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Azores - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
All EU nationals visiting the Azores are entitled to the reciprocal arrangements covering medical care and expenses but will need the appropriate documentation. Dental treatment will mostly have to be paid for. British nationals should have their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), obtainable online or from the post office and some travel clinics. The validity of this card for British nationals may be in doubt once the UK exits from the EU. You should in any case have additional private travel insurance. Pregnant women, travellers with pre-existing illnesses and those travelling with children or going to remote areas should identify healthcare facilities prior to departure. However, larger hotels and tour company representatives are usually able to provide addresses for local services. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can provide details of the nearest relevant embassy or consulate for emergencies.
Hospitals in the Azores are modern and equivalent to normal European standards. They are located on São Miguel, Terceira and Faial. On certain islands where there are limited services, emergency medical cases have to be flown either to Faial or Terceira. Health centres (centros médicos) provide non-hospital treatment.
Pharmacies are widespread, but you should always take a sufficient supply of prescription drugs to more than last the length of your holiday. When travelling, do not pack them all in your suitcase; always make sure you have enough tablets and any medical equipment you use regularly in your hand luggage. The pharmacies in larger towns will have a rota for out-of-business-hours opening; if you need anything, ask at your hotel or a police station to see which one is open.
Tap water in the hotels is generally safe to drink; on some islands it tastes better than some bottled waters. However, if you are in any doubt then drink bottled or treated water (boiled or with chlorine drops/tablets). Mineral water is widely sold by the bottle, imported mostly from the mainland, but also sourced locally, and is inexpensive. It is wise to be up to date with routine vaccinations, including MMR and diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Occasionally hepatitis A and hepatitis B may also be recommended, which will depend more on lifestyle and/or occupation.
A few cases of leishmaniasis from sand flies and West Nile fever from mosquitoes have been reported from the Azores. The only way these diseases can be avoided is by using a good DEET-based insect repellent – ideally containing 50–55% DEET (eg: the Repel range). Rabies is not considered a risk in the Azores in terrestrial animals, but all bites from animals should be assessed carefully.
Rabies vaccine is only recommended for travellers involved in activities that could bring them into direct contact with bats. These travellers include wildlife professionals, researchers, veterinarians, or adventure travellers visiting areas where bats are commonly found.
The Azores are considered to be one of the safest places in the world and crime is, on the whole, limited to minor thievery. However, you should sensibly take the same precautions as you would at home. A few beggars operate in Ponta Delgada, but are not aggressive; they seem to be non-existent in other towns.
Travellers with a disability
The Azores are not geared towards travellers with mobility problems, since narrow cobbled streets and a lack of ramped kerbs don’t create a wheelchair-friendly environment. However, latest developments do recognise the difficulties, and some hotels have facilities and adapted rooms. Enquiries should be made when booking.
Airports have wheelchairs for use on site. New museums are adapted, with some offering information in Braille. Visitors with disabilities requiring assistance or seeking tours or activities adapted to their needs could contact São Miguelbased Cresacor – Azores for All, a company that can arrange holidays, help with adapted tours and provide equipment.