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How to prevent altitude sickness in Cusco


The human body experiences changes in its functioning when traveling to places above 2,400 meters above sea level. One of these changes is called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), known by different names depending on the country being visited. In Peru it is popularly known as 'Soroche' and is very common among travelers arriving in cities such as Cusco.


Acute mountain sickness (AMS) or soroche is caused by the lower atmospheric pressure at high altitudes, which brings as a direct consequence that the amount of oxygen stored in the blood is lower and in turn the different organs of the body receive less oxygen than usual.
The human being transports and distributes oxygen throughout the body through the red blood cells present in the blood, this function is significantly altered when you are at altitudes above 2,400 meters above sea level.

What are the symptoms of Soroche

One of the organs of the body that is most affected by the deficient oxygen supply is the brain. Symptoms of shallow sleep include headaches, severe dizziness, shortness of breath and a feeling of disorientation comparable to being drunk after drinking alcohol. More severe symptoms may include difficulty breathing while resting, blue or purple coloration of the skin and in extremely severe cases, which are not at all common, cerebral or pulmonary edema and death may result.


Soroche or acute mountain sickness has no established cure but humans have lived at high altitudes for thousands of years, so the remedies are well known and practiced.

  • The first recommendation is to reduce the pace of the body, i.e., walk more slowly, climb the steps one at a time, avoiding at all times overtaxing the body, which is already in a state of crisis due to lack of oxygen.
  • The human body normally gets used to altitude after 2 or 3 days, this varies depending on many factors, such as age, physical condition and tolerance to lack of oxygen. This gradual process is known as acclimatization, and once the body is used to it, physical activities can be performed normally.
  • Diet is a very important factor to take into account if it is the first time you travel to high altitudes such as Cusco or if you are particularly sensitive to altitude sickness. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, Andean cereals such as kiwicha and quinoa helps the body to remain stable. Avoid at all times very spicy foods or with a high fat content because digestion at high altitudes is different.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water (2 to 3 liters per day per person) to successfully overcome the acclimatization stage.
  • The coca leaf was considered sacred by the Inca Empire and this was not only part of their beliefs but was based on the extraordinary natural qualities of the bush. Studies conducted on the coca leaf have shown that this plant besides possessing the alkaloid known as cocaine (less than 1% of the total), also has 15 other alkaloids, many of them are natural regulators of the body's cycles, others are stimulants for the production of certain substances, which makes the coca leaf a great alternative if you want to calm the body suffering from altitude sickness.
  • There are pills called 'Sorojchi Pills' that you can buy in any pharmacy in Cusco without a prescription and that help significantly to reduce the most uncomfortable symptoms of altitude sickness (dizziness, fatigue, headache).
  • There are also oxygen tubes that you can buy in hotels or in some pharmacies. These oxygen tubes allow you to breathe as if you were at an altitude of 100 meters above sea level.

Places at higher altitude in the department of Cusco:

  • Nevado Ausangate, located south of Cusco. Maximum elevation 6, 384 meters above sea level.
  • Nevado Salkantay, located northeast of Cusco. Maximum elevation 6,261 meters above sea level.
  • Inca Trail, Warmihuañuska pass or pass. Maximum elevation 4,200 meters above sea level.
  • Abra Malaga, located southeast of Cusco. Maximum elevation 4,297 meters above sea level.
  • Abra Pirhuayani, located southeast of Cusco. Maximum elevation 4,725 meters above sea level.
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