How To Combat The Altitude Of Cusco
The Incas had a proclivity for style. Machu Picchu is known round the world for it's "Inca"-redible aesthetics. Ollantaytambo is centered at the intersection of 3 Andean canyons.
When choosing a capital city, they picked a valley that was centered between all 4 of the sections of their kingdom and mapped it all out to look like a Puma when viewed from the heavens.
Oh, and it's located at almost 12K feet above sea level.
Many visitors to Cusco feel every foot of the altitude when trying to navigate Incan steps and cobblestone streets. Here are a few ways you can try to avoid altitude sickness while observing this incredible Incan city.
Take Medicine. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, so please consult with a professional. In my personal experience, ibuprofen is the greatest solution for me to adjust to the altitude. I take 400mg on the plane to Cusco and then continue taking doses every 4 hours for the first 24 hours. The most common complaint of altitude is a dull headache and this helps to avoid that problem. If you visit your doctor in advance of your trip she might also prescribe altitude sickness pills.
Coca, Not the Cola. All hotels will feature coca tea in the lobby and most markets sell the coca leaves or coca candies. The locals use this herb to avoid altitude sickness. Some visitors say that this helps as well. I find that it wakes me up so my advice would be to try this during the morning or daytime just in case it has the same effect on you. And no, coca does not equal cocaine. It hasn't been chemically processed yet. Although, I wouldn't recommend trying to take some home on the plane with you.
Eat Smart. With the higher altitude comes slower digestion. If you're going big, go big on breakfast or lunch. At night, take it easy and grab a bowl of soup or something light so that you don't stay up all night. To help stave off altitude sickness make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water. Avoid alcohol it will make the symptoms worse.
Go To The Valley. While Cusco is at almost 12K feet, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is at 9K feet. One way to avoid altitude sickness is by going straight from the airport to the valley. It is approximately 1.5 - 2 hour drive depending on traffic. Keep in mind that while you might feel better, there is a lot less to do in the valley, especially at night. There are few restaurants, markets and/or things to see and do after 5:00PM. Choose this option if you want to rest and relax, not if you want to be able to walk outside your hotel lobby and have a city to see.
Use Oxygen. Check with your hotel and tour operator before traveling to the Cusco area. Make sure that they have oxygen available. There are no altitude problems that can't be solved by 15-20 minutes on oxygen.
This simple tips will help you combat any symptoms from altitude in the Cusco area. Keep in mind that by the time you get to Machu Picchu (7K feet) you should feel fantastic. But, that doesn't it won't still take your breath away.