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Think twice about visiting Barcelona this summer (2024)

For those who might not be aware, this year in Barcelona and the wider Catalonia region we are enduring our most severe drought ever recorded. Most city fountains have been shut off, there is a ban on refilling hotel swimming pools, there is a ban on watering public gardens, beach showers are shut off, and hotels now ask guests to limit showers to just four minutes. If conditions don't improve, water may even need to be shipped in from neighboring regions, just to keep Barcelona functioning over the summer.

I fear the tourist season this summer in Barcelona will bring on even more restrictions, when we will have a collision of a climate crisis and overtourism crisis to create a really dreadful situation for both locals and tourists. Please consider alternative destinations in Spain this summer.

More info:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/feb/15/spain-water-barcelona-farmers-tourism-catalonia-drought

https://www.euronews.com/green/2024/02/21/an-exceptional-solution-catalonia-is-bringing-in-water-by-boat-to-top-up-dwindling-supplie

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/6/worst-drought-recorded-hits-spains-catalonia-sparking-fears-and-ingenuity

Map of current water reserve levels by region in Spain:
https://www.miteco.gob.es/es/prensa/ultimas-noticias/2024/febrero/la-reserva-hidrica-espanola-se-encuentra-al-50-1--de-su-capacida.html

Posted by
11368 posts

How terrible for Barcelona and its residents. Thank you, Carlos, for informing this forum about this horrible situation in Barcelona.

Posted by
6805 posts

There are plenty of other great places to visit in Spain that would help take the burden off that region. After looking at the reservoir level map I don’t feel guilty about going to Extremadura later this year.

Posted by
688 posts

And on the northern coast we are opening our reservoirs because they store too much water...Spain is a country of many contrasts, and one of them is weather in the different regions. Certainly hope that rain arrives soon in the Mediterranean.

Posted by
3997 posts

Yes some friends of mine are in Galicia now and they say it's raining all the time. I'd say the rule of thumb this summer is to visit the more western/northern parts of Spain, to help lessen the burden on the mediterranean and southern areas.

Posted by
5419 posts

It's the same for parts of Andalucia. I was in Estepona and Fuengirola last month and there was lots of information regarding the severe drought. Although we weren't advised of specific timings for showers we were advised not to take baths (not that I would, I much prefer a shower) and to minimise drinking water use. This wasn't too onerous as I tend to drink bottled water when there. There is a real concern if there is insufficient rain before summer arrives.

Posted by
356 posts

I'm having guilt for our planned trip to Barcelona/Girona (also Valencia), but unfortunately already had the tickets before I was aware of the drought. My family is very familiar with conservation as we live in the drought-frequent Western US, so we plan to limit showers/times and can order bottled water instead of tap (our usual). We never have our rooms made up daily and always reuse towels. I'm hopeful we can be the considerate and supportive tourists!

Posted by
3997 posts

@melT - I wouldn't worry, you already seem much more considerate than 99% of the tourists who visit Barcelona, if that's your attitude you are welcome! Just know the experience might be a bit underwhelming.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you for this information Carlos. We are doing the Basque country tour at the end of May with Rick Steves. We had hoped to go to Barcelona a few days after our tour ends. Do you recommend that we not this year? We come from Arizona, so we are well aware of measures when droughts are in place but it would be a shame to go to Barcelona if a lot of the ambience and It's character are in jeopardy because of the droughts. Any suggestions for us? Should we go to Madrid or elsewhere? your information has been very helpful.

Posted by
106 posts

It is good to hear that they are going to have hotels inform guests. We were there in January and I already knew about the drought otherwise I really didn't see anything to alert tourists about the problem! We've lived in SoCal so automatically do all the short showers, turn off water brushing teeth, etc. Oh and bottled water because I just didn't like the taste of the tap water:) The first shower in our hotel my husband was shocked by the high water pressure since we have used low flow fixtures for at least 15 years. I hope they are encouraging retrofits of those sorts of things in hotels.

Posted by
3997 posts

@tempekellers - If you are not already financially locked-in to Barcelona, I'd save it for another year, when the experience will be better for both you as a tourist and for locals too. The situation is just going to get worse with every month until they make some major hydro infrastructure changes.

If you are ending in the Basque Country you have many options, of course depending on how much time you have and where you are flying out from. You could head west to Cantabria or Asturias and enjoy the nature and hiking, think of Ireland mixed with the Alps. If you want a city break Madrid will do just fine, also Zaragoza is another option for a few days and is off the radar for most foreign tourists. These places have much higher water reservoir levels than Catalonia.

Posted by
4648 posts

Thank you for sharing this Carlos. Inevitably, there will be people complaining in the coming months about how they had water restrictions on their vacation!
So many wonderful places to see in Spain...

Posted by
3997 posts

Bumping this topic because I'm seeing several people on the forum unaware of the situation in Barcelona/Catalonia, I think mainly the regional government is not doing a good job of informing tourists. The drought continues to get worse with no end in sight, this is creating friction between locals and tourists.

Many restrictions have already been in place such as the prohibition of filling swimming pools with freshwater in hotels and campsites. The regional government has so far rejected calls from locals to enforce further restrictions on tourism, such as prohibiting cruise ships from docking in Barcelona’s harbour. On 20 March, 40 activists reportedly cut off water to the Barcelona Tourism office, calling for more extreme restrictions on the sector. The average tourist in Barcelona is estimated to consume at least 60% more water compared to the typical resident.

Tourism represents more than 20% of Catalonia’s local economy. In January alone, one million tourists stayed in hotels in Catalonia, and over 22,000 people were working in hotels. This normally rises dramatically in the summer months, raising concerns about the increased strain on water resources. According to David Saurí, geographer at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, if it doesn’t rain this summer, tourism in the region will suffer. But he cautions that the private use of a desalination plant by the tourism industry could cause frustration from other sectors that do not have the economic ability to pay for a plant.

“[Farmers] are told not to irrigate because there’s a drought, and they are seeing a campsite or a hotel nearby … that has a full swimming pool,” he says. Saurí notes that it's important to ensure farmers don’t have to stop cultivating. “If it doesn’t rain this summer, I honestly don’t know what will happen,”

You can read more here - https://www.euronews.com/green/2024/03/29/agriculture-vs-tourism-how-are-farmers-and-hotels-coping-with-the-spanish-drought

Posted by
18763 posts

Boy, it's a tough one. The local officials are still encouraging tourism. I guess with tourism making up so much of the economy they are afraid of another COVID like disaster. I am not an economist and know nothing of what would happen with another tourist lockdown.

But those that do go will have a different experience in comfort, maybe even run into trouble with locals. There is so much to see in the world, for my own desired level of stress free enjoyment, I would wait if I were interested.

Posted by
2983 posts

Nope Mr. É, our economy does not rely on tourism, while being a large chunk contributing over 35 billion euros, it is under 12% of the overall GDP here in Catalonia. With a population of 8 million and the size of Belgium or the state of Maryland, Catalonia has a highly diversified production sector, although it is most notable for the relative importance of its manufacturing industry (16.8% of GDP) in contrast, agriculture only represents 0.8%. And we are highly export-oriented, with goods exports accounting for 37.2% of GDP led by chemical products, above all medicine; the motor vehicle industry and textile products. Albeit a bit old, it's from 2021 and figures are a bit outdated since, for example, GDP is now 292 billion, instead of 240; or GDP per capita is over 32K, instead of 29K; this is a report that might make you curious: https://catalonia.com/why-catalonia/compare-catalonia-to/hungary

If by "local officials" you refer to the mayors of some touristy towns, then I can also understand. Still, overall, less tourism won't cause any COVID-like disaster by any measure (thankfully!)

In any case, while we're indeed in a severe drought, and despite the yellow press headlines, for the most part, life goes on as usual. We have suffered previous droughts here in Catalonia and (most) citizens are rather conscious of it. Taking shorter showers, filling dishwashers and washing machines to full capacity to save usage, or having water-saving devices in toilets and washbasins are common practice. And while the overall efficiency of the current use of water has plenty of room for improvement (ie certain agriculture practices or the deplorable state of some parts of the distribution network), the average consumption in Catalonia is merely 117 litres per day per person (compared to 144 as average in the EU, or 575 in the US), thus -and unless a cataclysm happens this year- is very unlikely there'll be any water shortage for domestic use -at least with current estimates.

So, what -or rather where- one notices the drought?

https://exteriors.gencat.cat/en/ambits-dactuacio/afers_exteriors/delegacions_govern/ue/actualitat/not_240201_drought_emergency#:~:text=The%20Drought%20Plan%20sets%20a,in%20distribution%20networks%2C%20among%20others.

Summarizing:

  • Public gardens are in survival-mode watering thus don't expect to see the lushiousness that you maybe saw on your last visit.
  • Public ornamental fountains are closed. Don't expect to see the Magic Fountain in Barcelona this year. Drinking fountains across the city are working fine, thank you.
  • Gyms have showers restricted, do shower at home, the apartment or the hotel instead, no restrictions there. Yet be sensible and take short showers!
  • Swimming pools: while "freshwater" pools cannot be filled as per the government restrictions in place to save water, a number of hotels in touristy coastal towns will be participating in local projects involving mobile water desalination plants to ensure they can continue filling their pools during summer. Yet, if one is vacationing on the coast one always has the Mediterranean Sea at one's disposal should one have the urge to do one's morning swimming routine.

So, should I be a responsible tourist and go somewhere else this year to help reduce the water resources pressure in Catalonia? That's a personal choice, of course. It's not looking that tourism will diminish this year anyway, on the contrary, arrivals in January jumped a whooping 20% over last year's (958K vs 798K).

Posted by
2233 posts

Enric,
Thanks so much for providing this perspective. . We leave for 6 days in Barcelona the end of April and by the time we became aware of the water issue, it was too late to easily change. I was feeling self-conscious about continuing with our Barcelona stop, but now feel a little better. We will exercise the same water conservation that we do at home and respect the issue that Barcelona faces.

Posted by
126 posts

Carlos and Enric: thank you for the helpful drought information. We will delay our proposed trip until conditions improve and I’ve deleted my recent thread seeking input for Catalonia in May. I do hope conditions improve for residents of the area. Thanks again.

Posted by
2 posts

I am in Barcelona visiting at the moment and there is no shortage of tourists here. Our hotel has not informed us of any rationing or of any specific measures they are taking. On the beach today in Barceloneta I saw that the showers were off. Walking the city the fountains are also off and the grass in the parks is looking a bit shabby. So there are measures being taken but not communicated to us visitors.
Being from the Western US, we are very water conscious. Barcelona needs some leadership in bringing its general consumption down. Low flow toilets seem nonexistent and our hotel shower probably has 2-3 times the flow that our showers do in the states. So discouraging tourists might help the water situation in the very short term but more concrete solutions should be implemented across the board.

Posted by
271 posts

FYI:
BARCELONA, March 22 (Reuters) - Tourists arriving at Barcelona's airport or gazing at its iconic Sagrada Familia basilica will this Easter holiday be met with large signs in English that read: "Drought alert. During your stay, save water".

As the impact of climate change intensifies across southern Europe, Spain's Mediterranean region of Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, is enduring its worst drought on record.

Reservoir levels are only around 15% of their capacity, prompting curbs on water use by residents, visitors, agriculture and industry. Beach showers are shut and swimming pools cannot be filled with tap water, among other restrictions.

Catalan officials have appealed for tourists to act responsibly, but are also adamant the drought should not put them off coming to the Spanish city and region most-visited by foreigners, where tourism accounts for 14.5% of the local economy.

"The message from Catalonia's tourism agency and business department to campsites and hotels is one of calm: (People) can enjoy their holidays here as usual," said David Mascort, the regional government's environmental chief.

Posted by
3997 posts

I think the last few posts really show just how disunified the communication strategy is of the Catalan regional government with this historic drought. It seems like every government/tourism big shot has their own messaging strategy based on their business interests that trickles out through various media outlets.

The end result is a lot of confused tourists, who don't understand the current situation or their impact on it. I'll reiterate my take, if you're not already financially locked in to a trip to Barcelona I'd reconsider going there this year, especially during the summer months.

Posted by
271 posts

I appreciate locals point of view who argue tourists should avoid traveling to Barcelona. After all locals are under water restrictions so why should they have their precious water resources shared with tourists?

On the other hand, tourism is a significant part of their economy. Reducing tourism hurts the economy and hurts the folks that are dependent on tourism. And many places in the world have scarce water resources-- Las Vegas for example. Of course, new scarcity is more impactful.

As the Reuters link above shows however is that the official government sources are welcoming tourism. They are asking tourists to be mindful of water but they are NOT asking tourists not to come. If locals and other local politicians disagree they of course have that right.

I have not noticed Rick Steves tours taking Barcelona off their tours however.

Posted by
3997 posts

UPDATE: The Spanish Gov just published an update on water reserve levels in Spain. Although Catalonia/Barcelona got some rain recently still seems like the reservoir levels are still low, only up 3% from last month for a total of 18%. There looks like rain is predicted for this spring but may not be enough of a buffer for the summer which is likely going to be devastatingly hot and dry.

Source: https://www.miteco.gob.es/es/prensa/ultimas-noticias/2024/abril/la-reserva-hidrica-espanola-se-encuentra-al-66-6--de-su-capacida0.html

Posted by
37 posts

I have traveled to many places in the world where water is scarce.

I am also a hot weather person, and much prefer to travel in Summer versus Winter, so I have been in very hot climates, and I have a good tolerance for heat.
Unfortunately, recent data from some climate officials show that overall the climate is getting hotter across the Earth, especially in Europe.

If the government does not make decisions to enforce reduced usage, then there are some people who will pay no attention to climate issues. For example, in wealthy Beverly Hills, California, the millionaires will simply pay more to keep their gardens watered, not necessarily limit usage to help others. Unfortunately, even mandatory conservation restrictions there were reduced due to all the pushback from diverse businesses, politicians, etc.

It is not realistic to tell people to stay home and not be tourists just by the goodness of their hearts, especially if there are no official announcements or recommendations. Water efficiency should not be a hit-or-miss effort, but rather a comprehensive strategic plan phased in on many fronts over multiple years. Water has become one of the most valuable commodities in many places, and European cities may have to learn lessons from other countries that have managed for decades with limited water. For example, Morocco is creating desalination plants across the country.

Some people, like me, reserved their trip to Barcelona two years in advance and cannot change or cancel. Others may be of an age where they might never be able to return again to visit. Yes, I am reducing my time greatly in the city this year--just basically a pass-through, but I have visited before, so I am not too upset. Those who planned Barcelona beach vacations with swimming pools may be very disappointed, however.

I completely support efforts to reduce overwhelming visitor numbers, but local citizens have to elect officials who will make the changes desired. Of course, those who benefit from tourism will be against losing their incomes.

This is a worldwide issue as our human population has climbed, more people are traveling after the pandemic, and earnings have increased in many countries. I do not necessarily think it is fair to just limit tourism to those who spend the most, although I do see that happening in many places. Perhaps someday we will even see a lottery system for travel!

Posted by
352 posts

I was just contacting a hotel in Barcelona today about extending our trip before I read this thread. We are financially committed for a bike trip in late October around Girona and slowly working our way south ending in Barcelona. The thread seems to focus on Barcelona and we can certainly drop our extension there. Understanding the drought is in all of Catalonia and considering the temperatures last summer. I’m not optimistic from this summer. One reason we have moved our traveling to late October. Perhaps an unfair question, but do you recommend not traveling in all of Catalona? Perhaps the company will allow us to transfer to another trip. Feeling very guilty.

Posted by
3997 posts

Understanding the drought is in all of Catalonia and considering the temperatures last summer. I’m not optimistic from this summer. One reason we have moved our traveling to late October. Perhaps an unfair question, but do you recommend not traveling in all of Catalonia?

In this post I mostly talk about Barcelona as by far this is the most popular destination for tourists in the Catalonia region. However the drought is rampant throughout all of Catalonia. Its effects are even more noticeable outside of the city in the countryside, where agricultural irrigation is severely limited, lake and river levels are almost all way to the bottom, and once verdant hills are now drab and brown. I've seen it with my own eyes driving around recently in the Costa Brava/Girona and Tarragona regions.

My opinion is that if you can avoid traveling to Barcelona/Catalonia this year (2024), and it's not too costly to rearrange plans, I would do so.

Posted by
271 posts

So it is being suggested that everyone cancel their Barcelona trips. Should we all boycott travel to all drought areas such as Southern California as well?

The official governmental positions are NOT to boycott travel to Barcelona. If a boycott is adopted as you request, the economic consequences would be significant.

I appreciated droughts are challenging to manage but they require a thoughtful group effort with the leadership of government and not ad hoc forum recommendations to boycott a region. If you think local government should reduce tourism or eliminate it, then in a democratic country such as Spain there are ways to go about this — and i wish you luck. I agree tourism/droughts/climate change— these are serious and important issues. However I believe telling a small audience on a RS forum and convincing a few people to alter their plans is a disservice to them and this forum. I have enjoyed your other posts and believe your contributions to other travelers has been fantastic.

Posted by
3997 posts

The official governmental positions are NOT to boycott travel to Barcelona. If a boycott is adopted as you request, the economic consequences would be significant.

I think you're taking what I said way out of context.

To be clear I'm not advocating for a "boycott". All I'm saying is that due to the significant impact of the historic drought in Barcelona and the surrounding Catalonia region, the worst drought ever recorded, I suggest people postpone traveling this year (2024), if they are already not financially committed. This is so that the travel experience to Barcelona will be better for both you as a tourist and for locals, like not having to deal with hotel water restrictions, shut off beach showers, shut off public fountains, dead or dying gardens, lakes and rivers that are severely below normal levels, closed swimming pools, brown and drab landscape, and potentially water rationing in the summer. Hopefully by 2025 the local government will get its act together, and it'll be a better travel experience for all.

I don't think what I've said is so unreasonable, as you have described in your words.

Posted by
18763 posts

David, what little i have read on the subject has been as you say ... to the point of encouraging tourism at normal levels. Maybe the government and the economists believe that losing tourists will compound an already serious problem. Or maybe they have been bought by American Big Business? Naaaa, probably my first guess. But are they correct? I have no idea. I would tend to want to stay away out of the fear of having a less than ideal trip.

Posted by
37 posts

IMO, Rick Steves travelers are some of the most careful, caring, and well prepared travelers. They read a lot and ask many questions, and they seem to want to learn a lot about the places they are visiting.

I agree that it is uncomfortable for one writer here on this forum to ask others to change their plans, especially if the local government is doing nothing, and does not recommend this. There are thousands of tourists that come to Barcelona that never read Rick Steves, and some are very careless travelers, as I can see by the questions they ask on other travel sites. How are they being advised to conserve water?

I do not read any of the newspapers quoted by the OP--I do notice none of them (except the water levels) are from Spain.

No one should feel guilty because of this posting and Barcelona travel plans, nor should they necessarily change their plans.

Again, parts of Morocco and Egypt are deserts, and they still welcome tourists. Catalonia has to figure out how to address this issue. Perhaps a water tariff for tourists? Yes, we have the same issue here all the time in the USA--pouring rain on one part, dry in another. I I would hope that this scarcity of resources issue could allow the different Spanish regions to figure out how to work together more collaboratively in the future.

Posted by
3997 posts

I agree that it is uncomfortable for one writer here on this forum to ask others to change their plans, especially if the local government is doing nothing, and does not recommend this. There are thousands of tourists that come to Barcelona that never read Rick Steves, and some are very careless travelers, as I can see by the questions they ask on other travel sites. How are they being advised to conserve water? I do not read any of the newspapers quoted by the OP--I do notice none of them (except the water levels) are from Spain.

Well if people feel so uncomfortable with me sharing news of the drought in Catalonia, maybe I just won't continue to update this topic. I'm not forcing people not to go to Barcelona, all I did was suggest potentially postponing trips for this year due to the impact of the drought may have on the actual enjoyment of the trip and limitations on some tourist activities.

As for the news sources I posted, sorry they are not "from Spain", I was specifically looking for English language ones cause most people here only speak English, guess that was wrong of me to be so considerate.

Here's info from the city government of Barcelona and local news about the current drought situation and what restrictions are being implemented, you can have fun practicing your Catalan:

https://www.ara.cat/medi-i-crisi-climatica/termometre-sequera-dades-embassaments-estat_1_4691592.html

https://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/ecologiaurbana/ca/serveis/la-ciutat-funciona/manteniment-de-l-espai-public/gestio-integral-de-l-aigua/gestio-publica-aigua/aigua-ciutat/sequera

Posted by
18763 posts

Carlos, your post, the facts and the opinions have been insightful and useful. There is always a need for this sort of post. Especially from those close to the issues.

Posted by
4648 posts

Far from discomfort, I feel informed by your posts Carlos--please don't hesitate to continue. These kids of issues will affect travel for all of us eventually.

Posted by
1 posts

I agree, my condolences to Barcelona residents if the drought is adversely impacting their lives. On a personal level, we are planning to be in Barcelona from October 26, 2024 to October 30, 2024 (we disembark from a cruise ship on October 26th in Barcelona). If the drought continues over the Summer and Fall, however, perhaps we should not stay in Barcelona this October?

Posted by
208 posts

I'm a little torn on this topic, but really don't think the tourism in Barcelona (or the whole of the region affected by drought) is the root cause, nor the path to the main solution.

I've lived in CA during their recent droughts and have friends still living there as the droughts come and go and come again. Likewise, I've vacationed in the Southwest during their own droughts (and also know folks living there). I've vacationed in places like Las Vegas and Palm Desert during times where water was scarce (and the golf courses were green and the fountains ran all day).

In all those situations, I likely would only "skip" them if I felt the trip itself would be far from optimal and/or have a significant negative impact on it. We were in Barcelona in October, and the main (only?) water impact we encountered was the fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella had water but was not running. Otherwise, very "business as usual" and quite a pleasant place to visit.

My hope would be that Barcelona and the region would adopt smart rules and reasonable water reduction plans to keep businesses open (related to and not related to tourism) and do so in a relatively evenhanded way. Assuming this is indicative of the future for the region (periods of serious drought), Barcelona will need the income from tourism (and other businesses) to pay for the mitigation plans. If they shut down tourism and manufacturing and farming that are heavy water users, that's likely a "circling the drain" cycle, but if they can work to get ahead of the challenge, they might be able to find a happy medium.

I do also think discussion on the topic is important. The situation is always evolving, and if it gets worse or better, it's in the best interest of all to have a better understanding of the current reality.

Posted by
6805 posts

Thanks Carlos. I’m sure my Extremadura trip later this year will be just as fun and with fewer tourists. I’ll return to Catalonia another year.