Responsible walking in Spain

There are several regions of inland and coastal Spain that see nothing like the tourist numbers reached in more popular resorts and city centers. Although this might be seen as a blessing it’s also something of a curse as without the influx of visitors there’s a distinct lack of jobs, especially for young people. Lesser-known areas of Spain regularly lose their young people to cities both at home and abroad with traditional farming methods not enough to keep them within local communities. Without year round jobs, healthy local economies and young people, remote Spanish towns and villages may not survive long past the next generation.

What you can do
Going on walking vacations in rural Spain is just one way that you can help to buck the trend. Lesser-visited areas of the Picos, Catalonia, Burgos and Sierra Nevada provide year-round accommodation close to walking routes as well as local restaurants, bars and shops.

Adding other activities to a walking tour, such as cookery classes, language lessons and history tours, will give you a much better understanding of an area as well as providing sustainable employment to help make a difference throughout the rest of the year.

Look for Spain walking vacations on the Responsible Travel website and find out where else might appeal to you rather than relying on the familiarity of more popular resorts.

Getting into trouble

If you are embarking on an unaccompanied walking vacation in Spain then it’s up to you to do your homework when it comes to routes and what to add to your backpack. Responsible travel more than caring about the environment, it means being sensible too; and if you’re walking in Basque Country or Catalonia then you need to know that calling out the rescue services due to negligence on your part may result in a hefty bill.

What you can do
Get yourself properly insured, particularly if you’re planning on walking in any ‘high risk’ areas at colder or wetter – or indeed hotter – times of the year. Go equipped with a GPS tracking system and/or well-researched maps to prevent getting lost. Also, don’t forget to tell someone where you’re going and when you intend to get back. Go on a self-guided walking vacation in Spain where you can walk independently but with the added back up of 24/7 assistance, detailed trip notes. And if you’re walking from point to point rather than staying in one location, you’ll also enjoy the luggage transfers. Better yet, go with an experienced local guide and learn more about the landscapes, wildlife and culture of a region whilst you relax and enjoy the walk.

Responsible tourism tips

Taking a refillable water bottle on a walk will lessen the amount of waste that you create and help you avoid a fruitless search for an open shop during siesta time. Tap water is safe to drink, free, and environmentally friendly! Treat water with respect – if you’re walking on the Balearics or Canaries, especially, use water wisely and always turn off taps and take showers instead of baths. Don’t be a fire starter – Spain’s long hot summer months, particularly in southern and central regions, provide a dangerous tinderbox for wild fires. If you’re out walking make sure you discard cigarette butts and glass responsibly and never start a fire out in the wild unless you want death, destruction and a prison sentence on your hands. Keep things local – meals at mountain village restaurants, hillside picnics purchased at the market or fruit farm, and souvenirs that have been hand-crafted by the actual seller; keeping things local should measure footprints in metres rather than miles.
Dress for the trail not the beach – no matter how hot it is, getting your kit off is not going to do you any favours if you’re out walking in Spain. One, you might get burned, two, it’s not respectful when greeting a fellow walker or bewildered local person and three, you might get your bits bitten by your backpack buckles. Just, no! You wouldn’t call a Scot, English, would you? Lumping all of Spain into one easy to manage cultural character is not the best way to make friends if you’re walking in regions that are fiercely proud of their own unique identity. Learn about the nuances, languages and traditions that separate the Basque region, Valencia and Catalonia from the rest of the country prior to wading in with a ‘Hola’ for every eventuality. Read up on the rules and regs. Walking in Spain’s national parks is a superb idea however, if you’re intending to explore without a guide, just make sure that you’re familiar with the rules and the route before you set off. Wild swimming, camping and off-track strolls may all seem like a good idea at the time but if they’re deemed out of bounds by local authorities then it’s probably for good reason. A number of places may be used as hunting reserves, or may be closed off to protect local wildlife including lynx and wild boar.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Mathew MacQuarrie] [Locals chatting: Nicolas Boullosa] [Local restaurant: M.Peinado]