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Avoiding altitude sickness
I have found 2 ways to avoid altitude sickness, other than spending many days ascending which is not often possible.
1. Get a prescription from your doctor for a few 250mg tablets of diamox. This diuretic accelerates acclimatization by ~2x. You only need to take one tablet a day, so break each tablet in two and take half in the morning and half in the evening. 3 or 4 tablets should be enough: one for the day before and 3 after you arrive in Cusco. When I take whole tablets my side effects from diamox are a tingling of the fingers and frequent urination - but at half strength I did not notice anything. It is a prescription drug, so consult your doctor.
2. Take 2 ibuprofin every 4 hours to avoid the headache and nausea of altitude sickness. This does not just suppress the symptoms, it has been proved in a double blind trial
to provide some changes to the blood that reduce altitude effects. If you do a one day ascent/descent then diamox does not have time to do anything and you will have to
rely on ibuprofin. Some folks say asprin works just as well. On Kilimanjaro I took ibuprofin and diamox 24/7 for about a week.
My friends and I have used this strategy many times when mountain climbing. We have done lots of 14,000 ft peaks up/down in one day in the US where we used to always feel terrible and now we can have a picnic at the top. Using this strategy, last year I trekked over 16,000 ft passes in Ladakh, and the year before I go to the top of Kilimanjaro (19,000 ft), all without altitude problems.
When I was in Cusco and on the MP trail I tried coca tea and coca leaf but I did not like the buzz it gave me.
Of course, your mileage may vary.
For medical references, search for "altitude sickness ibuprofen" etc. at
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On going SLOW
If you come from sea level, arriving in Cuzco will be quite a shock on your system. At 3300+ meters, you're into thin air! First, respect your body. Rest, take it easy and hang out for a couple of days before getting into more physical activities. A headache or upset stomach is the first sign of altitude sickness. I got out of breath just climbing one flight of stairs to go to my hotel room! Then I needed to lay down because my legs felt like Jello! Diamox, or altitude sickness pills, will prevent you to get the HACE or HAPE . (High altitude cerebral oedema or swelling, and high altitude pulmonary oedema) but the best way to cure it is to go lower. Machu Picchu is lower than Cuzco at 2880 m. Or there is also sea level! Coca tea is believed to help sorroche (altitude sickness) but I haven't noticed anything different...
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So-called soroche pills
If you are feeling altitude sickness, and are tempted to but what they call "soroche pills" - you may want to think twice. They're really not that cheap, and all they are is really aspirin and caffeine. nothing revolutionary.
You're probably better off just taking some of your own aspirin, and drinking some coca leaf tea.
For the average people it may be a little difficult to breath here. Altitude sickness can be mild or severe. It does not depend on age, weight or height. In fact, I became winded after climbing a few stair, and on the second day I became winded when sitting. An elderly lady on our tour, had to be flown out the first day because of breathing problems. To avoid problems, take it very easy the first day while your body adjusts. Drink plenty of bottled water. Some hotels such as mine give you free cocoa -leaf tea which helps curb the symptoms. It is legal and it will not make you high. It tastes like light green tea and is also supposed to aid in digestion. Diamox is a medicine you can get from the pharmacy to reduce symptoms as well.
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Altitude Sickness at its worst
I had a really bad case of altitude sickness, so bad that I had to cancel my Machu Picchu trek :(
A lot of it could have been avoided if I re-routed my trip. I made the mistake of going to the jungle first where I got car sick on theway back to the airport and the dramatic change in altitude coupled with the crazy driving in Cusco made the first 4 days total hell.
It's better to get to Cusco by road so your body can adapt more easily to the altitude, particuarly if you have a sensitve stomach and go to the jungle AFTER.
For 4 days/nights I couldn't sleep or eat, I vomitted non-stop. I had both numbness and tingling in my legs. As well as shortness of breath and incredible nausea that lasted my WHOLE trip in Cusco (10 days). I couldn't even lift my head without dizzy and then puking. No amount of cocoa tea helped me.
I had to cancel my trek the day before I was supposed to leave (I was in Cusco for 4 days) because I hadn't slept or eaten in that time and didn't feel that I could handle a 4 day trek so I ended up joining my group on the last day in Machu Picchu. My insurance did re-imburse me.
So this is just a warning to people who get travel sickness a lot or have sensitive stomaches, you might not realize how bad altitude sickness can be. It can last well past 4 days as in my case. Even on my last day, I would be sitting still and I could barely catch my breath at times and I had nausea almost everyday.
Diamox for altitude sickness
I haven't been to Cusco but have been reading about the altitude sickness. I have read that Diamox, which seems to be the drug most often used to relieve this problem, is a sulfa drug. If you have problems with sulfa antibiotics you should not take this drug - or at least check with your doctor!
Take it slow - drink the cocoa tea
Altitude Sickness was a big concern of mine; considering I had never been at high altitudes before. When you first get to higher altitudes you need to pace yourself. It took me a day or two just to get adjusted. I did constantly drink the cocoa tea which is suppose to help. I don't know if helped or not but I did enjoy it. Espcecially on colder mornings.
Just learn to take it slow and if you find ourself running out of breath stop for a minute, catch your breath then move on.
Soroche (altitude sickness)
Cuzco is located very high in the Andes (3326 m) so for average people it may be a little difficult to breath here. You can feel that you have fewer air in your lungs and climbing a little stair may seem an impossible mission. You can also have headaches and general sickness the first days: don't worry, this is called "altitude sickness" and normally disappears in 2-3 days.
You just have to take it easy, walk slowly, don't do extra efforts... and you can drink coca tea, or chew coca leaves, it helps too. There is also some specific pills, but that's only for extreme cases.
If you are doing the Inca Trail you have to be in Cuzco 2-3 days before the trail begins, so you can get used to the altitude.
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Drink a Lot of Water
Even though I have been to higher Altitudes than CUSCO lke Everest Base Camp. I still did feel head ache the first afternoon when I reached CUSCO.
It got progressively got worse into the evening. I did drink as lot of water which helped.
LUckily I left to Manchu Picchu the next morning and the numbless went away.
Altitude Sickness: Take It Seriously and Prepare
If you are like us and many other people, you will arrive in Cusco by air from Lima, putting you at risk for altitude sickness. Unfortunately, there's no way to predetermine if you are vulnerable to coming down with it -- fitness, age, weight and other factors have no known association with altitude sickness. It can be either sever or mild, but it seems to strike at random.
So, don't assume it won't happen to you. One person I know didn't heed the warning signs and had to stay in bed on the only day he could have visited Machu Picchu. Who wants that? If you want a first-person account, read jadedmuse's VT page -- that opened our eyes. So, build your schedule with altitude sickness in mind. Fly to Cusco and ascend immediately to the Sacred Valley and save your city visit until the trip's end. Allow relaxation time on your first afternoon at altitude. Drink coca tea. And we recommend a prescription of diamox, which you must start taking two days before flying to altitude. Don't eat too heavily or drink (much) alcohol. If you do take the diamox, you can probably get away with a pisco sour at dinner (we did) but if you don't take the pills, skip the drink.
If you're like some people, you may be tempted to ignore this advice -- especially if you are young and fit. But altitude sickness can rob you of a precious vacation day in a unique and beautiful place, so I wouldn't say the chance was worth it.
By the way, even if you don't get sick, the altitude will make you tired. Climbing out of the Moray terraces at 2800m/11000ft was exhausting. Sarah, with all the youth of a 16-year-old, collapsed in a vulnerable heap at the top, where she was devoured by a hungry dog, as you can see in the photo.
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Give Yourself Time to Acclimate
We had read all about the altitude sickness and figured that with a 7:30 am flight arrival in Cusco, we'd be able to rest until the afternoon and then see some of the local sights.
But we arrived already a bit sick (diarrhea - I'm not ashamed to admit) and very tired, drank our coca tea and went to bed, our hearts racing. A tip: bring food with you (we did) or buy it as soon as you get there so you have something to snack on right next to your bed. Getting up is a chore.
At about 6 pm I was feeling well enough to go downstairs to get dinner. I carried a tray with eggs, bread and tea upstairs, and almost passed out waiting for hubby to open the door!
The worst for me was dizziness and nausea, no vomiting. Hubby had a bad headache and threw up twice. We opted out of taking Diamox, it seemed so strong. We heard afterward about something called Sorochill, which some people we met from Amsterdam had taken with good results.
Either way, we wished we'd planned an extra day in Cusco as we only had a little time in the morning to sightsee before heading out into the Sacred Valley (and still didn't get to Ollantaytambo before the Backpacker sold out - see separate tip under Machu Picchu).
11,000 feet is no joke.
Take this seriously because it can really slow you down. Drink the tea, take a dieretic and eat properly so you won't miss out on the sites. Beware of any water that is not bottled since a stomack virus with altitude would have you wanting to be put out of your misery!
Any hike you do around Cusco will put you up another 1,000 easy. My wife turned white for about 30 minutes on one of our hikes and I thought I would have to carry her down!
Cusco is 11,000ft(3,360 metres) above sea level so there is a possibility you may experience altitude sickness your first day or two. Some symptoms are fatigue,shortness of breath upon exertion, headaches,loss of appetite, nausea and frequent urination.If your symptoms worsen or you instantly develop a harsh cough seek medical attention immediately as this could be pulmonary edema and it could be deadly.
Anyone can experience altitude sickness regardless of age or physical condition although people with lung or heart conditions and anemia are more prone.
Some things that may help are taking it easy the first day or two,drinking lots of fluids,avoiding alcohol and refraining from smoking.
Some hotels have oxygen available to guests who are experiencing these syptoms.
Mate de coca (coca -leaf tea) is said to help curb the syptoms of altitude sickness. It is perfectly legal and it will not make you high. It has a pleasant taste of a light green tea and is also supposed to aid in digestion. I really liked it and drank it everyday.
If you are going on a hike and can't bring tea with you, you can bring coca leaves to chew on. They are available everywhere and a bag is about 1 sole(30 cents). They won't make you high either, but they are very bitter and taste awful.
if you do not feel well do:
- take a taxi, from 2 sol.
- do not walk quick
- do not be so happy now
- drink Coca tea
- do not carry heavy think
- see you map.
- Vomit if you need
- do not eat too much
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Do not do stupid things like painting a inca wall with blue spray, specialy when the police is near by. the whole world will know you and you will go to jail at least 2 years like the two chilenos.
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