Literally every single guidebook says to acclimate at a lower elevation prior to spending time in Cusco, so I wasn’t surprised when we started feeling the effects of altitude sickness. Upon arriving we started drinking vast quantities of Coca Leaf Tea, a natural remedy for adjusting to the altitude. However, it was a guide at Sacsayhuaman who showed us how to consume coca leaves in a traditional ceremony.
Here are the instructions for a proper Coca Leaf Ceremony according to Wilfredo:
“First you take 3 Coca leaves from your bag and bless the most significant mountain peaks around you (In Cusco these would be Salcantay and Ausangate) by blowing on the leaves in the direction of each peak. You then bite these leaves off at the stem and place them inside your mouth on the outside of your teeth. If you are giving coca leaves to a companion, they must receive them in two hands or in their shirt, never with just one hand. Next you pick out the three best coca leaves from your bag and place them in/on the ground in a special place (ours was under a rock) as an offering to the Pachamama (aka Earth Mother). Then you adjust your leaves to a comfortable place In your mouth and gently chew them, keeping them on the outside of your teeth, adding leaves one at a time as needed. When it comes time to remove the coca leaves, do not spit. Gently remove the wad and place it somewhere out of foot traffic. Coca leaves are sacred to Andean people so use, chew and discard respectfully.
-Do not try and cram a bunch of leaves in your mouth at once, this can cut up your mouth before the leaves have time to soften
-Many locals seem to swallow at least some of the smaller bits of leaves. Coca leaves are not dangerous to eat and may actually have some health food properties.
-For a stronger effect, you can buy a charcoal-looking substance called Llipta (pronounced YEEP-TA) that you place on the same side as the leaves in your mouth. This usually has a mouth-numbing effect and may give and extra boost of energy. Still, to me the effects were never more than a double shot of espresso from a “drug” standpoint. The nausea, fatigue and headaches that had afflicted me from the altitude did vanish while chewing coca leaves.