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Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness, also known as “soroche”, is a condition that affects different people who wish to visit destinations with a high elevation, one of them being the Peruvian highlands. Different sites report on this sickness, and it is not surprising for tourists to inquire a bit about it in order to find out and learn how to prevent this discomfort; however, there is nothing to worry about.

Do you want to learn more and thus prevent your plans from being frustrated? Don’t worry! Here we’ll tell you all about it.

What is the altitude of Cusco and Machu Picchu?

Cusco is a city located in the Peruvian Andes at an altitude of 3,399 meters / 11,152 feet above sea level. Now, what about Machu Picchu? One could believe, at least from the photos, that we must climb even more to reach the Inca citadel located on the Andean foothills. However, this archaeological complex has an elevation of 2,430 meters / 7,972 feet above sea level. More than 950 meters/3116 feet of difference!

What is the altitude of the Sacred Valley?

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is located 35 km from Cusco and about 600 meters below the level of the Imperial City of Cusco. These are the exact altitudes of the towns that make up the valley:

  • Pisac: 2,980 meters / 9776 feet above sea level.
  • Calca: 2,929 meters / 9609 feet above sea level.
  • Urubamba: 2,870 meters / 9416 feet above sea level.
  • Ollantaytambo: 2,850 meters / 9350 feet above sea level.

It should be noted that not all places in the same province will have the same elevation. For example: the district of Chinchero, located in the province of Urubamba, has an average altitude of 3,754 meters / 12,316 feet above sea level.

What is altitude sickness and what causes it?

Altitude sickness, soroche or mountain sickness, is our body’s failure to adapt to the lack of oxygen or not being used to oxygen deprivation. This is totally normal in places located at a high altitude. It is said that symptoms begin to appear once we reach 2,400 meters / 7,874 feet above sea level.

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?

Symptoms usually vary in each person, and they are usually: tiredness, fatigue, nausea, insomnia, headache, high heart rate and lack of appetite. They usually disappear after two or three days.

Of course, more serious symptoms of altitude sickness such as altitude cerebral edema or altitude pulmonary edema are very rare. For these cases, the most sensible thing to do is to return to a place with a lower altitude as quickly as possible.

How to prevent altitude sickness in Cusco?

There are natural remedies that can mitigate the symptoms of altitude sickness, but to avoid having a bad time, the best way to prevent altitude sickness is to acclimatize. There are also several healthy habits to consider before venturing to greater heights:

  • Be patient. The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) recommends a maximum elevation of 500 meters / 1,640 feet per day after reaching 3,000 meters / 9,842 feet above sea level.
  • Breath. Specialists recommend taking it easy and taking deep breaths to get the necessary oxygen.
  • Stay hydrated. Altitude sickness makes our throats dry and very thirsty, so it is appropriate to drink a lot of water. Luckily for us, drinking water also helps calm our labored breathing and alleviates the sensation of oxygen deprivation.
  • Eat sensibly. Food rich in carbohydrates and natural sugars are recommended before starting the trip.
  • Sorojchi Pills. ‘Sorojchi Pills’, also simply known as altitude sickness pills, is medicine that prevents and alleviates the symptoms of altitude sickness. Its use is recommended and can be found in any pharmacy in Cusco without the need for a prescription.
  • Coca tea. The ancient and sacred coca leaf was used in the time of the Incas as a home remedy for various illnesses. At present, it is recommended to drink coca leaf tea to combat the symptoms of altitude sickness.
  • Chlorophyll drops. Taking chlorophyll drops increases the amount of red blood cells, giving us a better chance of oxygen being absorbed by it. You should not worry if you forgot to bring them, as they are also sold in health food stores in Cusco.

But again, the best we can do is acclimatize. Something that is often recommended is to stay in the city of Cusco for a couple of days, without making much effort and eating lightly. Also, you can consult a doctor about taking acetazolamide in those first few days.

If after this you can get used to the altitude, then there will be no problem when you want to visit Machu Picchu or the Sacred Valley, since they are located at a much lower elevation than the city.

It is worth noting that people flying directly to Cusco are more prone to suffering from altitude sickness, since their body has less time to adapt to the sudden change of altitude. On the other hand, when traveling by bus, people have a longer period of acclimatization and have better chances of handling the altitude.

Common doubts about altitude in Peru

What is Lima’s elevation above sea level?

Lima’s altitude is almost imperceptible, reaching just 161 meters / 528 feet above sea level at its highest points.

What is the height of Machu Picchu trail?

While Machu Picchu is located at 2,430 meters / 7,972 feet above sea level, the Inca trail peaks at 4,200 meters above sea level at Warmi Wañusqa.

What is Machu Picchu’s height in feet?

The height of Machu Picchu in feet is 13,776 ft above sea level.

Is there a safe way to travel by train to Machu Picchu?

Yes. PeruRail has several train services to Machu Picchu, which have a smooth route and allow our body to oxygenate while we admire the beautiful landscapes along the route.

Do you already have everything ready to start the journey to the city of the Incas? Then supplement your adventure aboard the PeruRail Expedition trainBuy your train tickets now!

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