One of the most common questions we hear from parents considering a trip to Peru with children is; how will they cope with acclimating to altitude? It’s a valid concern. So here we are to share our experiences after many years of travels to Peru with children.
Make no mistake – at 3400m (11,154 ft) in altitude Cusco is among the higher cities on the planet. If you should decide to visit Lake Titicaca, Puno is a whopping 3827m (12,555 ft) and a road trip includes crossing over La Raya pass which is 4,313 m (14,150 ft).
So any trip to Peru with children should be carefully planned with consideration. Especially acclimating to altitude and how it might affect you and your kids.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Mild Altitude Sickness?
Symptoms of altitude sickness tend to occur within hours after arrival at high altitude. They include headache, nausea, shortness of breath and inability to exercise. You generally feel lethargic and can be a little dizzy. Insomnia and difficulty sleeping are other common symptoms.
Serious altitude sickness includes an increase in severity of those symptoms. If they are strong or unbearable then seek medical assistance. For example, shortness of breath can develop so it is hard to breath, and when a feeling of tiredness develops into extreme fatigue we would be seeking help.
You should properly research and seek medical before going to altitude. So that you can be fully prepared of what to look for when at altitude. Also, how acclimating to altitude will affect you.
What Age Should I Travel To Peru With Kids (Considering Acclimating To Altitude Issues)?
With babies, toddlers, and small children that aren’t easily able to communicate (e.g., under approx. 4 years) the very valid concern is that they might not be able to articulate how they are feeling so you can identify it as altitude sickness.
For example, one of the milder symptoms of altitude sickness is a headache and a general feeling of being unwell. In pre-verbal children this is going to translate as irritability. Frankly, given they can often be ‘off’ due to the teething or even a change in the routine, it is going to be hard for parents to determine if they are sick from altitude sickness.
We’ve successfully traveled to altitude various times with children under 4, so it is doable, but you need to be well prepared.
In children above 4, who can better explain what they are feeling, we feel that with a cautious and well planned approach means you can have a great trip to Peru with kids.
How Long Do I Need To Acclimatize Properly With Children?
We believe that more than 3 days is necessary for acclimating to altitude properly if you are going to do a high altitude trek, and by that we mean 4 or 5 days. Plenty of travel agents and tour operators will say that you only need 2 days to do the Inca trail but we disagree!
If you are intending to trek and go up to 4000m (13,123 ft ) then we believe that cautiousness always pays off. We’d acclimatize as long as your itinerary allows if doing higher treks with children (at least 4 days).
If you are not trekking then ‘going slow’ for the first 2 days should be enough.
These Are The Tips We Follow For Acclimating To Altitude With Kids
1. Acclimatize Slowly
The best way to acclimatize is going up in 500m (1600 ft.) increments daily, and if you go to a higher altitude, sleep lower.
If you have time, and Arequipa is on your itinerary, it is a great place to do start acclimatizing. Personally, we’ve acclimatized here for a few days before flying onto Cusco.
In the case of modern day travel, especially for visits to Cusco and Machu Picchu, we recommend flying into Cusco and then traveling directly to the Sacred Valley via the Pisaq route. The Chinchero route, though faster, goes over a 3700 m (12,139 ft) pass.
After spending a couple of days at the Sacred Valley you can choose the next stop on your itinerary – for logistical purposes we choose Machu Picchu in our suggested Peru itinerary. However, other people might head to Cusco, leaving Machu Picchu for the end of their trip.
2. Go Slow And Be Kind To Your Bodies
I know very few families who ‘go slow’ in the days leading up to a holiday departure. By nature, they tend to be rushed and frantic days. Then, we hop on flights and place our bodies under other types of stress before arriving in a foreign country and launching into a busy itinerary.
In general, we recommend ALL travelers take it easy for the first few days but ESPECIALLY if you have children. Then especially if you are acclimating to altitude.
By this we mean having few activities planned, and a conscious effort to get to bed early and get plenty of rest. It is tempting to want to “do everything” but we believe that a focus on rest helps with acclimatization. In short, don’t over exert yourself during the first few days at altitude!
We took our Ergobaby 360 on many long haul travels to give the kids a rest. Acclimating to altitude with kids is a process and the Ergobaby 360 gave their little legs a needed rest. We purchased ours on Amazon. Check here for the latest prices.
A special note for long haul travelers:
We are Australian, and for us to get to Lima is often over 30 hours flying. Without fail, when we get to Lima we are physically and mentally stretched. When the kids were really young, jet lag and adapting to the new time zones was tricky. In order for our bodies to recuperate and be strong prior to hitting altitude we spent up to a week on the coast. We’d highly recommend a few days in cosmopolitan Lima if you can – see our post Things To Do In Lima For Kids here and our post Places To Stay In Lima with Kids here.
3. Carry Oxygen
Reputable travel companies should always have an oxygen bottle in their vehicles. If you are traveling independently you can buy “Oxishot’ disposable oxygen cartridges. If you are feeling off – then a shot of oxygen can help tremendously. Check here for the pricing of disposable oxygen shots on Amazon.
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Lots of liquid can help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. Water is the best option. We always try to impact our travel, so we recommend carrying your own water bottle and refilling in your hotels.
Here are some of our favorite water bottles and containers for trekking or sight seeing.
Coca tea also helps tremendously, and is an age old remedy in Peru. Coca is not the same thing as cocaine, and we’ve given our children coca tea to drink – but this is of course a personal choice.
(Not applicable for children but coffee and alcohol hinder the acclimatization process).
5. Altitude Sickness Medication
We have never taken Diamox (or Acetazolamide) during any of our trips to Peru, or pre kids trips in the Himalayas and Tibet. However, that doesn’t mean it might not be an option for your family.
We understand from many people that it most definitely helps with acclimatization. Though, arguably, people don’t know if they would have suffered symptoms as the tablets mask them.
If you are interested, definitely talk to your travel doctor about Pros & Cons of taking the some kind of tablets.
There are some medical studies that indicate Ginkgo Biloba helps with altitude sickness, you might want investigate this further, and see if it is right for your family.
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