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Spain’s tourist numbers up in 2021 but still fall short of pre-Covid levels

Tourist arrivals in Spain leapt in the first nine months of 2021 compared with the previous year, but still remained far below pre-Covid levels, official data showed on Wednesday.

Spain's tourist numbers up in 2021 but still fall short of pre-Covid levels
A tourist couple in the Dalt Vila neighbourhood of Ibiza. A total of 4.7 million tourists visited Spain in September 2021. Photo: JAIME REINA / AFP

During the period, Spain welcomed 19.7 million tourists, an increase of 17.2 percent over the figures for same period in 2020, the National Statistics Institute (INE) calculated.

Prior to the pandemic — when Spain was the world’s number-two tourist destination and the sector accounted for some 12 percent of its economy — nearly 70 million people visited in the first nine months of 2019, the INE said.

Although the data point to an improvement in the tourism sector, they fall far short of the government’s forecast for some 45 million visitors this year — approximately half that of 2019.

The figures “confirm that the recovery of international tourism is under way and that in 2022 we could return to pre-pandemic levels,” said Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto.

In September, tourist arrivals stood at 4.7 million, an increase of more than 300 percent from the same month in 2020.

Maroto said Spain was hoping to welcome between “10.7 and 10.9 million” visitors in the last three months of the year.

In the first nine months, the largest number of visitors were French, accounting for more than four million arrivals, followed by Germans who
made up 3.4 million visits, and Britons who accounted for 2.3 million.

In the same period, the most popular destinations were the Balearic Isles, the northeastern region of Catalonia, and Andalusia in the south, the INE said.

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ENVIRONMENT

What’s the law on camping in Spain?

Spain is full of beautiful spots in nature, but is it possible to camp anywhere you want? What are the rules for wild camping, the potential loopholes and the fines to avoid?

What's the law on camping in Spain?

Camping is a popular pastime in Spain and there are many great dedicated campsites dotted all over the country.

But with so many natural and national parks, mountain ranges, forests and rivers, many people want to make the most of them and wild camp overnight.

So, is wild camping permitted in Spain?

Unfortunately, the short answer is that wild camping in any area in Spain is generally forbidden.

The reasons for restricting camping in natural areas ranging from health and safety to security and respecting the environment.

The general rule is that you must find an appropriate campsite to stay the night.

READ ALSO: Can you camp or sleep over at any beaches in Spain?

What about camping in a campervan or caravan instead of a tent?

Wild camping, even in a campervan, is not allowed, however, you are allowed to sleep in your own vehicle overnight, according to article 93 of the General Road Traffic Regulations and Manual 08/V-74. This means that you can actually park your campervan somewhere and sleep in it, as long as you don’t appear to be camping.

Practically it means that you can’t set up awnings, chairs and tables or barbecues outside your caravan and must look as though you are simply parked.

Be aware that parking by the coast is forbidden. General Traffic Regulations state that they “prohibit parking and circulation, as well as camping and camping sites, 20 meters from the beach in an urban area or 100 meters in a rural area, counted from the seashore”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Spain’s campervan and motorhome rules

Are there any exceptions? What if I camp without a tent?

Vivac in Spanish or bivvying, as it’s referred to in English, is the practice of sleeping outside in the wild without a tent or a campervan. This is a bit of a grey area when it comes to camping law in Spain and you may be able to get away with it in certain rural areas where you can’t be seen. 

Are there any other situations I might get away with wild camping?

Wild camping is strictly prohibited in national and natural parks, on beaches, or by the coast, but there are similar grey areas when it comes to free camping on private land.

Technically you can camp in someone’s garden or field if you get permission from the owner. Remember, they may ask for a small fee for doing so.

Wild camping may be more accepted in some rural areas such as in the Pyrenees, but remember it’s still illegal so you can be fined if you’re caught.

What are the fines for camping illegally?

If you are found to be wild camping, you can be slapped with some hefty fines. According to the Coastal Law, you can be fined from €40 for each metre square of space you occupy if you’re caught camping near the coast.

You can also be fined between €50 and €150 for not parking properly near the coast.

Like most rules in Spain though, each region has its own when it comes to how much you can be fined. Here’s what you might have to pay for wild camping in nature in certain regions.

Madrid: €60.10 up to €601.01.

San Sebastián municipality: From €50 to €3,000.

Asturias: From €60.10 to €601.01. 

Murcia: Anywhere up to a maximum of €1000.

Valencia: Between €751 and €1500 for camping on the beach during high season. 

Catalonia: A minimum of €60.10, but if you’re found camping in natural areas, such as the Delta del Ebro, this can rise to €6000, the highest camping penalty in Spain. 

Extremadura: From €30 to €150.

Granada provice: €100. 

Be aware that the fines could be higher for wild camping in natural or protected areas.

General camping rules 

Campfires or bonfires are strictly prohibited in wild and natural areas, particularly due to the risk of forest fires, which caused devastation across many regions of Spain in the summer of 2022. Starting a fire is considered a criminal offence and you may get a lot more than just a fine if it gets out of hand. 

Remember to take all rubbish away with you and leave the place exactly as you found it and to bury all human waste away from water sources. 

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