How to Solve the Altitude Sickness Problem at Machu Picchu

Everyone experiences altitude sickness during a trip to the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru. There is a simple way to greatly minimize this. I did not invent it, but it has served me well during my two visits there.

Your trip will take you through, or past, these locations in this order. Altitudes are  approximate, because some parts of a town are hundreds of feet higher than wherever they set as the official altitude:
– Lima, sea level. Then you fly to…
– Cuzco, approx 11,000 ft. Then you take train or cab to or past…
– Pisac, approx 9800 ft. Continuing on train or cab to or past…
– Ollanta / Ollantaytanbo, approx 9200 ft. No roads past here, train only, to…
– Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu Village, approx 6700 ft. Take shuttle bus up the mountain to…
– Machu Picchu itself, approx 7900 ft.

Notice that Machu Picchu is much lower than Cuzco. That surprises most people.

I do not think the train goes to Pisac, but you can get there by cab.

Everyone has altitude problems in Cuzco, due to the sudden jump from sea level to 11,000 ft. Most tours stay in Cuzco for a day or two, then take the train to Aguas Calientes. During those 1 or 2 days everyone is feeling bad from the altitude. But it doesn’t have to be that way, using the following plan:

The trick that I’ve used is to go straight from the Cuzco Airport, by taxi, down into the Sacred Valley, and spend the first night or two in Pisac or Ollanta. The taxi ride will cost roughly $50. There probably are little microbuses that do that route also, but I haven’t checked.

The Sacred Valley has a lot of interesting Inca ruins, as well as markets for the locals and the tourists.

After a couple of days in the Sacred Valley and at Machu Picchu your body will be ready for the thin air back up at Cuzco, which is a very interesting city in its own right.

Then you can fly back to Lima, or to some other destination.

Machu Picchu, Peru

I’ve stayed at Wendy’s B&B in Ollanta both times I was there, and also at a small hotel on the main square in Pisac. Wendy’s B&B is located right next to the railroad tracks, and you can board the train there to its final stop at Aguas Calientes. Wendy is a friendly American ex-pat, and she can help you if you need anything. (One evening she, I and a couple of South Americans spent several hours passing around a bottle and discussing life and Middle East politics.)

One last tip: Take a hat and sunscreen to Machu Picchu. My first time there, I forgot and went to the only store up on the mountain (in the hotel), where I paid an inflated price for a small bottle of sunscreen.

I hope this information will be of help in your travel planning.