Probably the most beautiful city I have ever seen during my one year trip around the world. La Paz Bolivia is a sight to behold. A city built in a huge bowl of land, it’s a spectacular sight. Like all things beautiful lies a hidden danger. Sitting at 11,942 feet (or 3,640m above sea level), the chances of you getting altitude sickness in La Paz is very real. But if you’re diligent about it, you can enjoy your time in this city without getting sick.
Step #1: Acclimate for at least three days in La Paz
It takes at least one month for your body to adjust fully to the altitude. Most likely; however, you don’t have that much time. You’re in Bolivia to see the famous salt flats and you can’t linger for a month. The next best thing to do acclimate for three days until your body is somehow used to the altitude. At the very least you won’t get altitude sickness, just a feeling of fatigue and sluggishness.
The moment I got off the airport, I felt drunk. La Paz, Bolivia’s high altitude will hit you right away. You’ll have a feeling of disassociation the first two days. It’s as if your body and mind are not one but separate entities. It is one of the weirdest feeling you’ll ever have.
So do take it easy for the first three days and just rest up in your accommodation before you begin exploring the country further.
Step 2: Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
In order for your body to cope with less amount of oxygen because of higher altitude, you will be forced to breath more rapidly. Breathing more rapidly will cause you to lose water from your body at a more rapid rate. The result? Dehydration.
To combat this, you must stay hydrated by drinking water frequently. Being dehydrated will only make the symptoms of high altitude worst and drinking more water will help prevent that from happening.
Step 3: Drink coca tea
Coca tea is what the locals drink (and they also chew the leaves) to prevent altitude sickness. It’s the same leaf they use to manufacture cocaine; though, in its organic state, you won’t get drugged up (I’m sorry if you’re disappointed). Ironically, Coca Cola also uses the leaf as one of their ingredients.
Apparently, it’s the caffeine in coca tea that helps with altitude prevention. I don’t know for sure but I do feel it helped when I took it myself during my time in La Paz.
Step 4: Avoid alcohol consumption
Drinking alcohol leads to getting dehydrated which only worsens your altitude symptoms. Try not to drink alcohol when traveling at high altitude in order to prevent altitude sickness.
Step 5: Avoid Exercise for the first few days
While exercising is great for you, avoid it during your first few days in La Paz. Over exerting yourself causes you to require more oxygen. Since your body is not used to moving at high altitude yet, exercising will reduce the amount of oxygen flowing through your body. It’s best you wait until you’re acclimated before you exercising.
I’m no expert so do make sure to speak with a medical expert before heeding any of these advice or taking any medication. The popular altitude sickness medication that people take seems to be Diamox. I haven’t taken it personally because I hear it works great. Advil is another good one which I’ve taken when the altitude is getting to me.
Follow those tips and I hope your trip to Bolivia goes well! It’s a beautiful country with really friendly people. You’ll love it! (do make sure you learn some Spanish phrases before coming here, English speakers are rare)
Do you have any other altitude sickness prevention tips? Feel free to share them below so others can be better prepared before coming to La Paz, Bolivia!