.

Where Is the Salkantay Trek?

It is one of the most challenging trips in Cusco. Its highest elevation is over 4600 meters above sea level, but at the same time, it is one of the most beautiful trips around Machu Picchu considered by National Geographic as one of the top 10 hikes in Peru.

Read the Article: Salkantay Trek Altitude Sickness Preventions

Salkantay Trekking Tour 5 Days
Salkantay Glacier – Trek Hiking Tour to Machu Picchu

Researching on Google (How To Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco – Peru)

Most tourists obsessively scour the internet for altitude sickness treatment, altitude sickness symptoms, altitude sickness medication, pills, pill side effects, altitude sickness Cusco, and avoiding altitude sickness in Cusco.

But let me tell you something, there is no treatment if you never adjust to it before in the highest elevation. Follow our advice if you have any trip involving hiking trails follow the tour leader’s recommendation, and you will be fine.

I even read a couple of articles about people who miss their trip because of altitude problems or complications. This issue almost led them to cancel their trip to Cusco and waste their money and time.

Peru – Cusco and Machu Picchu are Unique Places Worth at Least One Visit in Your Lifetime

You can never predict altitude sickness; you may not even get it. Physical fitness, age, and gender have no bearing on whether you will get altitude sickness.

However, people at higher risk for feeling its effects are those with heart problems or lung problems. Those with sleep apnea may also experience worse issues at high altitudes. If you have a CPAP machine, it is essential to bring this.

But first, be sure to check that it is built to operate at high altitudes; yes, electronic devices can be affected too!

What is Altitude Sickness? (Or “Mal de Altura, Soroche” as it’s in Cusco)

At high elevations—above 4.800 meters or 15,748.0315 feet, Lares trek can be a good example. The air is “thinner,” meaning there is less pressure than at lower elevations, so while the oxygen percentage remains the same, the air is less dense, so each breath you take contains less oxygen than what you usually experience.

Your body will react to counteract this change. First, we need to breathe faster and pump blood more rapidly to take in the same amount of oxygen it is accustomed to receiving. For many people, this comes as a shock to the body, causing various symptoms.

Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco
Machu Picchu Inca Terraces – lower than Cusco elevation

Symptoms (How to Manage the Cusco Altitude Sickness)

  1. Dizziness, Lightheadedness
  2. Headaches
  3. Nausea
  4. Vomiting
  5. Diarrhea or Constipation
  6. Difficulty Breathing
  7. Heart Racing

Important Note (There Is no Cure How To Treat Hight Elevation In Cusco)

  1. There isn’t a “cure” for altitude sickness, other than descending to an average elevation.
  2. Cusco is at 10,826 feet (3,300 meters). Machu Picchu is significantly lower at 7,545 ft (2,300 m). Altitude sickness generally starts affecting people at 8,000 feet or higher, so Machu Picchu isn’t the potential problem, Cusco is. Everyone who goes to Machu Picchu must pass through Cusco. Flights land here. Buses from Lima stop here.
  3. I am not a doctor. I am a native of Cusco. However according to my experience, I have seen many people think about altitude sickness; sometimes, it is a severe problem, and sometimes we don’t have a chance to continue, so we send back customers from the first camping site.
Machu Picchu Altidude

A Real Testimony of One of Our Customers (Bay Area CA)

I was born in the Bay Area, CA, at a flat, sea level by Cupertino, and lived there for almost my entire life. Before June 2018, I had never been at altitudes as high as Cusco. Therefore, I felt I was a prime candidate for altitude sickness, although you could never truly predict it. Now I’ve been in Cusco since June, on and off.

I’ve arrived in Cusco three separate times; in other words, I visited here for 12 days, went to Colombia for 10 days, came back to Cusco, went to the U.S. for two weeks, and then came back again.

Each time I arrive in Cusco, it gets easier to acclimate. On my first arrival, I had a pounding headache for five days, though it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t do activities. I think I took Tylenol a couple of times to relieve a headache. I also drank coca tea during my first visit, but haven’t since there’s no proof it works. Thankfully, my symptoms have never been worse than that.

Below This Article, you’ll find ways to Treat Cusco Altitude sickness, Including Natural ways (Coca Leaves)

Take it easy When You Visit Cusco.

This advice is seriously the easiest and most ignored 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 you are in Cusco. Don’t go on hikes or long walks. Please don’t put any excess stress on your body; it’s already working overtime to oxygenate your blood!

Take Deep Breaths

Again, your body is trying to get oxygen, but there is less of it available in each breath. So, take deep breaths to try to get more air in.

Avoid Alcohol on Your First Day 

The reasons for this are debated, but certain studies show that alcohol’s effects are enhanced at high altitudes, i.e., you get drunk more quickly. Also, alcohol may exacerbate the effects of altitude sickness. Hold off on the Pisco Sours for the first couple of days you’re in Cusco.

Drink Plenty of Water

This choice may not alleviate altitude sickness strictly. Still, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between altitude sickness and dehydration, and high elevations tend to be very dry, meaning you need more water for proper hydration.

Do not forget your water container if you are backpacking

Acclimate at a Lower Altitude, and Ascend Slowly

This piece of advice is sometimes hard to follow because it means changing your trip plans. Many people recommend that the second your plane lands in Cusco, you should take the Sacred Valley tour, about an hour outside of Cusco, where the elevation is about 2,000 feet lower.

This option allows you to acclimate at a somewhat lower altitude, and then move back up to Cusco when your body is more used to high altitude. The other option is to take extra days before your long trips, such as City Tour, Horse Riding, Sur Circuit, and Tipon.

Take Diamox – Altitude Sickness Acetazolamide

In the U.S., Diamox is a prescription drug often used to treat glaucoma; however, it can also treat altitude sickness. It would be best if you took it 24 hours before arriving in Cusco, though, and a side effect of the drug is that you’ll probably need to pee more frequently, not very convenient when you’re traveling. I brought Diamox with me, but have never used it.

Diamox Side Effects Touring In Cusco

Dizziness, lightheadedness, and an increased amount of urine may occur, especially during the first few days as your body adjusts to the medication. Blurred vision, dry mouth, drowsiness, loss of appetite, stomach upset, headache, and tiredness may also occur. If any of these symptoms persist or worsen, notify your doctor or pharmacist.

Remember that your doctor has prescribed this medication because they judged that your benefit is greater than the risk of side effects. Many people using this medication do not have serious side effects.

Tell your doctor immediately if any of these implausible but severe side effects occur: increased body hair, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, unusual tiredness, persistent nausea/vomiting, and severe stomach/abdominal pain.

  • As soon as you get the effect of Diamox, your articulation and probably your fingers become numb.
  • It makes you pee all the time.
  • The heart beats faster than a typical average.
altitude sickness in cusco peru
Diamox altitude sickness in Cusco Peru

Conclusion

In conclusion, altitude sickness is a common concern for travelers visiting Cusco, Peru. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and take necessary precautions to prevent or alleviate its effects.

Proper acclimatization, hydration, and medication can help mitigate the risk of altitude sickness. If symptoms persist or become severe, seek medical attention immediately. By being informed and prepared, visitors can enjoy their time in Cusco without being hindered by altitude sickness.

1 Comment

  1. Fidel Conde

    Amazing travel blog for everyone is going to Peru mainly to Machu Picchu

    Reply

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Cesar Conde

I’m Cesar Conde Licensed Tour Guide in Peru, owner of Tour Leaders Peru and Travel Advisor. My other side job is a Digital Nomad. I share my amazing travel experiences, stories, guides, and itineraries for travelers like you and me!

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