Breathing Easy at High Altitudes
Many really good places to live in Mexico are situated at high altitudes. Heights of 5,000-7,000 feet above sea level are not unusual for cities in Mexico’s colonial heartland as well as those in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. Mexico City and Guadalajara are also cities situated at altitude.
Most people who come to visit or live in Mexico tend to live much closer to sea-level–perhaps a few hundred feet above sea-level at most–and so a visit to one of Mexico’s inland towns or cities may have leave you breathless in more ways than one, until your body becomes acclimatized to thinner air.
Mexico City, for example, is not only 7,200 feet above sea level (that’s about a mile and-a-half up in the sky), it is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains and flanked by two volcanoes. The mix of altitude, heat, and smog can become quite uncomfortable at times, and may leave you feeling exhausted after what may have seemed a normal day’s activity back home.
Mexico’s provinces do not suffer the smog that metropolises like Mexico City, Los Angeles and Tokyo have come to inherit, but the altitude and, in summer months, the heat may cause you to feel more tired than usual if you are not already accustomed to high altitudes where you live.
Common symptoms people adjusting to higher altitudes feel include unusual lethargy or tiredness, the desire to nap in the early afternoon, reduction or loss of appetite, headaches, and the inability to sleep well.
Altitude does bring with it some distinct advantages, too. Being high up can keep the climate at more temperate levels, especially in comparison to the sultry, sweltering heat at the coasts in the high summer months. During the fall and winter months, the mornings and evenings can be quite cool – even chilly – which makes for a welcome contrast to the warmer days and hotter summers.
Getting acclimatized to altitude takes some time, and your body will usually adjust surprisingly quickly to the change of altitude given the right amount of rest and hydration.
Here are some key tips to help you acclimatize at altitude:
Take it easy at first – don’t plan too much activity for your first few days. Give your body time to acclimatize to the change in altitude and lower oxygen levels. Take a short nap in the afternoon if you like; or at least rest a while;
Drink lots of fresh water – two liters a day, minimum; keep drinking little and often all day. Staying thoroughly hydrated is really important at high altitude; even if you don’t feel thirsty;
Stay protected against the sun – wear a sun-hat and use protective sun lotion, even in the fall and winter months when the temperatures are lower. Stay protected even on cloudy days: UV rays can penetrate cloud cover;
Watch your alcohol intake – wine, beer, and liquor will go to your head faster and the effects will last longer when you are situated at high altitude; alcohol also dehydrates you, so you may want to consider scaling-back your normal consumption rates and supplementing your liquid intake with additional fresh water.
Within a few weeks, you will find that your body has acclimatized to higher altitudes and the side-effects will diminish. It is, however, important to keep yourself well hydrated and watch your alcohol intake.
For more practical information about keeping well and staying healthy in Mexico, read our Mexico Travel Health Guide – it’s packed full with tips and local knowledge.
See Also: Mexico: Land of Three Lands