Peru, a country of magnificent people, culture, customs, geography and adventure is our number one pick for family's introductory experience to South America (Read more in our blog Peru vs Patagonia: Choosing the Right Multigenerational Trip). While our guests prepare for their upcoming and/or future trips to Peru there are several main travel questions that we are often asked about. Below is a list of the most common questions we receive, addressed for travelers to feel informed, confident and, most of all, safe while traveling to this enchanting country.
1) ALTITUDE SICKNESS:
Am I going to get altitude sickness while in Peru? How do I avoid altitude sickness? If I know I’m prone to altitude sickness, and still want to visit Peru, what can I do?
The pleasures of trekking in the Andean highlands surrounded by the sheer geographic splendor and unique cultures that call the high Andes home, is an unparalleled experience and a once in a life time opportunity. The best way to fully enjoy your Andean experience is to make sure that you are informed about altitude sickness and take the proper precautions to not let this deter you from enjoying your experience to its fullest. Altitude sickness can occur in some people as low as 8,000 feet, but serious symptoms do not usually occur until over 12,000 feet. Even then it is not typically the height that is important, rather the speed at which you ascended to that altitude.
Altitudes of major touristic areas in Peru:
Lima: Sea level
Cusco: 11,000 ft
Urubamba: 9,500 ft
Machu Picchu: 8,000 ft
Lake Titicaca: 12,500 ft
Highest point on Inca Trail Trek: 13,800 ft
Highest point on Machu Picchu Mountain Lodges Trek: 15,200 ft
Arequipa: 7,700 ft
As a general rule, it is far safer (and more enjoyable) to avoid Acute mountain sickness (AMS), or altitude sickness, by following an itinerary that allows for gradual acclimatization to altitude as you ascend.
It is difficult to determine who may be affected by altitude sickness as there are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that point to susceptibility. Altitude sickness susceptibility is a genetic predisposition; some travelers get it and some don't.
Most people can ascend to 8,000 feet with little or no effect. If you have been at that altitude before with no problem, you can most likely return to that altitude without problems as long as you are properly acclimatized. If you have not been to high altitude before, you should be more cautious when doing so to monitor how your body reacts.
Two important facts to keep in mind regarding altitude sickness:
1. It typically takes 24 hours for someone to be affected by altitude sickness. With this in mind, if Cusco, for example, seems too high an altitude to begin your time in the highlands at, we can arrange for your time in the highlands to begin in the Sacred Valley. You would still have to fly into Cusco, but then we could arrange an immediate transfer to a lower altitude. In addition, though some treks reach quite high altitudes, you are not sleeping at these altitudes. This said, you may feel a bit of a headache at the highest points of the day, but should be absolutely fine by the time you go to sleep at a lower altitude.
2. One of the best keys to preventing/combating altitude sickness is staying well hydrated, not pushing yourself too hard (slow and steady wins the race!), and, if necessary, retreating to a lower altitude until feeling better.
At Wildland Adventures, we are accustomed to working with travelers both very comfortable with altitude as well as those who know that they are predisposed to altitude sickness. For the later group of travelers, as well as those who are unsure or concerned, we can customize any of our itineraries to make sure that travelers sleep at lower altitudes and avoid the extremely high altitudes. Finally, all of the hotels we use and all of our trekking guides have oxygen on hand and ready, should a guest need oxygen.
2) INCA TRAIL TREKKING ALTERNATIVES
I love the idea of hiking the Inca Trail, but cannot commit my family to 5 days of hiking- what do I do? There aren’t any Inca Trail permits left for the date I want to hike- what do I do? Are there other treks leading to Machu Picchu?
If you, or members of your travel party have your hearts set on trekking, but don’t want to fully commit to 4-5 days of hiking and/or commit to some of the higher altitudes reached on the full Inca Trail Trek or Machu Picchu Mountain Lodges Trek, there are numerous, stunningly beautiful, alternative day-hike options. To get some ideas feel free to check out our blogs:
If you are are looking for alternative treks to Machu Picchu, a bit more off –the-beaten-path we can offer any of the following treks on a custom basis:
• Salkantay Trek (Camping alternative to the Machu Picchu Mountain Lodges Trek):
Departing from Cusco, drive north across Antapampa into the Apurimac watershed. Mollepata is the starting point of our five-day trek across the Cordillera Vilcabamba, past Mt. Humantay and Salkantay to the headwaters of the Santa Teresa valley. Hiking through cloud forest we ascend to Paltallacta Pass where we will have incredible views of Machu Picchu from a different perspective. Hike into the Aobamba Valley and arrive near the hydroelectric works, downriver from the citadel, spend the final night in Aguas Calientes. The following morning we will visit the Machu Picchu ruins before heading back to Cusco.
Check out our blog, Important Inka Trail Information and Inka Trail Alternatives, for more information on this option
• Lares Trek (Camping and luxury lodge options both available, 5 or 7 days)
The Lares Adventure to Machu Picchu offers the perfect combination of traditional adventure travel and cultural immersion. Your experience on our, 5 or 7 day, lodge-to-lodge journey will alternate between an exploration of the astounding natural scenery of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and an intimate look at Andean culture, both in busy towns and in the most-remote of mountain hamlets.
• Ancascocha Trek (3-7 days)
On the slopes of Antapampna, north of Cusco lies the Incan terracing complex of Zurite, located near the village of Huarocondo. From the road-head at Parpishu, the trail winds slowly onto the high plateau with fantastic views of Mt. Salkantay and La Veronica. The trek goes through the pass of Chuchusqasa into Sillkee valley and to the community of Ancasocha, to finally end at Camicancha near KM 77 on the railroad to Machu Picchu. End with a full day or overnight visit t to the citadel of Machu Picchu and return to Cusco.
• Choquequirao Trek (Classic Trek: 4 days, Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: 8 days)
Choquequirao is an ancient lost city of the Incas that has become accessible to hikers because of a bridge constructed over the raging Apurimac River. Hidden high on a ridge at 1750m and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, the site is definitely a highlight of the region. Connect this hidden gem with the world famous Machu Picchu, for an unforgettable trekking experience.
Do I need a yellow fever vaccination? Do I need malaria pills?
While, we must leave all official recommendations surrounding vaccinations and medications to guests’ local, trained, travel clinic doctors, we can say that the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not require any special (beyond routine vaccines) vaccinations for travel to Peru. In addition, no proof of any vaccination is required for entry to Peru. We recommend that all travelers take a look at the CDC site for Peru and to consult your local travel doctors if concerned.
Feel free to check out our Peru Guest Reviews to hear our guests' personal experiences in Peru.
Your expert South America Program Director,