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Altitude sickness in Machu Picchu


Altitude sickness, also known as soroche, is a problem that afflicts different people who wish to visit destinations with higher elevation above sea level, one of them being the case of the Peruvian highlands. Different sites report on this disease and it is not surprising that tourists inquire a bit about it in order to find out and know how to prevent this discomfort; however, there is nothing to worry about.

Do you want to know more and thus avoid that your plans are not frustrated? Do not worry! Here we tell you everything.

What is the altitude of Cusco and Machu Picchu?

Cusco is a city located in the Peruvian Andes located 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 when we are in the middle of the jungle. However, this archaeological complex has an elevation of 2,430 meters / 7,972 feet above sea level. More than 950 meters 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. 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.

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

What is altitude sickness and what causes it?

We understand by altitude sickness, soroche or mountain sickness, to the little adaptation or habit that our organism has to the decrease of oxygen; being totally normal in places with high altitude. Symptoms are said to begin to appear once we reach 2,400 meters / 7,874 feet above sea level.

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?

The symptoms usually vary in each person, and these 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 severe symptoms of altitude sickness such as altitude brain edema or altitude pulmonary edema are very rare. For these cases, the most sensible thing is to return to places 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 bad times, the best way to prevent altitude sickness is by acclimating ourselves. There are also a number of healthy habits to consider before venturing to greater heights:

Be patient. The International Union of Mountaineering Associations (UIAA) recommends a maximum elevation of 500 meters / 1,640 feet per day after reaching 3,000 meters / 9,842 feet above sea level.

Practice breathing. Specialists recommend taking it easy and breathing deeply to get the necessary oxygen.
Stay very hydrated. Altitude sickness leaves our throats dry and with a great feeling of thirst, 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 lack of oxygen.
Eat without excesses. Dishes rich in carbohydrates and natural sugars are recommended before starting the trip.
Sorojchi Pills. The ‘Sorojchi Pills’, also known simply as pills for soroche or pills for altitude, are a 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 Inca times as a home remedy for various ills. At present, it is recommended to drink an infusion of coca leaf to combat the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Chlorophyll drops. Taking drops of chlorophyll increases the amount of red blood cells in the blood, giving us a better chance that oxygen is absorbed by it. You should not worry if you forgot to list 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 imperial city 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 you can get used to there, then there will be no problem when you want to visit Machu Picchu or the Sacred Valley, since they have much less height than the city.

It is worth remembering that this involves a little more people who make direct flights to Cusco, since their body acclimates in less time in this untimely change in altitude. On the other hand, going by bus, people have a longer acclimatization period and have better chances of handling the altitude.

Common doubts about altitude in Peru

What is the altitude of Lima 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 the path to Machu Picchu?

While Machu Picchu is 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 the height of Machu Picchu 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 travel services to Machu Picchu, which have a quiet route and allow us to oxygenate the body while we admire the beautiful landscapes on the route.

Do you have everything ready to start the journey to the City of the Incas? Then complement your adventure aboard the PeruRail Expedition train. Buy your train tickets now!

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