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Machu Picchu and headaches

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I've heard that due to high altitude and lack of oxygen you can get severe headaches in Machu Picchu. Is there anything you can take (and still pass a drug test when you get home!) to help this? :o

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I just returned from Tibet and Nepal, both countries having some pretty extreme altitudes. During our trip we took Diamox. It is a prescription drug that helps to abate the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). You can also purchase small canisters of oxygen in some of these ranges, though you can develop a dependancy on the oxygen and never acclimatize. Diamox works as a diuretic so you have to work very hard to stay hydrated. Also, refrain from drinking alcohol at those altitudes as it will exacerbate the effects of AMS.

AMS does not happen to every one. It is like sea sickness. Some people have it and some people dont.

 

I hope this helps.

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A friend was just at Macchu Pichu. One night her husband had a few alcoholic drinks. She said later he had a hard time breathing. He was at the window gasping for air. Not a fun night. :(

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Most hotels have coca tea, which helps a lot. Do not try to see too much the first day at altitude.

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Many hotels have oxygenated rooms as well. Suggest you look over on the Peru Tripadvisor forum as there is a sticky on altitude sickness. It is impossible to predict how badly the altitude will affect a person - age, fitness etc are not good indicators. Diamox is the recommended prescription drug but some people can't take it. Allowing the body time to adjust, not doing too much, drinking lots of water is the way to go but unfortunately for many, the time they have available means they can't allow a few extra days to acclimatise. By the way Machu Picchu should be fine as it is lower than Cusco which you will fly into. some people go to Ollantaytambo or other places in the Sacred Valley straight from the airport as they are lower as well.

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Most hotels have coca tea, which helps a lot. Do not try to see too much the first day at altitude.

 

I just researched this for another thread.

 

It appears there's no hard and fast evidence that coca tea is truly effective, though maybe a placebo effect is as good as anything. Having visited the Ecuadorian Andes drinking coca tea, then carrying diamox to Peru a year later, I'd opt for the diamox if possible. It's vital to consult with your doctor beforehand, of course, and diamox not only acts as a diuretic, necessitating increased bathroom stops and water consumption, but can cause side effects, though all I got was mild tingling in the fingers.

 

Acclimitization only goes so far. After spending a week in the Sacred Valley, we decided to forego diamox when we got back to Cusco, and still got splitting headaches and major exhaustion. A pill, and an hour later all was well.

 

Also be aware that altitude sickness can cause much more serious symptoms than a headache, up to and including death.

 

If you can do more than a hurried ship's tour, do it; the longer you can spend in the Sacred Valley, the better. (I did find Cusco kind of a gorgeous tourist trap, though.) Have fun!

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It appears there's no hard and fast evidence that coca tea is truly effective, though maybe a placebo effect is as good as anything. Having visited the Ecuadorian Andes drinking coca tea, then carrying diamox to Peru a year later, I'd opt for the diamox if possible. It's vital to consult with your doctor beforehand, of course, and diamox not only acts as a diuretic, necessitating increased bathroom stops and water consumption, but can cause side effects, though all I got was mild tingling in the fingers.

 

Coca tea forces the body to carry more oxygen in red blood cells. It also has been used for centuries as an analgesic and pain reliever. It fights fatigue and has a somewhat regulating effect on metabolism (which is why it fights fatigue).

 

I spend quite a bit of time in Cusco and Lake Titicaca buying products for my import business. I have a tendency towards AMS-had it once so bad, I seriously was going to come down out of the mountains even though I had not finished my business. Tried Diamox once-enough for me. Not only did I have to pee every 20 minutes, I almost got myself dehydrated. And EVERYTHING I drank tasted like "Fizzies" (if you are old enough to remember Fizzies). Enough already with the Diamoxx for me. It also cannot be used by anyone allergic to sulfa drugs-it can kill you.

 

Cocoa tea drank continuously works for me. When I get off the plane in Cusco, I go IMMEDIATELY to the little kiosks in the back of the parking lot. The ladies sell coca tea and bags of coca leaves. I drink a couple of quick cups of hot tea, take my bags of coca leaves and keep drinking the tea about every two hours for a couple of days. I drink a lot of iced tea year round so not much different. I make big strong batches of coca tea at a hotel and walk around with a large water bottle filled with it. If I REALLY feel the effects coming on, I will chew some of the coca leaves. Nasty tasting but beats the heck out of the headache and other problems.

 

Acclimitization only goes so far. After spending a week in the Sacred Valley, we decided to forego diamox when we got back to Cusco, and still got splitting headaches and major exhaustion. A pill, and an hour later all was well.

 

Also be aware that altitude sickness can cause much more serious symptoms than a headache, up to and including death.

 

If you can do more than a hurried ship's tour, do it; the longer you can spend in the Sacred Valley, the better. (I did find Cusco kind of a gorgeous tourist trap, though.) Have fun!

 

So true, so true. I have seen so many sick tourists on quickie 3 day, 2 night trips STUCK in a hotel room or having an absolutely miserable time at MP. Those tours pick you up at the airport by 9AM, take you to a hotel to "acclimatize" for a couple of hours and then throw you on a bus to climb Sacsayhuaman, go on a walking tour through Cusco up and down steps and generally put your life and happiness at risk. Oxygenated hotel rooms are another no-no as far as I am concerned. You NEVER get acclimated because you have the constant extra oxygen in a hotel room.

 

You REALLY need TIME to enjoy the trip. I never recommend less than 4 days. And the first day should be spent doing nothing more than walking through the Plaza at a very slow pace to look at the Cathedral and have some dinner.

 

Enjoy!!!

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I just researched this for another thread.

 

It appears there's no hard and fast evidence that coca tea is truly effective, though maybe a placebo effect is as good as anything. Having visited the Ecuadorian Andes drinking coca tea, then carrying diamox to Peru a year later, I'd opt for the diamox if possible. It's vital to consult with your doctor beforehand, of course, and diamox not only acts as a diuretic, necessitating increased bathroom stops and water consumption, but can cause side effects, though all I got was mild tingling in the fingers.

 

Acclimitization only goes so far. After spending a week in the Sacred Valley, we decided to forego diamox when we got back to Cusco, and still got splitting headaches and major exhaustion. A pill, and an hour later all was well.

 

Also be aware that altitude sickness can cause much more serious symptoms than a headache, up to and including death.

 

If you can do more than a hurried ship's tour, do it; the longer you can spend in the Sacred Valley, the better. (I did find Cusco kind of a gorgeous tourist trap, though.) Have fun!

 

Am on a Princess Cruise (12/5) that stops in Lima where we are getting off the ship & flying to Cusco for 2 nights then to Machu Picchu for 1 night then back to Cusco for 1 night before going back to Lima. Should we get a prescription for Diamox before we go?

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Am on a Princess Cruise (12/5) that stops in Lima where we are getting off the ship & flying to Cusco for 2 nights then to Machu Picchu for 1 night then back to Cusco for 1 night before going back to Lima. Should we get a prescription for Diamox before we go?

 

Diamox is prescription only in the USA. Sold in every pharmacy in Peru without prescription. But you really should check to make sure you can take it. It does have some nasty side effect and could kill you if you are allergic to sulfa drugs.

 

I don't understand your itinerary. Are you getting totally off the ship in Lima? If so, your scheduled works well. If not, check out your itinerary. It would be unusual for a ship to be berthed in Lima (Callao, which is one of the roughest areas of Lima) for 4 days.

 

Enjoy!!!

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Am on a Princess Cruise (12/5) that stops in Lima where we are getting off the ship & flying to Cusco for 2 nights then to Machu Picchu for 1 night then back to Cusco for 1 night before going back to Lima. Should we get a prescription for Diamox before we go?

This is a discussion to have with your physician. S/he can tell you if you are at a potential for risk due to contraindications.

 

I have taken Diamox at high altitudes, and it has save my vacation, but that was after a long discussion with my physician.

 

I had few side effects, and the tingling fingers and toes were worth not having splitting headaches.:)

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I am fortunate that the altitude does not bother me. My wife and I were in Switzerland and at 11,000 feet she got a headache.

The problem on the visits to Macchu Pichu is that is a one hour flight form sea level to 11,000 feet, so you do not have time to acclimatize. To take the train to Macchu Pichu from Cuzco, you go through a series of switchbacks that go up to 13,000 feet then descend into the Urabamba River Valley. Macchu Pichu is at 7,500 feet.

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I am fortunate that the altitude does not bother me. My wife and I were in Switzerland and at 11,000 feet she got a headache.

The problem on the visits to Macchu Pichu is that is a one hour flight form sea level to 11,000 feet, so you do not have time to acclimatize. To take the train to Macchu Pichu from Cuzco, you go through a series of switchbacks that go up to 13,000 feet then descend into the Urabamba River Valley. Macchu Pichu is at 7,500 feet.

 

Sad to say, the "zig zag" out of Cusco has now been eliminated for MP trips (you still get the zig zag on the train to Lake Titicaca although I have heard that is also going to be eliminated). The most fun part of the trip IMHO. When Orient Express took over lock, stock and barrel, they turned it into an "easy" tourist trip. You now board the train in Poroy (which is over the hill on the downside to the Urubamba Valley). Real shame that Orient Express tried to make the trip too "tourist-ized".

 

I have warned repeatedly about the trip from sea level to 11,000 feet (Lima to Cusco via air). Most just don't realize how hard that is on your body if you are not used to it. Someone wanted to land in Cusco, go on a tour in Cusco and THEN sleep in the Sacred Valley because they heard it would eliminate the possibility of AMS. NO, that touring around Cusco will bring it on VERY VERY fast. NOTHING beats time to acclimate.

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I am fortunate that the altitude does not bother me. My wife and I were in Switzerland and at 11,000 feet she got a headache.

The problem on the visits to Macchu Pichu is that is a one hour flight form sea level to 11,000 feet, so you do not have time to acclimatize. To take the train to Macchu Pichu from Cuzco, you go through a series of switchbacks that go up to 13,000 feet then descend into the Urabamba River Valley. Macchu Pichu is at 7,500 feet.

 

How long is the train ride? We are looking at a tour for next year.

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Diamox is prescription only in the USA. Sold in every pharmacy in Peru without prescription. But you really should check to make sure you can take it. It does have some nasty side effect and could kill you if you are allergic to sulfa drugs.

 

I don't understand your itinerary. Are you getting totally off the ship in Lima? If so, your scheduled works well. If not, check out your itinerary. It would be unusual for a ship to be berthed in Lima (Callao, which is one of the roughest areas of Lima) for 4 days.

 

Enjoy!!!

 

Am getting totally off the ship. Cruise ends in Santiago 4 days later, want to go to Machu Picchu so am "jumping ship" in Lima. Will get a prescription in the US & "test" it on us here after consult with Dr.

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Am getting totally off the ship. Cruise ends in Santiago 4 days later, want to go to Machu Picchu so am "jumping ship" in Lima. Will get a prescription in the US & "test" it on us here after consult with Dr.

Smart plan...

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Some people are affected by AMS and others not .

 

Machu Picchu is at an altitude of 2500n whereas Cuzco is 3000m and up at Lake Titicaca 4000m.

 

The cabins of commercial aircraft are pressurized to an altitude of 2500m typically . So if you fly 12 hours or more and suffer no ill effects you will probably be OK at 2500m and Machu Picchu.

 

Consult your Medico before going . Most people get told to take things easy for the first day or so at 2500m and higher . If feeling effects of altitude then the advice generally is to take Diamox then, but not as a preventative unless one knows from past experience that one is affected by AMS .

 

Most tours will have an itinerary that has a couple of days at 2500 - 3000m with minimal activities before going to MP. Most Hotels and Tour buses also carry oxygen cylinders .

 

I was there May 2012 and spent 2 days in Cuzco acclimatizing before going onto Sacred Valley , Machu Picchu, La Raya (4200m) on the Andean Explorer train, and 4000m at Lake Titicaca . Only effects were a dry mouth and increased thirst at Lake Titicaca.

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If feeling effects of altitude then the advice generally is to take Diamox then, but not as a preventative unless one knows from past experience that one is affected by AMS.

 

Um, not to seem argumentative, but that's not what I was told...which was to start a day or two before altitude gain. Just double-checked, and that's the manufacturer's recommendation: "It is preferable to initiate dosing 24 to 48 hours before ascent and to continue for 48 hours while at high altitude, or longer as necessary to control symptoms." (http://www.drugs.com/pro/diamox.html) Anyway, many people going to Cusco probably haven't made such a rapid ascent before, so don't have previous experience to refer to.

 

I'd leave dosing instructions to one's personal physician.

Edited by shepp

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We did a trip to Machu Picchu April 2012 off our ship. We only had 4 days and 3 nights before re-joining the ship. We took the medication starting 2 days before the trip and continued for the 3 days of the trip as prescribed by our physician.

We landed in Cuzco about 7:30 am, toured around that area seeing historical sites before being dropped at our hotel in the Sacred Valley. We traveled to MP the next morning, visited the site, stayed overnight at the Sanctuary Lodge, did some further touring around the site before heading back to Cuzco to stay the night. There were 4 of us all over 55 and with the medication, none of us had any problem with altitude sickness. We did have some tingling in our hands but no big deal. However as at least one person has said each person is different.

Have a great trip to MP, it was the highlight of our vacation.

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The cabins of commercial aircraft are pressurized to an altitude of 2500m typically . So if you fly 12 hours or more and suffer no ill effects you will probably be OK at 2500m and Machu Picchu.
As someone who lives at about 7000 feet (2200m) and vacations at higher elevations, I can assure you that there is a huge difference between sitting pretty much inert on a plane and hiking around Machu Picchu. Just because you can handle sitting doesn't mean you won't suffer the effects of AMS should you exert yourself.

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Sad to say, the "zig zag" out of Cusco has now been eliminated for MP trips (you still get the zig zag on the train to Lake Titicaca although I have heard that is also going to be eliminated). The most fun part of the trip IMHO. When Orient Express took over lock, stock and barrel, they turned it into an "easy" tourist trip. You now board the train in Poroy (which is over the hill on the downside to the Urubamba Valley). Real shame that Orient Express tried to make the trip too "tourist-ized".

I have warned repeatedly about the trip from sea level to 11,000 feet (Lima to Cusco via air). Most just don't realize how hard that is on your body if you are not used to it. Someone wanted to land in Cusco, go on a tour in Cusco and THEN sleep in the Sacred Valley because they heard it would eliminate the possibility of AMS. NO, that touring around Cusco will bring it on VERY VERY fast. NOTHING beats time to acclimate.

 

I went to Machu in 1953, closer to the time it was discovered than now. The only hotel for people who had enough money to fly was 'Hotel Tourista' They had a fireplace in the lobby, and many people gathered around it to have a Brandy, which was the prefered warming beverage. The dress code in the dining room was coat, but they allowed me with just a leather (Not really good against cold) jacket.

Went to the movies with a French girl who had just graduated from the U. of California, but we went back to the hotel before the second feature due to the cold.

The next day I found they turned the water heater on a 7AM, when we had to leave for the train, and turned it off a 5PM, before we got back! Was really glad to get back to Miraflores, but very glad I saw this marvel of the ancient world.

I can't imagine trying to make the trip super-sanitized and easy, Hiram Bingham would turn over in his grave!!

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MP is lower than is Cuzco, and you will certainly go to Cuzco first. I did take the train and would bet money it does not go up to 13,000' but have no specific evidence to the contrary (besides, sitting in a train is quite different than walking). Altitude sickness is a very individual thing, so predicting what will affect one person is impossible. You should consult a physician about your own case before asking anonymous strangers. You may have no difficulties, but could also conceivably have a condition making high altitudes more than uncomfortable. I would not recommend a drug, particuarly one that requires a prescriptio in at least some places, to someone whose condition I'm not familiar with (particuarly since I am not a doctor).

 

There are several prescription and non-prescription medications. When I worked at the U.S. Consualte in Rio and was traveling to Bolivia (La Paz is much higher than Cuzco), the medical office prescribed a sulfa drug for me. My wife, who is allergic to sulfa drugs, could not take it. She did not get headaches but had trouble breathing at times.

Edited by Fattony

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I just wanted to thank all those that responded. We will consult with a physician on this before we schedule a trip. I am really worried about this and am a little scared, but still want to try this adventure before we get older (we are in our 30's now).

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I just wanted to thank all those that responded. We will consult with a physician on this before we schedule a trip. I am really worried about this and am a little scared, but still want to try this adventure before we get older (we are in our 30's now).

 

Good lord. I climbed Huayna Picchu (that big peak behind the ruins) a few years back; I was over 60.

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I just wanted to thank all those that responded. We will consult with a physician on this before we schedule a trip. I am really worried about this and am a little scared, but still want to try this adventure before we get older (we are in our 30's now).

 

We did trekking in Tibet and Nepal this year at a higher altitude. We are in our lte 40s and early 50s. While we were a bit uncomfortable at times, overall we were fine. We did take Diamox after discussing our options with our physicians. It helped us.

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I used to live in Colorado over 8000 ft and I'm a Florida native. I'm surprised no one has mentioned DRINK...DRINK constantly!! Water, water, water! You should never be without water on you! Forget alcohol for the time when you'll be at a high altitude as it exacerbates the problem. Also, as a horrible headache sufferer I can tell you that at increased altitude, you are closer to the sun and there is less atmosphere protecting you. Don't forget to use sunglasses, hats and sunscreen. The sun can give you one devil of a headache. Since I'm from Florida, I thought I could handle any amount of sun...got sun poisoning the first time I tried to 'lay out' in Colorado. If you don't have time to acclimatize, just understand that you will need a little extra time and oxygen. Don't push yourself. And of course, have fun!

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