The majority travelers will be affected by some degree of altitude sickness, or Soroche during a visit to the Peruvian Andes. Each person reacts differently to changes in altitude. There is no apparent correlation to level of fitness, body weight, or sex. In areas of high altitude one must increase their breathing rate in order to properly oxygenate the body, as is best seen when walking uphill. Just take a walk around Cuzco or La Paz and you will definitely notice. Shortness of breath is common and will quickly go away with a short rest. To acclimatize the body must adjust to having less oxygen. The process usually takes several days. So, for the first few days in high altitude drink lots of water and keep hydrated, as much as 2 liters per day. Steer clear of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco until you are acclimatized. Get plenty of sleep at night. So, just take it slow. Drinking Coca Leaf Tea or mate de coca is recommended and thought to help cure the sickness. Soroche pills are recommended as well and can be found in most drugstores in Peru. Some are affected quite badly by the altitude and the only cure may be to go to a lower altitude. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headaches, nosebleeds, confusion, memory loss, strange dreams, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting. More severe cases lead to swelling of the brain, comas and even death. Some may be at high altitudes for a week before the sickness hits them. For others they will know right away and for some nothing at all will occur.
Tip: For up to date information for travelers check out the US Centers for Disease Control website www.cdc.gov/travel.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.