Expert tips for altitude sickness: How to adapt to high altitudes

MAX VERA

San Pedro de Atacama is a desert village 2408 metres above sea level in the Chilean Altiplano. As chief of excursions at luxury lodge Tierra Atacama, Max Vera helps guests acclimatise before they embark on exploring the lunar landscapes, geysers, salt lakes and volcanos of the Atacama Desert.See tierrahotels.com

STEP ONE

Basically, altitude sickness happens because you are in a place where there is less breathable oxygen and reduced air pressure. Your body needs some time to adapt to this new condition, which is to live with less oxygen than you are used to. Acclimatisation to high altitudes usually takes between two and three days. This is the minimum amount of days we recommend in order to do any medium-level excursions. For high-altitude treks, like expeditions to Licancabur volcano (5920 metres) or any other surrounding mountains, the ideal plan is to stay at the destination from five to seven days in order to acclimatise well.

STEP TWO

Ideally, you should avoid heavy meals such as red meats (that includes guanaco too!) The food you eat should be very nutritious to prepare you for your high-altitude adventures, but light enough so your body doesn't spend too much energy processing it. Good recommendations are salads, legumes, nuts, pasta and fish.

STEP THREE

Water is by far the best option when you are acclimatising to high altitude. You can drink infusions as well, such as the coca leaf tea, which diminishes the symptoms of altitude sickness. Some Andean cultures have long used the coca leaf to avoid Puna - what we call altitude sickness in Spanish- and to enhance physical performance. Also, you should avoid drinking alcohol as it dehydrates your system and also brings along headaches and other discomforts.

STEP FOUR

The most important thing to do is to be well hydrated. You should increase your water consumption days before traveling to high-altitude destinations and continue on that rhythm as you stay there.

STEP FIVE

There is no relation between hot or cold weathers and altitude adaptation. Your body has to acclimatise to lower oxygen levels and less air pressure, regardless of the outside temperature. Also, your body has a good memory. If it's your first time in high altitude, you will probably feel the symptoms in a more intense way. Your next visits should be less intense, although you still need a few days to re-adapt to high-altitude conditions.

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