Friday, May 10, 2013

Coca leaves and coca tea for altitude, and visiting some amazing Inca sites

Before going to Cusco we were advised by a number of friends who had been there to take it easy about altitude. Don't drink the night before, relax for one day in the hotel, drink coca tea... all good advice that helped us to adapt to the altitude. And in fact as soon as we landed in Cusco we felt it: one set of stairs had us puffing! We arrived at the hotel and the first thing they did was to offer us a coca tea. It tastes really nice, like a mild green tea. In the lobby there were also coca leaves to chew, and oxygen bottles, just in case. We didn't need those, but every time I went to the lobby I could see newly arrived guests relaxing on the sofas with a coca tea, all a little wary and slow. FYI, coca leaves and tea are legal in Peru, just don't take them back to your own country! Coca helps with altitude, but most importantly remember to take it slowly, just look at the elevations below!

Taypikala Hotel Cusco

Cusco: elevation 3,399 m high, the old part of the city has lots of ups and down streets which can make you tired. Just rest in the hotel for the first day and sleep a lot, eat light meals (there are excellent quinoa soups in Cusco) and plan to visit the city on your second day!

Saksaywaman: elevation 3,701, an Inca fortess in the outskirts of Cusco, easy to reach by taxi, but as it is even higher that Cusco make sure that you have adjusted to the altitude first, and then you can have fun (look at Max sliding!)! From Saksaywaman (which means 'satisfied falcon' and not 'sexy woman')  you can look down to Cusco city! 

Pisac: the city (Colonial Pisac) is 2972 m high, but the ruins (Inca Pisac) are a bit higher. The Inca terraces are incredible, and the irrigation system too; this is another "must see"! 

The Sacred Valley, you can see the Andes from here, and the Urubamba river (which feeds into the Amazon river). I am not sure how high we were (we just stopped on the side of the road to take photos) but we were told by our guide that we were over 3,800 m. high.

Ollantaytambo: elevation 2,792 m. Fortunately we 'went down' a bit here, because this archeological site needs quite a bit of going up steps! We had to take it a little at the time to cover all the terraces and get to the top, but after Machu Picchu this was possibly my favourite site.

And of course there is Machu Picchu, elevation 2,430 (so considerably lower than other sites, but harder to reach). This place is so special that I have another post here with all the photos, in case you are interested. Everything was so beautiful that I think I left a piece of my heart in Peru.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini © 


  1. Peru seems so interesting and beautiful. I wish I could visit too...

  2. I LOVE travel posts and thank you so much for sharing. Nice blue door - firs thing I thought of is that I want to use that door for my photo shoot. :D Never heard of coca leaves and tea. Such a gorgeous place. I remember my brother visited machu pichu when he was in college. I saw the pictures and I was very impressed!

  3. WOW! And I thought I was high up on Australia's highest point at just 2228 metres!!!! Your photos make these places look AMAZING - but I think I have enough trouble walking up the stairs as it is ...

    1. Yes here altitude has a completely different meaning :-)

  4. The pictures look beautiful Alessandra!

  5. Thank you Gloria, how are you?

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