ANALYSIS: Going on holiday in Spain this summer? Then expect the unexpected

If you are booked to go on holiday to Barcelona or the beaches of Catalonia or indeed anywhere else in Spain, don't expect everything to be normal, Graham Keeley writes.

ANALYSIS: Going on holiday in Spain this summer? Then expect the unexpected
Local police officers watch people at the Nova Icaria beach following its closure due to reaching the allowed capacity, in Barcelona on July 19, 2020. AFP

Fancy coming on holiday to Barcelona? 

First of all, remember to bring a mask or you will be fined €100 if the police catch you without one. 

No bother, it's got great bars and clubs hasn't it? 

Ah, well, er, you might actually have to drink in your hotel room. You see the authorities are thinking of banning groups meeting for a beer at night. Spreads the virus too much, you see. 

Never mind, what about the clubs? Yes, but you see, you are not actually allowed to dance. Bit of a problem. 

Whatever, there is always the sea. It is nearly 30C! 

Hmm. Maybe not. You see, if they get too full, the police will close them down. 

Oh well, we could always slink off to a museum. The place has got loads of great art hasn't it? 

Yes, they might be open but look out for the crowds. Can't get too full. What about a film or going to the theatre? Closed. Sorry. 

Two women wearing face masks chat near a beach in Lloret de Mar on June 22, 2020. AFP

I know! What about renting a car and heading for the Costa Brava or Costa Daurada? Hit the beaches, escape the crowds, great!

Shssh! Don't tell anyone! You see, we are not supposed to be going out.

What? Wow, Barcelona sounds like a cracking place. 

Once one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the city of Antoní Gaudí and Barça has suddenly become the place you might want to avoid. 

The city whose residents were once so keen to get rid of the millions of tourists, now find they can do nothing to bring them back. 

The reason is, of course, a recent surge in cases of coronavirus. 

Yet what is happening in Catalonia could happen anywhere in Spain this summer, despite the reassurances of health authorities that the growing number of outbreaks (currently standing at 224) are under control.

So the only thing authorities really can tell anyone hell bent on lapping up a bit of Spanish sun is: expect the unexpected. 

After a surge in Covid-19 cases, which forced the Catalan government to impose a series of localised lockdowns, authorities asked four million people in Barcelona and outlying towns to stay indoors last Friday.

“If the evolution of the pandemic carries on, we will have to take more drastic decisions,” warned Meritxell Budó, a spokesman for the Catalan government. 

Tourists wear face masks as they visit the Andalusian town of Ronda on July 15, 2020. AFP

This was code for a mandatory lockdown as happened in March across Spain when the country declared a state of emergency. 

Hearing the news about the Barcelona lockdown, a friend who arrived the same day in the city for a ten day holiday, turned on her heel and headed back to Madrid the same day. 

Few took any notice of the warnings from the politicians. 

The bars and restaurants were crowded as normal, the roads outside Barcelona were full of traffic and beaches had to be closed because they were too full. 

Some people applauded the Catalan government for taking firm action. 

A friend said they should increase fines for anyone not wearing a mask from €100 to €600. 

However, others recognised what most of us knew already: until they make a lockdown mandatory, no-one will take any notice. 

Thankfully, the number of confirmed and suspicious cases have fallen from 1,293 on July 15 to just over 500 on Wednesday. 

Health officials and politicians across Spain should be watching what has happened in Catalonia carefully. 

Quim Torra, the Catalan regional president, admitted that he had acted too late to contain an outbreak which started in the rural area of Segria and was linked to migrant fruit pickers. 

Mr Torra said the Catalan government should have done more to find housing for seasonal fruit pickers, many of whom were living rough in unhygienic conditions where coronavirus was passed on quickly. Tracing these cases was impossible for authorities.

Now the problem is young people who want to go out for a drink or a dance after months being cooped up.

A study by the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid has found two out of ten cases of coronavirus are among those aged 15 to 29 – just the people who want to go out with friends. 

The botellón, that very Spanish mass drinking session, has been blamed for spreading the virus. 

Yet it could also happen among tourists. 

The videos which emerged from Magaluf last week of young British and German men standing on top of cars without wearing masks led to authorities closing down the 'strip'. 

Most tourists who come to Spain do not head for the heady delights of Punta Ballena in Magaluf but they want to go out, share a drink with friends and relax.

The same study from the Carlos III Health Institute found nearly half of those in the study of 26,000 people analysed, did not know where they had caught the virus. 

It is the way the pathogen is passed on between strangers which is the most concerning. 

This is why tourists not only worry Spaniards but also the other way round. 

Happy holidays!

Member comments

  1. Bring a mask? Just one?! Masks need to be changed very frequently! I think you ought to correct that warning.

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How Spain is imposing caps on visitor numbers for its top attractions

Spain has introduced limits on the number of tourists who are allowed to visit its natural attractions, including beaches, national parks and islands. Read on to find out where.

How Spain is imposing caps on visitor numbers for its top attractions

Increasingly, regions across Spain have introduced restrictions for some of its most popular natural attractions, in a bid to stop overcrowding and promote sustainable tourism.

In the last twenty years, tourism in national parks has grown by 77 percent, with nearly 16 million annual visitors, according to a report by the Eco-union association.

Visitor numbers were at some of their highest during the Covid-19 pandemic, when both international and local tourists preferred to travel to natural areas, away from crowds in the big cities. 

Increased tourist numbers cause a threat to natural habitats in the form of erosion, trampling of plant species, and frightening the local wildlife. 

“Natural environments have to be protected against massive tourism that can degrade them, with regulations that allow their enjoyment, but also guarantee conservation,” explained the spokesperson for Ecologists in Action, Pau Monasterio. 

Places that have a cap on visitor numbers include As Catedrais beach in Galicia, famed for its striking rock formations; Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain; and Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s most important wetlands. 

Which regions have introduced restrictions?


Doñana National Park has been restricting visitors for several years. For example, only 886 people are allowed per day on the routes from Huelva to El Acebuche and El Rocío, as well as on the route along the river to Sanlúcar de Barrameda.


Aragón’s Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park has had visitor caps for years and intends to keep them in place.


In Asturias, restrictions have been placed on numbers of tourists to the Covadonga Lakes, one of the most-visited areas of the Picos de Europa National Park. During the busiest times of the year, the lakes can only be accessed by bus or licensed taxi from the town of Cangas de Onís.

Balearic Islands

Home to 50 percent of the posidonia (seagrass) meadows in Spain, limitations in the Balearic Islands have been extended to the Marítimo-Terrestre de Cabrera National Park. Those who want to access the area by boat must request special permission.

This summer, the government of the Balearic Islands also hired environmental informants to travel around the beaches, spreading advice and information about the protected natural habitats of the islands.

Basque Country

After being bombarded by Game of Thrones fans because it was the filming location for Dragonstone, the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has finally reopened to the public, but with a daily limit of 1,500 people.

Canary Islands

With almost 15 million visitors per year, Mount Teide National Park on Tenerife is one of the most popular in Spain. Restrictions have been introduced on the last stretch of path up to the peak of Teide, allowing only 200 people per day.

Limits have also been introduced in Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park by making visitors pay for entry, while on La Gomera, the number of vehicles allowed to access the laurel forests has been capped.

In Gran Canaria, no-entry areas have been placed on Maspalomas beach, in order to protect the natural reserve of the dunes, while on Fuerteventura only a certain number per day can visit the tiny islet of Lobos.

Castilla-La Mancha

In Cuenca, limits on the numbers visiting the Chorreras del Cabriel waterfalls have been proposed. Experts have suggested that only 400 per day be allowed to visit the Biosphere Reserve, where this summer eleven bathers had to be rescued due to accidents.


In Extremadura, limits have been placed on access to various natural attractions including the Castañar Cave in Cáceres and the Fuentes de León Cave in Badajoz.


The region of Galicia has restricted access to the famous Galician beach of As Catedrais by making people reserve a free ticket online in advance.


In the capital region, it is only permitted to swim in specific natural areas including Los Villares in the San Juan Reservoir and the beaches of Alberche and Las Presillas in Rascafría. There are also limits on the number of people who can visit the popular green pools of La Charca Verde de la Pedriza, one of the most-visited areas of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park.


There are restrictions in Murcia on the number of private vehicles that can pass through the regional natural parks of Calblanque, Monte de las Cenizas and Peña del Águila.


In Navarra, access to the source of the river Urederra, in the Urbasa Natural Park has been limited to a maximum of 500 per day, while at the reservoirs of Leurza and the Orgi forest, there are restrictions on the number of cars allowed.


Valencia has restricted the number of cars that can access the Serra d’Irta Natural Park in summer. This stretch of road is situated alongside the d’Irta Marine Reserve. In Alicante, there is a cap on the number of tourists that can visit Peñón de Ifach in Calpe, as well as the cliffs of Cabo de San Antonio, within the protected area of ​​the Montgó Natural Park.