When you visit Peru and you go to see the natural scenery there is one thing that is common to them. High Altitude!! Typically in Peru, the places you really want to visit are much higher than anywhere in the rest of the world. There are some of the highest elevations compared to the rest of South America with breathtaking high altitude hikes. Well, I am a hiker to the bone so of course, I needed to participate one of the organized trips to the canyons. All of these treks are accessible to the normal adventurous traveler, and there is a possibility for altitude sickness. This can actually wreak your trip to the most beautiful places in the country.
If you don’t prepare or adjust accordingly to the high altitude in advance you might feel lightheaded or out of breath which can be dangerous sometimes even fatal. I will give you some good tips on how to avoid an oxygenated hotel or even to be hospitalized. This means that you should start your journey already at the airport when you land to Lima. These tips will help you with altitude sickness especially if this is your first trip to Peru.
WHAT IS ALTITUDE SICKNESS?
Altitude sickness is caused by the lack of oxygen and how your bodies will respond to this. The main issue is going too high, too fast without getting used to the lower oxygen level. In 8,000ft (2450m), there is 26% less and at 14,000ft (4268m) about 42% less oxygen than at sea level.
If you normally stay in an area that is 500ft (152m) or less in altitude like close to the beach, I promise you’ll feel the effects of altitude when you arrive in Lima, Peru. Even when I’m training I feel more out of breath than usual. This, on the other hand, is good because it will make the training more intense and it proves your oxygen intake.
Here are some altitudes for comparison:
- Helsinki Finland lies at 194 feet (59m) above sea level
- Miami is 11 feet (3,3m)
- Lima, Peru is 144 feet (156m)
- Los Angeles is at 126 ft (38)
- Amsterdam, Netherlands -13ft (-4m) yes, this is below sea level
The altitude in Cusco is 10,800 ft (3300m) and above on some peaks.
I flew into Lima, and then I took a hop-on-hop-off bus to Cuzco in the Sacred Valley. But there are several things you can do to prepare for altitude. Read on to see what I mean.
1. Get settled at least 3 days before your trip
I spend a few weeks in Lima by allowing my body to adjust to the higher elevation. Also by taking the bus, you can stop at the other places and get used to the altitude bit by bit. The most dangerous thing here, as I mentioned above is to get too fast to the higher places.
2. Breathe exercise
I’m actively practicing yoga where breathing is one of the core things, so start your breathing exercises. You should sit straight and take long deep breaths, slowly. It will calm your mind and expand your lungs and also promotes oxygen flow to the brain.
I can never say this too much but high altitude will often cause fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of water to remain hydrated. Drink more than usual. You can drink a sports drink with electrolytes. This will benefit your body with added potassium and sodium, which help your body absorb it more quickly.
4. Coca Mate
This is my favorite, I really like the Coca Mate which is tea made out of coca leaves. It’s an effective way to avoid altitude sickness in Peru. While Coca Mate is made out of the same plant that cocaine is made of, it is not cocaine!!!. It is very effective in helping your body to adjust to high altitude.
Coca Mate tea is Peru’s cup of coffee, not as strong as my morning coffee though, and you can get it everywhere. Drinking it as a tea is easy on your stomach, tastes mildly floral like a good green tea, and is very soothing.
5. Coca Leaves
I also tried chewing the leaves like the locals. This will also help you with high altitude and to adjust to it. This could give you a mild tingling sensation in your cheek, but hey, I can say I have chewed coca leaves. Taste is… Well leaves, hahaha!
With these tips, I guarantee that you will enjoy Peru much more. Even when I did all this and some points I did feel a mild headache. I also want to remind you that make sure you have some warm clothes with you. The higher you get in the mountains the colder it gets as well. If you are lucky, you can even spot condors, which is amazing when you combine this with breathtaking views. I’m not talking about the altitude here…
I really recommend Peru for the fact that trekking is a wonderful combination of exercise and an adventure.
Breathtaking wishes from the top of the world!