Traveling to Cusco, Peru to visit Machu Picchu? Great choice. I have already made my bold statement that Peru should be at the top of every traveler’s bucket list. I would visit every year if I could.
However, you can’t forget about the fact that you are traveling to a place that sits two miles high above sea level. Cusco reaches 2.11 miles high to be exact, which is 11,152 feet or 3,400 meters. A city that exists this high in the sky means altitude sickness is a real concern and something you need to prepare for as you start your packing list.
Altitude sickness includes but is not limited to:
- The other way around
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart racing
- Severe anxiety
- Low energy – walking 5 steps may feel like a marathon
No thank you. I wanted none of it; but beggers can’t be choosers.
You will never know how altitude sickness will affect you until you get to your destination. Luckily I always over prepare and have some helpful tips for how to reduce the altitude-sickness scaries.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional nor a doctor.
I am just a health nut and those who know me best call me a “walking pharmacy”. I am extremely obsessed with every vitamin, supplement, serum, and herb out there. I truly believe our bodies are extremely strong if we nurture ourselves properly. At the same time I love wine, coffee, and I’m a bit of an insomniac, naturally.
Another disclaimer: There is no way to “avoid or prevent” altitude sickness. I am providing tips to help alleviate and minimize the impact on your body so you can still enjoy your time in Peru.
Here are 8 ways to prepare for altitude sickness before you travel to Cusco, Peru:
1: Drink 3-5 liters of water a day starting 10 days before you travel to Peru and continue each day you are there.
Water is Earth’s magic and helps our body function. High altitude makes your body work so much harder from all aspects and hydration is critical to help “all systems go”.
I drank over 5 liters a day and still felt dehydrated so just always have water on you at all times.
2. Don’t drink any alcohol the week before your trip to Cusco, and don’t drink alcohol when you get to Peru until your body acclimates (which can take over 48 hours).
I cheated and had a pisco sour the night we got into town and it wrecked me. I’m an irish “heavy weight” so that says a lot.
When you arrive in Peru, simply focus on drinking water and warm teas– nothing else. You can booze it up when you get back to sea level.
3. Drink liquid green chlorophyll every morning, starting 1 week before you arrive in Peru and throughout your time there.
Chlorophyll tastes like blood, but as long as you chug it every morning with water you will be A-OK vampire style. Chlorophyll helps bring more oxygen to the brain and increases red blood cells which means capturing more oxygen.
4. Ingest Coca every day. You can chew coca directly (10-15 leaves at a time), you can drink coca tea, and you can also find coca in candy form.
The coca plant (known for being used to make cocaine) originated in the Andes and was found over 3,000 years ago. Coca is everywhere in Peru– in the tea, beer, chocolate, and pure leaf form. In fact, most hotels in Cusco serve you coca tea as soon as you check in to help you acclimate. I recommend you have coca every day in Peru because that is how the Incas’ survived at that high altitude while building Machu Picchu.
To answer your internal question … no, you do not feel “high” like actual cocaine. Coca is all natural and just helps your body neutralize and helps you feel awake like a strong cup of coffee.
I chewed coca every day all day and it cured my headaches and anxiety; read more at machutravelperu.com
5. Tylenol PM or Nyquil
Insomnia is a huge affect of altitude because your body is working so much harder for oxygen, which means you can often hear your heart beating in your brain. Your body may not feel relaxed or “sleepy”, which can cause sleep deprivation and anxiety. Try using a Tylenol PM or Nyquil for the first night (low dose) to help your body relax and fall asleep.
6. Gingko Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is one of the longest living tree species in the world living as long as a thousand years since 2600 BCE. Gingko is know to help cure a lot of different illnesses and some say it alleviates symptoms of altitude. It definitely helped me, but it also kept me up at night. If you are a light sleeper I recommend taking your daily dose in the early morning.
7. Acetazolamide (Diamox) prescription can help alleviate all altitude symptoms. Seriously – vanish. *Talk to your doctor first of course*
However, this doesn’t change whats actually happening in your body. I only recommend taking this if you actually get really sick (like “can’t leave your hotel sick”). You can only get this medicine at pharmacies in certain countries such as Argentina. So plan ahead!
8. Don’t stress too much about altitude sickness because then it will just consume you, and you won’t fully enjoy your time in Peru.
I know people who have been to Cusco and felt no negative effects to the altitude at all; you just never know how your body will acclimate. However, what I do know is that you should always be prepared and that Cusco and Machu Picchu are worth every single mysterious moment.