Navigating Machu Picchu Altitude Sickness

Visiting Machu Picchu is a dream come true for many, but altitude sickness can quickly turn that dream into a nightmare.
At Skyhook, we want to arm you with everything you need to know to tackle Machu Picchu altitude sickness head-on.

Can You Get Altitude Sickness in Machu Picchu?

You can get altitude sickness, especially during a Machu Picchu hike. The site sits at an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet (almost 2,500 meters), making it a prime location for experiencing symptoms like headaches, nausea, and fatigue.
machu picchu view

Conquering Altitude Sickness: Your Guide to a Smooth Machu Picchu Adventure

Embarking on a trek to Machu Picchu is exhilarating, but altitude sickness can be a real buzzkill. Let’s show you how to beat the odds and create a Machu Picchu training plan.

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness, also known as “soroche,” is a condition that occurs when your body can’t adjust quickly enough to high elevations. 
The air pressure decreases, and the oxygen levels drop as you ascend, causing your body to work harder to supply the necessary oxygen to your tissues. This can result in symptoms like headaches, nausea, and fatigue.
Symptoms generally appear at elevations above 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) and become more pronounced as you climb higher towards locations like the Temple of the Sun Machu Picchu
The risk increases significantly above 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), which includes popular destinations like Cusco and, of course, Machu Picchu Mountain, which is the most common cause of Machu Picchu deaths per year.

Why Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu sits at an elevation of approximately 7,970 feet (2,430 meters), just shy of the 8,000-foot mark, where altitude sickness symptoms often intensify. 
While it’s not as high as some other destinations, its unique location in the Peruvian Andes makes it a hotspot for altitude sickness.
The steep, uneven terrain and the various steps to ascend the Machu Picchu circuits can tip the site over that 8,000-foot line, making acclimatisation crucial.
It’s worth noting that other regional areas, like Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain, Cusco and the Sacred Valley Cusco Peru, also pose risks. Cusco is even higher, at around 11,200 feet (3,399 meters), while the Sacred Valley sits at about 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). 
Both are common stops en route to Machu Picchu and can serve as places along your trekking route to help you acclimatise before reaching the iconic Inca citadel.
hiking on salkantay 8-day trek

Symptoms to Watch For

When it comes to altitude sickness, the symptoms can be as varied as the travellers who experience them. However, there are some common signs to watch out for:
  • Headaches: Often the first sign, ranging from mild to severe.

  • Nausea: You might feel queasy or even vomit.

  • Fatigue: A sudden drop in energy levels can be a red flag.

It’s important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person. While some may experience mild discomfort, others might suffer more severe symptoms like shortness of breath or dizziness. The key is to listen to your body and take action if you notice any of these signs.
inca trail sign

Preparation Before the Trip

Acclimatisation is your best friend when it comes to preventing altitude sickness. Your body needs time to adjust to the lower oxygen levels at high elevations, and rushing this process can lead to severe symptoms.
That’s why it’s crucial to spend a few days at a lower altitude before making your way to places like the Sun Gate Machu Picchu.
Consider starting your Peruvian adventure in Lima, which is just above sea level, or the Sacred Valley, which sits at around 9,000 feet. 
Both locations offer many activities and sights, allowing you to enjoy your trip while your body adjusts to the altitude.
By taking this extra time, you’re setting yourself up for a more enjoyable and less risky Machu Picchu experience.
Wherever possible, consider substituting hiking in higher altitude locations for a train to Machu Picchu instead.

Preventive Measures

Taking preventive steps can make all the difference in how you experience altitude sickness. One of the simplest yet most effective measures is to stay hydrated. 
Drinking plenty of water helps your body adjust to the lower oxygen levels. However, it’s best to avoid alcohol, as it can exacerbate dehydration and symptoms of altitude sickness.
Taking it easy for the first few days is also crucial. Overexerting yourself can lead to a faster onset of symptoms, so consider light activities like walking or sightseeing initially, particularly at scenic location like the Machu Picchu Stairs of Death.
For those looking for medicinal help, acetazolamide (Diamox) is a medication often recommended for altitude sickness prevention. It helps your body acclimatise more quickly, reducing the severity of symptoms. Always consult a healthcare provider before starting any medication.

Local Remedies

When in Peru, do as the locals do! Several local remedies can aid in acclimatisation and help alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness. 
One popular option is coca tea, made from the leaves of the coca plant. It’s a traditional Andean remedy that helps improve oxygenation and can relieve mild symptoms like headaches and fatigue.
Another option is Oxishot, a canned oxygen supplement readily available in many tourist areas. A few puffs can temporarily relieve symptoms and help you adjust to the high altitude more comfortably.
Remember, while these remedies can be helpful, they’re not a substitute for proper acclimatisation and medical advice.
salkantay trek accommodation

What to Do If Symptoms Persist

If you’ve tried all the preventive measures and local remedies but still struggle with persistent symptoms, it’s time to seek medical attention. Ignoring severe symptoms like shortness of breath or extreme fatigue can lead to dangerous complications.
Many hotels in high-altitude areas like Cusco and the Sacred Valley offer amenities like oxygen canisters or even oxygen-enriched rooms to help guests acclimatise. However, these should not replace professional medical advice and treatment if symptoms persist.
Machu Picchu Facts


If you follow our travel tips Machu Picchu, altitude sickness shouldn’t deter you from the Peru adventure of a lifetime. With proper preparation, preventive measures, and a keen awareness of your body’s signals, you can conquer Machu Picchu without a hitch.
So go ahead, choose the best time to hike Machu Picchu, take care of your Machu Picchu travel insurance, and let the Andean heights elevate your travel experience, not your symptoms!

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