“Kathleen, Cuenca, which you recommend, is at 8,300 feet of altitude. Maybe you can get one of those T-shirts that say, ‘I can’t breathe!’ for everyone who moves there?”
–Mark T., United States
Indeed, Cuenca is up in the highlands. I see your point, as I suffer from altitude sickness. My first visits to Cuenca were spent chewing coca leaves, drinking coca tea, and lying in my hotel bed with a cool compress on my forehead. I was, frankly, miserable.
The coca leaves and tea are local remedies for altitude sickness, which not everyone suffers. However, if you are sensitive to high elevations, you should take precautions before traveling anywhere above, say, 4,000 or 5,000 feet. You want to build up your red blood cell count. Eat red meats and take iron pills. It helps. And take it easy your first few days up in the clouds. I resisted this piece of advice for years and paid for it. I’d land in Quito, for example, and take off hiking in the Andes looking at hacienda properties for sale. Then I’d spend two or three days unable to get out of bed.
Pace yourself. Drink lots of water. Eat lots of red meat. In a few days, your body will adjust.
Unless you have a heart condition or breathing problems, in which case you might want to take Cuenca and other spots of high elevation off your list.
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