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How to Prepare for Altitude

The Andean highlands are some of the most spectacular and unique landscapes you’ll find in the world. If you’re heading to San Pedro de Atacama, Uyuni, La Paz, or Salta, you will be blown away by the cultures and wildlife that thrive in these challenging conditions. From here, you can see mountains as high as Everest Base Camp. But in these fascinating towns and cities at 2500-3000m (8200-9800 ft) above sea level, you might also find yourself affected by the altitude. 

There are some tips and tricks you can do to minimize your chances of feeling ill at elevations like these and to ensure you have an amazing trip! 

What is altitude sickness? 

Altitude sickness is the body’s reaction to the lower levels of oxygen found at high altitudes. It doesn’t affect everyone, but it can affect anyone. Even if you’ve been to high altitudes before without a problem, you could still be affected the next time you go. It is often preventable and treatable, but if you’re affected, it can be uncomfortable causing headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. 

Preparation is key

Before you travel, you can buy over-the-counter medication if you wish to help with altitude and bring ibuprofen to help with any headaches. Of course, talk to your doctor about this or any other concerns before your trip. 

It is not recommended to go scuba diving the day before you climb to high elevations. If you want to scuba on Easter Island as part of our Easter Island to Atacama itinerary, we’ll schedule this a few days before you travel to Atacama. 

On the day you travel to altitude, ensure you are well rested and hydrated. It’s a good idea to eat easily digestible food (think fruits, veggies and grains, stay away from anything too fatty!). At these altitudes, you need more energy, too, so be sure you get plenty of carbs! It’s recommended to avoid alcohol and caffeine, too and to topping up on potassium to help keep dehydration at bay. You can find potassium in foods like bananas, avocados, spinach, yogurt, and kale.

If you want to take a hint from the locals, try some coca leaves! You can either go all in and chew the leaves or you can add them to hot water to make Andean coca tea. It tastes just like green tea and you can sweeten it to taste, but it really can make a big difference! Coca leaves are just as beneficial in preventing altitude sickness as they are in helping to relieve its symptoms. 

Another important tip is to take it easy for the first day or two, too. Just because you don’t feel it as soon as you arrive, you might not have avoided it completely! You may find yourself feeling queasy or lightheaded overnight or the next day. So make the most of your vacation and get plenty of rest, especially during the first couple of days. 

What to do if you get altitude sickness

Spot the signs early to avoid escalation – listen to your body and take it easy. With rest and plenty of hydration you should start to feel better soon. Most mild altitude symptoms go away within a day or two. 

It’s important to note, too, that if you feel really unwell or start showing signs of confusion, changes of color in the skin, clumsiness, or severe trouble breathing, seek urgent medical attention.

Crossing the Chile-Argentina Border

The Andes Mountains form a spectacular border between Chile and Argentina, stretching 5,308 km (3,298 mi). Crossing between the two countries will offer you some incredible views and the chance to experience two unique and dynamic South American countries. We’ll help you with the planning and logistics of hopping over the border, but if you’re keen to know more, keep reading for the requirements, what to expect, and the sights you’ll see on the way!

You can cross each of the points we name here in a vehicle, although there are smaller crossing points that may only permit foot and bicycle traffic. These minor crossings usually connect small towns and villages in the Andes region. Check maps, ask locals, or speak to your Ecochile contact to see if there are pedestrian or bike-friendly crossings on your route.



To cross the Chile-Argentina border, you’ll need a valid passport, a tourist card/visa if required (if going from Chile to Argentina, you need to show the PDI paper you received when you entered Chile), and the documents handed to you by the rental car company if applicable. Depending on your nationality, you may be able to cross with just your passport or you may need to obtain a tourist visa ahead of time. Check the requirements for entering Chile and Argentina before your trip. 

Officials on both sides of the border will stamp your passport and may ask you questions about the purpose and length of your visit. Make sure you have all your travel documents in hand and be cooperative with border personnel for the shortest processing time. Border wait times fluctuate based on season and traffic volume, so build extra time into your itinerary. Summer and major holidays tend to be the busiest crossing times.


Paso de Jama crossings – Northern Deserts

These border crossings lie between the fascinating desert town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and the alluring colonial city of Salta in Argentina and altitude wine region of Cafayate. In northern Argentina, the Salta province shares a long border with Chile. This crossing lies at high altitude which offers a unique landscape of desert mountains, salt flats, and salt lagoons to admire along the route. Be sure to fill up on gas, food, and cash before leaving as there are few services available along this route. Although open all year round, the crossing point may close in the winter due to weather conditions. 

There is also the option of crossing at Paso Sico, which lies slightly further south. 


Los Libertadores pass – Central Region

The most popular and heavily trafficked crossing is the Los Libertadores pass. The road, Route 60, goes from the Chilean city of Valparaiso, passing through Santiago and reaching the Argentine city of Mendoza. Keep an eye out for the highlights of the route: the 4 meter (10ft) tall Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue; passing the awe-inspiring Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas; and the brilliant ski center, Ski Portillo, one of the oldest and most important in the Southern Hemisphere. 

This mountain pass sits at an elevation of 3,200 m above sea level (10,500 ft). Although officially open all year round, at these lofty elevations, the weather conditions in the winter can mean closures for safety reasons. Our team will be in touch if this will affect you and provide you with an alternative.


Nahuel Huapi National Park, Bariloche

Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass Lakes Region

The scenic lakes region of Argentina and Chile offers another popular border crossing option via the Cardenal Samore Pass. This crossing connects the famous Argentine tourist town of San Carlos de Bariloche with Puerto Varas in Chile’s Lake District. This picturesque route winds through the Andes along Lake Nahuel Huapi, passing cascading waterfalls and forests of native trees, chasing snow-capped volcanoes. With its ease of access via public transportation and gorgeous natural backdrop, the Bariloche to Puerto Varas trip makes for an excellent add-on for travelers looking to see more of Patagonia’s iconic mountain landscape and experience the best of both Argentina’s and Chile’s lake regions.

Alternatively you can cross further south at Paso Pérez Rosales as part of a beautiful route that mixes scenic drives and ferry rides over idyllic Patagonian lakes. This leisurely route travels between Puerto Varas and Bariloche and is a truly spectacular way to travel. Note that this route must be booked in advance with the tour operator.


Paso Roballos & Paso Jeinimeni – Southern Patagonia

At the southern end of the Andes in Patagonia, dirt roads criss-cross the border between Chile and Argentina. Some, like Paso Roballos or Paso Jeinimeni, require 4×4 vehicles or hiring local guides to traverse them. El Chaltén in Argentina provides access to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field via border crossings like Paso Vuriloche. Travel here is for the adventure-seeker looking to explore remote mountain landscapes, or to visit the incomparable Torres del Paine and incredible El Chalten in one epic trip! Note that this crossing is only open during the summer season.

When you travel with Ecochile, we’ll help you manage these crossings, ensure you have all the documents you need, make the appropriate arrangements with the rental car company and handle any hiccups that may happen. Speak to us today to start planning your trip to Chile and Argentina! 

Yerba Loca: Hiking in the outskirts of Santiago

Santiago is a sprawling, bustling city. It’s a truly vibrant metropolis that’s home to people of different cultures. Packed full of history and culture, it’s easy to spend a few days exploring the streets and museums of one of the biggest cities in South America. 

Outside of the hustle and bustle, lies some of the city’s hidden but magnificent charms. Santiago sits at the base of the Andes, which offer a beautifully contrasting backdrop to the city’s structures. The snow-capped peaks rise over the colonial-style square, the functional markets, and the hyper-modern glass high-rises. Once you’ve finished exploring the busy streets and green parks of the Chilean capital, head out to these mountains for a totally fresh perspective. 

To the northeast of the city lies Yerba Loca park. Like a branch stretching out of the hustle and bustle, the road to the park winds through the dry, cactus-lined valley. In the eves of summer, with a bright burning sun, the noise and drama of the capital became only sounds of chirping birds and the occasional cyclist. 

With the group, we arrived in the park, registered with the rangers and headed to the base of three possible treks. With well-kept facilities, including a visitor center and restrooms (and some curious but harmless bugs!), the anticipation and excitement to explore the route was bubbling. 

Our guides explained that we were going to head to the Refugio Alemán (German Shelter) – a moderately difficult route but one that offers spectacular views of the valley. After a briefing and introductions, we each collected our walking poles and packed lunch and headed on our way. 

Starting with a gradual incline and a lot of enthusiasm, after the first bend we could see our end goal – a stone shelter with a proud Chilean flag next to it. From the off, we were surrounded by nature and trying to name what we could identify. 

Our guides – geologists by training and outdoor fans – told us more about the different wildlife that we saw along the way, such as the American kestrel, Chilean mockingbird, and red-backed hawk. There was plenty of fauna along the route too, like the Junellia Spathulata plants that scented the path like jasmine. We passed by wild meadows, saw enormous standalone rocks, and climbed amongst the shrub as we worked our way to the shelter. 

As we stopped to rest and hydrate, the guides explained to us about the landscape around us.

Our first rest point was at the Mirador del Águila, the Eagle Viewpoint. We didn’t see any eagles from there, but the view of the Paloma Glacier in the distance was incredible! At the second, we learned about the formation of the Andes and the volcanoes and earthquakes that characterize Chile’s geography and even culture. 

The nearly three hours of walking flew by and soon enough, we had climbed to the top. What a view! Even with some smokey residue from some nearby forest fires the day before, the vista was breathtaking. This was far from the Santiago we were used to seeing and thoroughly rewarding.

After a delicious lunch and, of course, a photoshoot, we climbed back down to the starting point. We were greeted by a very welcome surprise picnic of nibbles, charcuterie, and some deliciously refreshing juice and pisco sours! 

We rested and refueled as the guides showed us some of the most beautiful and fascinating rock samples we’d ever seen. With the loupes provided, we looked at crystals, quartz, fossils, and smooth turquoise stones that looked more like something out of a painting, inspiring a renewed appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

This hike was a wonderful discovery, as much in its views as its nature. To explore a small bit of the epic Andes that form such an important icon in Chile so close to the city is a magnificent opportunity recommended to any visitor. If you’re looking to see an alternative side to Santiago, or to find some off-beat hiking trails in Chile, be sure to put this one on your list. 

Talk to an Ecochile travel specialist today to include this hike in your itinerary.