It is highly unlikely that you will travel to Peru and NOT ascend the lofty ruins of Machu Pichu (almost 8000 feet up), possibly one of the country's greatest highlights, after its delicious cuisine.One of the slightly less pleasant experiences you may want to factor into a trip through Peru's high-altitude wonders is the likely possibility of altitude sickness. Known as saroche, this is an extremely common problem for visitors to the country, especially when moving from the coast to the high Andes or from low to high altitudes in a short space of time. Be warned: don’t think you’ll be immune just because you’re fit and healthy; altitude sickness has little to do with fitness and can affect the fittest of us.Don't worry: our experts will tell you exactly how to avoid any possibility of this happening to you; nothing must get in the way of your precious vacation time, but a little knowledge and awareness certainly cannot hurt.So bear in mind that if you do find yourself struck down with nausea, headaches, breathlessness, dizziness, or lethargy in the middle of the mountains altitude sickness is probably to blame. However, this pesky condition can be combated by eating light meals of carbohydrate-rich foods, drinking plenty of coca tea, keeping hydrated or even chewing coca leaves as the locals do (though as coca leaves will make you test positive for cocaine, perhaps not the best option for everyone).Other than that, the best way to avoid the sickness is to give yourself plenty of time to adjust to modest changes in altitude and do not exert yourself. If you start to feel exceptionally awful or even develop a cough, head right back down and seek medical attention immediately.
Trumping the Sahara, Gobi and Nevada, one of the grandest spectacles of nature in the South American continent is the magnificent Atacama Desert, stretching itself over Chile, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. It is thought to be the driest place on earth, with an average rainfall of just 15 millilitres each year, yet one of such staggering beauty, that the normal connotation of the word 'desert' - endless sand dunes - hardly applies here at all; imagine the horizon dotted with snow-capped peaks, and you know what we are talking about. Touted as one of the greatest highlights of Chile (and considered to be a photographer and astronomer's heaven), don’t expect this desert to be deserted. It may not exactly be the bustling metropolis of Santiago or Lima, but the area has been inhabited for many thousands of years by the nomadic hunters the Atacameños. After settling in one place they founded the towns of San Pedro de Atacama and Calama, which were eventually discovered and developed by the Spanish, and there are an estimated 24,000 descendants of the Atacameño still living there today; just them and the varied wildlife of the region: the Darwin’s leaf-eared mouse, the South American grey fox, the viscacha, a relative of the chinchilla, and larger animals like vicunas and guanacos, both distant cousins of llamas. Soil samples from the desert match those from Mars, prompting NASA to test out all their Red Planet equipment over here, before rocket-shipping it out to the real thing (the Mars Rover, for instance). Also, move over Egypt, the world's oldest mummies, the Chinchorro, have been found here, almost perfectly preserved by the near-complete absence of moisture. And we are talking 7000 BC (by comparison, the oldest Egyptian mummy dates back to a paltry 3000 BC)! Photographers may not be able to keep their fingers off the button by day, but it is when the sun goes down that the real beauty of the Atacama reveals itself: with a complete absence of light pollution, this is a night sky you will never forget!