Mountain trekking at higher elevations is definitely wonderful, but your body can play tricks on you. The lack of oxygen above 8,000 ft. can cause discomfort, and in some cases can provoke severe symptoms.
And since each person’s physiology changes over time, you never really know exactly how you might react to such altitude until you arrive there.
People who have in the past never had such issues while hiking at high elevations could on their next trip feel the effects, which would certainly put a damper on a great experience.
Luckily, severe cases of altitude sickness are rare in Cusco; the city is located at about 10,400 ft. (3,200 m.), not nearly as high as many 20,000 ft. Andean mountain summits.
The Ausangate region, where Andean Lodges operates the most outstanding trekking programs in southern Peru’s Andes , some of our ecolodges are located at around 15,750 ft. (4,800 m.), and our treks reach up to 16,900 ft. (5,150 m.).
Symptoms of altitude sickness are quite varied, everything from simple dizziness, sleeplessness and/or a headache, to more serious nausea and exhaustion.
At very high altitudes (over 20,000 ft.), severe conditions of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) could occur, such as disorientation, or fluid accumulation in the lungs or brain, which would require prompt treatment and evacuation to lower altitude.
Altitude sickness is preventable, so taking precautions by following some basic simple tips will help you to acclimatize and avoid any symptoms of altitude sickness:
1. Take it slow, take it easy, but do train beforehand.
For the first couple of days in Cusco, avoid exerting yourself; walk at a slower pace than you’re used to.
But before traveling to trek in Peru, do train and increase your fitness with many short hikes and plenty of exercise.
2. Get as much rest and sleep as possible for the first day or two.
There are very nice places to sit, breathe and watch the world go by at Cusco’s lovely plazas.
It’s sometimes hard to sleep at higher altitude, but try to get plenty of sleep, maybe with a relaxing cup of chamomile tea.
3. Eat light, eat less.
Heavy meals can really upset your stomach in the first few days. Food in Peru is delicious, but can be rather rich and heavy.
Opt for lighter soups (quinoa broth is excellent!), salads, fish, fruit, vegetables and some simple carbohydrates for a few days, and later on you can gravitate to Peru’s delicious meatier, starchier dishes.
4. Drink a lot of water.
The Cusco region is semi-arid, especially in the sunny, colder dry season from May to October.It is essential to remain hydrated with plenty of water, since dehydration is a main cause of altitude sickness.
5. Avoid alcohol.
Drinking booze upon arrival at altitude can quickly lead to headaches and altitude sickness, so wait for a couple of days before indulging in Peru’s excellent pisco brandy, or native chicha corn beer, or other spirits.
6. Coca leaf tea can help.
A cup or two upon arrival in Cusco is helpful for adapting the body to altitude, and most hotels and restaurants offer it.One caveat- it is a mild stimulant, so it’s better to have it in the morning, so you can get a good night’s sleep.
7. Focus on your breathing.
Breathing deeply and slowly, and filling your lungs, always helps.
8. Some pharmaceutical medicines can help.
Though you probably won’t need it, taking acetazolamide (Diamox is a brand name) before and during your trip can help prevent altitude sickness.
However, this medicine (also used for treating glaucoma) is a prescription drug, and you must check with your doctor before using it. In general, a medical check-up is a great idea before traveling to Peru.
9. Join an acclimatization program.
Andean Excursions offers professionally-designed two, three or four-day programs that include shorter, easier hikes in the vicinity of Cusco and in the Sacred Valley.
This gradual way to acclimatize and build up your stamina is perfectly suited to prepare you for your higher altitude, more strenuous Ausangate trek.
10. You don’t need to worry much about altitude sickness
Remember that your health and safety is Andean Lodges’ number-one concern. First, very few of our travelers ever have serious problems with altitude, and most have not at all.
Also, our trekking guides and teams are well trained in outdoor medical emergencies, and fully prepared to treat altitude sickness.
Just in case, we carry a hyperbaric chamber, and an evacuation horse accompanies our treks.
Remember, if you follow these simple steps and tips, your chances of getting altitude sickness in Cusco are low, and most people have no such problems.
For more information about Andean Lodges’ amazing Ausangate Treks, and Andean Excursions’ acclimatization programs in Cusco, please contact us at: andeanlodges.com.
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