So, it’s been a week since we arrived in Cusco, Peru. It already feels like we’ve been travelling forever! We’re having a blast and have seen and experienced some pretty incredible things so far. However, we always want to be completely honest about our experiences, and after our first two days in Cusco, we definitely have some honest advice for all you travellers out there!
DON’T take altitude sickness lightly
We’re from Toronto, Canada, which means we live at almost no altitude at all. Cusco, Peru on the other hand is at 3400 metres above sea level. Having never travelled to high altitudes, we were definitely affected by the altitude when we arrived.
If you’re like us and do not have experience living at high altitudes, we would recommend starting somewhere in South America or Peru with a lower altitude than Cusco, and working your way up. Flying straight into Cusco will make it extra hard to acclimatize to such a dramatic altitude change.
It is more than likely that if you follow our route (straight to Cusco), you WILL experience altitude sickness in some form or another. Do NOT ignore these symptoms. They can be anything from shortness of breath, racing heart, nausea, vomitting, dizziness, headache and more. At different points, we both experienced all of these symptoms! Plenty of water, ibuprofen, prescribed altitude sickness pills and taking note of how you’re feeling will help you get through it. If your symptoms do not lessen within a few days or get worse, do NOT go higher in altitude until you are feeling better. In some cases, altitude sickness can cause death, so talk to your doctor and educate yourself on how to adjust safely!
DO take it easy the first few days
This goes hand in hand with the above point, but seriously, don’t do what we did our second day in Cusco! We were ambitious and decided to climb to the Cristo Blanco (or White Jesus); a giant sculpture perched at the top of the valley that is home to Cusco. Climbing that hill in the heat and sun while still feeling the effects of altitude sickness was definitely not our smartest idea! We crashed hard, and didn’t enjoy ourselves as much as we could have.
There are plenty of things to do in Cusco that don’t involve pushing yourself physically and mentally. Try enjoying a local cafe or restaurant in the artsy San Blas district, or strolling (leisurely) through the Plaza de Armas, or even checking out the Cathedral de Cusco located in the same plaza! These will help you acclimatize, get over any jet lag you might have, and let you appreciate the beautiful city you just arrived in!
DON’T underestimate the sun
Wow did we miss this one! Due to Peru’s high altitude, the UV rays are much stronger than they are in Canada and other parts of the world. We didn’t really find this out until the first day, when we applied our normal amounts of sunscreen (aka devon every hour or two, Alex twice a day). Fast forward to that evening when we both noticed just how red we were! These burns were incredibly painful and made for some very bad tan lines that were still VERY prominent a whole week later! Not only that, but both of us burned our heads on our hairlines (like full on blister burns ouch), which has never happened to either of us before!
Don’t be us…be wary of that sun! Wear a high SPF sunscreen and reapply often. Wear hats, and t-shirts to protect your shoulders!
DO go exploring
Just because you’ll be (hopefully taking our advice and) taking it easy your first few days in Cusco, doesn’t mean you have to stay in your hostel/hotel room and get bored. Don’t worry about doing everything your guide book says, and just get out there and walk around. The side streets are filled with friendly locals, cute little shops, alpacas (yes alpacas) to take pictures with, and tons of little locally owned restaurants to try out! This city is filled with a wonderful energy, so let go of any sort of regimented plan for the first two days, and just enjoy where you are!