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Salkantay Trek Altitude sickness: The Salkantay Hike to Machu Picchu


The city of Cusco is located at 3,400 meters above sea level. It is possible to experience some altitude sickness and dizziness, known in Peru as soroche. It is recommended to take a motion sickness pill 30 minutes before arriving in the city.

Salkantay Trek Altitude sickness
Salkantay Trek Altitude sickness:

Can you imagine what it is like to be at the top of the imposing Salkantay pass, at 4,580 meters above sea level? Mountain sickness is actually a consequence of lack of oxygen.

It usually occurs in unacclimatized people who climb over 2,000 meters in less than one or two days. Tourists arriving to Cusco by plane are the most likely to be affected by «soroche». Symptoms usually appear within 48 hours of climbing (but can appear much later) and include headaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, choking, sleep disorders, dizziness, palpitations and difficulty concentrating.

It usually occurs after 6 to 10 hours of exposure to hypoxia and is more common in children under 50 years of age and in people who tend to be below 900 meters of altitude.

Learn with us the main tips to avoid altitude sickness and have the best experience in the Salkantay to Machu Picchu trek… You can also consult an infographic as additional information at the end of the article with some tips and symptoms to keep in mind before going hiking.

Salkantay trekking: altitude sickness

What is commonly called altitude sickness or mountain sickness is the lack of adaptation of the organism to the lack of oxygen (hypoxia) at altitude.

Machu Picchu Salkantay Trek Altitude sickness
Machu Picchu Salkantay Trek Altitude sickness

It is a common misconception that the amount or concentration of atmospheric oxygen decreases with altitude. In reality, the oxygen concentration is always the same (about 21%), regardless of altitude.

What happens is that the atmospheric pressure, and therefore the partial pressure of oxygen in the air we breathe, decreases more and more with altitude.

In recent times, climbing equipment has improved a lot and climbers are better prepared. There are more routes to climb the most difficult mountains, although there is still a high loss rate on high altitude ascents.

According to studies, the main cause of illness in the high mountains is not injury or exhaustion, but altitude sickness, especially cerebral and pulmonary edema. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare and adapt your body a few days before the Salkantay trek in Cusco.

How to avoid altitude sickness during the Salkantay trek:

Cusco is located in southeastern Peru, at 3400 meters above sea level, one of the highest cities for a person living almost 0 to 2000 meters above sea level. Now imagine the 4580 m altitude of Salkantay.

One of the discomforts that a person experiences at this point is

  • headaches (within 24 hours or more)
  • stomach pains (first 24 hours)
  • Nausea and vomiting (in extreme cases, this almost never occurs).

When it is mild, altitude sickness is characterized by headaches accompanied by systemic manifestations such as general malaise, fatigue, weakness (asthenia), dizziness and lightheadedness, sleep disturbances (insomnia), gastrointestinal disorders and shortness of breath.

Watch for any symptoms suggestive of altitude sickness, stop climbing immediately and drink plenty of water. After these manifestations, there is an obvious compensatory symptomatic evolution with tachycardia or increased heart rate, tachypnea or increased respiratory rate, dry cough that can later become hemoptotic (bloody), redistribution of blood in central areas of the body and, in very advanced cases, retinal, pulmonary, digestive hemorrhages, etc.

This syndrome generally occurs in the altitude zone of 2,500 meters to 8,000 meters, usually after 24 to 96 hours after ascending to these altitudes. It probably has an individual sensitivity, a predisposition, as well as a particular influence of previous training.

Prevention is the best way to combat altitude sickness. This includes climbing slowly, drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, as breathing in very dry environments, such as at high altitudes, causes a significant loss of fluids. Additional intake of salt, alcohol and toxins should be avoided, as they can worsen the condition by reducing ventilation.

What can be done to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness?

Doing sport before arriving in Cusco

Drink plenty of fluids when you arrive in Cusco, e.g. water, Coca-Cola tea (all hotels and restaurants offer it).

Chewing coca leaf can alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness thanks to its many properties.

You can take a few days to acclimatize in Cusco.

What can I do several days before the Salkantay trek?

A recommendation before arriving in Cusco is not to do it if it is the first time you come to this altitude, it all depends on the holiday period that is available here I give you an example:

  • Lima (day of arrival)
  • Nazca – Paraca (Nazca Lines)
  • Arequipa (Colca Gorge)
  • Puno (Uros Island or Amantani Island)

Finally, Cusco, so you can make the trek from Salkantay to Machu Picchu or its various attractions without problems.

If you don’t have much time to acclimatize, you should drink plenty of fluids and take an easy walk around the city of Cusco, or visit the archaeological center of SAQSAHUAMAN, as you can also do:

  • Visit to the city (lasts about half a day).
  • Sacred Valley (Full Day)
  • Maras-Moray Tower
  • Quad excursion in Cusco

If you need more information about the activities in Cusco, read this interesting blog

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1 Comentario

  1. […] Altitude sickness is very common in Peru, especially among people who come from sea levels and do not have adequate preparation, the symptoms of altitude sickness or commonly known as (SOROCHE) are vomiting, headache, loss of strength, dizziness, and shortness of breath, it is very important to know if you have heart problems or had heart surgery is not recommendable to make this trek to the mountain of colors could have a bad experience, the recommendation is to talk to your Doctor before visiting Peru. […]

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