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
- Do not travel directly to La Paz from sea level (like I did from Easter Island – doh!)
- 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
- 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)
- Take normal travel sickness pills as you start your journey to La Paz. This will take the edge off any possible symptoms.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Avoid alcohol, and if you must, keep it to small amounts.
- Of course check out the latest medical advice
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.