Do you have an upcoming trip to a high altitude destination? Follow the advice of our experts to avoid altitude sickness and not let it spoil your fun!
Some travelers to high altitudes, although not all, may experience some symptoms of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness, or soroche as it’s known in Cusco, can range from feeling some discomfort, to occasionally a serious condition requiring medical help.
Some of soroche’s worst symptoms include: dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea, headaches, vomiting and tachycardia; if severe, soroche can ruin any traveler’s first trip to Cusco.
But fear not! We’re here to offer you sound advice, straight from our expert Andean Lodges’ trekkers and mountaineering experts, on how to best prevent altitude sickness, and how to deal with it effectively if you start feeling symptoms.
When do you get altitude sickness?
Whenever the body experiences altitudes higher than 2,500 meters (or 8,200 feet), the effects of diminished air pressure can start to affect some travelers.
This happens because, although oxygen percentage is about the same as at lower altitudes, air is less dense, resulting in less amounts of oxygen entering your body with each breath.
To compensate for the lack of oxygen, one starts to breathe faster and the heart pumps blood more rapidly, thus resulting in the symptoms described previously.
At what altitudes are Cusco and our treks?
The city of Cusco is at 3,399 meters above sea level (11,152 feet), and our trekking route at Ausangate crosses mountain passes at above 5,000 meters (16,404 ft.). This is quite a bit above the altitude at which soroche’s symptoms could start to be noticeable.
Due to the high altitude, we highly recommend that you acclimatize at the beginning of your trip, so that you can enjoy the ancient Inca city and all it has to offer, and especially to acclimatize well before your mountain trek.
What are the best remedies for altitude sickness?
There are pharmaceutical medicines that can “help” treat altitude sickness. The truth is that most of those haven’t been proven to work all that well, and how each person might react to such medicines has not been well studied.
What we can vouch for are natural methods that have helped Peruvians and mountain travelers for centuries, and that will help every newcomer who tries them:
- Don’t overexert yourself. This is the simplest and easiest tip to follow. As soon as you land in the city of Cusco you’ll see that it’s easiest to do just one thing at a time.
Either focus on breathing, talking or walking. All these activities require breath control and oxygen flow, so doing too much on your first days at high altitude can result in overexertion. Take it really easy, relax and focus on doing things slowly, deliberately, one at a time for the first couple of days.
- Deep breathing is key. As your body tries to acclimatize to a lower oxygen amount, try to take deep, long, slow breaths. This will help lower your heart rate, and get more oxygen into your muscles and the rest of your body as you breathe.
- Hydrate! This will help you avoid getting soroche. As high altitudes tend to be drier, is it easy to become dehydrated. Remember to drink lots of liquids!
- Don’t go overboard with food. OK, we know Peru is known for amazing cuisine, and the city of Cusco is no exception. The problem with eating a lot at high altitudes is that digestion slows down considerably the higher up you go. So even though you’ll want to eat everything you see, remember to eat a bit less. Have small meals for the first couple of days.
- Drink coca tea. Soak a few leaves in a cup of hot water and drink this, especially in the morning. Trust us, do this and it will help you avoid symptoms of soroche. You can thank us in the comments later. And yes, coca is the plant that cocaine comes from, but don’t worry! There is a world of difference between the Inca’s sacred plant, which is more like green tea, and the notorious illegal drug.
These tips are what we can attest works best for preventing and treating altitude sickness. If you keep these suggestions in mind and put them into practice once you get to the city of Cusco, there’s a good chance that you’ll avoid soroche all together, and you’ll have a much better trip.
Remember, each person’s body reacts differently at higher altitude, so it’s best to plan ahead, acclimatize once you get here and take it easy for the first couple of days.
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