Please consult your health-care provider 4-6 weeks prior to travel to ensure you are receiving all required vaccinations and that the medication has enough time to take effect. We highly recommend the purchase of travel insurance with medical benefits and that you bring any personal medication with you. Please also check with your health department prior to departure for any changes in health regulations.
Visitors are advised to take precautions if planning to travel to the Amazon region for several days. Precautions against malaria and immunization against typhoid, tetanus, Hepatitis A and yellow fever is sensible (though not required). It is recommended not to use tap water for drinking or tooth brushing.
Risk of Altitude Sickness
The most common ailments for travelers to Peru is altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can strike even the fittest, healthiest traveler. As soon as you pass the 8,000 feet mark, you are at risk from acute mountain sickness (AMS), the mildest and most common form of the condition. More severe forms also exist: high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral oedema (HACE). Both can occur near 8,000 feet, but are more common at heights of about 12,000 feet (3,600m) and over.
There is no way to know beforehand if you are susceptible to altitude sickness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “how a traveler has responded to high altitude previously is the most reliable guide for future trips, but is not infallible.”
Altitude Sickness Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of acute altitude sickness include:
loss of appetite
The www.altitude.org website describes the symptoms as “very similar to a really bad hangover.” The two more severe forms of altitude sickness, HAPE and HACE, show similar, albeit heightened, symptoms, sometimes with additional symptoms such as a severe cough, blue lips or irrational behavior.
In all cases, the best treatment is descent. If heading to a lower altitude isn’t an option, stay where you are and rest for a day or two. Acetazolamide (diamox) tablets can also help. Whatever you do, don’t go any higher.
Altitude Sickness Prevention
Successful prevention is obviously preferable to treatment, so keep the following guidelines in mind before heading to high altitude locations:
A slow ascent is always the best option. Whenever possible, give your body time to adjust to the altitude. Proper acclimatization is the best defense against altitude sickness.
Take it easy for the first 24 hours at altitude — don’t overexert yourself and don’t go any higher. This is particularly important if you are flying.
Avoid alcohol, tobacco and sleeping pills. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Eat high-carbohydrate foods (such as pasta, potatoes and bread).
Drink coca tea or chew coca leaves upon arrival at altitude and during your stay. While largely unproven scientifically, the locals swear by it. Be aware that coca leaves, while legal in Peru, can make a drug test prove positive for cocaine.
Medication is also an option. Acetazolamide (diamox) is the most common type of “soroche pill.” Further options exist, but they are no substitute for proper acclimatization. Always consult your doctor before taking altitude sickness medication.
High Altitude Destinations in Peru
Altitude sickness won’t be an issue in towns and cities located along the coast and in the lowland jungle regions of Peru. In the highlands, however, you can soon find yourself at heights of 8,000 feet (2,500m) and above — the point at which altitude sickness can occur.