altitude sickness

I have heard from some that you can become quite ill from the altitude. Does the trip include stops along the way to allow for adjusting to the altitude? Is there a medication you recommend taking in order to prevent it?

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  • edited December 2018
    sfkucker wrote:
    I have heard from some that you can become quite ill from the altitude. Does the trip include stops along the way to allow for adjusting to the altitude? Is there a medication you recommend taking in order to prevent it?

    Altitude sickness is an individual thing- some are not affected, some really suffer. Tauck designed the tour to help you accommodate* which can take a few days, but it doesn't always work with everyone. My suggestion is to see a travel doctor and discuss it with him. At the very least read about it so you know what causes it, what to expect, then come up with a strategy. A few things can make it worse- heavy eating and drinking (booze). If you get it bad and the medication doesn't work, the only solution is to descend to lower altitude- it goes away rapidly - a few hours. We took the pills (I took Diamox but my wife had a different one) following the recommended schedule and had absolutely no problems.

    *Also, investigate where and when you will be at the highest altitudes - Cuzco is much higher than Machu Picchu!
  • The Peru tour is somewhere we feel we can’t do because from past experience we found that Mr B’s body does not do at all well with altitude and he is fit. My son is also the same, also a fit guy. Must be the genes. As it can be deadly, we did not want to risk it.
  • edited December 2018
    I have been up to Pike's Peak twice, the last time with Tauck in June on the Colorado trip. The first time a decade or so ago, I had no problem. However, this time I was affected as soon as I stepped out of the 4wheel vehicle riding us up to the Peak (shortness of breath, wobbliness trying to walk from the vehicle parking lot to the main building there. I was a bit surprised, but as Alan S says it is an individual thing. :-)
  • Adaptation to altitude occurs in 2 phases.

    The first phase is readjusting the body's pH. When you go to altitude, you hyperventilate. Blowing off excess CO2 causes the blood pH to rise. Over the first 24-72 hours, your kidneys compensate for this by conserving bicarbonate (HCO3). Diamox is a diuretic that preserves bicarb, so that's why people take it.

    Phase 2 occurs over 6 weeks. The body senses hypoxia and in response produces EPO (yes, the same EPO used by cheats like Lance Armstong). EPO is a hormone that causes more red blood cells to be produced, which gives the body the ability to carry more oxygen. The total hemoglobin in the body of someone who lives at altitude is 10-20% greater than those who lives at sea level. That's how the body adjusts.

    When I went on the Peru trip, I had no issues, but I live in Colorado at 5500 ft ASL. Two other folks on the trip, from Park City, also had no issues. Everyone else was, at least, short of breath. Nobody had altitude sickness.

    As I type this, I'm sitting in my ski condo at 9300 ft ASL. The mountain goes up to 11500 ft, and yes, I get somewhat short of breath with the exertion of skiing the black runs, but that's the extent of it for me.

    Altitude sickness (as opposed to just being short of breath) is a completely different animal and is an idiosyncratic reaction to altitude. It's fairly uncommon. A person's level of physical fitness has little to do with one's susceptibility to it and as mentioned above the treatment is oxygen and descending to a lower altitude.

  • A bit of P&G altitude info:

    You fly from Lima to Cusco which is in a "valley" but still high at 11,150' above sea level!

    You get on buses at the airport which take you to the Sacred Valley. After departing the airport, the road climbs steeply up the surrounding mountains and passes right by the Sacsayhuaman ruins (it had me worried for a moment but we saw it on the way back to Cusco.) at the edge of town. The altitude of Sacsayhuaman is 12,142 ft

    You continue to climb, reaching a max of about 12,343' near Chinchero, before descending into the Sacred Valley. We spent the night in the Sacred Valley at the Sol Y Luna which is just outside Urubamba which is at 9,420'.

    The next day we traveled up the valley to Ollantaytabo to see the ruins there and catch the train to Aguas Calientes. Ollan is at 9,160' and Aguas Calientes is at 6,693'.

    Shuttle buses took us from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu which is at 7,972'.

    We spent the night at the Belmond Sanctuary lodge at the ruins and came down the mountain late morning for the train ride back to Ollan and bus trip back to Cusco where we spent two nights before flying to Ecuador.

    The altitudes are probably not what you expected, at least not in that order.


  • There is prescription medication that one can take a couple of days before the trip and a few days into the trip. Works well and I had no side effects . The Peruvians offer a special tea but the taste is peculiar . If you do get altitude sickness it spoils the day and may affect your travel with a group

  • It's coca tea. Do NOT take any out of the country!

    FYI, when you fly in a commercial jet, the cabin is pressurized to 8-10,000 ft altitude equivalent. The difference is you're pretty sedentary on a plane.
  • Perhaps my experience could serve as cautionary tale. Alan’s detailed post on elevations is very helpful. One would assume that the gradual increase in elevation over a few days ( the high elevation on the way to the Sacred Valley is very brief) would be enough to enable acclimation. I have hiked in high elevations, so did not even bother to bring altitude medication with me. BIG mistake! I did feel some shortness of breath going through the airport in Cusco, but that was very brief. I was fine until we returned to Cusco. Our first night there was horrible for me...excruciating headache, chills, sweats...the next morning I felt lethargic ( little sleep did not help) , I had no appetite , and my headache continued. I drank lots of cocoa tea, even chewing the leaves. I did go on all of the planned activities, but i was pretty miserable all day. That evening I took an altitude pill from a traveling companion, and within 20 minutes I was my old self! I would never again take a trip like this without having medication “ just in case”!
  • edited December 2018
    BKMD wrote:
    It's coca tea. Do NOT take any out of the country!

    FYI, when you fly in a commercial jet, the cabin is pressurized to 8-10,000 ft altitude equivalent. The difference is you're pretty sedentary on a plane.

    Jet cabins are only rarely above 8,000 feet. There is a very annoying warning alarm in the cockpit that goes off at around 10,000 feet. The airplanes that we flew to La Paz, Bolivia were specially equiped with twice the amount of oxygen compared to ‘normal’ planes, and we had a high altitude landing switch which reprogramed the warnings and the oxygen mask ‘drop’ (commonly known as the dreaded ‘rubber jungle’). We actually ‘climbed’ the cabin for landing from the normal seven or eight thousand feet to the landing altitude of thirteen thousand feet. The cabin and the airport had to be at the same altitude or you could not get the doors open. Of course there was a ‘backup’ that would open valves to rapidly depressurize the airplane upon landing if you landed pressurized. But, it is not comfortable to go from 8;000 feet to 13,000 feet in a few seconds, so that is not a recommended procedure. We in the cockpit also landed and took off wearing oxygen masks. We were not even allowed to perform a check list without wearing oxygen at airports above 10,000 feet. It was also common when working in the plane at La Paz for the flight attendants to come to the cockpit to use our oxygen masks for a couple minutes.
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