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Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

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Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

Hi,

We're planning an 18 day trip to southern Peru and were wondering about the whole altitude sickness thing. We've done some research on it and it sounds like we shouldn't take it lightly.

We're planning on flying from UK to Lima (via Madrid), then getting a connecting flight straight to Cuzco (as we've heard Lima isn't great). If we were to stay in Cuzco for a lazy few days do you think that would be enough to adjust to it?

Anyone done that before?

Thanks for your time!

d

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123 replies to this topic
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1. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g294311-c15318/Peru:A…

Lima is an interesting place; it has been said in this forum that the best Peruvian restaurants can be found in Lima.

What is your itinerary? Are you planning on doing the Inca Trail? All those things can modify what you should do.

There are several threads addressing this issue, the most recent in the general Peru forum is this one:

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g298442-i6910-k595…

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2. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

If you are not doing the Inca Trail, but weil be visiting Machu Picchu, your best itinerary for altitude adjustment will be to go directly to the Sacred Valley from the Cusco Airport (Urubamba or Ollantaytambo), stay there a night or two, then visit Machu Picchu. Return to Cusco from MP -- by then, your body will have adjusted to the altitude & Cusco's higher altitude will not affect you as much as it would if you had started out there.

If you plan to hike the Inca Trail, there is a slightly different itinerary recommended. Many posts in this forum on adjustment to altitude.

A lot of people assume Machu Picchu is higher than Cusco & they have to acclimatize before going to MP. Actually, MP is at an altitude where you are unlikely to have any problems at all (8000ft). Cusco is 11000ft -- and above 9000ft is where people may start to have some altitude sickness symptoms.

Lima will not help you with altitude at all -- it's nearly at sea level. It's often a good idea for visit Lima at the end of your trip to Peru -- that way, you will have time built into your itinerary in case of flight cancellations or delay & won't miss your international flight home (or elsewhere).

www.theoptimistictraveler.com

Edited: 05 January 2013, 19:47
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3. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

Yes, a lazy two to three days in Cuzco is good for altitude adjustment. Three days being perfect! Of course if you're feeling okay, those days do not have to be 'lazy' as Cuzco offers at least a good week's worth of great things to see and do. Enjoy!

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4. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

Yes altitude sickness can be serious, but according to several sources I have read (see http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html) 75% of people experience only mild symptoms over 10,000 ft. Additionally if you start to experience any of the mild symptoms of acute mountain sickness you simply go down in elevation.

So odds are good you could easily and safely go straight to Cusco and stay their if you want, this also means you won't have to pack and unpack as much. My recommendation would be to do some more research and make sure you are familiar with the symptoms of severe acute mountain sickness before you travel.

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5. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

Many people have the wrong idea, that you need to stay in Cusco to get acclimated to going to Machu Picchu. In fact Cusco is much higher than the archaeological site. Many travel agencies and hotels in Cusco do nothing to dispel this myth. They would rather you spend your tourist dollars on Cusco hotels, and tours leaving from Cusco. The only reason to start in Cusco is if you are going to hike the Inca Trail where you will want to spend at least two or three nights at the higher elevation of Cusco.

A better plan, as far as minimizing downtime, is to sleep in the Sacred Valley for the first nights of your stay, visit Machu Picchu, and then return to Cusco before you leave. When I visited most recently this past May, I started on a Saturday night with two nights in Pisac. Then on Monday I took the local bus/combi to Ollantaytambo and spent a few nights there, doing a day trip to Machu Picchu. From there I took the high road back to Cusco for a final night before flying out.

Edited: 06 January 2013, 02:32
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6. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

"according to several sources I have read ..75% of people experience only mild symptoms"

Put in another way that would mean a fifty/fifty chance for couples travelling that a partner will come down with AMS.

The Rick Curtis text mentioned above is popular , but hardly state of the art : written by a layman nearly twenty years ago. A study made last year from Cusco ( 900+ participants ) gives higher numbers.

"Additionally if you start to experience any of the mild symptoms of acute mountain sickness you simply go down in elevation."

Nights ,and lying down , is when you get most symptoms . Leaving for a lower destination in the middle of night not an good option.

Edited: 06 January 2013, 06:09
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7. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

Altitude sickness affects different people, and is not related to their age, sex, race or physical fitness. My wife has a cousin (originally from Cusco and Peruvian) who lives in Argentina, and when he returns to Cusco he too feels the affects of the high altitude. However, for most people it is not something to worry about, and should affect your plans. A few lazy days in Cusco is a great idea, and is recommended for everyone, if you have the time.

Here is an article that I wrote on the topic a few months back, check it out you may find it useful. totallylatinamerica.com/peru-vacations-artic…

Edited: 06 January 2013, 11:06
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8. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

vistet, would you mind sharing your sources, so far I have red nothing indicating that the night time is when symptoms increase. Would love to read more on this.

Additionally, while I am no statistician, I fail to see how two people each with a 25% chance of having issues can equate to an overall 50% chance. The chance that someone would be affected is still 25%. Same request as above, could you share a link to this study info.

Edited: 07 January 2013, 01:53
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9. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

Lung function is lowest in horizontal position , this is why doctors and nurses obsess about raising the head end of the bed and all altitude guidelines stress sleeping elevations. See the evidence based guidelines from Wilderness Medical Society shortlinked at http://korta.nu/wem , International Society for Mountain Medicine at http://korta.nu/prev , or CDC at http://korta.nu/cdcalt

The numbers game : the chance of any person in a two person group would be 50 % .

Edited: 07 January 2013, 02:48
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10. Re: Altitude Adjusting in Cuzco

So I have gone over the three links that you have provided and am unable to find any reference to an increase in symptoms during sleep, the closest thing I can find is a the following statement from the CDC site.

“Headache onset is usually 2–12 hours after arrival at a higher altitude and often during or after the first night.”

I would think that if the symptoms were to increase/worsen during sleep, this would be important enough information to be included in these articles, as your argument about driving down at night not being safe, would apply even more so to those on a mountain trek. My personal opinion is that night driving is no worse than the day; I actually think it is slightly better as the tour vans and busses are all off the roads.

Additionally I was unable to find any information in regards to your statement “A study made last year from Cusco ( 900+ participants ) gives higher numbers”.

Still your statement makes no sense, by your reasoning 4 people traveling would produce a 100% chance of severe AMS. It would be like saying a coin has 2 sides producing a 50% chance of any one side coming up, so if I flip the coin twice I should get one heads and one tails. Odds are not cumulative; any flip of a coin has only a 50% chance of coming up heads, no matter how many times you flip it. This same would apply to travelers, each individual traveler (according to the source I listed), would have a 25% chance of coming down with severe AMS, no matter how many people are in the party.

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