Quito, Ecuador is the second highest capital city in the world (Kiprop, 2017). It nestles in the Andes mountain range at 2,850m (9,350ft), providing visitors with breathtaking views as they literally “live in the clouds” and “somewhere over the rainbow.” But with this territory of enchanted heights comes the less-glamorous, and sometimes frankly miserable, realty of altitude. Although most people will never feel more than slightly short of breath after normal exertion (walking up a flight of stairs, for example); some bodies do suffer the age-old plight of altitude sickness. However, that said, there are ways to deal with the altitude adjustment, so that is passes quickly and painlessly. Take the the following information as lifeblood, so that your cloud-living experience doesn’t catch you short of breath.

The 411 on Altitude Sickness:

For those who are used to oxygen-dense air, the upper reaches of a high-altitude atmosphere can be quite different, to say the least. At these heights, the air is much thinner; nearly everyone will be able to sense it with physical exertion. In fact, many athletes search for high-altitude destinations as training grounds, as lungs adjusted to the lack of oxygen prove to be powerfully strengthened machines.

However, if you’re looking for a more relaxing vacation, you may not want to face the altitude lungs-on. If you’re less lucky, you may even feel altitude sickness without having exercised at all. There are 3 main types of the sickness, depending upon severity: Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). AMS is common, and only lasts about a day, as long as you follow treatment recommendations (see section below). Don’t be shocked or scared if you feel the following symptoms within the first few days (DerSarkissian, 2018):

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Problems with sleep
  • Loss of appetite

The other two types of altitude sickness (HAPE and HACE) are much less common. However, it’s necessary to seek medical attention, in case you feel the following symptoms (DerSarkissian, 2018):

  • Loss of coordination and trouble walking
  • A severe headache that doesn’t get better with medication
  • A tightening in your chest
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath even at rest
  • Inability to walk
  • A cough that produces a white or pink frothy substance
  • Coma

Again, these symptoms are rare; don’t let them shy you away from a great Quitenian adventure. But, do make sure that your hotel is staffed with professional and helpful locals, who are equipped to get you connected to one of Quito’s modern and effective medical centers, in case of any emergency need.

Altitude Sickness Survival: Will I always feel nauseous?

The body will naturally acclimatize to its new environment. Most people will not feel any physical changes while resting, and will pass the feeling of exhaustion while exercising after the first few days. However, for the fastest and most painlessly effective adaption, follow these WebMD tips (DerSarkissian, 2018):

  • Start your journey below 10,000 feet. If you have to fly or drive somewhere that’s higher up, stop at one destination that’s lower for at least a full day before going any higher.
  • If you walk, hike, or climb over 10,000 feet, only go up an additional 1,000 feet per day. For every 3,000 feet you climb, rest at least a day at that height.
  • “Climb high and sleeplow”: If you have to climb over 1,000 feet in a day, make sure you come back down to a lower altitude to sleep.
  • Drink 3-4 quarts of water every day and make sure about 70% of your calories are coming from carbs.
  • Don’t use tobacco, alcohol, or other medications, such as sleeping pills.
  • Know how to identify the first signs of altitude sickness. Immediately move to a lower elevation if you start to develop these symptoms.

In addition, and from personal experience, we recommend taking your first few days slowly: don’t go on any big hikes or runs. Also, even while walking around the city, stop frequently and take a rest. There are plenty of beautiful sites to enjoy along your journey—from café’s and restaurants to museums and parks—you won’t want to rush, anyway! Finally, check out some sedentary activities to plan for your first few days in Quito. The city offers a number of concerts , an exciting nightlife, and top-of-the-line conference and activities centers for all kinds of event planning.

No matter your travel style, interests, and acclimatization process, Quito has the infrastructure to support your best experience. Follow our tips, to ensure that your journey over the rainbow is fantastically-free of altitude sickness bummers.



  • DerSarkissian, C. (2018, December 23). Altitude Sickness: Symptoms, Treatment & Medication, Prevention. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/altitude-sickness#1
  • Kiprop, V. (2017, October 05). The Highest Capital Cities in the World. Retrieved May 21, 2019, from https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-highest-capital-cities-in-the-world.html
  • Quito Turismo. Picture.


Author: Shannon Cantor


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