Chachani volcano above Arequipa, Peru

Dealing with Altitude Sickness in Peru

Understanding the effects of altitude sickness as you plan your Peru vacation is crucial to tackling this issue before it gets a chance to show its ugly head.

Many of the coolest attractions in Peru are high up in the Andes Mountains at 8000 feet (2438 meters) above sea level or higher. For this reason, it is important to consider how the altitude might affect you on your trip and plan accordingly. We’ll get into all the details, but the main point to take home is this: if you think you might experience symptoms of altitude sickness, it is best to add a day or two at the beginning of your trip to acclimatize to the change in altitude.

Individual factors affecting Altitude Sickness

The truth is that altitude sickness affects everyone differently. Some may experience a slight headache or shortness of breath with physical activity, while others may feel more serious effects such as nausea or fainting. There are many factors that play into whether or not you might suffer the effects of altitude sickness. If you are not certain how you will deal with the effects of high altitude, the best thing to do is consult your doctor before you leave for your trip. In addition, you can ask yourself a few questions:

Do you live at high altitude (More than 5,000 feet / 1,524 meters above sea level)?

This is by no means a rule of thumb, but it might help you guess how you will feel when you arrive in a place like Arequipa, which is about 7,600 feet (2,316 meters) above sea level. For example, if you spent much of your life in the Rocky Mountains or the Swiss Alps, chances are the high altitude may not affect you much. However, if you spent most of your life on the coast or close to sea level, you might want to consider taking an extra day to acclimatize, as your symptoms might be more severe.

Any respiratory ailments troubling you (emphysema, asthma or similar)?

Respiratory ailments can limit the air intake capacity of your lungs and make it difficult to breathe, especially at higher altitudes. If you suffer from a condition of the lungs, it is best to take it easy your first day at the higher altitudes.

Native people of the Andes Mountains hiking in a procession in Peru

The people of the Andean region of Peru have inhabited the mountains for centuries, and therefore are naturally acclimatized to the high elevation.

Common Symptoms

Mild symptoms of altitude sickness include:

  • Mild headaches
  • Shortness of breath after slight to moderate physical exertions, such as climbing stairs or walking around the city

More extreme symptoms can include the following:

  • Increasing headaches with protracted vomiting
  • Extreme lethargy and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest

NOTE: If these symptoms are ignored, fatal consequences could occur, including pulmonary and cerebral edema, which are the swelling of the lungs and brain. If you experience any of the above mentioned extreme symptoms of altitude sickness, you should contact a medical professional immediately.

Preventing and dealing with Altitude Sickness

While it is nearly impossible to predict the individual effects of altitude sickness, there are a variety precautions and remedies which can help to reduce these effects or even prevent them. One way is to consult your doctor about altitude medications such as prescribed Diamox (acetazolamide). You can also take ibuprofen for mild symptoms, such as dealing with headaches. Another way to deal with altitude sickness is by chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea, which is a centuries-old practice among Peruvians living at higher altitudes.

Aside from remedies, there are some healthy tips to reduce the risk of altitude sickness, such as:

  • Drink plenty of water – As you adjust to the change in altitude, dehydration can increase the symptoms of altitude sickness. So stay hydrated by drinking lots of water or electrolyte-infused beverages.
  • Avoid eating large meals – especially fatty meals. However, do snack occasionally on smaller meals that include easily digestible carbohydrates.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol (hang back a few days before hitting the Pisco Bar)
  • Take it easy your first day at a higher altitude, giving your body time to adjust. If you are feeling the effects of altitude sickness, try not to carry excess weight or engage in strenuous physical activity until your body adjusts to the altitude.

High Altitude Destinations in Peru

Cusco City

Cusco is nestled high in the Andes and offers spectacular views of the surrounding peaks.

Cusco is nestled high in the Andes and offers spectacular views of the surrounding peaks.

  • Location: South central Andes of Peru; about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) southeast of Lima
  • Elevation: 11,200 feet (3,400 meters)
  • Attractions nearby: Machu Picchu (7,970 feet/2,430 meters), Inca Trail, Aguas Calientes (6,690 feet/2,040 meters), Huayna Picchu (8,924 feet/2,720 meters), Sacsayhuaman (12,140 feet/3,700 meters), Qorikancha
  • Recommended time to acclimatize: 1 – 2 days

 

Sacred Valley and Towns

  • Location: South central Andes of Peru along the Urubamba River; about 19 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of Cusco City
  • Elevation: 9,000 feet (2790 meters) on the valley floor to 16,000 feet (5,000 meters) to the highest peak
  • Attractions nearby: Pisac Ruins (11,000 feet/3,352 meters), Urubamba River, Maras Salt Mines (11,089 feet/3,380 meters)
  • Recommended time to acclimatize: 1 – 2 days

 

Arequipa

  • Location: Southern Peru; about 630 miles (1,015 kilometers) south of Lima
  • Elevation: about 7,600 feet (2316 meters)
  • Attractions nearby: Colca Canyon, Cotahuasi Canyon, El Misti Volcano
  • Recommended time to acclimatize: 1 day

 

Puno and Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, resting at an elevation of 12,556 feet above sea level.

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, resting at an elevation of 12,556 feet above sea level.

  • Location: Southeastern Peru on the border of Peru and Bolivia; about 805 miles (1,297 kilometers) southeast of Lima
  • Elevation: 12,556 feet (3,830 meters)
  • Attractions nearby: Sillustani, Isla del Sol, Floating Islands of Uros
  • Recommended time to acclimatize: 1 – 2 days

 

 

 

 

 

 

PT Recommendation on Dealing with High Altitude

The great majority (over 90%) of our travelers don’t experience any major issues related to altitude sickness, but it’s best to be cautious. Make sure you have a free day upon arrival to your first high altitude city and use this time to relax and adjust. This alone will go a long way in making sure you have a safe and enjoyable time in Peru.

Categories: Tips