High altitude in Bolivia

 In Travel Bolivia, Travel South America

Traveling at high altitude in Bolivia? Bolivia, located in the heart of South America, is a land of breathtaking landscapes and diverse cultures and geography. Its tropical Amazon region, green valleys, Andes peaks, the Titicaca lake and the expansive Uyuni salt flats attract travelers from all over the world. However, with part of the country located at high altitudes, it is crucial to take the necessary precautions to prevent altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is a common condition that affects many travelers to high altitude places. Symptoms include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, etc. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of altitude sickness while traveling in Bolivia. By following these tips, you can enjoy your time in Bolivia without the worry of altitude sickness.

  1. Acclimatize slowly

At higher altitude the air pressure is lower, this means there is less oxygen available to your body when you breath. The process of your body adapting to the lower oxygen levels is called acclimatization. The acclimatization speed is different to everyone, it depends on how fast your own body adjusts to the lower oxygen levels, some people adjust very quickly and experience none of very light symptoms, others feel better the day after arrival, a few need a couple of days to adjust. It’s a natural process that occurs over time as the body produces more red blood cells, it generally takes about 2 or 3 up to 5 days.

The most effective way to prevent altitude sickness is to acclimatize slowly, this means: ascend gradually. If possible, spend a few days at lower altitudes before traveling to higher elevations.  If your body does not get enough time to acclimatize to being at high altitude, you can develop altitude sickness. The body needs time to adjust to the lower oxygen levels at high altitudes, so it’s essential to take things slow. For example, if you arrive in La Paz (3,650 meters /11,975 feet), spend a few days exploring the city before heading to higher altitude destinations like the Uyuni Salt Flats or Lake Titicaca. Or if you wish to visit the Uyuni salt flats from San Pedro de Atacama, we recommend to spend at least 2-3 in San Pedro prior to this trip to in order to get used to the altitude.

Take it easy, take a day or two to rest and get used to the altitude before engaging in strenuous activities.

  1. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is crucial at high altitudes. The dry air at altitude can lead to dehydration, which can make the symptoms of altitude sickness become worse. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can further dehydrate you.

Coca tea, also known as mate de coca, is a traditional beverage made from the leaves of the coca plant. It has been used for centuries in the Andean region of South America, including Bolivia, as a remedy for various ailments, including altitude sickness. The leaves of the coca plant contain alkaloids that have stimulant and pain-relieving effects, and they may help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headache and fatigue. While mate de coca may provide some relief from the symptoms of altitude sickness, it’s not a substitute for proper acclimatization and other preventative measures.

  1. Eat light and nutritious meals

High altitude can affect your appetite, so it’s essential to eat light, nutritious meals. Avoid heavy, greasy foods, which can be hard to digest, and instead opt for foods rich in complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and vegetables. Eating small, frequent meals can also help regulate your blood sugar levels and prevent nausea. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol and smoking, which can increase your risk of altitude sickness.

  1. Consider medication treatment

The treatment of high altitude sickness depends on the severity of the symptoms. Mild symptoms of altitude sickness may include headache, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Ig you have a headache you can take painkillers such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol. For mild cases of altitude sickness, resting and giving your body some time to acclimatize to the altitude is often enough to alleviate symptoms. In the vast majority of the cases, the symptoms improve after a good night rest.

For more severe cases of altitude sickness, other medication may be necessary, such as Acetazolamide (Diamox), dexamethasone and nifedipine.

Prevention: There are some (over the counter) medications that can help prevent altitude sickness.  Acetazolamide, also known as Diamox, is a medication commonly prescribed for altitude sickness. It helps to decrease the symptoms of altitude sickness by speeding up the acclimatization process. Acetazolamide is typically taken in advance of high-altitude exposure and continued for several days until acclimatization is complete. It’s important to note that medication helps but the ideal situation is when you opt for a proper acclimatization. If you are concerned about altitude sickness, speak with your doctor about medication options.

Oxygen Therapy: In case you need it, portable oxygen canisters are available on board the vehicles and in some hotels during our Uyuni trips. Oxygen helps alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness.

And last but not least….

5. Listen to your body

It’s important to listen to your body when traveling at high altitude in Bolivia or anywhere in the world. If you begin to experience symptoms of altitude sickness, take a break, rest, and drink water. And if your symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical attention immediately. In some cases, a descent to a lower altitude may be necessary to alleviate symptoms.

Disclaimer: The above tips are listed as the necessary precautions you can take to minimize your risk of experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness. If you have concerns or more questions about altitude sickness, we recommend consulting a healthcare professional and follow his/her advice. If you have certain medical conditions (such as long or heart conditions), you should get advice from your doctor before traveling to altitude.

(♥) Happy travels!