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Travel Info & FAQs

The Central Andes region is incredibly diverse and it is important to prepare for your visit. With altitudes ranging from sea level to more than 7000m above sea level, climate varies tremendously and ranges from high, dry and cold deserts to humid, lowland tropical rain forests. Travel conditions are equally diverse and you may find yourself cruising across Lake Titicaca in a public ferry or weaving along potholed roads and winding mountain footpaths.

Whether you are curious about life and travel at altitude or how to poo in the high desert or even what you might want to have on your packing list, please review our Central Andes Travel Info and Frequently Asked Questions below, and if you need to know more, just send us an email!

Check out our Welcome to Bolivia slideshow!

What is it like traveling at High Altitude?

First time traveling at high altitude?

High-altitude sickness can be serious and La Paz on Foot recommends that you review the following information carefully and take the necessary precautions to ensure that your visit to the Andean highlands is enjoyable and risk-free.

Unless you are arriving to La Paz from other highland areas, such as Cusco, we recommend at least 1.5 days in La Paz to acclimatize and prepare for your activities away from the city and health care services. We also recommend that you travel with an altitude sickness medication, such as the sirrochji pill, available in most pharmacies in La Paz.

The following information is from the website Family Doctor. Two other good sites are the Institute for High Altitude Medicine and the UK’s “Doctor Fox” website.

1) What causes high-altitude illness?

The higher you climb above sea level, the less oxygen there is in the air. The oxygen level becomes very low at altitudes above 8,000 feet. This causes problems for people who normally live at lower altitudes because their bodies aren’t used to working on so little oxygen. If you stay at a high altitude for a long time, your body gets used to the low oxygen level, and you don’t get sick from it.

The following are the 3 main types of high-altitude illness:

– Acute mountain sickness
– High-altitude pulmonary edema (also called HAPE), which affects the lungs
– High-altitude cerebral edema (also called HACE), which affects the brain

These illnesses can be serious, but they can also be prevented.

2) How can I prevent high-altitude illness?

You can do 2 important things to prevent high-altitude illness:

a. Take your time traveling to higher altitudes.

When you travel to a high altitude, your body will begin adjusting right away to the lower amount of oxygen in the air, but it takes several days for your body to adjust completely. If you’re healthy, you can probably safely go from sea level to an altitude of 8,000 feet in a few days. But when you reach an altitude above 8,000 feet, don’t go up faster than 1,000 feet per day. The closer you live to sea level, the more time your body will need to get used to a high altitude. Plan your trip so your body has time to get used to the high altitude before you start your physical activity.

b. Sleep at an altitude that is lower than the altitude you are at during the day.

For example, if you ski at an elevation of 10,000 feet during the day, sleep the night before and the night after at an elevation of 8,500 feet.

3) How do I know if I’m getting high-altitude illness?

Some of the first signs of high-altitude illness are headache, lightheadedness, weakness, trouble sleeping and an upset stomach. If you have these symptoms, stop going up or go back down to a lower altitude until your symptoms go away. More severe symptoms include difficulty breathing even while you’re resting, coughing, confusion and the inability to walk in a straight line. If you get these symptoms, go to a lower altitude right away and get help from a doctor.

4) What should I do if I get high-altitude illness?

The best treatment for any of the 3 high-altitude illnesses is to go down to a lower altitude right away. But if you only have mild symptoms, you may be able to stay at that altitude and let your body adjust. If you do this, don’t exercise at all–just rest until you feel better.

If you have severe symptoms, go down 1,500 to 2,000 feet right away to see if your symptoms get better. Keep going down until your symptoms go away completely.

Medicines that may be used to prevent or treat the symptoms of severe high-altitude illness include acetazolamide (one brand name: Diamox) and nifedipine (one brand name: Procardia).

Don’t ignore signs of high-altitude illness. People can die of this if they don’t recognize the signs or if they don’t believe their illness is caused by the high altitude. When you have signs of high-altitude illness, don’t go higher until you feel better and your symptoms have gone away completely.

5) Is it safe to go to a high altitude if I have a chronic illness like heart disease or lung disease?

It depends on the type and severity of chronic illness you have. Most people who have a chronic illness, such as heart or lung disease, can safely spend time at a high altitude if their disease is under control. People who have coronary artery disease, mild emphysema or high blood pressure aren’t at greater risk of high-altitude illness than people who don’t have these diseases. They also don’t risk making their disease worse by traveling to a high altitude. In addition, being overweight does not increase the risk of getting high-altitude illness.

Some diseases make going to a high altitude very dangerous. People who have sickle cell anemia shouldn’t go to a high altitude. A high altitude is also dangerous for people who have severe lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or severe emphysema, and for people who have severe heart disease. If you have a chronic disease, ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to travel to a high altitude.

6) Is going to a high altitude dangerous during pregnancy?

There isn’t much information about the risk of high-altitude illness during pregnancy, so it’s hard to say if going to a high altitude is safe for pregnant women. Some experts recommend that pregnant women not travel to an altitude above 8,000 feet. If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor for advice before you travel to a high altitude.

7) What about children and high altitudes?

It’s usually safe for children to go to high altitudes, but they’re more likely to get high-altitude illness because their bodies have a hard time adjusting to the low oxygen level. A child may not be able to recognize the symptoms of high-altitude illness, so parents and other adults must carefully watch for any signs of high-altitude illness in children.

What should I be aware of regarding my health and safety in Bolivia?

Travel in Bolivia can be safer and more enjoyable if you follow these health and safety tips:

HEALTH

  •  Give yourself a day or two to acclimatize.
  • Drink a cup of coca tea every several hours during your first few days in the highlands.
  • Drink 1-2 litres of bottled or purified water water/day and wear a hat and sunblock, even on cloudy days.
  • Consume alcoholic beverages conservatively and slowly.
  • Do not eat raw vegetables and eat fruit that has to be peeled (unless your guide indicates otherwise).
  • In restaurants, ask waiters if water for juices has been boiled, filtered or is bottled.
  • In lowland areas, wear light, long-sleeve shirts at all times.
  • In lowland areas, wear insect repellent at all times and sleep with mosquito nets if windows are not screened. Ask La Paz on Foot and local guides about higher risk times & places for insects.
  • Pay attention to your body. If you feel you need a rest, something to drink, etc. please do so and let your guide know how you are feeling!

SAFETY

  • Ask your guide(s) about picture taking, going out alone, carrying technology in exposed ways (video cameras, iPODS, etc.).
  • Ask people before taking their picture, you never know how they will react.
  • Carry small change and bills to avoid being seen with large bills.
  • Avoid congested areas unless your guide is close by and/or recommends visiting certain sites, such as markets.
  • Use common sense–petty crime is common in Bolivia, but not frequent.

What should I bring on my trip?

NOT SURE WHAT TO BRING? Here is a list of items we recommend you bring with you:

Note: On full and half-day hikes we supply snacks and carry extra water and a basic First Aid kit.

Note: La Paz on Foot discourages giving money and sweets to children encountered on rural hikes & treks. If you would like to help a child asking for handouts, consider pencils and other school supplies or more nutritious foods such as fruit cookies and bars. We run a program that is providing support to a school in one of the communities where we work, Santiago de Okola (Lake Titicaca). Please ask us for more information on how to help out!

Half and full-day trips:

  • Water bottle (~1.5 liters)
  • Sun protection
  • Rain protection (December-May)
  • Tissue/toilet paper
  • Small change/coins
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Sturdy walking shoes

Multi-day trips:

  • Layered clothing
  • 2 pairs long pants (one light-weight)
  • 1-2 light, long-sleeved shirt(s) or blouse(s) for hot weather
  • 1-2 warm, long-sleeved shirt(s) for cold weather
  • 1-2 warm sweater(s) or sweatshirt(s)
  • 1 more warm layer, such as a fleece jacket
  • 3-4 short-sleeved shirts or tank tops (not too tight or revealing)
  • 1 pair shorts or skirt (knee length) for hot weather
  • Sleepwear for hot and cold temperatures
  • Sun & rain protection
  • Bathing suit
  • Comfortable sandals
  • Comfortable walking/hiking shoes
  • Socks & underwear (several pairs or bring eco-friendly detergent and clothes line)

Other

  • Passport/Visa, airplane tickets, money, credit cards, ATM card, etc.
  • Some form of identification other than your passport and photocopy of the vital statistics page (front page) of your passport
  • Headlamp
  • Plug adapters and voltage converter, if needed
  • Personal medications in original containers and/or with prescriptions, and any medical documentation
  • Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate or other diarreah treatments
  • Insect repellent, anti-bacterial hand gel
  • Toiletries (shampoo, soap, toothpaste/toothbrush)
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Tissues
  • Fast-drying towel
  • Bag for soiled clothes
  • Earplugs

What do you recommend I read or watch or check out on-line before my trip?

YOUR JOURNEY TO THE CENTRAL ANDES BEGINS AT HOME!

Like the ancient civilizations of Greece & Egypt, the Andes have been the subject of a great deal of scholarly research, film-making, museum exhibits and other examples of the Andean Diaspora. The region has also been an area of considerable focus in modern times for matters such as sustainable development, indigenous identity and rights and biodiversity conservation.

Below we provide you with just a few sources of information about this incredibly rich and fascinating part of the world and we hope you take some time to inform yourself before visiting the Central Andes, it will make your trip much more interesting if you have some background information upon arrival.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • 1491 & 1493 – Charles C. Mann
  • Bolivia: A Concise History – Herbert S. Klein
  • Devil in the Mountain – Simon Lamb
  • The Articulated Peasant – Enrique Mayer
  • Oppressed But Not Defeated: Peasant Struggles Among the Aymara and Quechua in Bolivia, 1900-1980 – Silvia Rivera C.
  • Healers of the Andes: Kallawaya Herbalists and Their Medicinal Plants – Joseph Bastien
  • The Incas and Their Ancestors – Michael Moseley
  • Treasures of the Andes – Jeffrey Quilter
  • Ancient Titicaca – The Evolution of Complex Society in Southern Peru and Northern Bolivia – Charles Stanish

RECOMMENDED WEBSITES

  • Andes  – Wikipedia (just to get you started!)
  • Culture and Society in the Andes
  • Conservation International Amazonia
  • BBC Travel

RECOMMENDED VIDEOS

THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING, THERE IS A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE ON THIS FASCINATING REGION!

What do I do with my waste out on the trails?

WHAT TO DO WITH WASTE WHILE TRAVELING IN RURAL AREAS

 Waste, of all kinds, is a serious problem in the Central Andes. Communities are not equipped to manage waste in a low impact way and tourism can often only make the problems worse. Prior to traveling we recommend that you consider the following tips.

NOTE: The rule of thumb for managing your waste while traveling through sensitive mountain areas is obvious – produce as little as possible!

  • Challenge yourself to never buy a disposable bottle while in the Andes! Travel with refillable water bottle and a water purification system, see here for ideas
  • Familiarize yourself with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s guidelines for positive impact tourism and seek out providers
  • Do your best to take hot what you take in, following the Leave No Trace principals
  • Travel with a reusable shopping bag for market trips, it will be one less bag for wonder what to do with!
  • Set an example by disposing of your unavoidable waste in the most low impact manner possible

If you are in remote areas, you will probably not find many bathrooms for use. For this reason, please review the following options for low impact human waste management.

HUMAN WASTE. Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease, and maximize the rate of decomposition. In most locations, burying human feces in the correct manner is the most effective method to meet these criteria. Solid human waste must be packed out from some places, such as narrow river canyons. Land management agencies can advise you of specific rules for the area you plan to visit.

Contrary to popular opinion, research indicates that burial of feces actually slows decomposition. Pathogens have been discovered to survive for a year or more when buried. However, in light of the other problems associated with feces, it is still generally best to bury it. The slow decomposition rate causes the need to choose the correct location, far from water, campsites, and other frequently used places.

CATHOLES. Catholes are the most widely accepted method of waste disposal. Locate catholes at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from water, trails and camp. Select an inconspicuous site where other people will be unlikely to walk or camp. With a small garden trowel, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. The cathole should be covered and disguised with natural materials when finished. If camping in the area for more than one night, or if camping with a large group, cathole sites should be widely dispersed.

Perhaps the most widely accepted method of backcountry human waste disposal is the cathole. The advantages are:

they are easy to dig in most areas.

they are easy to disguise after use.

they are private.

they disperse the waste rather than concentrate it (which enhances decomposition).

It is usually easy to select an out of the way location where you can be certain no one is going to casually encounter the cathole.

SELECTING A CATHOLE SITE:

  • Select a cathole site far from water sources, 200 feet (approximately 70 adult paces) is the recommended range.
  • Select an inconspicuous site untraveled by people. Examples of cathole sites include thick undergrowth, near downed timber, or on gentle hillsides.
  • If camping with a group or if camping in the same place for more than one night, disperse the catholes over a wide area; don t go to the same place twice.
  • Try to find a site with deep organic soil. This organic ma al contains organisms which will help de pose the feces. (Organic soil is usually dark and rich in color.) Refer to the jars used to demonstrate decomposition. The desert does not have as much organic soil as a forested area. (See number 2 under Digging a Cathole below.)
  • If possible, locate your cathole where it will receive maximum sunlight. The heat from the sun will aid decomposition.
  • Choose an elevated site where water would not normally during runoff or rain storms. The idea here is to keep the feces out of water. Over time, the decomposing feces will percolate into the soil before reaching water sources.

 DIGGING A CATHOLE

  • A small garden trowel is the perfect tool for digging a cathole.
  • Dig the hole 6-8 inches deep (about the length of the trowel blade) and 4-6 inches in diameter. In a hot desert, human waste does not biodegrade easily because there is little organic soil to help break it down. In the desert, the cathole should be only 4-6 inches deep. This will allow the heat and sun to hasten the decay process.
  • When finished, the cathole should be filled with the original dirt and disguised with native materials.

CATHOLES IN ARID LANDS. A cathole is the most widely accepted means of waste disposal in arid lands. Locate catholes at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from water, trails, and camp. Avoid areas where water visibly flows, such as sandy washes, even if they are dry at the moment. Select a site that will maximize exposure to the sun in order to aid decomposition. Because the sun s heat will penetrate desert soils several inches, it can eventually kill pathogens if the feces are buried properly. South-facing slopes and ridge tops will have more exposure to sun and heat than other areas.

LATRINES. Though catholes are recommended for most situations, there are times when latrines may be more applicable, such as when camping with young children or if staying in one camp for longer than a few nights. Use similar criteria for selecting a latrine location as those used to locate a cathole. Since this higher concentration of feces will decompose very slowly, location is especially important. A good way to speed decomposition and diminish odors is to toss in a handful of soil after each use. Ask your land manager about latrine-building techniques.

 TOILET PAPER. Use toilet paper sparingly and use only plain, white, non-perfumed brands. Toilet paper must be disposed of properly! It should either be thoroughly buried in a cathole or placed in plastic bags and packed out. Natural toilet paper has been used by many campers for years. When done correctly, this method is as sanitary as regular toilet paper, but without the impact problems. Popular types of natural toilet paper include stones, vegetation and snow. Obviously, some experimentation is necessary to make this practice work for you, but it is worth a try! Burning toilet paper in a cathole is not generally recommended.

Toilet Paper in Arid Lands. Placing toilet paper in plastic bags and packing it out as trash is the best way to Leave No Trace in a desert environment. Toilet paper should not be burned. This practice can result in wild fires.

TAMPONS. Proper disposal of tampons requires that they be placed in plastic bags and packed out. Do not bury them because they don t decompose readily and animals may dig them up. It will take a very hot, intense fire to burn them completely.

URINE. Urine has little direct effect on vegetation or soil. In some instances urine may draw wildlife which are attracted to the salts. They can defoliate plants and dig up soil. Urinating on rocks, pine needles, and gravel is less likely to attract wildlife. Diluting urine with water from a water bottle can help minimize negative effects.

Are you a Traveler Against Plastic? Learn more and take the TAP pledge!

TRAVELERS AGAINST PLASTIC

Travelers Against Plastic (or TAP) is an international movement of travelers and tour operators dedicated to eliminating the use of discardable plastic bottles within the travel industry. You can visit the TAP webpage here, “Take the Pledge” and commit to try and reduce your use of disposable plastic bottles while traveling.

Here are a few tips from the TAP webpage on how to eliminate the use of plastic bottles while traveling:

Water purification is easier than you think! We all know we can’t drink the water in many parts of the world because it might make us sick. Most people buy bottled water which has huge environmental impacts as well as being expensive and possibly unhealthy. What to do?

IT’S EASY: There are many refillable bottles to choose from and there electronic, chemical and mechanical ways to clean your water. Here are just a few examples:

Electronic sterilization: STERIPEN

  • A small light weight device that cleans the water with ultra-violet light
  • One Steri-PEN cleans 8,000 bottles of water. One charge of the battery will last for one 10-14 day trip.
  • The technology is proven and safe
  • Cost: $65-140
  • Cost per bottle of water: .01cents

Chemical sterilization: WATER PURIFICATION TABLETS

  • Proven effective and simple to use
  • Takes about 35 minutes to take effect
  • Cost: $6-8 per bottle of tablets
  • Cost per bottle of water: .27 cents

Mechanical sterlization: GRAYL- The Water Filtration Cup

  • Works like a coffee press
  • 16oz of clean water in 15 seconds
  • Easy to use- no sucking or squeezing, pumping or batteries
  • Cost: $69 for the cup and $39 for a purifier attachment
  • Filters flavor, odor, particulates and many heavy metals (i.e. lead, arsenic, chromium) and chemicals (i.e chlorine, benzene, chloroform) plus: o Filter (included): 99.99% of bacteria (i.e E.Coli, Salmonella) and 99.94% of protozoa (i.e Cryptosporidium, Giardia) o Purifier (optional): 99.999% of bacteria and protozoa plus viruses (i.e. Hepatitis A, SARS)
  • 300 uses per replaceable Filter and Purifier

How much do La Paz on Foot hikes and treks cost?

Most of our hikes, walks and treks in the Central Andes have their prices here on our website. Our hikes and treks vary in cost according to the destination, characteristics such as public or private transportation and the number of persons in your group. We conbsider ourselves practitioners of Fair Trade values and we pay our guides and other partners fair wages for their services.

Custom trips, group trips and other special requests are available and we can calculate their costs once we define the program with you. Also, if you would like to know about ways to modify programs or reduce costs, please do not hesitate to send us an email.

How difficult are the hikes and treks?

Most of our hikes, walks and treks in the Central Andes have their prices here on our website. Our hikes and treks vary in cost according to the destination, characteristics such as public or private transportation and the number of persons in your group. We conbsider ourselves practitioners of Fair Trade values and we pay our guides and other partners fair wages for their services.

Custom trips, group trips and other special requests are available and we can calculate their costs once we define the program with you. Also, if you would like to know about ways to modify programs or reduce costs, please do not hesitate to send us an email.

Do I need to speak Spanish to participate on any of the treks or hikes?

No! All of our excursions include services of a bi-lingual guide. We currently offer guides who speak English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. Please let us know your language of preference and we will do our best to accommodate your request.

If you speak Spanish or want to practice your Spanish, please request local guides only or request that your La Paz on Foot guide use Spanish during your time together.

Does La Paz on Foot offer longer programs, such as courses?

Yes! We currently work with two institutions, Where There Be Dragons (USA) and Prescott College (USA), and coordinate longer, more complex courses focused on Andean ecology, agriculture and culture. We love the idea of developing longer trips, especially if they include visits to all of the ecological tiers where we work. If you are interested in developing a course with La Paz on Foot, please get in touch!

Does La Paz on Foot accept volunteers?

Yes, we do, and our current need is for a volunteer who can help us develop our volunteer program! Once we have the program set up, we will be prepared to coordinate a diversity of volunteer activities—so please keep checking the website for updates on the volunteer program.

What is the Biodiversity Conservation Program?

In addition to organizing hikes, treks, walks and courses, La Paz on Foot also carries out small projects dedicated to the conservation of the Andean region’s spectacular biodiversity. To date, we have coordinated two tree-planting activities, one on the community of Santiago de Okola on Lake Titicaca and another in the peri-urban village of Chicani in the Hampaturi Valley, near La Paz.

We are also working with several local and international NGOs on the conservation of Andean crops in the altiplano and the conservation of biodiversity in the Yungas region. For more information click on the butterfly icon on the home page.


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