Hi everyone! Since Peru was our first trip to South America, we did a lot of preparing for this adventure. I wanted to share some insight in to what we learned and some things you should know if you are planning to go there too!
Prior to any trip in South America, I recommend visiting a travel clinic to make sure you have all the proper vaccines and medication you need. The Center for Disease Control also has a helpful website where you can search the country you are traveling to and read their recommendations. For Peru, they recommend Hepatitis A & Typhoid. If you are planning to go to the Amazon Rain Forest you will also need the Yellow Fever vaccine. No matter what, it’s best to visit a travel clinic before going to a destination like this to verify you have everything you need. The U.S. State Department also has a website where you can view advisories for the country you are traveling to.
Since Cusco, Peru is a little over 11,000 ft. above sea level, it’s important to prepare for the high altitude (and the possible sickness that comes with it). After reading extensive articles about how to prepare for this, we decided to do a few things:
- Altitude Sickness Medicine
- During the same visit to the travel clinic to get our vaccines, we also asked for a prescription of altitude sickness medicine. The doctor recommended taking the pills a day before reaching high altitude (which we diligently did) and it is supposed to prevent the extreme nausea that some people face so high up.
- Chlorophyll Pills
- This was a natural remedy we decided to also try to help us adjust to the altitude. Chlorophyll is said to improve the capacity of red blood cells to carry oxygen. Although there have been no studies done on the effects of chlorophyll in combatting altitude sickness, chlorophyll supplements have a lot of added benefits, such as energizing your body and detoxifying your blood. Since it can be difficult to breathe in high altitude, we thought this would be a good way to help prepare our bodies. We paired this with the altitude sickness medicine, so I really can’t say how much it truly helped us. We started taking it about a week before we left and took it all the way through our stay in Cusco & Aguas Calientes. There are no side affects or harm to taking chlorophyll so we thought it was worth a try to give our bodies everything it needed to succeed in high altitude!
- Oxygen Saturation Monitor
- Maybe this was a little overkill, but we actually bought an oxygen saturation monitor to bring with us and make sure our oxygen was at healthy levels while at such a high altitude. Based on my research between 100-90 is normal, and anything below 90 can be considered ‘low’. (In such high altitude it is normal to see oxygen levels below 90). The lowest we got was in the low 80’s when we first arrived but our body eventually acclimated a bit. This gadget is useful to make sure everyone is safe and healthy. If someone’s oxygen levels drop below 65-70 they should be taken to an emergency room or put on oxygen immediately. To see the monitor we purchased from amazon, click here.
- Coca Tea
- Although illegal in the US, coca tea is a local cure for altitude sickness in Peru. The reason this type of tea is banned in the states is because the coca leaves used to make the tea are from the same plant that cocaine comes from. Although the tea is just a mild stimulant (such as any caffeinated tea or coffee), traces of the coca alkaloid are present and can cause a positive for cocaine on a drug test. However, drinking coca tea has none of the same affects of cocaine, so no need to worry. If you are feeling ill, many locals will encourage you to drink the tea or chew on the leaves to help. (I don’t believe there is any medical evidence to back this but we both tried it while in Cusco anyways).
Thanks to the medication and chlorophyl, we hardly felt the affects of the altitude. The only thing we noticed was shortness of breath (especially when going up hill or stairs). Keep in mind you won’t be able to move as quickly as you do at sea level, so allow your body to rest when needed. It’s also important to note that alcohol will affect you faster at high altitude, so you won’t be able to drink like you normally do. (I was certainly feeling it after only one drink!)
Not only will you want altitude sickness medicine in Peru, it’s also safe to bring along some other important medication to ensure you’re feeling the best on your vacation. I highly recommend bringing:
- Motion Sickness Medicine
- Whether in a taxi, on a bus or train it’s best to be prepared since no one likes feeling nauseous. They drive a bit differently than how we do here so it’s possible you might feel a little car sick (even if you normally don’t).
- Anti – Diarrhea Medicine
- Someone had to say it. The food’s different down in South America, you’re not sure how your body will react. What if you accidentally drink a little tap water in the shower? You definitely don’t want to be locked in your hotel room on vacation so be sure to bring this with you!
- Electrolyte Tablets
- Since gatorade isn’t as common in Peru, I recommend packing some electrolyte tablets in case you do get sick. Nuun is a popular brand that sells about 12 tablets in a small tube. All you have to do is dissolve it in a bottle of water. It has all the benefits of restoring your electrolytes but without the sugar that comes with Gatorade.
- Especially in high altitude, the sun is stronger than we’re used to and you can burn even on a cloudy day. It’s best to lather it on and keep re-applying. If you’re only traveling with a carry-on, you will be able to purchase sunscreen at a local pharmacy when you arrive.
Although you can’t prepare for this until you arrive, you’re going to want to drink bottled water or filtered tap water only while in Peru (or anywhere in South America for that matter). Our bodies aren’t used to the type of bacteria that can sometimes be in their water systems, so to avoid getting severely sick – stick to this method! At a restaurant, always ask for your cocktails without ice, or double-check if they filter the water they use to make the ice. Bottled water is fairly inexpensive there and you can buy a large bottle to keep in your hotel or Airbnb for the end of a long day. It’s important to brush your teeth with bottled water and avoid getting water in your mouth while showering!
The more prepared you are, the more confident you can feel on vacation! Neither of us dealt with altitude sickness while in Peru so it looks like all of our research paid off! Feel free to comment with any questions you have if you’re planning a trip like this.
P.S. To read more about our time in Peru, check out a few of our other posts: