Altitude Acclimatization — You’ll need to take it easy for the first few hours or even couple of days in Cusco — which sits at an altitude of just over 11,000 feet — to adjust to the elevation. Pounding headaches and shortness of breath are the most common ailments, though some travelers are afflicted with severe nausea (others may little feel effects of the altitude except when walking up Cusco’s steep hills). Drink lots of water, avoid heavy meals, and do as the locals do: Drink mate de coca, or coca-leaf tea. (Don’t worry, you won’t get high or arrested, but you will adjust a little more smoothly to the thin air.) If that doesn’t cure you, ask whether your hotel has an oxygen tank you can use for a few moments of assisted breathing. If you’re really suffering, look for an over-the-counter medication in the pharmacy called “Soroche Pills.” And if that doesn’t do the trick, it may be time to seek medical assistance. Those who think they may have an especially hard time with the altitude might consider staying the first couple of nights in the slightly lower Sacred Valley (near Urubamba, Yanahuara, or Ollantaytambo).
As the top tourist destination in Peru, Cusco is well equipped with information outlets. There’s a small, occasionally unoccupied branch of the Oficina de Información Turística (tel. 084/237-364) at the Velasco Astete Airport in the arrivals terminal; it’s open daily from 6:30am to 12:30pm. The principal Oficina de Información Turística is located on Mantas 117-A, a block from the Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/222-032). It’s open Monday through Saturday from 7am to 7pm and Sunday from 7am to noon. It sells the essential boleto turístico (tourist ticket). However, the iPerú office,Av. El Sol 103, Of. 102 (tel. 084/252-974), has been better stocked with information and much more helpful on recent visits; it’s open daily from 8:30am to 7:30pm. Another information office is in the Terminal Terrestre de Huanchaq train station, Av. Pachacútec s/n (tel. 084/238-722); it’s open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 6:30pm.
South American Explorers has an office and club in Cusco at Choquechaca 188, no. 4 (tel. 084/245-484; www.saexplorers.org). The office stores luggage, maintains lists of trail reports for members, and has a library of useful information for trekking and mountaineering. If you’re traveling extensively, and independently, through Peru, it’s worth becoming a member of this helpful group.