There are many things to think about when traveling to another country, but have you considered altitude sickness if traveling or planning a trip to Ecuador

During my last trip to a high-altitude city (Bogotá, Colombia – 8,660 feet above sea level), my husband suffered from a rough case of altitude sickness. He has traveled most of the world and has never had issues, but I should have known that high altitude could affect him, especially with him being from The Netherlands (below sea level). After this experience, we learned that altitude sickness truly affects him; therefore, we took some precautions for our trip to Ecuador

This is how my husband felt in Bogotá (which is lower than Quito and Papallacta in Ecuador).

What is altitude sickness (soroche)?

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a condition that occurs when people ascend to high altitudes (above 8,000 feet) too quickly. The lower the atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes, the less oxygen is available to the body. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cough
  • Racing heart
  • Pale skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability

In severe cases, altitude sickness can lead to high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). HACE is a swelling of the brain that can cause seizures, coma, and death. HAPE is a swelling of the lungs that can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing up blood.

Soroche is altitude sickness or, as some people call it, mountain sickness. Soroche is a condition that affects some people who visit destinations in high elevations. It happens because there is less oxygen at higher altitudes. 

Why does altitude sickness happen in parts of Ecuador?

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, sits at 9,350 feet above sea level. To compare a bit, Denver, Colorado, the city with the highest altitude in the U.S., sits at 5,280 feet above sea level. In Denver, many people experience altitude sickness; therefore, preparing for altitude sickness is crucial if you plan on visiting Quito.

During our last trip with Gate 1 Travel, we visited multiple cities in Ecuador. One of the cities was Quito which has an altitude of 9,350 feet above sea level. Later on the trip, we headed to Papallacta, which was even higher than Quito, sitting at 10,827 feet above sea level. 

Termas de Papallacta, Ecuador.

Soroche Symptoms

If you travel to high-altitude cities in Ecuador, such as Quito and Papallacta, from a low-altitude location, you will most likely experience some of the following symptoms: 

  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Chills

How to prevent Altitude Sickness in Ecuador (soroche)?

You may not be able to prevent Altitude Sickness in Ecuador entirely, but you can do a few things to reduce the symptoms and help your body acclimate to the high altitude. 

  1. Talk to your doctor before traveling: Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help you acclimate easier. Our family doctor recommended taking Altitude RX. No prescription is needed and it can be ordered on Amazon.
  2. Plan ahead: Save 2-3 days at the beginning of your trip to acclimate, or if you are traveling to different parts of the country, start with the lower altitude cities and save Quito and Papallacta for the end. 
  3. Drink lots of water: Staying hydrated is essential. Start a few days before your flight and continue drinking lots of water on the plane to Quito. It may be an inconvenience on your flight since you will probably have to use the restroom often, but it will help you once you are on vacation. 
  4. Rest: Take it easy the first few days in Quito or Papallacta. Give your body a chance to get used to the new altitude. Do not add exercise, and avoid hiking to or visiting the highest point in those cities during those first days. Allow your body to acclimate.
  5. Do not drink alcohol: Alcohol is very dehydrating. Avoid alcohol the first few days, so you can stay hydrated and help your body get used to the altitude. 
  6. Watch what you eat during the first few days: Stick with light foods. Soups are a great choice as they continue to hydrate you. Ecuador is also famous for its delicious soups, including Locro. 
  7. Listen to your body: Don’t overdo it. Take your time to understand what your body is trying to communicate. 

Our experience with Altitude Sickness in Ecuador.

A few weeks ago, we landed in Quito, Ecuador. My husband Bas had begun taking the Altitude RX pills and had no significant symptoms. Since I generally don’t experience altitude sickness, I had not taken the Altitude RX pills. On the drive from the airport to the hotel (about 1 hour), I developed a headache with a lot of pressure on the top of my head. I felt drained. When I arrived at the hotel, I showered, gobbled down two water bottles, took an Altitude RX pill, and slept. I slept approx 10 hours. 

The next day I felt just fine. I continued to take the Altitude RX pills while in Quito and Papallacta (our two highest points in the trip). When we went to the Amazon, I stopped taking them. On returning to the U.S., we had to return to Quito. I think my body had already adjusted to the altitude, as I was okay and without symptoms. 

My husband Bas and my son did perfectly okay in Ecuador. Bas prepared for it by following the advice above; luckily, my son seems somewhat immune. 

We traveled to Ecuador with Gate 1 Travel. In our group of 37 people, two had altitude sickness. Fortunately, the hotel had a doctor on staff at the highest point of our trip (Papallacta). My two group mates were able to meet with the doctor and get some medication to help alleviate the symptoms. They were able to continue the trip without any trouble.

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