La Paz Altitude Sickness: The Complete Guide

La Paz Altitude Sickness: The Complete Guide

Altitude sickness is a very common problem for travelers visiting La Paz Bolivia. In this guide, you'll learn all the details you need to know about La Paz altitude sickness, the causes, symptoms, and how to avoid it.

Altitude La Paz Bolivia

If you're wondering what is the altitude of La Paz Bolivia is, it sits at 11,942 feet above sea level. La Paz is famous for being the highest capital city in the world.

  • La Paz Bolivia altitude - 11,942 ft (3,640 m)

La Paz is a beautiful city located in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, just like other high altitudes cities such as Bogota. This makes it a popular destination for tourists who want to take in the amazing views of its surrounding mountains and valleys.

There's so many high-altitude activities to explore — from hiking Huayna Potosi and visiting Valley of the Moon to riding the La Paz Cable Car and driving Yungas Road.

Some of the surrounding destination altitudes:

  • Huayna Potosi altitude - 19,974 ft (6,088 m)¹
  • Austria Peak altitude - 17,402 ft (5,304 m)²
  • Valley of the Moon altitude 8,267 ft (2,520 m)⁴
  • Palca Canyon  12631 ft (3850 m)³
  • Cable Car La Paz altitude - 11,800 ft (3,600m)⁵
  • Yungas Road altitude - 15,260 ft (4,650 m)
  • Chacaltaya altitude - 17,785 ft (5,421 m)⁷

If you're planning a trip to La Paz Bolivia, with these ranges of high altitudes it's important to understand what altitude sickness is and how to prevent it.

Do You Get Altitude Sickness In La Paz?

Yes, you can get altitude sickness in La Paz.

At 11,942 ft (3,640 m) in elevation, La Paz Bolivia is considered "Very High Altitude" by Mountain Medicine.⁸

According to Dr. Gallagher and Dr. Hackett, 40%-50% of people at over 10,000 feet will experience altitude sickness.⁹ This puts travelers to La Paz at extremely high risk, possibly higher than half of the visitors.

Why Is It Hard To Breathe In La Paz?

At abnormally high heights for a city, 11,942 ft (3,640 m) could cause you to have trouble breathing.

It's can be hard to breathe because of the lack of oxygen at these heights where oxygen levels are at only 12%-13%.¹⁰ This is a common symptom of altitude sickness, and could be more prevalent in La Paz due to very high altitudes.

La Paz Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness in La Paz, also known as acute mountain sickness or "soroche" in Spanish, is a collection of symptoms caused by low oxygen levels at high elevations.

The severity and length of symptoms vary based on how quickly you ascend to the higher elevation and how long you stay there. La Paz altitude sickness symptoms include headaches and nausea, and are worsened by natural bodily reactions such as increased respiration.

More severe forms of sickness are high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Although very rare, those could be a risk if you plan to climb the extremely high mountains like Huayna Potosi or Chacaltaya.

La Paz Bolivia altitude sickness symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • hard to breathe
  • dizziness or confusion
  • nausea or vomiting
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • feeling of weakness
  • malaise or feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • trouble sleeping or insomnia

Symptoms of La Paz Bolivia altitude sickness typically will show up within 6-24 hours of arrival. If you’re not used to high altitudes and you don’t take precautions before traveling to La Paz, you can end up feeling sick for most or all of your trip.

Is La Paz High Altitude?

Yes, La Paz is high altitude.

In fact, Mountain Medicine considers this "Very High Altitude" since it exceeds 11,500 feet above sea level.⁸ La Paz is considered one of the highest cities in the world and the highest capital.

What Can Help With Altitude Sickness In La Paz?

While altitude sickness is very common in La Paz, the good news is that there are many ways to help avoid altitude sickness there.

And if you do find yourself suffering from some symptoms, there are several things you can do to feel better.

We have years of research on altitude sickness and will share with you our best tips below — including everything from hydration and acclimation to sleeping and glutathione.

8 Tips To Avoid La Paz Bolivia Altitude Sickness

The La Paz Bolivia altitude sickness is something that everyone needs to be aware of when they visit this beautiful city.

It's the highest capital in the world and because of this, many people can experience altitude sickness when they first arrive.

Being based in the high capital city of Denver, we have a lot of experience and research on high altitudes we'll share with you.

8 Tips To Avoid La Paz Bolivia Altitude Sickness:

1. Acclimate Gradually

Phasing your ascend to higher altitudes gradually can lessen your chances of La Paz altitude sickness. This gives your body the chance to acclimate gradually, versus all at once.

If you fly directly into La Paz Bolivia from sea level, you may definitely experience some mild symptoms of altitude sickness. Interestingly enough, El Alto International Airport that serves La Paz is the highest international airport in the world at 13,325 feet (4,061 m) — this is even higher elevation than La Paz.¹¹

It's best if you spend at least one or two days in a lower altitude city like Cochabamba Bolivia or Bogota Columbia before ascending to La Paz. Both these cities are just over 8,000 feet high, much lower than La Paz though to give your body time to start acclimating.

And when you first arrive to La Paz, avoid any hikes or high altitude activities until a few days after acclimating at 11,942 feet.

2. Hydrate Properly

It's important to make sure that you're hydrating properly when you're at the high altitudes of La Paz.

Increased respiration at these elevations will lead to a higher rate of lost fluids. If you don't drink enough water, this will cause dehydration.

You should drink at least 2 liters (half a gallon) of water per day to help prevent dehydration. Experts will actually recommend drinking about half your body weight in ounces of water.

Pay attention to your body throughout the day, if your urine is turning yellow it could be a sign of dehydration. You'll want to maintain it to be clear or light yellow.

TIP: Add sea salt to your foods/water or take Zaca hydration tablets to maximize hydration.

3. Take It Easy

Don't overdo things — take it easy when you first arrive in La Paz and allow time for your body to adjust to the new elevation before undertaking strenuous activities.

While many people enjoy hiking up the hills or exploring surrounding areas of La Paz, you should be careful not to overexert yourself the first few days, and take breaks frequently if you feel tired or out of breath.

After a day or two of seeing no signs of altitude sickness, you can safely increase your activity level.

4. Get Good Sleep

One thing people may notice when stay in La Paz is that they cannot sleep well. One of the symptoms of altitude sickness can be insomnia or trouble sleeping.

While it will be more difficult to get a good nights rest, sleep is paramount to allowing the body to adapt and recover. OrthoCarolina reports blood flow can increase with sleep to help oxygen and nutrients in your cells.¹²

It's recommended by them to sleep 7-9 hours for maximum rest. If having trouble sleeping, taking naps can come in handy too.

5. Limit Alcohol

Alcohol can increase risk of dehydration and symptoms similar to altitude sickness such as headache, fatigue, and nausea.

Limit alcohol consumption initially the first day or two, or until your body has a chance to acclimate. The combination of a hangover and altitude sickness can completely ruin your trip.

6. Consume Coca Leaves

Coca leaves have been used for thousands of years by the indigenous peoples of South America as an herbal remedy for preventing and treating altitude sickness.

The plant was considered sacred by the Incas, and used by locals for centuries for its medicinal properties. More recently, science has proven it to be effective for altitude.

  • A study out of Peru showed coca leaves enhanced high altitude physical performance at high altitude, attributed likely to the plants flavonoids.¹³
Although the plant is illegal in United States, Coca is legally sold throughout Bolivia and markets in La Paz.

The dried leaves can be chewed on their own or mixed with tea to give energy when hiking up mountains or traveling through the city.

7. Supplement Glutathione

Glutathione is a key player in the body as the master antioxidant, while high altitudes are known to cause oxidative stress.¹⁴

  • One study found high altitude to deplete glutathione by up to 45%!¹⁵
Glutathione deficiency could occur when there is too much oxidative stress in your body from high elevations. Supplementing glutathione is a key way to boost your antioxidant levels and fight the oxidative stress.

8. Take Altitude Sickness Medicine

When traveling to La Paz you can take altitude sickness medicine before and during your trip. The medicine can help prevent the onset of symptoms and some can even relieve you from altitude sickness.

Acetazolamide for altitude sickness, known by the brand name as the Diamox pill, is one of the most commonly ones used. While it is a medicine to consider, it is a prescription you have to get from your doctor and with medical advice.

To conclude, these highly research tips will help you avoid La Paz Bolivia altitude sickness — including acclimating gradually, hydrating properly, taking it easy, getting good sleep, limiting alcohol, consuming coca leaves, supplementing glutathione, and taking altitude sickness medicine.

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1. Huayna Potos Altitude
2. Austria Peak Altitude
3. Palca Canyon Altitude
4. Valley Of The Moon
5. The Most Spectacular Public Transport System On The Planet - La Paz Cable Car Altitude
6. Is Bolivia's "Death Road" Still the World's Most Dangerous Road? - Yungas Road Altitude
7. Chacaltaya Altitude
8. Effects of high altitude on humans
9. High-altitude illness (including mountain sickness) (Beyond the Basics)
10. Oxygen Levels at Altitude
11. El Alto International Airport
12. Sleep: The Secret Ingredient of Injury Recovery
13. Does Chewing Coca Leaves Influence Physiology at High Altitude?
14. Oxidative Stress and Diseases Associated with High-Altitude Exposure
15. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione
16. La Paz Elevation