Best tips and tricks about altitude sickness – Machu Picchu

Before our first trips to Machu Picchu last year, we got a ton of questions about altitude sickness. What to expect, how to prepare, what to do about it. So, we’ve distilled the best of what we’ve read, researched, and been told by locals, and what we tried last year. PLEASE NOTE – this is not official medical advice. We are not doctors, we’ve just compiled the best info with what worked for us, our guests and what we’ve heard from others. Here are our best tips and tricks about altitude sickness when visiting Machu Picchu.

First of all, the truth is, less than 25% of people typically experience altitude sickness. The even better news is, your odds go down if you take pre-trip precautions and take care of yourself during the trip. Most of us felt the altitude change the first few days of acclimation but were fine on the rest of the trip. Those of us who took these pre-trip definitely felt better right away than those of us who didn’t.
Hydration- long flights severely dehydrate you, so start hydrating before you even leave home. Aim for 3 Liters of water/day. Dehydration decreases the body’s ability to acclimatize. And you get dehydrated much faster at altitude because you breath faster and lose body water, so keep up with lots of water throughout the entire trip.
(Cover up from the sun when possible to prevent further dehydration)
Chlorophyll– may increase red blood cells, thus increasing opportunity for oxygen to be absorbed, and reducing effects of altitude sickness. Purchase drops or capsules in the US and bring with you.  Start pre-trip and take daily.
Ginkgo Biloba- 80-110mg x 2/day – start 3 days prior or at least 24 hours before landing in Cusco, and take every 12 hours while at altitude. 
Take is Easy- I know everyone is excited to get to Cusco and start exploring, but the best thing you can do when you get to Cusco is RELAX.  Drink water.  Practice deep breathing. Avoid exercise for at least the first 24 hours.
Avoid Alcohol– Alcohol lowers blood oxygen. Save your celebrations for after the Trek. Please support each other in this effort so you can all enjoy the Trek together. Most people in Cusco are preparing for the trek as well so you’re not missing out on any party or party scene.

Oxygen–  Our guides for the trek we choose carry an oxygen bottle just in case anyone needs it. (Be sure and thoroughly research whichever company you choose.) If you want to have a personal supply, all of the drugstores in Cusco sell Oxishot– single doses of O2- that you can carry personally.  

Coca Tea- mild, traditional Andean stimulant-comparable to the affect of tea or coffee.  Drink the tea, chew on the leaves throughout the day.  
Avoid Sleeping Pills- of the benzodiazepine family, because they suppress breathing and lower blood oxygen. (Ambien and Lunesta are safe).

Altitude Sickness typically effects people over 8,000′ so take extra precautions surrounding your time in Cusco (At 11,000′ elevation). 

On other parts of the trip, here are the elevations you can expect to encounter, just so you have some perspective on the differences throughout the trip.
Elevation of Aguas Calientes- 6693′
Elevation of Machu Picchu- 7972′
Elevation of Lima- sea level <100′
As you ascend, the oxygen available per lungful decreases. 
Available Oxygen at sea level= 100% (base for comparison)
Available Oxygen at 5000′ = 80% (of sea level o2)
Available Oxygen at 10,000′ = 69% (of sea level o2)
Available Oxygen at 15,000′ = 56% (of sea level o2)
So take DEEP BREATHS, drink lots of WATER, and GO SLOW. 
Take time to rest and RELAX pre-trek and throughout the trek as much as possible. If you have any questions at all or are interested in more information about Machu Picchu, we’ve written several other blogs and organize private group trips. Send us an email at with any follow up questions or for more details!

Leave a Reply