Arriving to Cusco, located at about 10,800 feet above sea level, from a city where the altitude is pretty close to sea level can be an uncomfortable experience if you are hit by altitude sickness. Only a person who has experienced it knows how hard it can knock you out. If you are coming from a city located lower than 6,000 feet, you could eliminate the risks of getting altitude sickness while hiking the Inca Trail.
Knowing that hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu are not inexpensive, you should not let altitude sickness ruin one of the best experiences of your life.
Usually, the symptoms of altitude sickness can be first felt at about 7,000 feet above sea level. The possibilities of getting altitude sickness increase as soon as you start going higher. Some of the most frequent symptoms of altitude sickness are strong headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach illness, and sometimes nose bleeding. These symptoms are caused by low atmospheric pressure conditions which occur at high elevations.
Studies have shown that not everyone gets altitude sickness. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if a person is a going to get it. Being in good physical shape does not reduce the risk. Only once you arrive to a high altitude city, you will know if your body will be affected by the altitude.
It is possible to reduce the risk of getting altitude sickness by taking some over the counter medicine, chewing coca leaves, or arriving to a high altitude city three days prior to starting a high energy activity such as hiking the Inca Trail.
If you decide to take over the counter medicine, it should be taken a few days before starting the trek. However, it is important to know that this medicine does not guarantee that you won’t be affected by altitude sickness.
Native Peruvians use a natural source to reduce the effects of altitude sickness as well as fatigue. This natural source is the coca leaf and needs to be chewed constantly upon arrival.
The most effective and conventional method to eliminate the risks of getting altitude sickness is the gradual acclimatization to the altitude. Arriving to Cusco or another high altitude city at least three days prior to your starting date for the Inca Trail will help to eliminate the risks of getting altitude sickness during the trek.
In addition to the methods mentioned above, you should drink plenty of liquids, avoid high energy activities the first two days, and you should not overeat or eat fatty meals.
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