Enjoy Your First Day in Cusco – Gateway to Machu Picchu
The first time I flew into Cusco, I immediately felt the effects of the altitude (10,560 feet) as I disembarked from the plane. Later that afternoon, I nearly fainted from altitude sickness in the middle of the ancient Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman just outside the city.
I was quite surprised by my reaction. I had skied at altitudes of nearly 12,000 feet before. The only symptom I had experienced then was shortness of breath.
Because many people suffer from the effects of altitude sickness upon arriving in Cusco, many tour operators schedule free time the first day. This allows those travelers who have a pounding headache or queasy stomach to relax in their hotel rooms.
Even if you are altitude-sensitive like me, it is possible to visit Cusco without dreading that first day. I’ve been to Cusco five times since that first trip and each time I hop off the plane, grab my backpack in baggage claim, and head off to a series of meetings I’ve scheduled for that day. How is this possible?
I consulted with my doctor back home and he prescribed Diomox. I start taking it a couple of days before I arrive in Cusco. While I experience some side effects such as tingling in my hands and feet, it seems to take care of the altitude sickness.
I also drink plenty of water and coca tea, and swear off alcohol and heavy food that first day.
Diomox is not for everyone. So, you should definitely consult with your doctor about whether it, or something else, could work for you. Some people cannot tolerate altitude at all.
Altitude sickness is no fun. But with a little planning, an ounce of prevention could be worth a pound of cure.
For more information on altitude sickness, see: http://www.high-altitude-medicine.com/.