Altitude Sickness: All You Need to Know and How to Avoid It

Altitude Sickness: All You Need to Know and How to Avoid It

The altitude sickness in Peru is a topic that worries many travellers before arriving to elevated cities, such as Cusco (11,154 ft. / 3400 m). Especially when reading reviews and comments online you can find many experiences of people laying in bed with nausea or having severe headaches.

That’s probably the last thing you want when thinking about the beautiful spots you can visit in the Peruvian mountains, such as Palccoyo, Vinicunca or Humantay.

To help you understand the altitude sickness and its syndromes better, we did some research, talked to our travellers and gathered information from locals living at high altitude.

This article will help you understand what the altitude sickness is, what the typical symptoms are and what to do to avoid it.

If you prefer watching a short video about the topic, here we go:

Table of contents:

What Is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness is a physical discomfort that usually occurs when visiting a place located at a higher altitude, such as Cusco, Arequipa & Colca Canyon, Huaraz or Puno.

travel couple hugging in front of rainbow mountains

Did you know that the alternative rainbow mountain Palccoyo is in Cusco at 16,076 ft. (4900 m)?


Most travellers who are affected by the altitude sickness in Peru are those traveling by plane, coming from a place with higher temperatures and lower altitude. This is due to the abrupt changes in altitude and climate as the air is thinner and the weather is colder.


What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?

The majority of people usually get altitude sickness between 6 and 24 hours after having reached altitudes of more than 3000 m.

Some of the typical symptoms of altitude sickness are:

  • headaches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tiredness
  • breathing difficulties/shortness of breath
  • loss of appetite

That doesn’t sound like great holidays, does it? The average duration of the altitude sickness is around two to three days. This is normal as the acclimatization time for a traveler in Peru is approximately two days.

But don’t worry, there is always a solution. In this case, proper preparation is key.

There are certain tips to avoid the altitude sickness. These tips are recommendations from locals and past travellers who enjoyed a great (or not so great) time in the Peruvian highlands.

travelers in ponchos looking at humantay lake
As we start our tour to Humantay Lake very early, you will be one of the first travellers to reach the top at 13,779 ft. (4200 m). 


Avoiding the Altitude Sickness in Peru and Its Symptoms

Take Medicine

Some of the most common pills to prevent and to treat altitude sickness and its symptoms are the following:

  • Acetazolamide (sold under the name of Diamox) to prevent and treat high altitude sickness
  • Altitude sickness pills (f.e. Sorojchi pills, sold in Peruvian pharmacies)
  • Ibuprofen and paracetamol to treat headaches
  • Gravol or Promethazine to treat nausea

You should take Diamox or Sorojchi pills to prevent the altitude sickness 1-2 days before going up in altitude. However, you should still be careful and go up in altitude gradually without rushing it.

If you feel like you are getting the symptoms mentioned above even though having taken medicine, it’s recommended to rest or go down until feeling better. The pills are available at every pharmacy and the staff at your hotel/hostel will also be able to help you out.

We recommend getting them before traveling to high altitudes so that you can prevent the symptoms as much as possible. Furthermore, talk to your doctor before traveling for personal recommendations and read all the instructions thoroughly.

white tea cup filled with water a coca leafes

In Cusco you’ll get coca tea at every restaurant or hotel/hostel. Besides that, just chewing on the leaves will help you deal with the altitude as well. 


Drink Coca Tea or Chew Coca Leaves

The coca tea (mate de coca) is the most popular tea in the Peruvian highlands.  You can easily prepare a coca tea yourself! Just put some coca leaves into hot water, wait a few minutes and add some sweetener if you want.

Important note: Avoid drinking coca tea if you have to take job related drug tests. It is possible that a drug test might turn out positive, even if the leaves only contain a very small amount of cocaine.

Among locals, chewing coca leaves is very common. It’s part of their culture and they say it allows them to focus better. We have done it during several hikes, such as the Rainbow Mountain Vinicunca hike or the 5-Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and it definitely helped us.

You can also find the coca leaves in the form of cookies or sweets in every tourist shop. They are the perfect “on-the-go” snack.


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Check out our customized Peru tours for an unforgettable trip based on your preferences!


Get Used to the Altitude Step by Step

Your body normally needs a couple of days to get used to the new altitude. That’s why you should take 2-3 days to get used to it. When arriving to Cusco, it’s a good idea to visit the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu first, as they are located lower. After that you can do hiking tours, such as to the Rainbow Mountains or to the Humantay Lake.

A tour that offers all of that is our Best of Cusco in 4 Days Tour.

As a general rule of thumb for altitude sickness you should avoid climbing more than  984 – 1,640 ft. (300-500 m) a day and have a rest day every 1,968 – 2,952 ft. (600 – 900 m) you go up, or every 3-4 days.


Drink Plenty of Water

As a general rule of thumb, you can add 1.5l to your normal usage. It’s very important to keep your body hydrated.


Avoid Alcohol and Sports

It’s best to avoid alcohol, smoking and any kind of exhausting physical exercise until getting used to the altitude after a couple of days.


Eat Low-Fat Dishes and Avoid Fatty Meals

Soups, rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, fruit and chicken are great low-fat dishes and give your body the energy it needs. A good way to prevent altitude sickness is a high-carb diet, as that have shown to increase the mood, but make sure to mix it up and also to include some lean protein, such as chicken, and some healthy fats, such as avocado or nuts.

Carbohydrates are good because they require less oxygen for your metabolism than fat and protein.

Try to avoid eating anything creamy or salty because your body will need more time to digest this kind of food. Salty meals, for example, will cause a faster dehydration of your body.

Important note: Many travellers have a lack of appetite after arriving due to the altitude. As a result, they consume up to 40% less calories than usual. That’s why it’s important that you eat enough food when arriving to your destination, even if you don’t feel hungry.


Get Agua de Florida

Agua de Florida is a small bottle of yellow cologne made of different herbs. Inhaling it is supposed to help when having difficulties with the altitude, headaches and breathing problems.

It’s a famous medicine among locals. You can find it in pharmacies, small shops and in markets.


Buy Oxishot

Oxishot is a small dischargeable that contains up to 8 l of oxygen. It will help you reduce headaches, fatigue and also when you have breathing problems. You can buy it in pharmacies or small shops in Cusco for around S/ 45 (around $14).

travel group with guide in front of moray terraces

The tour of the Sacred Valley will help you with getting used to the altitude, as most sites are 1,312 – 1,640 ft. (400 – 500 m) lower than Cusco. 


Altitude Sickness in Peru: No Problem, if You’re Prepared!

Considering all of this and making use of the recommendations, the altitude sickness will hopefully not be a problem for you during your Peru tour.

It’s crucial that you prepare yourself properly and that you take the altitude sickness seriously. Otherwise, it can potentially end up being the deciding factor whether your vacations turn out incredible or incredibly bad.

In case you have another recommendation to the altitude sickness, we would be happy to read about it in the comments below.

  • 14 July, 2024 at 8:42 am

    Tenemos planeado ir a Peru en noviembre. Mi esposo padece de muchas condiciones incluyendo cirugías de corazón y presión arterial alta. Su neuro cirujano, que es peruano, nos dijo que él sí podía viajar a Peru, mi pregunta es ¿Si compro una máquina de oxígeno portable, estaría reduciendo los síntomas de mal de altura? ¿Le servirá?

    • 14 July, 2024 at 9:55 am

      ¡Hola Ana!

      Es genial que estén planeando un viaje a Perú en noviembre. En cuanto a tu pregunta sobre el mal de altura, una máquina de oxígeno portátil puede ayudar a reducir los síntomas del mal de altura al proporcionar oxígeno adicional cuando sea necesario. Esto puede ser especialmente útil en lugares de gran altitud como Cusco y Machu Picchu.

      Sin embargo, es importante consultar con su médico antes de viajar para asegurarse de que este enfoque sea adecuado para las condiciones de salud específicas de tu esposo. Además, es recomendable planificar una aclimatación gradual, hidratarse bien y evitar el esfuerzo físico excesivo al llegar a altitudes elevadas.

      Si tienen más preguntas, no duden en enviarnos un correo a

  • 14 February, 2024 at 8:53 pm

    Un niño de 9 años con 40kg de peso, qué puede tomar para el soroche? aparte de hidratarse y tomar mate de coca? …en nuestro caso, viajamos a Cuzco y de los 4 días, 3 días estuvo mal! ya sea caminando, con frio, calor. Su primer día estuvo muy bien. En la noche del 2do día le dio soroche, luego en la tarde del 3er día y en la mañana del 4to día. Tomando siempre mate de coca pero sin medicarlo.

    • 15 February, 2024 at 10:51 am

      Hola Vane! Recomendamos hablar con un doctor en estos casos, nosotros no estamos calificados para dar consejos médicos sobre la salud de tu hijo. Que se mejore pronto!


  • 3 September, 2023 at 2:10 pm

    Es normal sentir como los efectos después de descender ??
    Llevo 5 días aprox desde que baje y me eh sentido así como un poco mariado y como con falta de concentración , esto me pasó desde que subí a 4600 en mi trabajo

    • 4 September, 2023 at 3:26 pm

      Hola Maximiliano, gracias por tu comentario. Recomendamos que saques cita con un médico para que te pueda ayudar con el tema, ya que nosotros no estamos capacitado para hacer ese tipo de evaluación.


  • 28 August, 2023 at 7:18 am

    Tengo artritis y voy a viajar y visitar desaguadero Bolivia por tierra.. que tanto me afectara la altura por mi condición de salud ? que debo hacer o qué medidas debo tomar ? Es mi duda.. gracias

    • 30 August, 2023 at 11:37 am

      Hola Dame, recomendamos que antes de viajar consultes con tu médico. Es importante acostumbrarse a la altura poco a poco, siempre tomando las medidas necesarias como tomar mucha agua, comer comida ligera y tomar pastillas como el Soroche.


  • 12 July, 2023 at 10:48 am

    Puede ir a Machu Picchu una persona con cirugía de corazón. Toma medicamento para la presión con bien control

    • 14 July, 2023 at 11:53 am

      Hola Ilda, cómo estás? Recomendamos que primero hables con tu doctor antes de planear tu visita a Machu Picchu para evitar cualquier inconveniente potencial. Nosotros somos expertos en el tema de viajes, pero no somos doctores para darte una recomendación personalizada en cuanto a temas de salud. Esperamos que nos puedas visitar pronto. 🙂

      Muchas gracias y saludos,

  • 18 August, 2022 at 8:43 pm

    No sé supone que los aviones están preparados para los pasajeros para contrarestar el mal de altura??

    • 3 March, 2023 at 6:48 am

      Los aviones tienen cabina presurizada, el problema es AL DESCENDER DEL AVIÓN.

  • 30 May, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    Yo les recomiendo las capsulas naturales
    ALTIVITAL son hechas con hojas de coca, de muña, guaraná y jengibre. son efectivas si tomas dos en la mañana y dos en la tarde solo los 3 primeros dias en altura. no tiene contraindicaciones, no hacen daño y las pueden tomar niños y ancianos.

    • 31 May, 2022 at 8:24 am

      Hola Cecilia, gracias por tu recomendación! La próxima vez que viajemos a Cusco lo vamos a tener en cuenta.
      Saludos 🙂

      • 7 October, 2023 at 10:20 am

        Si viajo con mi bebé de año y Medio como le puede afectar la altura? Y en tal caso que si se le podría dar algo?

        • 8 October, 2023 at 12:09 pm

          Hola Isabel, gracias por tu comentario. Recomendamos consultar ese tema con tu médico de confianza.


    • 24 October, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      A mi el jengibre me sube presión será que estas cápsulas no me hagan daño?

  • 21 May, 2022 at 9:35 am

    Gracias por todos las muy buenas sugerencias. Cada experiencia puede ser muy diferente a la de otros pero al final lo que más preocupa es de que manera la salud puede ser afectada.
    Pensamos hacer nuestro viaje a Cusco para agosto Machu Picchu etc, en particular, tengo artritis en rodillas y varices, también me preocupa si la altura podría afectar la parte vascular….

    • 21 May, 2022 at 11:03 am

      Hola Jutta, muchas gracias por tu comentario. Es muy cierto lo que dices, cada experiencia puede ser muy diferente a la de otros. Por eso y muy importante seguir las recomendaciones generales para evitar cualquier tipo de inconveniente. En cuanto a tu caso particular recomendaría que hables con un médico para que te pueda dar una opinión profesional.

      Ojalá puedan viajar a Cusco pronto! 🙂 Saludos.

  • 14 May, 2022 at 10:11 am

    Hello! Thanks a lot for the information!
    I’m planning to go next month in June to Cusco for 4 days, however, just have a question if a women probably is pregnant for one month could still get any medication or local remedy? Definetly in that case we wil ask her doctor in advance.

    • 15 May, 2022 at 6:52 pm

      Hey Ed, thank you for your message! This is a very good question and we’d rather not give any recommendation as we are no experts in this field. As you say, best would be to talk to your doctor in advance so you can prepare properly. Let us know if you need anything else. 🙂

  • 12 May, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    Awesome article! I’m traveling with my family to Peru next month and we are very excited. Have you heard how children do with the altitude? I’m curious if they will need to medicine or will be fine on their own.

    • 15 May, 2022 at 6:44 pm

      Hey Mike, glad the article helped. Thank you for your kind words! 🙂

      Regarding your question, we’ve never had any problems so far with the children that travelled with us. Best would probably to double check with your doc and see what recommendations they give. From past travelers we know that they gave Soroche pills to their kids when they were having issues with the altitude apart from the other recommendations, e.g. rest, drink lots of water and coca tea etc. Let us know if you have any other questions.

      Saludos, Oliver

  • 21 February, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    Very cool and thanks for sharing this. Is Palccoyo still the “hidden” gem or can we expect in April more travellers there than at Vinicunca?

    • 21 February, 2022 at 1:17 pm

      Hello Doug, thanks a lot for your positive words. April is the start of the dry season and for that reason you’ll face more travellers in Peru than the months before. However, at Palccoyo you won’t face as many travellers as at Vinicunca and you will embrace the beautiful landscapes. For more information about the two rainbow mountains have a look at our blog post: differences between Palccoyo and Vinicunca rainbow mountain. Best, team exploor

  • 6 December, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    Hola quisiera me ayuden con esta gran duda que tengo; si una persona que está acostumbrada a viajar en avión o sea ha viajado en avión varías veces Y no ha sentido ningún síntoma de mal de altura. Será que por tierra al visitar desaguadero y bolivia que son zonas altas puede sentir síntomas porque de verdad que en avión no los ha sentido por eso mi duda .. porque acá en el documental dice que lo sufren mucho las personas que viajan en avión ?? Gracias si pueden aclararme las dudas muy agradecida bendiciones

    • 12 October, 2022 at 7:07 am

      El avión tiene cabina presurizada es como estar a cero metros sobre el nivel del mar, mientras que si te trasladas por tierra tu cuerpo se tiene que adaptar a los 3000 o 4000 mts sobre el nivel del mar totalmente diferente e incomparable

      • 27 October, 2022 at 4:13 am

        No es cero es 14.7 al nivel del mar

  • 22 November, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    Great info! Is it really not possible going to the gym or doing an exercises in Cusco? And where can I get the pills?

    • 22 November, 2021 at 1:39 pm

      Hello P3t3,
      it’s very important that you are getting used to the altitude in Cusco. For that reason we highly recommend avoiding sport in the first 24-48 hours. Besides that, you’ll get the altitude pills such as sorojche already at the airports in Lima/Cusco or at every pharmacy in Peru. Let us know if you have any further questions.

  • 13 September, 2021 at 10:09 pm

    Dear Exploor team, I really appreciate the free tips on your blog! If I have 3 days in Cusco which tours would you recommend, also considering the altitude? I heard many people got sick at Rainbow Mountain. Cheers Blake

    • 15 September, 2021 at 8:29 am

      Hey Blake, thank you for your comment. We’d recommend visiting the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and either Rainbow Mountain or Humantay Lake (in the same order as the former destinations are at a lower altitude than the latter). People that get sick at Rainbow Mountain mainly because they didn’t give their body enough time to get used to the altitude. This is very important to consider! If you have any other questions just let us know 🙂

  • 26 August, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks for this info! Quick follow up question; which altitude sickness medicine would you recommend we should buy when in Peru?

    • 26 August, 2021 at 8:33 pm

      Glad it was helpful! I’d recommend Sorojchi Pills, you can get them at every pharmacy in Peru.

    • 11 April, 2023 at 6:30 am

      Hi, thank you for the information!
      I wanted to understand, when arriving in Cusco I should rest a few days before going on any hike?
      Thank you!

      • 11 April, 2023 at 9:30 am

        Hey Brenda, how are you doing? Glad the article is helpful!

        We definitely recommend resting 24-48 hours before going on a high-altitude hike, such as Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lake or Salkantay Trek. This way you allow your body to get used to the altitude. Hope this helps, let us know if you have any additional questions.


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