Tara, Operations Manager for Contiki Latin America, traveled to Peru and encountered some our most frequently asked questions about visiting the country: How will the high altitude affect me? What can I do to combat altitude sickness? Will I have difficulty breathing when I visit Machu Picchu?
Check out Tara's tried and true advice on combating altitude sickness!
Guest Blog Post by Tara S., Contiki Operations Supervisor, Latin America
I’ve read all of the advice, the articles, even WebMD, when I found out that the ascent from sea level to Cusco’s altitude would be at around 10,800 ft (3,300 meters), I figured that if there was enough oxygen for Peruvians there would surely be enough for me…
My flight began in Los Angeles, connected in Mexico City and continued on to Lima for a few hours, just enough time to wait out a rescheduled flight to Cusco. From Mexico City to Lima, I had the flyer’s equivalent of a lottery ticket and scored an empty row, just me and two empty seats! Positioning myself to lay across two other free seats was a dream and good preparation for getting mentally prepared for the lower oxygen intake.
Once I arrived in Cusco, I didn’t know what to expect. Now, everyone adjusts to altitude in different ways. My ticket was dated for 16 January and come hell or high water I was going and was not about to allow the altitude get the best of me.
Here, before you depart for the mountain high of Cusco, here is the honest truth of my personal experience with altitude felt in Cusco on a direct landing from Lima:
- My head feels like my nose was just punched in the face
- I climb 10 steps and feel like I just climbed Mt Everest, heart racing and out of breath
- My eyes water at all times
I had advice coming at me left and right. Everything from the usual: “Take it easy when climbing stairs and drink plenty of water.” And then the unexpected advice: “chew on coca leaves” (a native plant to Peru that is traditional to the Andean culture and used in teas and candies).
Most other visitors I encountered felt the need to take deep breaths and rest. I found that drinking a lot of water (and I mean LITERS, people) and mass quantities of coca leaf tea really helped. In the end, most people will find that they will be ok. The beauty and history of Peru was enough to keep me drinking water and breathing deep.
After just a day or so, I adjusted almost completely to the elevation and allowed myself to consider the fact that I was in Cusco, land of the Incas. If the elevation didn’t decimate a whole tribe of people, surely one LA-based American girl would be just fine. In other words, I didn’t allow altitude sickness to become a worry; rather I realized that my body would protest its proximity with the sky and be willing to lose after it adjusted…and once it encountered its first Inca statue.
Coca leaf tea, water and some big breaths got me through Cusco and Machu Picchu even if I wasn’t used to the air up there. Feliz viaje!