Getting sick on your travels is never fun, but what do you do when it is the destination itself that might make you ill? Giving up is not an option! Peru has amazing places that worth at least one visit in your lifetime. Here Peru By Bus brings you a guide to learn how to deal with Soroche, Peru’s Altitude Sickness.


How to beat Altitude Sickness

What do the historic city of Cusco, the rural villages around Lake Titicaca, and other Andean locations all have in common?

1st: they are all incredible travel destinations, playing a central role in local culture as well as attracting people from all over the world looking for beauty and adventure.

Lake Titicaca Altitude Sickness
Lake Titicaca as seen from Bolivia

2nd: they are all high elevation destinations located more than 3000m above sea level, which means that when traveling in this places you will have to deal with the subsequent effects of altitude sickness.

Don’t let this stop you. The best decision you can make it´s to know a bit about altitude before heading into the mountains. How does it affect you?

Let’s say you are hiking up to Rainbow Mountain or maybe exploring Lake Titicaca for the first time. You look ahead at a simple staircase and continue to proceed ahead. as you would climb these steps in any other place. A piece of cake, right? But its not – altitude makes this simple task waaaay more difficult. Each step makes you question if you’re really that out of shape. Even worse, you see local kids running and walking up with ease while you need to take breaks to catch your breath.

Andes Soroche Altitude Sickness
Hiking the Andes can be very tiresome indeed

You’re scared. I know, but the following tips will help you deal with altitude sickness while traveling so that you can make the most of the destinations you are visiting.

What is altitude sickness? (or Soroche)

First of all, altitude sickness, also known as soroche in Peru, is a condition that occurs when you reach  a high altitude too quickly. Because of the lower air pressure, the air gets “thinner”, which means there is less oxygen available in the same amount of air. Your body struggles to get the oxygen it needs, your lungs have to work harder to receive the same amount of oxygen, and this will make you breathe faster and deeper to get the oxygen into your lungs as you get less of it in each breath.

So an increased breathing rate at high altitudes is completely normal. It’s important however that you take it easy on your body and give it a chance to adjust, in order to avoid additional symptoms. It is best to spend a day just relaxing to let your body get used to the lower oxygen amount.

Soroche: Facts and typical symptoms

Facts about altitude sickness:

  • Fitness level plays no part. So don’t go feeling guilty.
  • Gender or age has no correlation with the effects of altitude
  • Feels like a hangover at first.
  • Most people can go up to 2500m without any problems.

It doesn´t matter if you come from Miami or the Kilimanjaro, no matter how old or experienced you are, all people without exception can get sick from altitude.

This can result in symptoms like a constant headache which may feel like a migraine, tiredness, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, feeling unsteady, difficulty sleeping, upset stomach, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and generally feeling unwell.

So, now for the main question. What’s the best way of preventing the soroche?

The best of advice to prevent soroche is to listen to what your body is telling you and use as many remedies as you can. If you think you need to slow down, slow down. Don’t wait until you start to feel really bad to tell someone there is a problem.

Useful tips for battling altitude sickness:

– Head straight to the Hotel and REST:  your body will need plenty of rest while it tries to acclimatize to the altitude, so take it easy. Have a nap, watch TV, or read a book, just don’t run out and start sightseeing right away because the altitude could hit you when you least expect it.

– Avoid intense physical activity:  Don’t put any excess stress on your body—it’s already working overtime to oxygenate your blood! When walking, just remember to take plenty of breaks, and take a taxi when necessary.

– Take deep breaths: Again, your body is trying to get oxygen, but there is less of it available in each breath. So take deep breaths to try to get more air in.

– Stay hydrated: Drink lots of water and avoid coffee and alcohol.

– Try Coca leaves/tea: Oh my Coca! Whether you munch on the leaves themselves while you trek or drink a cup of coca tea every evening, the locals swear by the power of coca at high altitudes.

Altitude Sickness
Coca leaves are your best friends

– Pills: Take Diamox pills. It is necessary to take them 24 hours before arriving in Cusco. As a side effect, however, you’ll probably have to urinate more often. You can also find soroche pills in any pharmacy in Cusco (you can get them without a prescription).

The good thing about all of this is that if you are well prepared and understand what altitude sickness is, you will be able to overcome it and manage to travel, enjoying Peru´s exceptional places.

Altitude sickness? You can handle it!