Altitude Sickness in South America – what you should know

Who doesn’t love walking in the mountains and enjoying adorable views? Although discovering new destinations is associated with excitement, it is good to travel responsibly and to be aware of potential threats to health & safety. For instance, the altitude sickness which some people may associate just with hiking up the highest peaks in the world, in reality, may “catch” you even in a giant city such as Quito (Ecuador). But what is so-called “altitude sickness”?

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude Sickness is a condition which usually occurs when travelling to locations elevated higher than 2,500 m (8,000 ft.) above the sea level and due to the sudden change of altitudes. The body is then exposed to decreasing atmospheric pressure and the lower amount of oxygen.

As stated on the TravelHealthPro (2017) there are three variants of this sickness. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High-Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE). The last two require instant medical help and leaving the area of high altitude.

altitude sickness Tauri Travel Quito
Quito. The city is elevated 2,850 m (9,350 ft.) above the sea level.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms fall into two categories – mild and severe. The list of symptoms provided here is taken from NHS official website (2015). Mild symptoms include:
• Headache,
• Exhaustion,
• Loss of appetite,
• Increased heart rate,
• Nausea,
• Dizziness.

Severe symptoms include the following:
• Worsening breathing,
• Confusion,
• A persistent cough,
• Difficulty in walking,
• A bubbling sound in the chest.

Here are the links to both articles from NHS website that we used to develop this list.


It sounds terrible, what can I do with that?!

Firstly, you may not experience these symptoms at all. In many cases, it just cannot be predicted. Also, as long as the symptoms are mild, the prevention is needed. You should not expose yourself to higher altitudes, and the best option is to descend. According to NHS (2015), “If you have mild symptoms of altitude sickness, you shouldn’t go any higher for at least 24 to 48 hours. You can continue to climb if your symptoms improve after this. If your symptoms get worse or don’t improve after 24 to 48 hours, you should descend by at least 500m. Severe altitude sickness is a medical emergency. Someone with severe symptoms should immediately descend to a low altitude and seek medical help”. If you’re going for a tour with us, please, remember to inform a group leader about any syndromes immediately.

How do I know if I’m going to catch it?

We cannot tell whether you will suffer from altitude sickness or not. As stated on the NHS website (2015), “There are no specific factors, such as age, sex or physical fitness, that increase a person’s likelihood of getting altitude sickness. Certain people are affected, while others are less susceptible to it”.

Am I going to be exposed to high altitudes in South America?

It depends, however, it is quite likely. There are numerous locations in South America which are elevated above 2,500 m (8,000 ft.) above the sea level. Below, we listed some of them:

– Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia – 3,656 m (11,995 ft)
– Quito, Ecuador – 2,850 m (9,350 ft.),
– Cuenca, Ecuador – 2,560 m (8,400 ft.),
– Puno, Peru – 3,830 m (12,556 ft.),
– Machu Picchu, Peru – 2,430 m (7,970 ft.),
– Cusco, Peru – 3,399 m (11,152 ft.),
– La Paz, Bolivia – 3,640 m (11,942 ft.),

Can you further advise me on altitude sickness?

Although we’d like to, we cannot as we are not medical specialists. We advise you to make an appointment with a GP at your local surgery before travel and to ask about all other details regarding altitude sickness. This article was written in accordance to best of our knowledge and based only on NHS and TravelHealthPro websites.

altitude sickness Tauri Travel La Paz Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia. The city is elevated 3,640 m (11,942 ft.) above the sea level.


If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. We wish you a lovely day. 🙂

About Author

Tauri Travel Co-founder. The kind-hearted traveller who has a passion for writing.