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Altitude Sickness on the INCA TRAIL – Symptoms and Prevention

Altitude sickness is a temporary condition that may affect people who reach high places where oxygen presence in the air is lower. Since the Inca Trails are hikes across altitudes that are at a minimum 2.400 meters and can get to 4.200 meters (Warmiwanusca, highest point for the Classic Inca Trail which is done in 4 days), or even more, it is important you know how to prevent high altitude on the Inca Trail and if needed, how to get rid of the symptoms.

Most common symptoms.

We’d like to point again that altitude sickness does not affect everybody. It can be prevented and if symptoms appear, they can be fairly eliminated or managed; only a few people will develop it strongly and yet they can be adequately and safely taken care of. The most common symptoms of altitude sickness are:

  • Shortness of breath: this happens because the higher one goes, the “thinner” the air gets, that is, less charged with oxygen; our body needs oxygen in order to properly function, so when this happens, a person may feel with less respiratory capacity due to lowered levels of oxygen.
  • Headache: another common symptom that really should not worry anybody; a person may have some loss of coordination and also some cognitive effects like short-memory decrease, but these are all temporary and will be overcomed when the body acclimatizes.
  • Heart stress: as a result of low-oxygen air, the heart pumps in a stronger way to compensate and send more blood throughout the body (blood contains oxygen), so it beats harder and faster, which may cause some sensations of discomfort.
  • Weakness: another common feature of altitude sickness. Our body uses oxygen to trigger energy release in the cells, so naturally a lack of oxygen will cause the overall level of calories and nutrients inside the body to reduce, so the person will feel weak and unmotivated for physical activity.
  • Nausea: it’s a reaction of the nervous system to oxygen decrease, which can appear with additional lack of appetite and vomiting. Also common in altitude sickness.
  • Insomnia: another usual symptom for the body is fighting the new situation and thus it tends to remain alert, not relaxing enough in order to enter the sleep state.

Prevention.

Altitude sickness is highly preventable! Here are the measures specialists recommend for you not to care about this condition that may affect you on an Inca Trail:

  • Acclimatize: the organism most of the times just need to get used to this new environment, so it would be really good if somebody going to do an Inca Trail arrived to the Cusco region at least 2 or 3 days before the beginning of the hike.
  • For the first 24 hours, whenever possible, do not engage in any sustained or strong physical activity (for the Inca Trail you have to get some physical preparation really in advance).
  • You should drink much water and/or juices, herbal teas or energetic beverages, before and during the Inca Trail. Increased urination makes the body automatically breath heavier, thus having more oxygen. Stay away from alcohol in all cases.
  • Increase your carbohydrate intake, such as bread, pasta, rice, sugar and sweets; indeed, doctors recommend people to take glucose pills (glucose is a natural sugar). This way your body will replace the energy lost by the lack of oxygen. We provide this kind of food during the Inca Trail.
  • Now for a traditional Andean remedy for altitude sickness: coca leaves tea is a general energizer; it can be easily found in Cusco, either the leaves infusion itself or in regular tea bags. Coca leaves tea enhances all bodily functions, strengthens the body and has been used here in the Andes for centuries, to deal with altitude, cold weather and the effort of people living in places where you regularly have to climb mountain slopes.
  • Increase effort gradually: when doing one of the Inca Trails already, go at your own pace at first and gradually find your optimal hiking speed; of course we give our hikers all needed pauses to rest, and our experience has proven enough for all travelers. Moreover, we carry oxygen bottles and have qualified personnel to take our clients out of the altitude sickness discomfort. Finally, we recommend you do some training before coming to Cusco, simulating Inca Trail conditions: you should find a place with uneven, non-asphalted terrain, preferably with uphill sections and hike there at least 3 or 4 times, for 4 or 5 hours. This is certainly very useful for hikers coming to Cusco for the Inca Trails!

Wherther you are going on the Short Inca Trail which is done in 2 days, then you also need some more flexible preparation, see more on by following the link.  

Coping with.

If altitude sickness does become an issue, there is no reason to be alarmed; remember, it is a temporary condition due to less density of oxygen in the air.

  • Take your time to rest
  • Hike at your own pace, our expert staff is ready to support you to get well again
  • You may take medicines for symptoms like headache and nausea
  • We provide free assistance with oxygen bottles
  • Drink plenty of liquids, because increased urination decreases bodily pH (acidity) which in turn produces stronger breathing, helping compensate lack of oxygen inside the body.

Otherwise, keep in mind altitude sickness, if happens, is a brief condition, completely manageable. We have top experienced professionals who will readily get you in good shape again.


So, whatever the altitude you’re hiking at, we’re sure you will be ready to have the best of times on your wonderful trail with TOUR IN PERU, and to enjoy all the marvels of the Andes like an Inca!