Altitude sickness may occur when you ascend to high altitude quickly, for example, when you fly into the highlands. This is not a problem in San José (1150m), which is not high enough to cause altitude problems.
If you are planning on driving up one of the volcanoes such as Poás (2704m) or Irazú (3432m), you may experience some shortness of breath and headache. Overnight stays are not allowed on these volcanoes, so you will be able to descend quickly if you feel unwell. Heading south from San José on the Interamerican Highway, the road crosses the continental divide at 3335, 95km south of the capital. Again you will probably be going down again before you get sick.
If you climb Chirripó (3819m, the highest mountain in Costa Rica and southern Central America), you may experience much more severe symptoms, including vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, a rapid pulse, and irregular (or Cheyne-Stokes) breathing during sleep.
The best thing you can do to avoid altitude thickness is to climb gradually. Consider taking two days for the Chirripó ascent rather than one. If you feel sick, the best treatment is rest, deep breathing, and adequate fluid intake, and a mild painkiller such as Tylenol to alleviate headaches. If symptoms are very severe, the only effective cure is to descend to a lower elevation.
Pictures by Jörn Malek. The team of 1-CostaRicaLink and Costa-Rica-Information-Mobile wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
Text by Lonely Planet.
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