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Follow the Camino provides you with a 24/7 assistance hotline to help you if your luggage is late or if you are lost, but for any more important issue like reporting a crime or getting medical assistance it is best to call local authorities. The European number for emergencies is 112.
Prior to Departure
But before you go on the Camino, as on any holiday abroad, you should have some form of medical insurance in place and you should determine how it will work for overseas treatment. It is not unusual that you may have to pay upfront for treatment but, you will later be reimbursed by your insurance provider. Travel insurance might be something to consider. It is common that treatment for minor problems will be given gratis by the Spanish medical system, but this is not guaranteed.
For treatment of a minor, self-treatable ailment, speak to a pharmacist (farmacia). Towns of sufficient size will have designated 24-hour pharmacies. For those who live within the European Union, having your European Health Insurance Card is a requirement to receive free emergency treatment.
These pharmacies are easily recognizable by the flashing green cross displayed outside or in the window. In medium-sized and large cities farmacias take turns providing out-of-hours service (at night and on holidays) as the farmacia de guardia. You will be able to find out which one is open by looking in a local paper or in the window of any pharmacy where they usually display a list.
As the French Way is generally the busiest route in to Santiago there are more pharmacies dotted along this way than any other way. Some other routes are less travelled and therefore will have less amenitites in general.
Pharmacists in Spain are more highly-trained than in some countries. They are authorized to give out more advice and will provide treatment guidance for many common illnesses and ailments, but they are not a substitute for going to a doctor if there is something really wrong. Spain is a quite unrestrictive when it comes to the distribution of medications that are strictly prescription drugs in other countries (such as antibiotics), so these are commonly available over-the-counter. Medicines tend to cost significantly less than in other countries due to state imposed price restrictions too so the pharmacy can often sort you right out.
However, sometimes you must let common sense prevail and if there’s a serious illness or injury then the doctor or hospital should be your first port of call. Hotel staff or locals will be able to assist you here so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Remember, you’re health is your wealth so look after yourself and those you are travelling with.
Stay safe and Buen Camino!
Travel marketing executive, originally from Tipperary (as the song goes, it’s a long way to Tipperary). Enjoys photography and hiking around the world, visited 5 of the 7 continents. Plans to visit Antarctica very soon.