As you explore the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago, you may have wondered if it is possible to camp in a tent as you walk. Having walked the Camino in 2018, we walked by several campgrounds and wanted to see if camping was a viable way to walk the Camino. Here is what we found.
There are a lot of things to cover when it comes to camping along the Camino de Santiago. We spent time digging into many of the specifics of "roughing it" on your pilgrimage. From gear weight considerations and where to shower, to the biggest regret possible camp goers have, as well as how to have your Pilgrim Passport stamped along the way, we did our best to find you the answers you are looking for.
Can you camp on the Camino de Santiago? It is possible to camp while you walk the Camino de Santiago. Prepare to spend most nights setting up a tent in privately run camping sites, because "wild camping" is illegal in most of Spain unless you have explicit consent of the landowner. Campgrounds are spread far apart on most Camino routes.
We broke this topic down into the main choices people have when considering to set up a tent during their Camino. Here are the main ways that people choose to camp along the Camino:
Before digging into the most common ways to camp the Camino, we wanted to start with what we found to be the most important, and most misunderstood question when considering to camp on the Camino.
Where is it legal to camp along the Camino de Santiago? What we found is that campgrounds are the best legal place to camp along the Camino. If you choose to "wild camp" (set up a tent on private property), you will need to get consent of the landowner before doing so and even then you may be asked by the local law enforcement to leave (due to the fact that most law enforcement believe that you are doing something illegal).
There is a common misconception that camping along the Camino is illegal, but this is not true. What most of these sources are referring to is camping along the Camino on private property without the consent of the landowner. They may also be referring to camping in places that are not allowed (covered later).
The reason campgrounds are the most legal place to camp along the Camino is because most of Spain has laws in place regarding camping. Don’t let these laws discourage you from choosing to camp the Camino, as many pilgrims have successfully camped each of the Camino routes in the past. Whether you decide to camp on the Camino Frances, Camino del Norte, or any of the other Camino routes, know that it can be done. We will dive into the laws later, but let’s start with details for those who plan to camp in campgrounds during their Camino.
1) Setting Up a Tent in a Campground (Tourist Camp Site) along the Camino
This is the best option for most who would like to have the experience of camping in a tent while walking the Camino. You may want to camp the Camino for a variety of reasons: to get more in touch with nature, or to simply avoid another crowded albergue. Here are some things to keep in mind:
One of the benefits to staying in campgrounds is not having to worry about making it to albergues in time before they fill up. This can add some peace of mind as you walk.
After reading many testimonials of people who have walked the Camino and considered camping, their biggest regret was bringing the extra gear along (that they thought they would use). Most who wanted to both camp and stay at albergues realized too late how big of a challenge it was to carry all of their extra gear for the daily 25km or so of walking recommended by most route planners.
Many agreed that if you are planning on only staying in a campsite for a night or two on the Camino, leave your camping gear at home. Only bring the gear if you are planning on camping for most of the days of your Camino.
2) Setting Up a Tent on Private Property on the Camino
Referred to as "wild camping" (also known as "free camping"), most people who are considering camping the Camino want to know if it is possible to set up a tent next to the path as they walk.
This may be because many have been inspired by the popular Camino movie “The Way”, envisioning themselves camping along the Camino much like Martin Sheen’s character did in the emotional scene where Sheen accidentally drops his backpack in the river, causing him to dive in, get soaking wet, and ultimately force him to sleep alongside the Camino.
The answer to whether wild camping is allowed is a complicated one, but many people have successfully wild camped on the Camino in the past. To do so, you must keep a lot in mind when choosing to set up a tent on privately-owned land throughout Spain.
First, if you undertake wild camping while walking the Camino, you will want to do so with a spirit of respect and graciousness. As pilgrims, we strive to appreciate the hospitality extended to us during our stay on the Camino. Most of the Camino path falls on privately-owned land or municipalities, so it is best practice to follow the laws of each as you pass through.
Next, you will want to know the various laws and rules concerning wild camping on the Camino de Santiago. According to this source, the Spanish Civil Code and the Spanish Penal Code each grant rights to landowners throughout Spain. Also, there are 17 autonomous regions throughout Spain, with the Camino de Santiago passing through 4 of these regions: Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y Leon, and Galicia. Each region has its own set of laws regarding wild camping. Lastly, each local town or municipality has its own set of rules.
You will need to wild camp according to the laws of each autonomous region as well as the laws of each municipality.
Those who support wild camping along the Camino inaccurately point to the 1966 (overnight stay) article in the Spanish Constitution, stating this article makes free camping legal throughout Spain. This is not the case, because in 1978 the Spanish Constitution was rewritten, giving full authority to the 17 autonomous regions in Spain in regards to free camping.
You will want to check the rules of each region, an overview can be found here.
Looking at the autonomous regions as a whole, wild camping along the Camino de Santiago is not permitted in the following areas:
So where can you wild camp along the Camino? With the most common forbidden camping sites out of the way, here is a list of the most reliable places that you are allowed to wild camp along the Camino, as long as you have the owner’s permission:
A note about asking to camp next to an albergue. Not all albergues will agree to letting you camp on their premises. If they do agree, they may charge you a small fee (a couple of euros) or ask for a donation. In exchange for this fee, you will typically be able to use their facilities.
In addition to albergues, churches are often cited as the most likely place to setting up a tent along the Camino.
Another tip on locating wild camping spots along the Camino: As you arrive near the area that you plan to wild camp, you will want to ask around about where the best places to put your tent would be. This brings us to the biggest challenge for most pilgrims when it comes to wild camping on the Camino:
You will need to know how to speak some Spanish before deciding to camp the Camino.
Because you are walking the Camino de Santiago, much of which runs through rural Spain, most of the locals do not speak English, or they have very few English speaking skills. This means that you will want to know Spanish before embarking on your wild camping adventure. You will need to communicate with landowners to ask permission to stay on their land, and you will want to talk to locals to find out where the best places in town to camp are. Part of this communication will be asking for directions as well.
Other various rules about camping along the Camino:
What if the police show up while I am wild camping and ask me to leave? Due to the fact that many law enforcement officials along the Camino will believe that you are camping illegally (even if you have spoken to the landowner), you may be asked to move on. Please respect the local authorities and find other lodgings for the night.
If indeed you decide to camp along the Camino illegally (either by trespassing, having an open fire, or breaking another rule) you may be fined.
If you are ever concerned about the rules of the area you are walking through, talk to the local authorities when you arrive before setting up your tent (you are going to need some Spanish skills for this as well).
FAQs about wild camping on the Camino
Where do I shower when camping on the Camino? There are two main places to bathe while camping the Camino: near a local source of water, or at an albergue. Because you may not always be next to a source of water, albergues are the best option for finding a shower. As you walk, you will pass many albergues, you will want to walk in and ask the owner or attendant if you can use their facilities. Not all will agree, and some will charge a small fee or donation.
Are there bears on the Camino de Santiago? Yes, there are brown bears in Spain, but the odds of seeing one is extremely rare. It is reported that there is a total bear population of 150 in all of Spain (80 Cantabrian Brown Bears and 70 Pyrenean Brown Bears).
Should I bring a free-standing tent or non free-standing (staked) tent when walking the Camino? For most, a free-standing tent will be a better option for walking the Camino. Despite being heavier, free-standing tents are more versatile and will be easier to move if you discover you are on rocky terrain. Non free-standing (staked) tents will not work on gravel or rocky surfaces.
Lastly, make sure you pack a flashlight if you plan on camping the Camino.
3) No Tent, Sleeping Outside on Private Property on the Camino
If you are considering sleeping outside on private property without a tent on the Camino, then you will want to first read the previous section on sleeping with a tent on private property.
The same laws and rules that apply to those who set up a tent to camp will apply to those who set up their sleeping bag on the grass without a tent.
As stated in the previous section, please be respectful of the people whose hospitality you are relying on. Obey the local laws and ordinances. When you are getting close to the place where you want to set up a sleeping bag under the stars, check with the local authorities first if it is okay to sleep there.
Other than the laws previously stated, here are some other considerations specific to those who want to camp without a tent along the Camino:
Where do I charge my batteries if I am sleeping outside on the Camino? As you walk the Camino the next day, the best place to charge your batteries will be at the restaurant that you decide to eat at.
As mentioned previously, many people have walked the Camino and slept outside under the stars. There are some pilgrims who claim that they did this every night during their pilgrimage. To do so, you need to be very aware of your surroundings and know the local laws of the area you are sleeping in. When sleeping on someone else’s property, always ask for permission first and clean up after yourself. You are also accepting the risks of sleeping outside, including exposure to the elements and animals. For most, paying the 4 euros or so for a night at a municipal albergue is worth the money, as it gets you a roof over your head, a warm bed, hot shower, and receptacles to charge your electronics.
Additional questions about tents and camping along the Camino
Is a tent needed for the Camino de Santiago as a backup to albergues filling up? What happens if the albergues are full, should I bring a tent to walk the Camino? No, you will not need to bring a tent on the Camino. Unless you are planning on camping for most of the Camino, a tent is not required.
In the event that you arrive to a town where the albergues are full, you will have other (better) options than being forced to camp. Just by asking around town, you will most likely find a spare room or bed to sleep for the night. If those options are exhausted, many report sleeping in a church when no rooms could be found. If all else fails, you can call ahead (or behind) to a neighboring town to see where the closest available bed is.
Can you get your Credencial (Pilgrim Passport) stamped if you camp along the Camino? Yes, even if you are not staying at a campground or albergue, you can get your pilgrim passport stamped as you walk the following day. Most cafes, restaurants, bars, and tourist shops will stamp your Credencial to prove you walked the Camino.
If I plan to camp the Camino, what additional camping gear should I bring? If you plan on sleeping in a tent along the Camino, you will want to bring this additional gear:
Can I use luggage transport services for my tent and gear on the Camino? Yes, but this will only be an option if you are staying at tourist camping sites (campgrounds). If you plan on sleeping in other areas (churches, albergue gardens, etc.), you will not be able to transport your gear using the van transport services.
Whether you are considering wild camping on the Camino on private property, staying at a campsite or sleeping under the stars in your sleeping bag, we hope you found this complete guide to camping the Camino de Santiago helpful.
***NOTE: As mentioned above, camping along the Camino involves legal considerations that depend on regions and municipalities. We are not lawyers. If you intend to camp along the Camino, please consult an attorney who can provide you with the necessary legal information.