Archive | Acclimitizing RSS feed for this section

With May Comes Huge Crowds to Cusco

1 May

Alpaca Logo 2013

Welcome to May everyone! We have officially entered the heart of the busiest time for tourism in this area. Many of you have treks coming up shortly and we just wanted to remind you of some key preparation points.

Cusco will begin getting overwhelmed with tourists and places will be booked.  Make sure you have all your reservations set for your upcoming trek.  Confirm your flights coming into the city – airlines are often changing the times.  It’s good to do a double check on everything about 2 weeks before you plan on arriving to Cusco.

Most important is weather. While May is part of the dry season here in Cusco, weather is completely unpredictable and it can absolutely rain at any moment. Be prepared. I have reminded everyone to bring jackets, pants and waterproof gloves. Especially for those of you trekking, when you are using your walking sticks your hands are exposed. Being wet with frozen hands is not fun. Please bring everything and hopefully you will only enjoy sun and can return it when you get back home.

Passports.  Please remember that not only does the Inca Trail permit have your passport listed on it, but all train tickets and entrances to Machu Picchu also require your current passport number.  You must show this when you enter each of those placesISIC and your passport needs to match what is on the ticket.  If you have received a new passport number, please give us the number immediately.  Also for you STUDENTS – only green ISIC cards will reward you with a discount, but this card must be valid and with you to allow you onto the Inca Trail or into Machu Picchu.  They check and they will not grant you access if you have a student ticket and no student ISIC card.

Pack light.  No matter which tour you are doing – train or trek – the trains to and from Aguas Calientes limit the size of your luggage to nothing larger than 8kg.  If you are doing a tour by train and have no small bag, please let our office know and we will lend you a small duffel bag.  Every hotel in Cusco is used to this and will store your larger luggage safely.  If you are not comfortable with this, we can do so as well.

Checking in to our office is very important.  We need to know that you have arrived safely to the city and are aware of your start times, no matter which tour you are doing.  Our office is located very close to the main square at Calle Heladeros 157, Office 24 – 25 on the 2nd floor. I am sure your hotel can help you to find where we are located. Please note that we are not the blue door that says ALPACA, that is another company across the street from us – we have a small black plaque above the doorframe that says in gold writing – ALPACA EXPEDITIONS and we are on the second floor of that building.

The altitude effects everyone differently and there is no way to predict this.  Even those of you that are avid skiiers and have spent some time in the mountains can suffer and some people have no effects at all.  It’s good to be prepared.  I definitely recommend visiting your Primary Care Physician or a travel doctor and getting some DIAMOX.  This should be a small dosage – either 125 mg twice a day or 250 mg once a day.  Try to not get the 500mg dosage – it is a diuretic.  Also, drink lots of liquid – non-alcoholic guys – this also helps acclimate.

Travel insurance is a good idea for those of you trekking.  Just in case someone does get hit hard with the effects of altitude sickness.  We have recommended a great insurance agent that can help, but honestly you can find others right online.  And this is really inexpensive.  Our point of contact is Jill Roth and she can be contacted at

If there is something you think we should address as far as other advice, please let us know and we will add.  Also check our website with some handy packing lists…

Journey is the Destination




Does chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea help with altitude sickness?

1 Aug

File:Mate de coca Peru.jpgAltitude sickness comes in three basic forms: acute mountain sickness, high-altitude pulmonary edema and high-altitude cerebral edema. Acute mountain sickness is the most common, as it affects more than 50 percent of people who ascend higher than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) in a relatively short time span. It’s caused by the lower levels of oxygen in the air at high elevations; your lungs can’t take in as much oxygen as they’re used to and your heart and lungs have to work harder to keep your blood oxygenated. Symptoms of acute mountain sickness include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headaches and difficulty sleeping. Acute mountain sickness usually goes away within a few days as long as you remain well hydrated and stay at the same altitude until the symptoms pass.

Among the ways people have traditionally relieved the symptoms of mild altitude sickness is by chewing or making tea with coca leaves. Many workers in Central and South America, especially those in the Andes in Peru, who spend time at high altitudes use coca leaves to alleviate the discomfort.  The leaves of the coca plant contain alkaloids which–when extracted chemically–are the source for cocaine base. However, the amount of coca alkaloid in the raw leaves is small. A cup of coca tea prepared from one gram of coca leaves (the typical contents of a tea bag) contains approximately 4.2 mg of organic coca alkaloid.  Owing to the presence of these alkaloids, coca tea is a mild stimulant; its consumption may be compared to consumption of coffee or tea.

At the end of the day, there is no scientific evidence on whether or not the leaves actually help.  We have asked all our Alpaca trekkers and each one has a different answer, but they all seeem to enjoy participating in the Peruvian tradition of coca tea in the morning, especially when its delivered to your tent as your wake up call by your amazing Alpaca guide.

Let us know – did the coca leaves help you when you visited Peru?

CNN Article: Pilgrimage to Machu Picchu: Six tips

2 Jul

By Richard Bangs, Special to CNN

 Watch this video


  • Going directly to Machu Picchu may help alleviate altitude sickness
  • Hold onto your entrance ticket so you can exit to use facilities and re-enter
  • You can go by foot or train; be sure to book early

(CNN) — Machu Picchu. It’s on most everybody’s bucket list, and for good reasons. It is one of the most transcendentally beautiful spots on earth. But how do you get to the Peruvian Andes, and what do you do to make the trip easy, comfortable and meaningful?

It’s not the attitude, but the altitude

Cuzco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, is more than 11,000 feet above sea level, a height that can cause altitude sickness, especially for travelers coming from low elevations. Machu Picchu is at 7,874 feet, so the best plan to mitigate altitude sickness is to arrive at Cuzco in the morning (the first flight from Lima departs at 6 a.m.) and then immediately grab the first train down to Machu Picchu. Enjoy Cuzco on the back end after acclimatization.

How do you get there?

Several airlines have direct service from U.S. gateways to Lima, and from there it is an hour flight to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital. LAN Airlines has the most direct routing as it serves several major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Miami, with a seamless link to Cuzco.

Once in Cuzco the choices are generally foot or train down to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is a five-day trek over some high passes. It is a spectacular way to enter the citadel of Machu Picchu, but it requires a measure of fitness. It is easy to take several types of trains the 70 miles from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the Lost City. The most deluxe train experience is the one-car Incan Princess.

Once at Aguas Calientes it is a bus ride up a steep, severe chevron of a road to the Sacred City of the Inca. The government now limits the number of visitors to 5,000 a day, so it’s best to get your ticket in advance, as some folks have been turned away at the entrance gate after making the long trip. You can make your own arrangements or book through a number of veteran outfitters such as Mountain Travel Sobek. They will arrange all tickets, transfers, transport, accommodations and guides.

When is the best time to see Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is open year-round, but October to April is the rainy season, and therefore it has the fewest visitors. The inconvenience of rain is offset by the lack to tourists, and it is worth considering. Avoid holidays if you can, as Machu Picchu and everything surrounding it is packed. Once at Aguas Calientes (hotel tip: check in at The Inkaterra), to avoid the crowds and witness one of the most spectacular sunrises in the world, take the first bus from Aguas Calientes, which leaves at 5:30 a.m. It’s worth it.

Hints for inside the citadel

There are no bathrooms, restaurants or drinking water once you enter the site, but there are facilities just before the entrance. So hold onto your entrance ticket so you can exit and re-enter. Pack sunscreen, a sun hat and water. Weather in the Andes can also change in an instant, so you should also pack a rain jacket. Sturdy shoes are a must. If you are in reasonable shape, sign up to climb Huayna Picchu, the famous peak within the ruins that appears in most photos. They only allow 400 a day to climb, so sign up the day before and go early for best views.

What else can you do in the area?

If you have time, sign up for the day raft trip on the Urubamba through the Sacred Valley of the Incas — one of the most spectacular float trips in the world. And, of course, plan on spending at least two days in Cuzco, a unique blend of European and Inca sensibilities with superb restaurants, hotels and accessible ruins.

And try to make a stop at the nearby Pisac market, one of the most colorful bazaars in the world. Most people visit Pisac on Sunday, the main market day, but there are smaller markets on Tuesday and Thursday.

Finally, consider extending your trip to other wonders of South America, including the Galapagos, Easter Island and Iguazu, all of which are served by LAN Airlines, with Lima as the hub.

What makes Machu Picchu so special?

There is a harmony of elements here, the man-made and the natural. It is a stunning integration of architecture, setting, function, space and form. The Inca knew something we seek: When order combines with complexity, when elegance appears effortless and when there is a coherent but unspoken relationship among the parts, then there is enduring beauty.

Richard Bangs is the producer for the upcoming public television special, “South America: Quest for Wonder.”