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Sustainable travel in Spain

Sustainable and responsible travel involves leaving a positive impact on your destination, its economy, natural sources, and inhabitants.

Spain sees millions of tourists every year, and in some destinations, overtourism is becoming a problem, with price increases driving locals out of their homes, and natural resources getting damaged.

To ensure that you do not leave a negative impact on the destinations you choose when travelling, we will go through the most important things to consider to travel ethically to Spain.

Overtourism in Spain

Overtourism is a problem in Barcelona, but also in cities like Malaga on Costa del Sol. The main problem is Airbnb rentals, as landlords evict their tenants to rent out short term for a higher price. 

The result is that locals can not find long-term rentals anymore and if they do, prices skyrocket so they see themselves forced to move away from the city they grew up in to find a place to live. To avoid supporting this negative trend, make sure you check in at hotels, apartment hotels, or choose Airbnb homestay options.

Another way to have a lower impact on the destinations is to travel off-season or even travel to lesser popular tourist destinations to leave your tourist dollars where they are truly needed.

Supporting local businesses and communities

To support local businesses and communities, travel to smaller towns where you will experience that most places are family-run businesses.

But even in the big cities, you can choose a local coffee shop over Starbucks. There are lovely eco-friendly and vegan restaurants and cafés popping up across the country that are truly worth supporting.

Environmental considerations

Waste disposal

Spain has different containers for paper, plastic/cans, glass, and residual waste. On many products you purchase in supermarkets, you will see the correct colour code on the packet indicating which bin to use e.g. yellow for plastic and blue for paper).

Water usage

Due to drought, dry rivers, waterfalls, and low water levels in lakes, be cautious of water usage. Turn it off when brushing your teeth and applying soap while showering etc.


Use public transport when possible, and some cities, like Cadiz, have electric buses. You also find bicycles and electric scooters for rent in the cities.

Other ways to minimise your impact on the natural environment

  • Do not feed wildlife

  • Do not leave rubbish in nature

  • Do not throw leftover food in nature (wildlife will pick it up)

  • Wash all your swimming gear before leaving a lake or going to a new lake to avoid transferring parasites that are not endemic to the lake

  • Do not throw cigarette butts or other flammable items in nature

Respecting local customs and traditions

First of all, I want to mention one of the biggest pet peeves of most Spanish. English is not their first language. In fact, many Spanish do not speak it very well and find it hard to use. Therefore, being approached by tourists expecting them to speak English can make them feel insulted.

Instead, approach the locals in a respectful way asking if they speak English, and you will most likely be met by friendly people trying their best to communicate. Of course, those working in the tourism business are usually very good at English and have no issues with this.


One of the most controversial traditions in Spain and one that you should avoid discussing with the locals. While you should definitely avoid visiting bullrings, there are many locals that have a strong and dear relationship with this tradition.

Instead of tutoring them on animal welfare, let them talk and learn from their point of view, or avoid the topic altogether.


When greeting people, the Spanish usually kiss each other on each cheek. If you meet a friend of a friend, even though it is the first time you see each other, it is customary to give two kisses.

If you are not sure, wait for the other person to initiate the greeting and if they lean in, just go with it.


The Spanish are very proud of their Fiestas, celebrations, and traditions. Make sure you never criticize their celebrations or even the city or town they are from.

It is a very traditional country and many people stay in the place they were born and grew up for the rest of their lives and find it the best place on the planet. Admire their pride and learn from their stories.

Choosing ethical tours and experiences in Spain

When choosing which tours and experiences you want to join on your Spain vacation, make sure they are sustainable, support local businesses, guides are local, that they respect nature, and do not harm any animals.

Family-run businesses and small businesses supporting local are great places to start. However, it is not always easy to find these small individual businesses.

When choosing a tour operator, it is a good idea to ask them directly how they stand when it comes to sustainable and responsible tourism. If they can give a thorough answer, they are likely more passionate about it than if you get a fluffy answer or they avoid the question altogether. 

Local initiatives or projects that promote sustainability and responsible travel

  • Clean Beach Initiative - weekly beach cleanups in Barcelona

  • SOS Animals - volunteer at the dog shelter spending time with the dogs

  • WWOOF Spain - travellers can learn about organic agriculture while helping out on the farms

Volunteering or giving back to the community

Volunteering in Spain is a great way to support good causes, especially if you speak Spanish. Places like dog shelters and donkey sanctuaries always need volunteers as there are large numbers of abandoned and maltreated animals coming in constantly that need care.

But there are also different organisations you can support by collecting food and clothes for the homeless or volunteering at an eco farm or similar place that focuses on local, eco-friendly farming, planting trees, etc. The best way to look for these is to search local Facebook groups.

Unethical tourist activities in Spain

  • Visiting bullrings - even visiting active bullrings outside of bullfights supports the activity economically. You can read more here.

  • Zoos and aquariums - any for-profit venue is questionable. Animals that move several kilometres a day in the wild will not be well in a small space, including marine life. You can read more here.

  • Riding donkeys - a donkey should not carry more than 20% of its body weight, which means most adults are too heavy for the ride. Most donkeys used for tourism are also not given the necessary care.

  • Swimming with dolphins - the needs of dolphins held in captivity are generally not met, swimming with dolphins can be harmful both for the animal and the tourists. You can read more here.

Planning a trip to Spain? Read our Spain travel guides

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Linn Haglund

Author - Linn Haglund

Originally from Norway, Linn is an avid traveller and freelance travel writer that has a passion for the outdoors, wildlife, and responsible travel. She is currently living the van life in southern Europe with her fiancé and their dog.

Having travelled in 50+ countries and lived in five countries, she has developed a fervour for helping people to travel more responsibly and leave a positive impact on their destinations through her blog, Brainy Backpackers.

Last Updated 28 June 2023

Frigiliana, a white Andalusia Village with view of the Costa del Sol Spain


On the southern tip of Europe, Spain is renowned for its beautiful beaches, vibrant cities and fascinating history.