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You want to enjoy your vacation at the fullest. In Colombia, this means being aware of the high altitude areas and preparing for a trip there. Altitude sickness is no fun and especially on hikes, one has to be careful. Read our guide on how to try to avoid any problems and how to deal with them, in case they should appear.

High Altitude areas in Colombia

Bogotá is the fourth highest capital in the world being located at 2,600 m.a.s.l. Many travelers arrive here first and depending on where you are from you may already sense the altitude. However, after a few days of acclimatization, any symptoms usually disappear.

Colombia has three different mountain ranges with peaks that reach a significantly higher level than the capital. Anything above 2,400 m.a.s.l. can cause altitude sickness and you should prepare properly to avoid this. Refer to the table below for some examples of different altitudes in Colombia.

Symptoms and Effects

The effects are diverse and sometimes you wouldn’t relate them directly to the altitude, especially being in a city like Bogotá.

Cerro Monserrate in Bogotá reaches a height of 3,100 m (10,170 ft)

Some people experience a loss of appetite or nausea. Other common symptoms are headaches and dehydration, caused by heavy breathing in the thin and dry air. It is also possible to experience insomnia depending on the intensity of altitude sickness.
Generally, physical activities - even only walking up some stairs - will feel more exhausting because there is less oxygen in the air. You will probably experience heavy breathing and a faster heartbeat.

What you can do to deal with altitude sickness?

The first step is to prepare well before traveling to higher altitudes. In a best-case scenario, you gradually travel to higher altitudes and always stay a few days at one level to get acclimatized. Of course, this isn’t always possible but, anyway, you should always give your body a few days to adapt to the changes. Make sure to avoid heavy physical activity during your first days.

Alcohol, smoking and psycho-active substances can increase the chances of suffering from altitude sickness or worsen the symptoms so you should steer clear of those a few days before and during a hike. Water, in turn, is very important to avoid dehydration. It’s good to carry some water with you at all times, ideally an environmentally friendly refillable water bottle. A drink that is supposed to help with the symptoms of altitude sickness is coca tea. It is made from the leaves of the coca plant and served and sold in many high altitude places. The tea itself has nothing to do with the drug won from the coca plant. The plant is highly processed to extract those psycho-active substances.

During a hike, you should distribute the luggage well between the group members. Nobody should carry overweight. Watch out for each other and make sure to communicate it to the others if you feel dizzy, nauseous or other forms of malaise. You should also make sure to eat and drink enough and don’t overestimate or push yourself too hard during hikes or physical activity. Appropriate clothing is also an important factor. Make sure to wear hiking gear that regulates temperature and humidity.

Hiking at the impressive El Cocuy National Park

Look after the group members that have already experienced difficulties and, if possible, take some weight off their shoulders. If anyone is experiencing severe altitude sickness, descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible and the symptoms should gradually improve. With an extreme case of altitude sickness, it’s better not to continue the hike. If you only feel a little dizzy or have a slight headache, you can try to take a break at lower altitude and give your body some more time to acclimatize (at least 12 hours) and then continue the hike.

Altitude sickness can occur in some places in Colombia but if you come prepared you shouldn’t worry too much. The symptoms are all temporary and pass either with time or by descending. Follow our recommendations and enjoy a stress-free vacation, full of amazing experiences!


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