Preparing for high altitude trekking in Bolivia and Peru - part 1
Why should I go on a high altitude hike?
It can take you right out of your comfort zone and push your physical limits. You will be exposed to different ways of doing things, will make new friends with people from cultures far from your own, you’ll learn some local history, about new cultures, places and ways of life far different from ours. You will have the opportunity to practise your Spanish language skills and perhaps pick up some Quechua or Aymara. Certainly you’ll enjoy some stunning mountain landscapes and go home with a sense of accomplishment and a new perspective on life.
How should I prepare for a high altitude hike?
Any trip to altitude needs a bit of thought and careful preparation, some physical and some mental.
She says “key to a successful trip is setting your goals when planning a trip - decide what you want to get out of the trip and how to make it work for you”
“Set your expectations right before you go. Often it is difficult to find the time to read up on where you are going until you are actually travelling. However, I’d recommend checking the itinerary carefully, trying to picture the effort required, then preparing yourself for that effort. Know what you are going to be doing and how tough that might be for you.
A positive attitude once you’re out there is key to your enjoyment, as is a good amount of resilience and determination.”
Bruce Percy landscape photographer, loves travelling to Bolivia:
” The attraction is that it looks like another planet and due to the high altitude it feels like one too.
Mentally speaking, be prepared to give up any illusions of controlling your environment at high altitude. Be prepared to find your body feels physically different and that normal tasks may be more arduous than usual.
Due to the mental and physical adaptions you go through, you learn a lot about yourself. Bolivia is all about letting go. “
On the practical side there are a few important things you need to do straight away:
Check your passport is valid and renew it if not. Take a photocopy of it and scan a copy of it into a folder on your computer in the cloud so you have a back up copy.
At the same time you book your trip you should also buy insurance. Medical is most important and you should make sure you have cover for at least 2 million USD or GBP. It is important that the insurance policy covers you for all the activities you are going to be involved in particularly if going to high altitudes. Check altitude coverage carefully. You will need to declare any medical conditions when purchasing insurance.
Visit your local travel clinic or doctor to get up to date information and vaccinations. The following are normally recommended for Bolivia or Peru so check you are up to date with them: diphtheria, polio, tetanus, hepatitis, typhoid, and you may want to consider a pre-travel rabies immunisation. Rural dogs are a risk and immunisation is advised if you might be a few days away from medical attention. Yellow fever and anti-malarial protection are required if going to lowland areas.
Now is the time to start a training plan. It is certainly worth taking the time and making the effort to get as fit as possible before you go. Ideally, start your fitness programme a couple of months before the trip starts, of more, and think about how to get the best most appropriate type of fitness. If you are going to be hiking in the mountains it is better to walk briskly in hilly areas than to run along flat roads. Make use of flights of stairs. Walking up and down increasingly long flights of stairs is a great way to improve fitness for the Andes. Cycling is good too as you use the same set of muscles as for trekking and this will strengthen the thighs which will help protect the knees – there are inevitably plenty of long descents you need good knees for.
My top tip is to try to incorporate your training into daily life, use a bike to get to work, walk as much as you can, carry a back pack, wear walking boots and so on as that way you’re more likely to keep the training going.
Read more about hiking fitness on our “ How to get Fit for the Inca Trail blog”
And our blog on “Tips for trekking in the Andes”
Health - how will my body react to high altitude?
It’s a good idea to read as much as you can about how your body may react to being at high altitudes, so you know what to expect and what is normal. Get a good book on the subject or read about it online. The main risks from heading to high altitudes are from hypothermia, pulmonary oedema and cerebral oedema, so the more you can read about those the better.
Travel clinics and health information.
Have a look at the following web sites:
- For a list of travel clinic websites worldwide see www.istm.org/.
Take a first aid kit with you, and if you have the opportunity join a course in first aid before you go.
We suggest you put together a first aid kit to include the following:
• water purifiers and / or a water filter
• antiseptic for any scrapes
• Vaseline (for cracked heels or lips)
• moleskin and adhesive-backed padding (for blisters)
• Steristrips or butterfly closures for cuts
• a couple of bandages
• fabric plasters or roll of plaster
• xifaxanta antibiotic and rehydration sachets
• ibuprofen or paracetamol/tylenol
• amoxycillin or other broad-spectrum antibiotic. Take tetracycline or erythromycin if allergic to penicillin.
• thermometer (with a low-reading range). Remember that mercury should not be carried on planes
• cough and throat pills
• antifungal cream and powder
We’ll be writing about what to take and other preparations in next week’s blog.