How to Survive Altitude Sickness in Huaraz, Peru

Huaraz | © Diego Giannoni/Flickr
Harry Stewart

Most travelers come to Huaraz in search of high-altitude adventures, whether it be trekking through the stunning Huascarán National Park or scaling one of the region’s many formidable peaks. Yet the dizzying heights these activities entail can be dangerous, even deadly, so it’s of utmost importance to properly acclimatize to avoid putting yourself at risk. Here’s how.

Spend some time taking it easy

At 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) above sea level, the city of Huaraz is the perfect place to acclimatize before venturing into the mountains. Travelers coming in from sea level absolutely must spend some time in the city before embarking on a multi-day adventure. Otherwise, they risk becoming seriously ill in an isolated region.

Everyone is different in terms of adjusting to the altitude, so the amount of time it takes to acclimatize varies from person to person. The best course of action is to listen to your body. If you still feel dizzy or nauseous after several days, don’t even think about heading to even greater heights.

As a general rule, most people need about three days in Huaraz before doing longer treks such as Santa Cruz or attempting to climb a peak.


Consider taking Diamox

There is no magic pill to prevent altitude sickness, but a prescription medication called Diamox is the next best thing. Although it does not completely negate the effects, Diamox is known to mitigate them to a substantial degree and is particularly useful for people who are prone to suffering severely. Diamox is not suitable for everyone, so be sure to consult your doctor before considering this option.

Huscaran National Park

Drink some coca tea

Known as Mate de Coca in Spanish, this sacred medicinal plant has been used by the native inhabitants for generations to reduce the effects of soroche (altitude sickness). The most effective method is to chew the leaves along with a catalyst such as bicarb soda. The taste is a little bitter, so most visitors prefer to consume coca in tea instead. Mate de Coca is readily available in almost all local restaurants, general stores and markets.

Coca tea

Ascend slowly

Altitude sickness has a greater effect depending on how quickly travelers ascend, therefore reaching Huaraz in stages is ideal. Unfortunately, however, there isn’t much of interest in the region at a lower level so most people arrive directly from Lima. Those who are particularly susceptible to altitude might consider spending a few days checking out the attractions in Caraz at 7,401 feet (2,256 meters) before ascending to the much higher Huaraz.

Local house in Caraz

Do some day hikes to acclimatize

After a day or two getting over the shock of arriving at such heights, most travelers set off on some of the regions incredible day hikes. Not only do they get to see some amazing scenery, but their bodies also get used to exerting themselves in the thin mountain air. Even just one or two-day hikes provides excellent preparation for the region’s more challenging multi-day treks or climbs.

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