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The Lost City of Machu Picchu

How to Prepare for Machu Picchu Altitude

Traveller sat at Park Guell, Barcelona

By Sarah Hemsley

Last updated: 25th June 2024

So you want to trek to the iconic Lost City of Machu Picchu, see the vast colours of the Rainbow Mountains and spend your nights dancing with the locals (and llamas 🦙) in Cusco, but you’re faced with preventing altitude sickness. Here are all the tips & tricks on how to prepare for Machu Picchu’s altitude, so you can explore the Scared Valley and beyond!

What is altitude sickness?

As you ascend into the mountains, air pressure decreases, meaning there are fewer oxygen molecules for our lungs to breathe. It’s weird how science works, right? 🤯 As our bodies need oxygen to work, this lack of air can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue - in other words, altitude sickness.

What altitude is Machu Picchu?

Inca ruins at the Lost City of Machu Picchu

The iconic Machu Picchu sits at 2,430m / 7,972ft above sea level, which is pretty high! If you’re visiting Machu Picchu by train, you may only get slight symptoms on your visit. However, if you plan to Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (which is almost 1,800m / 5906ft higher!) you should keep reading for tips to prevent altitude sickness 👇

What altitude is Cusco?

Traveller looking over Cusco cathedral

Even higher than Machu Picchu is the city of Cusco at 3,399m / 11,152ft. That’s almost the same height as Mount Fuji in Japan! (3,776m / 12,388ft) Cusco’s altitude makes it one of the highest cities in the world and the ideal destination to acclimatise when visiting Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. On our 7-day Machu Picchu & Rainbow Mountain Trek tour, you’ll take a day here to explore its colourful markets, Incan ruins, and vibrant street life.

Can you get altitude sickness in Machu Picchu & Cusco?

Yes, you can get altitude sickness anywhere higher than 1,500-2,500m / 4,920-8,200ft above sea level. It can affect you no matter your health or fitness level. In fact, it affects 1 in 2 visitors to Machu Picchu & Cusco. So you might be lucky (🤞) but you should still travel prepared with our tips below.

Tips to prevent altitude sickness in Machu Picchu

Altitude sickness doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying Machu Picchu! Just follow these steps on how to prevent altitude sickness:

Allow your body to acclimatise

Acclimatisation is the best way to avoid altitude sickness so your body can adjust to the lower oxygen levels. Stay a couple of nights at Cusco. As it sits higher than Machu Picchu, you can acclimatise here before you head to Machu Picchu. You’ll stay here on one of our Peru tours.

Drink water

It’s important to stay hydrated to reduce the effects of altitude sickness so make sure to drink plenty of water. This also means limiting alcohol and caffeine as it can be dehydrating. You’ll thank us later.

Eat healthy

Choose foods that fuel the body! So plenty of vitamin C, iron and potassium to help your body adjust to higher altitudes. Plus, don’t forget carbs for that energy boost. 

Breathe

It sounds obvious but if you’re feeling lightheaded, the best thing to do is take long deep breaths to increase your blood oxygen levels.

Medication

If you’re considering taking altitude sickness tablets, check with your doctor or travel clinic before travelling. They can help to reduce symptoms upon arrival.

Speak with your doctor

You should also consult with a doctor or medical professional before travelling to a high-altitude location, especially if you have any medical conditions or are planning to trek. They will be able to check that it is safe for you to be at a high altitude.

For further tips, check the NHS website for more details on preventing and treating altitude sickness and the TravelHealthPro website on altitude illness.

 

Visit the incredible Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, the vibrant Rainbow Mountains and buzzing Cusco on one of our Peru trips or check out other trekking adventures you can tick off your bucket list 👈

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