Avoiding altitude sickness

Avoiding altitude sickness

Let’s keep this simple.  I have travelled to La Paz suffering from severe altitude sickness, and I have travelled to La Paz and been fine.  So I can talk from personal experience.

Altitude sickness is extremely unpleasant – your head throbs like it’s going to explode, you vomit and it is way worse than any hangover I’ve ever had.  Your fingers tingle, you can’t catch you breath and walking is exhausting.  Basically it screws up your enjoyment and reduces your ability to join in on any activities you may have planned.

In the Andean mountain range, La Paz is high, at 3640m, and it’s airport, El Alto International, is even higher, at 4,0615m making it the world’s highest international airport.  As my husband loves to tell me, this means it needs a super long runway to take off, extra strong tyres, and the pilots should use oxygen masks.  If you like that kind of thing you can read a pilot’s personal account here.

To put those figures in perspective, the highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis at 1,345 metres, and in France Mont Blanc is 4,808 metres.  If this has ‘peaked’ your appetite on the height of mountains in Europe, you can find out more here.

My top tips

  1. Do not travel directly to La Paz from sea level (like I did from Easter Island – doh!)
  2. If you can, arrive at another, lower, location in Boliva e.g. Santa Cruz or Cochabamba, and spend a few days acclimatising before moving on to La Paz
  3. Travel to La Paz by bus, preferably overnight.  This gives your body chance to acclimatise gently and while you sleep.  (I’ll write a separate blog about travelling in Bolivia by bus – which is super cheap and can be super comfy)
  4. Take normal travel sickness pills as you start your journey to La Paz.  This will take the edge off any possible symptoms.
  5. Do not, unless you’ve drunk it regularly before, drink coca tea.  The locals will insist this is the best cure.  It is not, it only makes you worse and increases the amount you vomit – believe me!
  6.  On arrival, take it easy – walk slowly, walk downhill only where possible and avoid climbing up hill – use a bus, cable car or taxi instead.
  7. Listen to your body and respond – don’t soldier on.  Seek medical attention if you’re not sure.  Most hotels, for example, have oxygen available.
  8. Avoid alcohol, and if you must, keep it to small amounts.
  9. Of course check out the latest medical advice

I hope this hasn’t put you off visiting La Paz, as it’s a fabulous place to visit and quite unique. Check out my other posts on cool places to visit in La Paz and La Paz – as high as it gets.

I learnt the hard way, so I hope these tips will help you avoid altitude sickness.  If you have others that have worked for you, and you’d like to share, I’d love to add them to my list – so get in touch via the comments page.

La Paz, Bolivia – as high as it gets?

There’s so much to write about La Paz, but the top three things I think I should cover first are:

Check out my individual blogs as I publish them on each of these topics.

La Paz – a few facts, figures and useful links

La Paz is an amazing city, the seat of government and the defacto capital of Bolivia, although Sucre is actually the constitutional capital.  It is also the highest capital city in the world.  Towering over the city is the impressive mountain Illimani, with triple peaks reaching 6438 metres.

La Paz is the third largest city in Bolivia, and the metropolitan area of La Paz that encompasses La Paz, El Alto and Viacha, is the largest urban population in Bolivia, of around 2.3 million.

The Teleferico, launched in 2014, is the world’s highest cable car network.  Known locally as Mi Teleferico it is currently made up of 8 lines, each given a colour, with a 2 further planned for 2019.  You can read more about this in my blog ‘Cool things to do in La Paz‘.

La Paz is also the gateway to Lake Titikaka and Tiwanaku, both of which are fascinating and unique places to visit, and I’ll cover in my blog on ‘Cool places to visit from La Paz’.  It’s a great place to move onto Peru, or to the other diverse parts of Bolivia, including the salt flats in Uyuni, the silver mines at Potosi, the delights of Sucre and Cochabamba, and the amazonian forest.  I’ll be covering these in later blogs.

So the answer to my headline question, La Paz – as high as it gets? – is a resounding YES!