The main problem you’re likely to face when you arrive in La Paz is the altitude: the city stands at over 3500m above sea level, and the airport in El Alto is even higher, at over 4000m. If you’re flying in or arriving by bus from lower elevations you may suffer from altitude sickness, also known as soroche, a debilitating and potentially dangerous condition caused by the reduced oxygen levels found at high elevations. Mild symptoms can include breathlessness and lethargy, sleeplessness, headaches and nausea, though for most people these fade within a few days as the body adjusts to the rarefied air. On arrival at high altitude you should take things very slowly and get straight to a hotel where you can leave your luggage and rest. It’s also best to avoid smoking and alcohol, and to drink plenty of liquids, particularly maté de coca, an infusion of coca leaves that any local will tell you is the ideal remedy. Alternatively, all chemists stock soroche pills; they’re high in caffeine, however, so don’t take them at night unless you fancy even less sleep than the altitude already dictates.
In its more serious forms, altitude sickness can be dangerous or even life-threatening. If you think you may have the symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary or cerebral oedema (see Malaria and other insect-borne diseases) you should seek immediate medical advice. The best place for this is the High Altitude Pathology Institute, Clinica IPPA, Av Saavedra 2302 (t02 2245394, waltitudeclinic.com).