Hiking Machu Picchu or traveling through Lake Titicaca brings the same concern: altitude sickness.
The first signs of altitude sickness are nausea, trouble sleeping, dizziness and headache.
It’s a pesky condition that’s best treated if you catch it early. Also, good to know that being physically fit doesn’t automatically equip you for high altitudes.
I grew up by the sea the majority of my life and am a competitive runner. But when I flew into La Paz, Bolivia, I almost fainted when I left the airplane. Every person has a different body chemistry, and some strategies may work better for others.
However, when it comes to altitude sickness, there are a few natural preventions that seem to be universal (and that work) in the traveling community.
Here’s how to beat altitude sickness and avoid getting sick in Peru and Bolivia, and beyond.
1) Drink LOTS of water
Lake Titicaca, the largest and highest lake in the world that sits at around 13,000 feet above sea level, also has a dangerous level of UV rays that reflect off the lake.
It seems like common sense to drink lots of water. But if you want to avoid altitude sickness in Peru, remember how important it is. Every year, thousands of visitors from all over the world visit the lake and get incredibly sick from dehydration.
The prevention is simple. Drink at least 2 liters of water every day. It sucks I know, and at times your belly will feel like it wants to explode. But you really have to force yourself to stay hydrated.
My partner and I would give each other water challenges like, ¨If you can drink half of this bottle I will buy you a snickers bar.¨ Sounds silly that you would have to force yourself to drink water, but if you forget, you will get sick, real fast. Drinking plenty of water is the first rule of preventing altitude sickness.
2) Eat light meals
After living in Cochabamba Bolivia, at an elevation of 9,000 feet and returning to La Paz for a second time I thought my body would become more acclimated to high altitude.
Hence, the second time back to La Paz I decided to go out and have a steak dinner. Wow, big mistake. Immediately after I felt woozy, sick to my stomach, and almost passed out into my plate of food. It sounds a bit amusing, but it wasn’t at the time. If you are traveling to high altitude elevations avoid heavy foods such as meat, dairy and overeating in general.
When you eat a lot, your digestion redirects the oxygen to your belly instead of your head (where it needs to be). Travel doctors will advise eating starchy meals before arriving to your destination and then noshing lightly on fruits, salads, and packets of nuts to sustain energy throughout the day.
3) Drink Mate or Coffee
In places like, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and even the Salt Flats of Bolivia, the locals have a traditional drink, often made with real coca leaves called mate tea.
The coca helps thin the blood an increase circulation throughout the body allowing more oxygen to travel freely. It prevents headaches, dizziness and increases energy.
This is a remedy that should be accompanied by lots of water as its purpose is not to hydrate, but to maintain energy and increase circulation. If you can’t get your hands on mate, which is usually readily available, opt for a small cup of coffee. The caffeine will have a similar effect on the body, but again make sure you accompany with lots of water.
Although altitude sickness can be a pain-in-the-head, preventing the onset is pretty simple if you follow the above rules.
How do you avoid Altitude Sickness?