Candid Altitude Tips from Canadian Travelers on Their Peru Trip: Part 1

If you haven’t yet heard – Cusco is at a very high altitude. I’m from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada where we have the Rocky Mountains, and – correct me if I’m wrong – but I don’t think we have a single mountain as high as Cusco with a city on top of it. And if you want to visit Machu Picchu, you need to get to and acclimatize to the city of Cusco first!

Everyone has slightly different experiences with altitude and slightly different opinions on how to deal with altitude changes, so read on to get a more comprehensive view!

“When preparing for our Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, we took Diamox and thought that this would heal all… but we were SO wrong! High altitude meant that we walked slower, stairs were harder to climb and it took longer for us to catch our breath. Any fitness level we thought we had was out the window.

It also means you need to apply sunscreen…and reapply it often! We hiked through all weather and I had a runny nose one of the mornings. After rubbing my nose for the majority of the day I failed to reapply sunscreen and ended up with a bad sunburn on my nose.

And while you are susceptible to sunburns, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always warm – the air is still crisp and standing in the shade feels cold, so wearing alpaca wool sweaters helped us regulate our body temperatures without the need to wear bulky layers like I would in Canada.”

– Simone

“I would definitely recommend taking altitude sickness pills. We took Diamox before we flew into Cusco and a couple days when we were in Cusco (and before the hike).

Another suggestion would be – don’t do the Rainbow Mountain Hike right after you fly into Cusco (try to do it a couple days after you get into Cusco) because it’s actually super hard to walk in high altitude. (We died at Rainbow Mountain 😅).

And the coca tea every morning probably helped too!

Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to carry Imodium around in case you do get altitude sickness.”

– Stephanie

“The altitude made me breathless, but I don’t think I was sick. I took acetazolamide 1 day before I arrived and took it for 4 days after I got there.

It made my fingers and toes numb, but it wasn’t so bad. I also took Tylenol and Ibuprofen for the muscle cramps and headaches.

My husband is in decent shape, and he even found the multi-day hike challenging. And I needed a horse to help me up the last part of my trek.”

– Terri

“The first time I traveled to a high altitude city in Peru, I didn’t have a clue what I was in for. Everything was fine until nightfall when the splitting headache and vomiting started. I had never felt a headache like that in my life. I didn’t even want to move my eyeballs.

Since then, my wife and I take acetazolamide prescribed by our doctor every time we know we’re going up to high altitude. When you’re in Peru, you can get it at any pharmacy without a prescription. Once we’re at high altitude, we taper off the medication and eventually don’t have to take it anymore.

It was a good thing that we were prepared for our 2-Day Tour to Machu Picchu, so we could enjoy our time there without being under the weather.”

– Samuel
  1. What is Cusco's altitude?

    Cusco is at a very high altitude of 3,399 meters (or 11,151 feet) above sea level. That's why Cusco acclimatization is important to plan for when setting up your itinerary.

  2. What is Machu Picchu's elevation?

    Machu Picchu is at an altitude of 2,430 meters (or 7,972 feet) above sea level. Contrary to popular belief, Machu Picchu's elevation is lower than that of Cusco's.

  3. What is Huayna Picchu's elevation?

    Huayna Picchu is at an altitude of 2,693 meters (or 8,835 feet) above sea level. This is the mountain that overlooks the Machu Picchu archeological site, which can be an add-on experience to Machu Picchu tours.

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