Prepping for the trek to Machu Picchu – Altitude Adjustment in Cusco

I was looking forward to this trip for over a year. Four days of camping and backpacking our way to Machu Picchu, before hopping to the Galapagos Islands. How do you prepare for such a trip? It’s a smart idea to train a bit ahead of time, to try and ensure you’re ready for a series of long hikes at pretty extreme altitudes. We had good intention to do such training, but work schedules and the trials of life got in the way. And before we knew it, it was time to go!


Our adventure began in Cusco, a small city (400k people) sitting 11,000′ up in the Andes. Our accommodations, The Quinoa Villa Boutique, were perfect and we especially enjoyed the views from the terrace. We were told that it’s wise to stay in Cusco a few days to get better acclimated to the altitude, especially before a trek. For me, effects were a light-head and slight dizziness – like a nice buzz. Unfortunately, Bry’s experience was a bit miserable. Nauseous the first two days, he joined me for dinner our first night (at Marcello Batata) unable to eat our fabulous menu of stuffed potatoes (Cuzco offers tons of potatoes served every which way – we were told that Peru grows over 3000 different kinds!) and sauteed honey and garlic alpaca.


Locals have a variety of natural remedies for altitude sickness. Chewing on coca leaves seems to be their solution to almost any problem, but I would suggest that if altitude hits you, take it easy until you body gets used to the new environment. Arriving a few days early to prepare for the hike was crucial advice!


Our time in Cusco was incredible despite the brief illness. We spent much of our time exploring narrow, cobblestone streets; shopping for alpaca ponchos, hats and scarves. The adorable mountain town has so much character. One of the most popular spots is Plaza de Armas, surrounded by shops, restaurants, and (of course) a Catholic Cathedral – gorgeous. We learned that the Peruvians are Catholic due to the Spanish, but still hold onto some Incan religious elements, especially the concept of ‘Pacha Mama‘ (Mother Earth).


My highlight was a morning paraglide over the Sacred Valley of the Incas. After an early morning pickup at our hotel and a drive into the mountains, I stood upon a hill overlooking the fertile valley. I stepped from the car and was grabbed by the arm and told “No time for instruction! The wind is good!” The instructor was moving quickly, wanting to catch the good wind and before I knew it we were running off a cliff! I have a  real love of heights, feeling a surreal euphoria as we soared over the Sacred Valley, the magnificent Andes surrounding me.


On our last night in Cusco we were joined for a drink by our guide, Jorge, as he provided instructions for the 4 day trek. Jorge was friendly, spoke English perfectly, and did an outstanding job at making me giddily excited for the start of our hike… at 4AM the next morning! Wine and rest were in order for the evening – big days ahead!

To be continued…


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