Soroche or altitude sickness is due to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen. In high places, above 7,000 feet, the air is “thinner,” due to lower levels of barometric pressure. This means that the air is less dense, though the percentage of oxygen in the air remains the same. The result of the thinner air is that each breath contains lowers levels of oxygen than what you may be used to at lower elevations. To cope with the thinner air at high altitudes, the body goes through a series of changes known as acclimatization. Without taking the time to properly acclimatize, you risk experiencing altitude sickness.
Important things to keep in mind
Cusco sits at an elevation of 11,152 feet (3,399 meters). Machu Picchu is significantly lower at 7,972 feet (2,430 m). Altitude sickness usually begins to affect people at 8,000 feet or more, so Machu Picchu is not really the potential problem, Cusco is. Keep in mind that all those who go to Machu Picchu must first go through Cusco.
Symptoms of altitude sickness:
Diarrhea or constipation
5 Ways to Overcome the Altitude
The first hours in high elevation can be very unpleasant. However, there are many ways to ease the symptoms of altitude sickness and recover in time for your trip to Machu Picchu and the other adventures Peru has waiting for you.
The best remedy, unfortunately, is time. Acclimatization takes one or two days depending on the person. For this reason, the most advisable thing is not to schedule hectic activities or to demand a lot of movement until the second or third day of travel. Take that time to enjoy a LIGHT meal, plan tours, or take a quiet ride around the beautiful Plaza de Armas.
Avoid alcohol. The reasons for this are debated, but certain studies show that the effects of alcohol are intensified at high altitudes (that is, you get drunk more easily). In addition, alcohol can exacerbate the effects of altitude sickness. Your best bet is to steer clear for a few days.
Drink a lot of water. This may not exactly relieve altitude sickness, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between altitude sickness and dehydration, and high elevations tend to be very dry, which means you need
more water for proper hydration. Staying hydrated is key for feeling your best and preparing your body for the altitude.
Forget the diet! Carbohydrates and foods rich in natural sugars are ideal to fight this affliction. Fruits and grains are the precise foods you should be consuming to help fight off the effects of the elevation. Extra points if they are Andean grains or cereals! Try a quinoa bar.
Secret of the Inca: The coca leaf will be your salvation. Eat it in sweets, in a tea, or follow the lead of the locals who know there is nothing more authentic and healing than chewing the raw Inka leaf itself.