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How to travel at altitude?

In August, I am heading to Peru for a trek and will be at about 15,000-17,000 ft for most of the trip. I live at sea level and don't have the opportunity to train at altitude. What are some things that I can do to help prepare? What can I do once I arrive to better aclimate? 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
12 Replies

Hi @REI-BriS!  I spent 10 years living in Colorado, and I have also done a high elevation hike in Peru.  Hopefully this will help you out....

For preparing there's not much you can do in advance to acclimatize, but there are some things you can do to get your body as ready as possible!
1. Focus on your overall cardiovascular, bike or swimming are all great ways to get your lungs in shape. 
2. Work on building your leg strength for the hike by using weights, stair climbing...or best of all, go out and hike with your pack on and some weight in it!
3. Talk to your doctor about options like dexamethasone - it's a prescription that they can give to help acclimatization just before your trip and while you are at elevation.  A doctor can provide you with more information on this.

Once you are in Peru, a few things that can help you adjust and deal with the high elevation are:
1. Ease into activity if you can....try not to overdo it the first couple of days, allow yourself some extra time to rest.
2. Stay hydrated!  You'll likely dehydrate faster at high elevation and especially if it's a dry climate. (also avoiding alcohol will help with this).
3. Eat smaller, easy to digest meals.  Simple carbs vs. heavy protiens.  So before you go, stock up on your favorite quick energy foods...something that you love to snack on and will look forward to eating on the trail!

Best of luck, Peru is a beautiful country and hiking there is incredible!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Ditto to all of Molly M's tips, above. I've done several high-altitude treks and everything she said: taking it easy, staying hydrated, and watching what you eat are essential. The only additional things I'd recommend is 1) see a physician/nurse practitioner who specializes in travel needs. This will help ensure that you have all of your other bases covered (e.g., having the correct dose of antibiotic should you need it, having all of your necessary travel vaccinations, etc) -- dealing with any of physcial issues ON TOP of altitude is not fun, so it's good to be make sure you're as healthy as possible 2) do not be afraid to do as the locals do; i.e., drink the coca tea. It's a nice, soothing beverage that also has the benefit of easing some of the altitude issues that one might experience. It also has the added benefit of satisfying some hydration needs. Best of luck on your trip and have a great time!

Hey, I’m currently in Peru for the summer, trekking and working right now and had similar issues, I live in LA. If you’re really worried there are meds you can take to prevent it. But coca is a life saver out here and it’s pretty much everywhere. It’ll take about 3 days naturally to adjust.
I did the Inca Trek to Machu Picchu a few years ago. Spending a couple of days in Cuzco to acclimate was crucial. So definitely give yourself a few days there (or in a similar city). Also, I echo the comments about the coca leaves. They come in tea form and in candy form and they were super helpful. I wasn't sick at all--except after I drank the thimble of pisco sour from our trek cooks to celebrate before we reached the summit. So stay away from alcohol! 🙂 Peru is beautiful as are the Andes Mountains. I'm excited about your trip. Best wishes!

I like to start taking an asprin a day a few days before the trip and during the trip. I always carry some asprin with me on high altitude trips.


I did a similar 10-day trek in Peru.

I'm assuming you'll land in cuzco. I would spend a few days in cuzco before the trek. That should help tremendously.

Rest! It'll be tough on your body, so make sure you get plenty of sleep to recover.
Drink lots, avoid caffeine.

Something that works wonders in Peru is coca leaves. Hotels will have them available for free for people. It is highly recommended that you chew some, it is very helpful in overcoming altitude issues. People also have coca tea, although that doesn't work as well. There is some special mountain mint tea that is supposed to help too.

Ahead of time, you can do a lot cardio, just to get your overall cardiovascular fitness up. Basically the fitter you are in that area, the quicker you can adapt to the altitude. Something I recommend, if it's possible in your area, is stairs running. Literally run up and down stairs. I remember there was a competition in the local ball field where I used to live. It's not as uncommon as you might think, so look it up, you might find some people to do it with you.

This isn't strictly altitude related, but something that was interesting during my trek is my wife, who swims a lot, hikes and backpacks frequently had a hard time with her knees, because the trails there can get very steep, much steeper than our local trails were at the time. Whereas, I, being a runner, had a much easier time. Somehow, my knees must be better conditioned being a runner. She trained on the stair masters before we went, but going down is what killed her. She had never trained going in that direction.

I agree about the sore knees from the much steeper trails.  Also a few days to acclimate, and coca leaves and tea.


The advice of spending a few days in Cuzco taking it a bit easier is excellent.  It is amazing what a few days of acclimating at 3000 meters will do for your ability to do treking at altitude.  Some people fly to Cuzco and then leave for the Inca trail the next day, this tends to lead to more altitude problems.  

the old adage of climb high and sleep low is a good one.  If you are going to hike to 14000 ft, sleep at 10,000ft

Diamox is a medicine that many people take for attempting to tolerate altitude better and stave off altitude sickness.  You can get a prescription from your doctor.  You start taking it 24 hours before you get to altitude.  It will make carbonated beverages taste funny, so don't be surprised if beer and soda taste bad while you are taking it.  Usually taking it for 4-5days is all that is needed, because you tend to start the physiologic process of adjusting to altitued by that time

Many people get a persistent dry cough at Altitude, bring some throat lozenges with you.  Hydration as others have stated is key.  I love a camelbak or similar hydration bladder for this, the easier you make it access your water the more likely you are to just sip throughout the day



I agree with everything said here - hydrate!, take it slow, and listen to your body. Also, make sure you have evacuation insurance. In some locations, it is not easy to just decend if you start to get sick. Travel insurance with evacuation coverage is a good idea just in case something happens. You can be in incredible shape and altitude sickness can still get you, even if you've been at altitude before.