Many of Peru’s most beautiful destinations are located at very high altitudes – Cusco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Arequipa are all several thousand feet above sea level. So there is the possibility that you will experience some of the side-effects of altitude sickness at some point during your trip to Peru. Follow our tips on altitude sickness and get prepared before departing on your high-mountain travels.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and soroche in Spanish, can be caused when you go above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet) elevation or more. The decrease in atmospheric pressure makes breathing difficult because you are not able to take in as much oxygen, so the body can react in various ways. Symptoms can vary from person to person – fitness levels are irrelevant – and while most people will notice some effects of the altitude, in some cases it can be more severe.
How to avoid altitude sickness
- When you first arrive at altitude, take it slow! Have plenty of rest and don’t try and do too much in the first few days. Take small steps to let your body get used to the altitude.
- If you’re on a trek, try not to ascend more than 500m each day.
- Drink plenty of water regularly.
- Avoid alcohol
- Eat lightly; avoid heavy or fatty foods and opt for easily-digestible foods.
- Take advantage of the local cure – coca tea with a little sugar added.
- Ask your doctor’s advice about medications that could help you avoid altitude sickness: Diamox, Sorochi, Grovol. These can be easily found in Peruvian drugstores. Be aware however that they should not be for long-term use.
What to do if you get altitude sickness
The basic effects you might notice are:
- breathing feels harder, even short physical exertion creates breathlessness and fatigue
- tiredness; inability to sleep
- loss of appetite
- rapid pulse
More unpleasant symptoms include:
- confusion leading to loss of consciousness
- clumsiness and difficulty walking
- coughing up pink, frothy liquid