Many of the world’s most fascinating environments exist at high elevations. Santa Fe, New Mexico is 7,260 feet high; Peru’s Machu Picchu sits at 8,000 feet, while Switzerland’s Jungfraujoch soars 11,388 feet toward the sky. According to the Centers for Disease Control Yellowbook (not to be confused with the Yellow Pages), altitude illness can set in when going to 8,000 feet or higher, and sometimes even at lower altitude.
Whether you plan a leisurely visit or an aggressive hike, altitude illness must be a factor when planning a trip to one of these destinations. Here are four tips to help you prepare.
1. Acclimate Slowly.
It can take three to five days to truly acclimate to high altitudes. If you're starting at sea level, the first stop on a high-level itinerary should be at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. Once at 8,000 feet, it’s preferable to ascend only 1,000 feet per day. Acclimatization can help prevent altitude illness, plus it improves sleep.
2. Get Fit.
Being physically fit is not regarded as a preventative factor by most experts in altitude, and even the fittest athletes suffer from altitude illness. Nevertheless, if you are physically fit, you stand a better chance of being more resilient in the midst of any ailment. Be aware, though, that exercise performance will always be reduced compared with low altitude. Bottom line: Don’t push it.
3. Drink Up.
Dehydration decreases the body’s ability to acclimate. Travelers often arrive to destinations dehydrated after long-haul flights. About one week before a high-altitude trip begins, start drinking between 66 and 100 ounces of water per day. Keep a one-liter (33.8 ounces) water bottle with you when traveling and drink as regularly as possible. Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption before and during your trip will decrease chances of dehydration, too.
4. Talk to a Doc.
Most travelers choose to acclimatize to altitude naturally, or merely by popping an aspirin, especially if they are only at high altitudes for a short time. But if you have concerns or you will be at high altitudes for a number of days, it may be best to ask a doctor about the options. There are prescription drugs that help the body adjust, and holistic practitioners may suggest natural supplements like ginkgo biloba or coca leaves.