How altitude in Cusco will affect your body
How the Altitude in Cusco will affect your body when learning Spanish in Cusco
It is one of the Frequently Asked Questions for the AMAUTA course counsellors from students that have registered for one of our Spanish courses in Peru: how will the altitude in Cusco affect my body?
Will I get soroche, altitude sickness? Will I be bothered by the altitude? Will I be strong enough to live and learn Spanish in Cusco at 3400 meters above sea level? And what should I do to avoid soroche?
Fortunately, we can always confirm that the altitude is hardly ever a problem for our Spanish students*. We recommend to rest upon arrival, and take it easy during the first days so your body can adjust to the altitude before starting the Spanish classes in Cusco.
Arrival to Cusco
What does really happen in our body, when we arrive at the altitude in Cusco?
With each breath, you inhale a certain amount of oxygen. Your body is accustomed to this respective amount. If you go to a city at a higher elevation like Cusco (2500m or more; the altitude in Cusco is 3400 m above sea level), you will most likely show symptoms of altitude sickness.
Why? In higher elevations, the air pressure is less. This means that although the oxygen percentage in the air stays the same, you will still take in less oxygen with every breath you take because the air is less dense, or “thinner”. (This is one of the reasons airplanes are equipped with pressure equalization.)
The term “altitude sickness” implies that there is a cure for it. However, there isn’t. Practically the only cure would be to return to lower levels of altitude. You can, however, treat the individual symptoms.
What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?
Not everyone shows symptoms in the same manner, and not everyone is affected by altitude sickness in the first place.
The most common symptoms of altitude sickness or soroche, as it is called in Peru, you will experience during the first hours or first days in Cusco, are:
- Difficulty breathing
In more serious* cases symptoms can include:
- Heart racing
- Diarrhea or constipation
*this does not happen very often.
Should you really feel bad and should your symptoms not lessen after 72 hours, you better consult a doctor.
In a very exceptional case, the doctor will recommend getting yourself to a lower altitude, especially if you suffer from lung or heart problems.
Did you know that AMAUTA Spanish School is happy to count with an in-house medical assistance? There is a doctor available for you,
24 hours a day.
In case you want to travel to a lower altitude, you can think about studying Spanish at our Spanish school in the Sacred Valley of the Incas,
which is almost 1000 meters lower than Cusco.
What can you do to lessen the effects of altitude sickness?
Here are some tips to combat the symptoms of altitude sickness upon arrival in Cusco:
- Don’t exhaust yourself.
As mentioned, you are used to a certain oxygen level. Changing this requires you to adapt, and it´s best not to put more stress on your system. Don’t do hikes or any types of work outs on the first days in a higher elevation. It will also help to take deep breaths.
- Drink plenty of water.
Altitude sickness is hard to differentiate from dehydration. In any case, provide your body with lots of water to properly hydrate and support it while acclimating to the different oxygen level. Besides water, there are many Peruvian herb teas that are a nice alternative to water: mate de manzanilla, mate de anis, mate de coca.. Indeed, that’s coca tea.
- Stay away from alcohol.
Drinking alcohol will put additional strain on your body. As mentioned above, you might want to give yourself some rest during the first days of acclimation. Studies also show that alcohol has a stronger effect in higher altitudes. This means that you will get drunk faster than you are used to, so it´s important to be careful.
- Take baby steps to higher levels.
If possible, ascend slowly to places of higher altitude. If possible, travel by bus or car instead of by plane in order to adjust day by day. If on a hiking trip, it is important not to climb more than 1000 meters per day.
- Take medicine to reduce the symptoms.
Pharmacies do offer medicine against altitude sickness. Once you identify your symptoms, you can find medicine to minimize the discomfort.
- Consult a local doctor and get oxygen supplements.
As mentioned, not everyone reacts to altitude the same way. Some people show strong symptoms, whereas others suffer less or not at all. In severe cases, however, you should consider seeking a doctor to receive more oxygen through a tank.
When you take into account those tips, you should feel perfectly fine when starting your Spanish lessons in Peru!
We hope you have a better idea now of how the altitude will affect your body in Cusco.
For more info about the altitude or our Spanish courses in Peru, feel free to contact one of our course counselors.
*This blog is not professional medical advice. Consult a doctor if you have any doubts concerning your reaction to higher altitudes.