I have felt the strength of altitude sickness on my own body after ignoring the most important rules of the high mountains. It was hard, and I needed to stay in bed for a few days. I experienced a lot of fear, pain and several different emotions, which I will remember till end of my days. This was the beginning of my travels in the Andes. I was at 3,400 m. above sea level in Cusco. I got altitude sickness and that is the way the most beautiful Incan city greeted me.
During my first trip to South America I experienced high mountains a few days after being in Lima (located just above sea level). I took a one hour flight and immediately felt I was in a different dimension. The world of beautiful mountains, dry air, cold evenings and nights, and most of all, very high elevations was totally new to me.
Altitude Sickness in Peru
A lot happened in a very short time, since my arrival in Peru. Especially during my first encounter with Cusco.
I remember leaving the airport, taking a taxi, going to my friend’s apartment to leave my backpack, and then to the bus stop. We had two options: ride in a crowded car with space only in the trunk, or take a collectivo (a group bus). Which will only leave once it is entirely full of passengers. Sometimes this takes a few minutes, sometimes an hour or more. We decided to take the faster option and ride in the trunk.
After 35 minutes we reached our destination. 10 minutes of walking and we arrived at our destination…a climbing wall. This was a small dream of mine and I was able to get it within my first hour in Cusco!
Too much, too fast …
I put on my gear, climbing shoes and start climbing. The wall appeared to be quite easy, but as soon as I start climbing, it seemed endless. This was my first outdoor climbing experience, so it was not easy, but the worst was yet to come.
Third attempt at climbing I started with a large burst of energy, but in only few seconds my body got weaker and weaker. I lost all energy, but that was not the main problem. A huge headache had hit me, that was unbearable. There was no way to finish climbing. It was soon clear that I had altitude sickness.
When I have touched the ground I was barely conscious, and could not say a word. It was the worst headache of my life. I started vomiting soon afterwards. I laid on the ground, wishing that this nightmare would be over soon. I was able to get up after an hour of staying on the ground. They gave me coca leaves which helped a little bit, but it was still terrible.
After coming back to Cusco I needed a lot of time to recover. I spend 3 days in the bed. Did anything help?
Pills (a traditional method), coca tea (a local method), good rest, and chewing a lot of coca leaves.
One week later I was ready to discover Peru. Now I was smarter and proceeded with more caution. I have since reached my first peak above 6,000 meters (which I never would’ve dreamed of before). My article about this experience can be found here: How to climb Huayna Potosi 6088 m.
More difficult peaks that need some acclimitizing time beforehand:
- On top of the Yanapaccha in Cordillera Blanca, Peru
- Experiences from climbing Tocllaraju in Cordillera Blanca
Are you going to Peru? Read this article Peruvian ways for altitude sickness. You need to prepare for soroche sickness when traveling to Peru. The best way to prevent all these symptoms are mentioned in the above article.
Altitude sickness in Peru can happen to anyone. It is not possible to predict if and when the symptoms will appear. In most cases everything ends up well, but there are also more complex cases. It is worth it to take extra precautions. Slowly gaining elevation, drinking a lot of fluids, and knowledge about this topic will allow you to minimize potential problems.