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Staying Healthy

Spain does not pose any major health hazards. The rich cuisine -- garlic, olive oil, and wine -- may give some travelers mild diarrhea, so take some anti-diarrhea medicine, moderate your eating habits, and, even though the water is safe, drink mineral water only. If you are visiting Barcelona over the summer, limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days of your trip and, thereafter, from 11am to 3pm. Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor and apply it liberally. Remember that children need more protection than adults do.

General Availability of Healthcare -- No shots of any sort are required before traveling to Spain. Once there, medicines for a wide variety of common ailments, from colds to diarrhea, can be obtained over the counter at local farmacias (pharmacies/drugstores). Generic equivalents of common prescription drugs are also usually available in Spain. However, it does no harm to bring over-the-counter medicines with you to be on the safe side.

Healthy Travels to You

The following government websites offer up-to-date health-related travel advice.

  • Australia: www.smartraveller.gov.au
  • Canada: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index_e.html
  • U.K.: www.nhs.uk/healthcareabroad
  • U.S.: www.cdc.gov/travel

Common Ailments

Change of Diet -- No need to go on a tempting cholesterol binge if you really don't want to. Vegetarians can follow their usual diet pattern in Barcelona, as there is an increasing number of vegetarian eating spots available as well as a multitude of herbolarios (health food shops).

Sun Exposure -- In the hot weather, do as the locals do and avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm. Use a high-protection sunscreen and reapply after swimming in the sea. Take care with kids; give them a sunhat and reapply suncream often.

Sea Hazards -- Urban beaches in Barcelona have lifeguards on duty and are marked by flags: Green is safe, yellow means you should take caution, and red means stay out of the sea. Where there are no guards on duty, use your common sense, especially north of Barcelona along the Costa Brava, where the seabed is rocky. Over the past few years the standard of Spain's beaches in terms of water pollution has improved, leading to a consistently high rating in terms of cleanliness. At the onset of summer, jellyfish can be a problem in the sea. They are not poisonous but do have a nasty sting. If you get stung, get help from the nearest farmacia (pharmacy/drugstore).

Respiratory Illnesses -- Lodged between the mountains and the sea, Barcelona often traps smog from its nearby industrial belt. While the quality of the air is monitored, local media do not publish "high risk" days. Common sense is required for people with respiratory illnesses.

What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home

Spanish medical facilities are among the best in the world. If a medical emergency arises, your hotel staff can put you in touch with a reliable doctor. If not, contact your embassy or consulate; each one maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, as does the website http:\\barcelona.angloinfo.com. Medical and hospital services aren't free, so take out adequate medical insurance before you travel. In Barcelona you may have to pay your medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later.

If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. Pack all your prescription medications in your carry-on luggage. Carry written prescriptions in generic, rather than brand-name, form, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand. Bring copies of your prescription in case you lose your pills or run out.

Crime & Safety

Terrorism -- The bomb attacks on three suburban trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, resulted in the deaths of 200 people; a direct or indirect consequence of the massacre was that after a massive protest demonstration of two million people in the streets of Madrid, voters unexpectedly returned the left-wing PSOE, or Partido Socialista Obero Español (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party) to power in the 2004 general elections, after more than a decade of right-wing rule under the PP (Partido Popular, or Peoples' Party). The policy of the prime minister, Rodríguez Zapatero, had always been to oppose the war in the Middle East, and one of his first acts was to authorize the full withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq just over 3 months later.

So there is nothing to suggest that terrorism constitutes a more serious threat in Barcelona than in any other major world city. Travelers to Spain should refer to the guidance offered by their own countries. For U.S. travelers, visit www.state.gov; for U.K. visitors, advice is provided by the Foreign Office at www.fco.gov.uk.

The more local threat comes from ETA, the Basque separatist-terrorist organization. Negotiations between the PSOE government, helmed by Zapatero, and the outlawed Herri Batasuna party -- the front for ETA -- led to cautious optimism for a peaceful settlement. Of late ETA has become notably silent. Whether this heralds the beginning of the end for them as a purported "political force" remains to be seen.

Conventional Crime -- While most of Spain has a moderate crime rate and most visitors have trouble-free visits, the principal tourist areas have experienced an increase in violent crime. Barcelona has reported a growing incidence of violent attacks, with older tourists particularly at risk. Criminals frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beach resorts, trains, train stations, airports, subways, and ATMs.

Muggings and pickpocketing are commonplace in La Rambla and the narrow lanes of the Barri Gòtic. Travelers should exercise caution, carry limited cash and credit cards, and leave extra cash, credit cards, passports, and personal documents in a safe location. Crimes occur at all times of day and night, although visitors -- and residents -- are more vulnerable in the early hours of the morning.

Thieves often work in teams. In most cases, one person distracts a victim while the accomplice performs the robbery. A stranger might ask for directions or "inadvertently" spill something on you. While your attention is diverted, an accomplice makes off with your valuables. Attacks may also be initiated from behind, with the victim being grabbed around the neck and choked by one assailant while others rifle through their belongings. A group of assailants may surround a victim in a crowded tourist area or on public transportation, and only after the group has departed does the person realize they've been robbed. Some attacks have been so violent that people have needed to seek medical attention afterward.

Luggage, cameras, or laptops are commonly stolen from parked cars. Don't leave anything in a parked car, and keep doors locked, windows rolled up, and valuables out of sight when driving. "Good Samaritan" scams are also frequent. The driver of a passing car tries to divert your attention by indicating that you have a mechanical problem. If you stop to check your vehicle, accomplices steal from you as you check the engine. As a rule of thumb, don't accept help from anyone other than a uniformed member of the police or Guardia Civil.

The loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported to the local police and your embassy or consulate. For U.S. visitors, refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. It's available online at http://bookstore.gpo.gov or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

U.K., Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian citizens who lose their passport must also report it to the local police and to their local Consulate as follows. For Britons: British Consulate General (Edificio Torre de Barcelona, Avinguda Diagonal 477, Barcelona. tel. 93-366-62-00. www.ukinspain.com). For Australians: Honorary Consul for Australia, Avinguda Diagonal 45, 3°, Barcelona. tel. 93-490-9013. For New Zealanders: Consulate of New Zealand, Travessera de Gràcia 64, 2°, Barcelona. tel. 93-202-0890. For Canadians: Consulate of Canada, Plaça de Catalunya 9, 1°, 2ª, Barcelona. tel. 93-412-7236.

Dealing with Discrimination -- As Barcelona's population slowly becomes more international, overt racial prejudice appears to be diminishing. But there is still a small fringe of hard-core racists.

Since the Madrid bombings of 2004, there has been a slight hardening of mood toward Arabs by certain members of the community; and some residents' attitudes toward Latin Americans have been soured by the appearance (in small numbers) of young criminal gangs in the outer suburbs of the city.

Barcelona is as liberal as any other city in its acceptance of gays and lesbians, including homosexual marriages.

Solo female travelers can expect a reasonably hassle-free trip.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.