The Highest I’ve Ever Stood

4,170 meters in Northern Argentina

4,170 meters is the highest altitude at which I have ever stood.

The day started long before sunrise. Our driver stopped at a corner store and urged us all to purchase the infamous coca leaves in preparation for the long day ahead. (They worked their magic in Cusco and I’ve been a chewer ever since.) A few pesos got me a generous bag full; I used the remainder to brew tea for the rest of the trip!

The ascent was slow; with every turn the homes became scarcer and the towns farther apart. I rolled a wad of leaves into the side of my mouth and let the juices do their work. Every meter we climbed had a soporific effect on my body. Unlike my counterparts, I was neither dizzy nor nauseated; I just needed to sleep and despite being in the navigator seat, I eventually gave up on trying to maintain a conversation with the driver. I dozed for hours, waking up sporadically to notice the terrain had drastically changed.

Ascending the altiplano in Jujuy, Argentina

Alturas y Distancias

Dry rocky terrain in Jujuy, Argentina

Lanscapes in Jujuy, Argentina

Despite the sleep inducing altitude, I feel that I managed to see quite a bit that day; even if it was because the driver was prompting me to get out and have my photo taken. My recollections of the day include jumping shots on the salt flats, the piercing cold despite the sun being out, watching Venezuelan telenovelas while I ate my lunch of milanesa y ensalada at a lonesome restaurant, a visit to a small village in search of medical attention for one of our passengers, playing with local kids while said passenger was treated by a nurse, driving through sharp curves that were marked with crosses, visiting ruins that had not yet been excavated for preservation, and being inspired by two ladies in their mid 60s who were on their annual exploration quest. I may not have seen it all, but Jujuy was still good to me.

What’s the highest place you’ve visited?

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Sasha

    It’s such a barren landscaped up there isn’t it! It really goes against all the images I have when I think of high altitude, namely towering snow capped mountains! The highest altitude I’ve been at was 3,471M on Jungfraujoch in the Swiss alps. There’s a big sign up the top that you can stand in front of for pics boasting it’s the top of Europe when actually it’s not! haha

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Haha, I’m all about posing next to a sign that has the altitude written on it. You’ve got to prove you made it up there somehow! (Even if I used a car and not my own two feet…) 😀

  2. says: Claire

    Your photos are so pretty. I want to go so bad… But I have to ask, what are coca leaves??
    I’m not sure where the highest I’ve ever stood is, but the lowest I’ve stood is at the Dead Sea. It was the coolest (and hottest!) experience I’ve ever had!

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Thanks Claire!

      Coca leaves are infamously known for their use in the production of cocaine, BUT they are absolutely harmless if you chew them in their natural state. They help counteract the effects of altitude sickness, and they are also used for religious and medicinal purposes across the Andes.

      And the Dead Sea sounds pretty cool. I’m not sure I’ve ever stood below sea level!

      1. says: Ashley

        I’ve pretty much been scarred for life by coca leaves; Just the smell of coca tea throws a wave of nausea my way. However, there is this ‘rosemarry like’ plant that you can smell that helps with altitude sickness – and a liquid you dab cotton balls in so you can inhale for your life as you travel 🙂

  3. says: Scott Thomas

    Thanks for commenting on my blog, and came to check your site, very cool! I’m not very good at converting the whole meter to feet thing, but the highest I’ve been was 14,470 feet at the top of King’s Peak, the highest point in Utah, USA.

    Where you went looks amazing!

  4. says: Abhijit

    For me, the highest point I’ve been to was at the Chang La Pass in Ladakh – it’s the third highest motorable pass in the world. p.s. I completely approve of posing next to the signpost with altitude. I did the same. 😀

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      That’s so cool! I haven’t met very many people who made it to Jujuy. Salta tends to win over out of the two. And yes, it was absolutely freezing for me too!

  5. says: ElizabethJ_Bird

    I think the highest I’ve been is Peru. I think the coco leaves really helped there. My friends didn’t want to drink the tea but I was the only one who didn’t feel sick.

  6. Audrey,

    It’s funny how 4100 meters looks different depending on your latitude. That first pic looks like Death Valley (the lowest point in North America). The high point pics look like the southwest in the US (1,000 meters).

    Meanwhile, Mt. Rainier near Seattle is about 4,100 meters and it’s covered in glaciers (I climbed it twice).

    My tallest point so far is Mont Blanc (4,811 meters). I’ll put the link that trek in my name.

    Happy Holidays!

  7. says: Suzy

    Wow! That landscape would certainly be worth the altitude sickness. I’m not sure what the highest point I have been, but altitude doesn’t really bother me since I live in Colorado. We are pretty high up here.

  8. says: Alice

    Wow, that looks amazing – really similar terrain to Tupiza in Bolivia, with the mountains that look like they’re folded – awesome photos!

    I think the highest point I’ve been to is the 4215m pass on the Machu Picchu trail, but I think a few parts of Bolivia like Potosi come close.

    I never made it to the north of Argentina, just went south from BA – on the to-do list!

    1. says: Audrey

      I’m the opposite. I travelled north, but haven’t been south of Buenos Aires. I need to make it down to Patagonia and perhaps even Ushuaia in the future. 🙂

  9. says: caterina

    where in argentina is this? i am going next month, spending 5 weeks in mendoza.. do you think i could take a weekend trip there? i’d like to train for machu picchu! any other hiking recommendations in south america?

    1. says: Audrey

      Hi Caterina, this was in Jujuy which is the northernmost province in Argentina. It’s not exactly close to Mendoza, but you might be able to find a flight there and spend a few days exploring Salta and Jujuy. I think you’ll find plenty of hiking opportunities in Mendoza once you get there – you’ll be right at the foot of the Andes. 🙂

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