Mexico City’s Elevation and Altitude Sickness
by Josien - 10 May, 2020
Mexico City is situated about 7.000 feet / 2.250 m above sea level and is one of the highest cities in Central America. This altitude of Mexicos’ capital city is for many people an issue in the first days they arrive. They feel nauseous, have a headache, feel tired, and are quickly out of breath. All symptoms of Altitude Sickness.
Mexico City’s Elevation
The Aztecs built Mexico City on a lake that is located in the Valley of Mexico. This valley situates on high plateaus in the middle of the country and that is why Mexico City has an elevation of 2.250 meters. That old lake is also the reason why earthquakes are so much more damaging in this city than in other regions of Mexico. Because it is built upon a (mountain) lake, the soil is very unstable. Imagine the Aztecs building the city island by island and then pumping the canals dry.
Then the Spaniards came and crushed it even further down and build their own churches and cathedrals on top of the ruins. The city kept growing and growing but at the same time, they use so much groundwater, that the soil is sinking even more. So besides all the layers, the ground is now also very dry and easy to shake up. And with at least three big vulcanos around the city and being in a high seismic area, Mexico City is in great danger when it comes to earthquakes.
My experience with Mexico City’s elevation
After being in here for two weeks I decided I could use a work-out. I wasn’t aware of the possibility of altitude sickness, but I did hear about. I just thought it wouldn’t hit me after two weeks, right? Little did I know.
We were staying in La Condesa, our favorite neighborhood, so we were close to Avenida Amsterdam. This street is sort of a big roundabout around Parque Mexico, with a walking trail in the middle. Ideal for a run! One round is about 1.5 kilometer and it is a beautiful track. I can highly recommend running here after you are used to Mexico City’s elevation of course.
So there I was, going for a run. The first half I was doing great, really feeling it and absolutely enjoying my surroundings. But then it started to hurt in my throat, getting shorter of breath, trouble breathing, and tired. It started slowly, so I pushed through and thought it was because I didn’t work out that much lately. But during the last quarter, I really couldn’t run anymore. I set down on a bench for a bit and then walked home.
At home, I started coughing and it felt like my asthma kicked in. After 30 minutes of struggling, I grabbed my asthma meds and after taking that I felt fine. It wasn’t scary at all, it just caught me by surprise. I told my friends about it and they told me that the altitude sickness probably triggered my asthma and that I really need to take it slow when working out again.
Lesson learned. Thanks Mexico City and your elevation!
How to deal with altitude sickness in CDMX?
Altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen at altitudes above 2000-2500 meters. The body needs time to adapt to that ‘hostile’ environment. If that time is not given by gently acclimatizing to the altitude, you will get complaints: headache, nausea, shortness of breath. However, your body can get used to the lower amount of oxygen in the air. You start breathing faster and deeper and you get a faster heartbeat.
It is easier for one person than for another. A professional mountain climber can adjust to an altitude of about 5.500 meters without any effort. And mountain people in, for example, the Himalayas or the Andes Mountains have fully acclimatized to the high altitude. Above 5.500 meters, everyone is confronted with altitude sickness.
So how to work out in Mexico City, without getting sick?
Taking it slow, that is the only advice. Altitude sickness can be a real b*tch when you’re hiking up a mountain and although Mexico City is not like Mount Everest, you have to take it slow. Find low-intensity things to do, like musea or hot balloon rides. Pick a lighter work out, run slower, take more breaks, and drink a lot of water and stay away from alcohol for a while.
How do you deal with Mexico City and its elevation?