Peru & Altitude Questions

Old Aug 13th, 2014, 05:54 PM
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Peru & Altitude Questions

Hi all,

I'll be traveling to Peru in a few weeks. it will be my first time there and also my first time staying in extremely high altitudes.

I'll be arriving in Lima (spending the night there) and then the next morning fly to Cusco where I'll immediately transfer to the Sacred Valley and spend 3 nights there. One of the days I'm staying in the Sacred Valley I will be making the journey to Machu Picchu. Another day I had envisioned doing a 1/2 day private tour around the Sacred Valley, specifically I was interested in Moray, Maras, and Salineras. However, I didn't realize until a few days ago that those places are at extremely high altitudes (i.e. on par with Cusco, about 11,000 some feet). I'm most interested in them however the point of spending the first three nights of my trip in the SV was to try (I know try might still be an operative word) to acclimatize as much as possible. Would going to Moray, Maras, and Salinera on my second day there (well, first full day in the Sacred Valley) "ruin" any progress? I'm going to Machu Picchu on my third day in the SV and then after I'll be spending a few days in Cusco. In many ways this will be a once in a lifetime trip but at the same time, I do want to try to be as cautious as possible where altitude sickness is concerned. For the record, the day we arrive in the SV I play to just rest.

I should say the visits I was interested in would be to see the sights/no hard core trekking, biking etc.

Thanks all!
librarychica85 is offline  
Old Aug 13th, 2014, 06:23 PM
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Hi there,

My husband I just went to Peru last December for a three week trip and followed a similar itinerary as you except we started in Cusco and stayed there for four days before beginning the four day trek up to Machu Picchu - after we completed this, we went on to Lima.

I have to tell you that altitude sickness is no joke - the trick is NOT to overexert your body within the first three days. We did some mild walking uphill during the first and second day (when I say "mild" I mean 4 hours or so at a low pace) and my husband became very ill - headaches/migraines/nausea/etc. I really recommend that you take it easy the first couple of days. You can do a little bit of sightseeing, but I wouldn't recommend journeying around the Sacred Valley immediately - we did this on our second or third day in Cusco and went to SV and our bodies felt much better. Like you, this was our first time in very high altitude. The key is rest, drink lots of water, drink mate de coca tea, chew on coca tea leaves, and take Soroche pills if you get sick.

You can actually get a prescription from your general doctor for altitude sickness meds and we recommend taking them 24 hours before you arrive in Cusco. Many of the friends we made on the trek to MP said that's what they did and they felt little to no altitude effects..unfortunately, we didn't do this and he got really sick - I had some headaches, but they were manageable.

Sacred Valley is so beautiful and Moray, Maras, and Salinera are incredible - you just may need more than a day to rest. Don't be surprised if you wake up and feel lightheaded, woozy, tingly, etc. Take some meds before if possible. Machu Picchu is beautiful, but be prepared for the tourists. It's like the Disneyland of South America. Go early in the morning and wear comfortable shoes. The weather there is up and down due to the climate so bring a rain poncho just in case. The trek is an incredible opportunity so if you can find time to do that, you won't regret it.

Hope this helps!
claudiathomas42 is offline  
Old Aug 13th, 2014, 10:19 PM
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Firstly, you are taking exactly the correct approach to acclimatisation by staying a a lower altitude in te SV for your first few nights - by far the best way to acclimatise is to ascend gradually.

Whether you will be affected at all, is anyone's guess. Age, sex and fitness have no bearing on who might be affected. Our first IME in. Peripheral we flew into and Cusco and stayed for a few nights. My wife was fine, I felt terrible.

Everyone probably feels a little breathless on arrival at altitude but it is usually at night in bed when most people feel the effects usually in the form of headaches and nausea. High altitude is usually defined as above 2500 m. Most of the Sv is around 2700m so the effects should be minimal. A few hours in the daytime at the higher altitudes of Moray will not make a difference for most people and will not "ruin your progress"

Some advice from the UK Heath service on dealing with altitude

BTW, where are you staying in the sacred valley?
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Old Aug 16th, 2014, 02:10 PM
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Lile Crellston says, kind of ´pot luck' who is affected and who not, and good idea to stay low for a while. i worked in the area as a guide and took people around the sacred valley etc flying in with a similar itinerary. My advice is -
- for the first few nights, early to bed and avoid too much booze (hard, I know). A little after-lunch nap helps.
- really pace yourself when walking, slow and steady.
- any hot sweet drink is good, and if out walking best thing to drink is coca cola or pepsi (sugar and caffeine is what your body needs). Coca tea is nothing special and chewing coca leaves will give you diarrhoea cause they have been sitting in the floor in the local market. Parts of the Sacred Valley are lower than Cusco and not so bad as the city itself.
Adjusting to altitude is a kind of chemical change in your body (takes 3 days to a week for organs like the kidneys to adjust) so it is hard to short-cut the process, and if you push things too fast you will get sick and spoil the longer trip.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2014, 05:54 AM
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A Peruvian friend who grew up "at altitude" and takes her American family to Peru often says the most important thing is to eat nothing the first day there--maybe a little soup at nite. And of course do as little as possible and drink no booze. She recommends the coca tea. Another friend of both of us who ignored this advice was sick her entire week in Cusco.

FWIW, one thing that appears to have helped me is glucosamine. First time in Cusco, I went to pharmacy for something for my head and stomach and was sold glucosamine tablets. They helped at lot. Second time (when I was taking glucosamine tables regularly for my joints) had no altitude problems at all.
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Old Aug 27th, 2014, 06:59 AM
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Thanks all for the advice and tips! I ended up booking the tour and am hoping for the best. Will plan on exercising common sense, resting a ton, and eating lightly. We also got altitude sickness meds from our doctor that we plan on taking as a precautionary measure as well.
librarychica85 is offline  
Old Aug 28th, 2014, 02:22 PM
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librarychica85 you are as crellston said doing the smart thing by staying in the Sacred Valley rather than Cusco. Take it easy the first day and you should be fine. I like to rest for a few hours at the hotel right after I arrive, and most hotels can check you in early.

I'm sure you will enjoy Peru.
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Old Sep 1st, 2014, 07:10 PM
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And remember it is cold in Cusco and areas with similar altitude. Our hotel did not have heat and we wish we had packed more warm clothing for both day and night. Peru is wonderful. Enjoy.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2014, 04:54 PM
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I did an itinerary very similar to yours and we (there were 3 of us, two Texans and an Australian, so we're seriously at sea-level normally) had ZERO problems. We arrived in Lima, stayed overnight, flew to Cuzco and immediately headed to Ollantaytambo (we had a guided tour so several stops along the way, including Pisac). We stayed one night in Olly, explored the ruins the following day, then headed to Aguas Calientes that evening. Overnight in AC, went to MP bright and early, and actually climbed Machu Picchu Mountain (altitude over 3000 meters). I am fairly out of shape so the stairs and climbing kicked my butt, but no problems with the altitude. After MP we returned to AC, picked up our things, and returned to Olly for another night. The following morning we journeyed back to Cusco with our guide stopping at Maras, Moray, and Chincherro. A night in Cusco and then we departed for Lima again.

We didn't do anything to specifically combat altitude sickness - it seems like it really is something unpredictable. We also don't really consume alcohol (but we ended up drinking gallons of Inca Kola, so maybe that helped! haha) and we ate normal-sized meals.

I know this isn't "advice" per se but I wanted to encourage you and let you know that it IS possible to do such a short stint and NOT get sick. I was also worried whenever I saw so many posts stating you'll need several days to adjust, so I was pleasantly surprised that we didn't have any issues at all. Hope you have a similar experience! Peru is BEAUTIFUL and you're going to love it!
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