I have been to Peru eight or nine times and have only gotten sick twice. The last time was on a bus ride that seemed like it would never end. I spent the last two hours locked in the bathroom. It wasn’t pretty.
Since then I have learned a few tricks to stay healthy while in Peru.
1) Wash your hands before meals.
2) Don’t drink the tap water.
3) Don’t use tap water to brush your teeth.
4) Avoid eating raw vegetables and fruits unless you know that they have been washed with purified water. This is becoming more and more common in areas frequented by tourists, such as Cusco and parts of Lima.
5) Avoid eating food from street vendors or anything that looks suspect.
6) Watch out for altitude sickness. If you know that you are susceptible to altitude sickness, have a plan for the days when you will be traveling to high altitudes.
I had altitude sickness both times I was ill in Peru. Now, I learn the altitudes of the locations I will be traveling to so that I can start my altitude medication in time to avoid another bout of soroche, as the locals call it.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you still get ill. In this case, here are some steps you can take to recover quickly.
1) Prepare ahead of time by packing medication to deal with stomach problems. I always bring Pepto-Bismol, Gas-X, Imodium A-D, and Ciprofloxacin. This way I have a range of options should my stomach take a turn for the worst.
2) Don’t push yourself. This may mean resting in your hotel room instead of participating in activities. It may even mean missing a hike on the Inca Trail. However, I can guarantee that you will be miserable on the Inca Trail if you have stomach problems. It is better to meet your group at Machu Picchu than to suffer through four days of intense hiking and limited accessibility to bathrooms when you need them most.
3) Tell your guide that you are sick. Your guide can’t help you if he or she doesn’t know that you need assistance. In addition to administering first aid if needed, your guide can arrange to have light meals, such as chicken soup, brought to your room. He or she can arrange to have the hotel bring oxygen to your room if altitude sickness is the problem. In a worst-case scenario, you may need your guide’s help to descend to a lower altitude.
4) If you need to see a doctor, check the US Embassy list of approved physicians. In Peru, these doctors are located in Lima. However, they may be able to recommend a qualified colleague in another location, such as Cusco or Puno.
It is important not to obsess about getting sick, though. After all, you don’t want to make yourself sick because you are obsessed about not getting sick. Instead, take the necessary precautions and then relax and enjoy your vacation.