6 November 2019

5 tips for travelling at altitude

Between Peru and Bolivia, we oscillate between 0 and 5000 meters of altitude... Not always easy! Headaches, shortness of breath, even nausea or dizziness, altitude sickness can quickly become a hell for travellers who do not take the time to acclimatise! Not to mention that when you travel in a wheelchair, you tend to make very intense efforts at regular intervals, whether it be for transfers in buses / cars or to climb a steep street for example... And this applies to both of us!

The management of altitude is specific to each person: you may or may not be sensitive to it... Nevertheless, good preparation allows you to avoid some of the physical difficulties associated with it and therefore the risks that your trip will not go well... Here are some tips if you are travelling to Bolivia, whose cities are among the highest in the world!

1. if you can, plan your journey as a gradual ascent

In three weeks, we go from Lima (altitude: 80 meters, see our previous articles ) to Arequipa (2300 meters), Cuzco (3300 meters), Puno (3800 meters), La Paz (3600 meters), Potosí (4070 meters) and the South Lipez (up to 5000 meters)... And this without too many problems! Apart from a few headaches in Cuzco and a bit of breathlessness during important efforts, we don't feel much of the effects. The altitude variations help us to adapt and we feel a real difference between our first and second night in Cuzco after a one day "descent" to Machu Picchu (2400 meters).

2. allow time to acclimatise

If you land directly in La Paz or if you plan to arrive quickly in a city at altitude, plan an acclimatisation period of one or two days: No physical exertion, real rest time (preferably lying down), activities limited to the bare minimum... We always want to make the most of our travels, but overloading your first few days there at such an altitude could cost you the rest of your holiday to recover (or even hospital stays depending on the symptoms... We didn't test it, but it didn't particularly make us want to)!

3. adapt your pace of effort

A bit frustrating at times, but you have to listen to yourself: some people take longer to acclimatise and it's not a big deal! The simple fact of walking can be an effort for some people when others will be ready to do a difficult trek in only one or two days... If you feel weak, don't force yourself! If you feel weak, don't force yourself! You risk aggravating your case and finding yourself in very unpleasant situations, so it's better to settle down a little more and gradually make efforts that are within your strength, so as not to take any risks.

4. take care of yourself

As always, of course, but even more so when your body is confronted with an environment it is not used to! Do your best to avoid eating too much or too fatty: prefer hearty but healthy food in reasonable quantities (not always easy in Bolivia when you see the portions...)! The same goes for alcoholic beverages: the less your body has to do or fight, the better off it will be! Not to mention that the effects of alcohol are often accentuated at altitude... Finally, sleep well! A good night's sleep or a nap can help you cope better with difficult conditions...

Listen to the locals, they are used to it!

This is true for many things in fact: the people who live there know a lot more than you do about everything around them anyway... An excellent reason to follow their advice (without ever putting aside your critical mind and common sense of course...)! Peruvians and Bolivians use a lot of plants to treat themselves in general, and to help their organism adapt to the altitude in particular. Amongst the best known is the coca leaf, which they use in several ways: green, for chewing, dried for infusions... or even transformed into sweets. Banned in a large part of the world because it contains, among other things, the alkaloid cocaine (not the drug itself, but the substance that allows it to be produced), this leaf has many therapeutic virtues when consumed in small quantities (it acts in particular on energy and digestion)... So we don't recommend anything in this area of course, but simply know that it is possible to obtain some locally, with two important pieces of information: firstly, it is strictly forbidden to bring it back to France; secondly, you will test positive for cocaine for a fortnight after consuming an infusion. Let's hear it...


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