Spain has an excellent health-care system that extends to the Canary Islands. If you need an ambulance, call 112 (the pan-European emergency telephone number that can be called for urgent medical assistance). An alternative medical emergency number is 061. Alternatively, go straight to the urgencias (casualty) section of the nearest hospital.
Indicated with a green cross, farmacias (pharmacies) offer valuable advice and sell over-the-counter medication. Throughout the Canaries, a system of farmacias de guardia (duty pharmacies) operates so that each district has one open all the time. When a pharmacy is closed, it posts the name of the nearest open one on the door.
If you are hiking at elevations above 2500m (such as at El Teide in Tenerife), altitude sickness may be a risk. Lack of oxygen at high altitudes affects most people to some extent. Symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) usually develop during the first 24 hours at altitude, but may be delayed up to three weeks. Mild symptoms include headache, lethargy, dizziness, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. AMS may become more severe without warning and can be fatal. Severe symptoms include breathlessness, a dry irritating cough, severe headache and lack of balance.
Treat mild symptoms by resting at the same altitude until you recover, usually for a day or two. Paracetamol or aspirin can be taken for headaches. If symptoms worsen, immediate descent is necessary: even 500m can help.
Much of the tap water found throughout the Canary Islands is desalinated sea water. It is safe to drink, though doesn't taste particularly good and most locals buy bottled water, which is cheap and readily available. If you are in any doubt, ask ¿Es potable el agua (de grifo)? (Is the (tap) water drinkable?). Do not drink from lakes as it may contain bacteria or viruses that can cause diarrhoea or vomiting.
Heat exhaustion occurs following excessive fluid loss with inadequate replacement of fluids and salt. Symptoms include headache, dizziness and tiredness. Dehydration is already happening by the time you feel thirsty – aim to drink sufficient water to produce pale, diluted urine. To treat heat exhaustion, replace fluids through water and/or fruit juice and cool the body with cold water and fans.
For EU citizens, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which you apply for online, by phone or by post, entitles you to medical care at the same cost that a local would pay – sometimes for free. It doesn’t cover emergency repatriation home and isn't meant as a substitution for travel insurance.
Depending on the eventual outcome of the UK's departure from the EU, British citizens may find their EHIC card invalidated and will need to make alternative health insurance preparations before travelling to the Canary Islands.
Citizens from other countries should find out whether there is a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and Spain. If you need health insurance, strongly consider a policy that covers the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring an emergency flight home. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make direct payments to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
No jabs are required to travel to Spain. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination. Since most vaccines don’t provide immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician at least six weeks before departure.