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 6am to 5pm. The principal Oficina de Información Turística is located at Portal de Harinas 177, on the Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/252-974). It’s open Monday through Sunday from 8am to 8pm. It sells the essential boleto turístico (tourist ticket; see “Cusco’s Boleto Turístico”).
A Safety Note
Cusco on the surface certainly seems to be an easygoing, if increasingly congested, Andean city, and I’ve never found it to be anything to the contrary. In Cusco, as in all of Peru, you’re much more likely to find locals warm and welcoming than threatening. Yet over the years there have been isolated reports of violent muggings (some using the “chokehold” method) on empty streets, as well as reports of rapes, attempted rapes, and other sexual assaults. While I have never had a problem in the city and never met anyone who has, it’s advisable to take some precautions and remain vigilant at all times, as you would anywhere. Incidents of drink-spiking at nightclubs have been reported; be aware of your drinking companions in bars and don’t allow strangers to buy you drinks. Do not walk alone late at night (young women should travel in groups larger than two); have restaurants and bars call registered taxis to transfer you to your hotel. Young people staying in inexpensive hostels should be particularly cautious of hotel visitors and belongings. It’s a good idea to be at your most vigilant, especially in the neighborhoods of San Blas, in the side streets leading off the Plaza de Armas, near the Central Market, and at bus and train hubs; still, robberies and attacks have occurred at the ruins at Sacsayhuamán on the outskirts of the city and even along the Inca Trail.
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