HighLives Travel review
High-altitude health in South America
The Quick Read: HighLives Travel specialises in organised and tailor-made trips to the South American countries of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina, with a strong emphasis on the Andes. Their Wellness Holidays are travel adventures with a wellbeing slant – such as spa, yoga, fitness and detox – and they mostly take place at relatively high altitudes, such as heights of 5,000m (16,400ft) in the Bolivian altiplano. The clue’s in the name. Whatever kind of trip you take, HighLives Travel advocates the benefits of being at altitude as a wellness activity in its own right, citing weight loss and increased athleticism as the potential plus points of being up high.
More on the wellbeing holidays: The founder of this small company, Bibiana Garside, is originally from La Paz in Bolivia, and her wellness trips go all over the South American Andes and beyond – from the peaks of southern Patagonia to the incredible altiplano of Bolivia, home to the largest salt flat in the world and a multitude of colourful flamingo-packed lakes. Those available vary widely, but each mixes travel and sightseeing with wellness activities. Most of them are only suggestions, and can be put together differently or bolted together, according to specific requests. With a variety of trips comes a variety of accommodation and facilities too – read a word from the queen and a word from the king on their wellness break in Peru.
Wellness in Peru: On the 10 day Culture, Calm and Cuisine trip in Peru, you’ll start with the capital – and gastronomical hub – Lima, before moving on to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, home to dozens of other Inca ruins set in the mountains and valleys of one of the country’s best known regions. The sightseeing trip includes a Peruvian cooking class in Lima, and the option to take part in a traditional ceremony with an Andean shaman, giving thanks and burning offerings to pachamama (mother earth) – well, why not?
The journey is punctuated with a three-day spa retreat at the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Wellness Centre, which is is built around a sprawling 17th-century hacienda estate, with its own private lake, ornate chapel, 22-seater cinema, library, art gallery, pools and roaming alpacas and peacocks. The on-site modern UNNO Spa has seven treatment rooms, three hydrotherapy pools, oxygenation room and hyperbaric chamber, as well as spaces for fitness and yoga. On our visit, they did a melty signature massage, incorporating Swedish, therapeutic, reflexology and shiatsu techniques – lots of other treatments are available.
In nearby Cuzco, HighLives Travel uses sister hotel the Aranwa Cusco Boutique Hotel, a gorgeous renovated 16th century colonial mansion, crammed with sculptures, carvings and the owner’s art collection from the famous Cuzco School. Extra oxygen is pumped into the bedrooms to combat the effects of altitude. Guests can use the city’s Inca Spa, an atmospheric, candle-lit basement haven that is off-site.
Wellness in the Peruvian Amazon: One of the few sea-level journeys takes place on a boat in the Peruvian Amazon. The four-day River Rejuventation cruise starts and ends in the city of Iquitos and travels through protected wildlife-rich jungle. It focuses on yoga, meditation and massage – yoga sessions are both on board the boat and on a river beach. For those who want a taste of local wellness culture, an optional “jungle cleansing” ritual is conducted by a shaman one evening, while on another they hold a “wet rejuvenation” ceremony.
Wellness in Chile: The jagged peaks, glaciers and rivers of Torres del Paine National Park provide the backdrop for the 8-day Hiking Yoga Patagonia trip to southern Chile. The tour involves a combination of hikes in the national park and other locations, plus yoga with professional English-speaking teachers. The four-day programme of morning and evening stretches, held in a purpose-built dome, includes Kundalini and Hatha yoga (with mats provided). The company uses the sustainable Ecocamp, where everything – from sleeping and eating to yoga – happens in one of their eco-friendly geodesic domes.
Wellness in Bolivia: The highest capital city in the world, La Paz – at 3,660m (more than 12,000ft) – is the starting point for the one-week High Altitude Detox trip to Bolivia. A cleansing menu, which includes veg and fruit juices, is suggested for the first 4 or 5 days, and can be tailored to particular dietary needs – clients fill in a questionnaire when they book. After La Paz you’ll travel to Lake Titicaca before returning to enjoy a spa day in the city. Other trips, like the 11-day Bolivia Sublime Summits itinerary, have no specific individual wellness activities other than the whole trip taking place at high altitude (see below). Among the many properties used in Bolivia is the Posada del Inca hotel, on Lake Titicaca’s Sun Island (Isla del Sol), where you can gaze at the stars and disconnect from the world. If possible High Lives recommends staying a little longer, for a “complete digital detox”.
Wellness in Ecuador: In Ecuador there’s a two-day trip to the thermal springs resort of Papallacta, in the mountains north of the capital, Quito. Natural thermal pools of various temperatures are set within lush gardens and mountain views. The Papallacta Pass Thermal Springs trip includes an overnight stay at the resort, where you can book extra treatments, eat fresh trout from their own farm, or hike and bird-watch in the nearby forest.
More on the altitude: HighLives Travel uses the Altitude Centre, in London, as the source of its information on the topic. Scientific studies show that when living at altitude the body increases its metabolism, which can help to lose weight. Skin rejuvenation and general wellbeing are also improved, it says. Benefits in terms of improved athletic performance have also been shown, which is why so many athletes undertake altitude training. It’s more marked the higher you go and the longer you spend in a reduced-oxygen environment.
Food and drink: All trips can cater to specific dietary requirements and requests, but the High Altitude Detox trip is the only one with specifically cleansing meals. The emphasis on most other trips tends to be on traditional, local and – where possible – organic food, rather than on trying to be obsessively healthy, and there’s no restriction on alcohol or caffeine. On the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, for example, you can try an ‘Apthapi’ during the Sublime Summits trip, an ancient traditional way of eating a communal feast which might, typically, include potato, maize, yucca, meat such as llama or rabbit, fish, natural or fried cheeses and eggs, all with chillies.
The most food-focused experience is in Peru, which has a world-renowned nuevo cuisine scene. The Culture, Calm and Cuisine trip starts with a visit to a market in the capital Lima, and includes a cooking class at the home of a local chef. Later, there’s dinner at one of the restaurants of Gaston Acurio, one of the pioneers of Lima’s Novoandina food movement. The rest of the trip is peppered with gourmet meals, in particular at the restaurants of the Aranwa hotels. Their regional menu will include the likes of alpaca meat, guinea pig, Andean cheese and locally-grown grains such as quinoa, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options like warm quinoa tabouleh or mushroom ‘ceviche’.
Fellow guests: All wellness trips are tailor-made for the individuals or groups wishing to travel, but it’s also possible to join small group tours, which usually have no more than four or five people. You’re more likely to find activity-keen travellers with a sense of adventure, who have packed their trekking boots and SLRs as well as their yoga mats – these are adventures with a wellness element, rather than wellness retreats. With so much to see and do, it’s probably not ideal for someone who just wants to sit in one place, although that can be arranged.
What’s lowly: While these trips could not be categorised as extreme, it’s worth noting that high altitude can make you sick, although it’s usually a very short-term thing. Some people take longer to acclimatise and it doesn’t suit everyone straight away. Take all the time that’s advised – more, if you have it – to allow your body to adjust.
Getting there: All international and internal flights are arranged by the company, and once you get there all ground transport is included.
Costs: Guide prices for multi-day trips start at £1650 for the 11-day Sublime Summits trip to Bolivia, not including international or internal flights. Suggested itineraries typically include transfers and transport, accommodation and tours with local guides, but each journey is put together according to the group or individual’s requests. Most treatments are pre-booked, but paid for locally.
Examples include: High Altitude detox, one week in Bolivia, from £1900 per person; the 11-day Sublime Summits trip, also to Bolivia, starts at £1650; four days on an Amazon cruise, from £2000; Peru Culture, Calm and Cuisine is a more involved 10-day trip, costing from £4200; Hiking and yoga in Patagonia is 8 days from £2700, while the overnight trip to the thermal springs resort in Ecuador costs from £350 a head.
© Queen of Retreats