Encountering rain on the Camino de Santiago is something most pilgrims experience at some point during the 800km walk from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. You will want to be prepared for wet weather before leaving for your Camino.
In this post we are going to cover common questions about rain on the Camino, including what times of year have heavy rain, as well as how to prepare for rainy days on the way to St. James.
What do I do if it rains on the Camino? At the first sight of rain, you will want to put on a rain jacket or rain poncho. Wearing waterproof pants or shorts will also help to protect your clothes, electronics and Passport from rain while walking. You can choose to stop at a nearby cafe or albergue and wait out the storm (especially if dense fog accompanies the rain, as fog greatly increases the chances of getting lost on the Camino).
Being prepared (with proper clothing) and staying up-to-date with the weather forecast will be important in dealing with rain on the Camino de Santiago.
While it is possible to plan your Camino during times of the year where rain is less likely, you will not be able to eliminate the possibility of rain altogether on your Camino pilgrimage. For many pilgrims, being wet is part of the pilgrim experience.
We walked the last 100km of the Camino Frances in the summer of 2018 and did not encounter any rain for 10 days straight. While you may experience something like we did, there are pilgrims who report stories exactly opposite to ours, where they walked for up to two weeks without a dry day!
Because of the unpredictability of rain on the Camino, you will want to take preparations for encountering it.
Common Questions about Rain on the Camino
Does it rain on the Camino de Santiago? Rain is common throughout the year on each of the Camino routes. The routes found in France, Spain and Portugal each receive rain throughout the year.
When is the rainy season on the Camino? The heaviest rains typically occur in the Spring (March through May) and Fall (September through November). The winter can also be very wet if the temperatures are too hot for snowfall.
Will the trail be walkable? You will be able to walk the Camino in the rain, even heavy rain. Parts of the trail will be slippery while other parts will turn to mud. If any part of the trail is impassable during a storm, there are alternate routes marked that you can take in case of bad weather.
Are any of the Camino routes more dry than others? The Camino Frances and Via de la Plata routes are slightly drier than the other routes. This is because they are mainly inland and are further away from the coast.
The coastal routes tend to be more wet throughout the year. These routes include the Camino Portugues (Portuguese route), Camino Ingles (English Route) Camino del Norte (Northern Route) and Camino Primitivo.
If you are planning your first Camino and are worried about the rain, we recommend the Camino Frances route. In addition to being the most popular route with the most resources for first-time pilgrims, the Camino Frances is slightly less wet than other routes.
You can also reduce your chances of rain by walking the Camino Frances in the summer. The month of July has the least amount of rain (the average is 1.6 inches of rain for the entire month).
How to Prepare for Rain on the Camino
You will want to account for the possibility of rain when packing for the Camino. There are several items that you can pack that will help keep you dry:
In addition to packing for rain, you will also want to check the weather forecast as your Camino pilgrimage dates approach. If it looks like you are going to have a wet Camino, then you will want to consider bringing extra pairs of clothes (especially socks and underwear) to ensure you always have a dry set available.
If it looks like the weather forecast is favorable, then you may consider leaving some of the rain items at home.
For our Camino, we brought a poncho, flip flops, plastic bags and clothes pins. We did not bring rain pants since we were walking in the summer. We did not get a chance to use the poncho because it did not rain when we walked.
How to handle the rain while walking the Camino?
Keeping an eye on the weather forecast will be helpful for reducing the effects of rain on your pilgrimage. If you don’t want to check the weather each day, you can also get in the habit of asking the person who checks you into your albergue what the weather is looking like for your next day of walking.
It is good to know this information ahead of time because you can plan accordingly.
If you find there is a good chance of rain before heading out for your day’s walk, consider the following precautions:
What to do if your clothes get wet while walking the Camino
If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself soaked by the end of the day, there are several good ways to dry your clothes before the start of the next day of walking.
We hope you found this information helpful for your upcoming pilgrimage. Remember, it may rain the entire time on your Camino, or it may not rain at all. If it does rain, expect to get wet (and possibly soaked).
Regardless of how much rain you encounter on your pilgrimage, we hope that by being prepared and keeping alert of the weather conditions, you will be able to minimize the effect rain will have on your walk.
We were lucky enough to have good weather on our Camino and wish you the same on your upcoming pilgrimage!
Before we walked the Camino de Santiago in 2018, we wondered how easy it would be to find our way on the trail. Now that we have returned successfully (without getting lost), we wanted to share with you what you can expect when it comes to staying on the path to Santiago de Compostela.
Can you get lost walking the Camino de Santiago? While it is possible to temporarily lose the path while walking, most pilgrims successfully walk the Camino de Santiago without getting lost. The Camino path is well marked with yellow arrows to help you find your way. You can decrease your chances of getting lost by remaining in eyesight of other pilgrims, bringing a Camino guidebook and not walking in the fog.
Many first-time pilgrims are concerned about getting lost while walking the Camino de Santiago. This makes sense, as many people have a fear of getting lost. In modern times we rarely consider the possibility of getting lost because of the accessibility to the maps on our phones. There is something about walking in the countryside in a foreign country and not knowing if there will be cell service, that highlights our fear of losing the path.
You may have read a couple of stories online where people have taken a wrong turn on the Camino only to find themselves walking up to a worn down barn or to someone’s driveway. They then needed to ask for directions and turn around to find the last known part of the path.
The few stories you have encountered do not represent the majority of people’s experience walking the Camino. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make the pilgrimage successfully without losing their way. When we walked the Camino in 2018, we both personally found the way-marking system very easy to follow.
For the few that have reported losing the path, many regarded the experience as more of a nuisance or inconvenience than any serious matter and were able to easily return to the established Camino path. While losing your way can put extra strain on your body (by having to walk further to retrace your steps), most are able to recover from the experience quickly.
While it is unlikely that you will lose your way while walking the Camino, there are still precautions you can take to avoid getting lost. From our experience (and the experience of other pilgrims), here are 10 things that you can do to decrease your chances of getting lost on the Camino.
Tips on avoiding getting lost on the Camino
1) Know what way-markers look like on the Camino
You will encounter several different types of way-markers when walking the Camino de Santiago. In Spain, the most common marker is the yellow arrow. The local municipalities do a very good job in upkeeping the arrows along the route. You will see large statues, placards and arrows on the ground. Pilgrims also have painted arrows on bridges, buildings, and other areas to help find your way.
Sometimes you will come to a sign with big arrows and little arrows. The big arrow will point you to the main path, while the little arrow typically is an alternative (not very popular) path. Many times these arrows will have descriptions of the path next to them.
While yellow arrows are the most common way-marker in Spain, you may also come across other symbols such as scallop shells and signs. These are meant to reassure you that you are on the right path. You may also see arrows painted in different colors (typically white or blue), although these are more rare.
If you are beginning your Camino de Santiago in France, the most common way-marker is a red and white stripe. You will typically see these two stripes (bars) stacked up one on another, to help you know you are on the way. If you see a third stripe, it means that you need to turn to the right or left (it will be obvious which way to go when you approach the intersection).
In France, if you come across the symbol “x”, it means that you are going the wrong direction. Keep an eye out for these as they are used at the most common points of departure from the path.
The beauty of the arrow and scallop shell system is that they are used frequently and offer peace of mind that you are still on the right path. Our experience was that as soon as we felt that we hadn’t seen an arrow for a while, one would appear, reassuring us that we were still on the trail.
2) Pay attention (avoid distractions like listening to music)
Keeping alert is one of the best ways to avoid losing the path. By paying close attention to the way-markers, you will be assured that you didn’t take a wrong turn.
It is also important to remember unique details about the path so that if you take a wrong turn, you can retrace your steps to the last known point where you knew you were on the trail. Keeping an eye out for unique buildings, trees, rock formations, bridges and other natural way-markers will come in handy later if you need to retrace your steps.
Staying alert of the presence of other pilgrims will also help you find your way. There are times where you may find yourself walking alone, but for most of the time, there will be another pilgrim in view.
We found that when the route went through a city, it took more vigilance on our part to make sure we were on the right street. Depending on which Camino route you are on, the route may twist and turn throughout a city, in which case you will want to keep your eyes out for way-markers.
One part of paying attention is avoiding unnecessary distractions like listening to music. If you enjoy listening to music, reserve your listening time to the days where you have long straight stretches with very little turning.
3) Walk as part of a group
Walking as part of a group has several benefits for not losing your way. The main benefit is that you will have more sets of eyes keeping a lookout for arrows and other way-markers. Another main benefit is that if you get lost, you may have someone in the group who speaks Spanish, which will help you find the path again faster.
It can also be comforting getting lost with others as opposed to getting lost solo. Even if it takes you a while to rediscover the trail, you will have others to share the experience with, and will have quite the story to tell once you make it to your albergue that night!
Lastly, walking as part of a group offers more resources in the case of getting lost. Someone will most likely have a guidebook or an app. Someone will have a cell phone. Someone may have food or water that can be shared with others (in the event that you lose your way during meal time).
4) Choose a popular route, especially if this is your first Camino
Even if you are an experienced backpacker, if this is your first Camino pilgrimage, we highly recommend choosing to walk one of the three main routes: Camino Frances (French Way), Camino Portugues (Portuguese Way) or Camino del Norte (Northern Way). The reason you will want to consider one of these routes is that they have the best infrastructure (including way-marking systems) for assisting pilgrims in finding their way.
According to the Pilgrim’s Office, almost 85% of pilgrims walked either the Camino Frances, Camino Portugues or Camino del Norte in 2018. With an overwhelming majority of pilgrims choosing to walk these routes, you will have a better chance of not getting lost, since the way-marking system is excellent on each.
If you are still considering which route to pick, we wrote a post covering the three most popular routes in detail, you can find it here.
5) Pack a Camino guidebook or download an app
While many pilgrims successfully walk the Camino without the aid of guidebooks or apps (because the way-marking systems are very good overall), it can be wise to bring one along just in case. You might not need them, but you will most likely feel better having them with you.
The most popular option is the Brierley guidebook. There are different guidebooks for different Camino routes. We used the one for the Camino Frances. Each book has detailed maps for each portion of the trail. When the route goes through a city, there is typically a blown up picture of the city, showing you which streets to proceed on.
We got along just fine with the Brierley guidebook.
There are also two apps that you may want to consider, one is the Buen Camino app, and the other is the Wise Pilgrim app. We have not used either of these apps, but many pilgrims recommend them in the forums. The Buen Camino app also works offline as well.
A third option for electronic maps is Maps.me where you can download the maps onto your phone and use them offline. You will want to set all of the maps up (including the specific route you are walking) before using it offline.
6) Look at your route map before setting out for the day
Having a guidebook or app with you will help in case of getting lost, but to further decrease your chances of losing the way, look at the map for the day before setting out. You will get an idea of what general direction you are walking in, and if there are any cities coming up that you need to be extra vigilant in.
If you are walking a Coastal route, you can take a look at the map so that you know where the ocean is in relation to your trail. For example, on the Portuguese Coastal route, you will want to keep the sea to your left. On the Camino del Norte, you will want to keep the sea to your right.
A quick look at the map will also give you reasonable expectations on what you will encounter on the trail that day. Most maps have elevation guides which will help you anticipate if you are going to be walking uphill, downhill or both. This will also help you pace yourself and know when to take breaks.
7) Don’t walk the Camino in winter or in heavy fog
Walking in the winter presents challenges for finding your way on the Camino. There are times that it may snow, which can cover up any way-markers that are on the ground. Snow can also stick to the side of signs or buildings, making it more difficult to find your way. If you do walk the Camino in the winter, do not walk on days with heavy snowstorms. It is much safer to wait out the storm and walk the following day.
Fog can also increase the chances of getting lost. There are times where heavy fog can set in (usually in the mornings or with a bad storm), and if the weather is severe enough, you will want to wait out the fog before walking again. Keep an eye on the weather forecast for each day.
If you decide that you want to walk the Camino in the winter, make sure to check out our complete guide to walking a winter Camino, you can find it here.
8) When in doubt, follow the most worn (or wide) Camino path
There are portions of the Camino trail that feel like, well, a trail. As with any trail, there will be other roads/trails that naturally hook up to the main path. For the most part, you will want to continue walking on the most worn and widest portion of the trail.
9) Learn some basic Spanish before leaving
While it is relatively easy to find your way back to the trail even if you don’t know Spanish (simply by asking “Camino”? with a puzzled look on your face will get the point across), knowing some simple Spanish beforehand will help you stay on the trail, as well as help you find the trail again if you took a wrong turn.
We wrote an entire post with basic, helpful Spanish words and phrases that you may find useful, you can find it here.
10) Bring a cell phone
While bringing a cell phone will not prevent you from getting lost on the Camino, it will be very helpful if you do get lost and need to call for help. If you have an emergency in Spain, dial 112.
What to do if you think you are lost on the Camino
If you think that you have taken a wrong turn, there are several things you can do to find out if you are on the right path.
As mentioned earlier, many people are afraid of getting lost when walking the Camino. From our experience, as well as the experience of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, there is nothing to be afraid of. By using common sense and following the tips we mentioned in this post, you will increase your chances of staying on the path, and ultimately end your pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela.
For many pilgrims, the Camino represents the journey of life. If we get lost, we ask for help, open up ourselves to the care of others, retrace our steps, and ultimately find the path again. Just as in life, it is possible to get lost, but this does not mean we don’t take the journey.
You have decided to walk (or are considering walking) the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. You may have heard that there are multiple routes that you can walk, and now that your heart is set on undertaking the journey, you may be wondering which route is best, especially for a first-time pilgrim?
Which Camino route is best? The three best and most popular Camino routes are:
These three routes are the most popular for a reason, and they offer the best experience for a pilgrim, especially a first-time pilgrim.
We will cover these three Camino routes in detail, as well as offer additional runner-up routes for those looking to walk a shorter, longer or more challenging Camino.
It is important to note that any of the Camino routes can be shortened to fit your walking schedule. You have the freedom to start at any of the towns along the route. For example, the most popular Camino Frances route is 780km from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, however if you choose to start at Sarria, Spain, your walking distance would only be 111km.
The Pilgrim’s Office keeps track of how many people walk each of the routes (by counting the amount of Compostelas issued in Santiago de Compostela). Here are the number of pilgrims who walked each of the popular routes in 2018:
57% Camino Frances 186,199 pilgrims
21% Camino Portugues 67,822 pilgrims
6% Camino del Norte 19,040 pilgrims
The remaining 16% of pilgrims is split between the following Camino routes: Primitivo, Ingles, Portugues Coastal route, Via de la Plata, Camino de Invierno (winter Camino), Camino Finisterre-Muxia, and Otros (Other).
Whichever route you choose, you will need to walk at least 100km (or cycle 200km) if you would like to qualify for a Compostela Certificate. We wrote a post outlining the different requirements for a Compostela, you can find it here.
1) Camino Frances (The French Way)
The Camino Frances (French Route) is the best route for most pilgrims. Because it is the most popular and iconic Camino route, it offers the best infrastructure of lodging, food, and way-markers for pilgrims. When people refer to “walking the Camino”, they are typically referring to the Camino Frances route.
For those seeking a spiritual experience on the Camino, you will find this on any of the routes, but more so on the Camino Frances. The route has been in existence since the Middle Ages and was developed by several religious orders, including the Templars. Because of this you will find an abundance of monasteries, convents and churches which offer opportunities for spiritual reflection.
Many people choose to walk the Camino Frances because this is the route that is featured in the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. This movie has contributed to the growing popularity of the Camino de Santiago as a whole, but most who see this movie choose to walk the Camino Frances.
The other main reason that first-time pilgrims choose the Camino Frances is that it is designed to assist pilgrims the most. The entire route is well marked, making it hard to get lost. The Camino Frances also boasts the most lodging options of any of the routes. You will find an abundance of albergues, restaurants and shops along the route.
The Camino Frances is also the best route for getting transportation if needed. There are plenty of taxi services along the entire route, helping weary and worn pilgrims make it to their albergue at night if they are having a hard time walking. The luggage transport system is also excellent and can be a good option for giving your back and shoulders a break from carrying your backpack.
In terms of landscape, you will be walking on varied terrain ranging from the Pyrenees mountains to the flat section in Castilla to the rolling hills of Galicia.
Lastly, because the Camino Frances is the most popular route, it is the easiest route to get to know others if you are looking for a social Camino. Extroverts will enjoy the fact that you will be able to strike up conversations easily as well as walk with others. Introverts will also enjoy the route because you can choose to easily distance yourself from groups and allow for more time for introspection.
We recommend the Camino Frances for first-time pilgrims because of the many benefits it offers.
Because the Camino Frances is so popular, there are many different starting points. It normally takes 30-35 days to complete, if starting in St. Jean Pied de Port. Some pilgrims may not have a full month to dedicate to the trip. In this case, you can opt to start at any of the cities along the route. The most popular starting points along the Camino Frances are listed below.
Popular starting points on the Camino Frances:
2) Camino Portugues (Portuguese Camino)
The Portuguese Camino is the 2nd most popular Camino de Santiago route. It offers similar benefits as the Camino Frances. It is a highly developed route, but it is less developed than the Camino Frances. Because of this, there are not as many way-markers (yellow arrows) to help you find your way, so you will want to bring a good map (or Camino app) to avoid getting lost.
One of the main reasons pilgrims choose to walk the Portuguese Camino is its breathtaking scenery, especially if you opt for the Coastal Portuguese Route (which begins in Porto and runs up the coast of Portugal). Many pilgrims remark about the beautiful beaches, as well as enjoying the cool temperatures in the summer along the Coastal Route.
The route has varied terrain, with the Coastal Route mostly being flat. You will also pass many vineyards.
If you begin your Camino Portugues in Lisbon, you will pass very close to the city of Fatima, Portugal, a spiritually significant site where three children saw Marian apparitions in the early 20th century. If you are walking the Camino for spiritual reasons, taking a day to explore Fatima can be worth considering the Portuguese Route.
You can expect to pay slightly more money (per day) on the Portuguese route (as compared to the French route). There are fewer albergues, but you can still find plenty of pensions and hotels.
The Portuguese Camino has the most route options (detours) of any of the Camino routes. This can get a bit confusing when you get to Porto, but in essence there are several different routes that you can walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. Some are more popular than others. A good map and guidebook (or app), will help you navigate the different possible routes.
You can choose to walk the entire Portuguese route, beginning in Lisbon, or you can opt for one of the shorter routes, either starting in Tui, or Porto. We listed these popular starting points below.
Popular starting points on the Camino Portugues:
3) Camino del Norte (Northern Route)
The Camino del Norte is the 3rd most popular route of the Camino de Santiago. It is also known as the Northern Route, Camino de la Costa and Coastal Camino (not to be confused with the Coastal Portuguese Route).
While this route is a popular Camino route, there are far fewer people walking this route as compared to the French or Portuguese routes. This makes it a great choice if you are looking for a more solitary Camino.
The Camino del Norte is a coastal route, which means you will encounter many beautiful beaches and fishing villages. As with all coastal routes, you can expect more rain, but also milder temperatures in the summer. The summer months are best for walking the Camino del Norte, as are May and October. We have a post that details the best time of year to walk the Camino, you can find it here.
The terrain is varied, you will be walking through forests as well as roads that wind along the highway. Because you are on the coast, you will be crossing a lot of rivers, and you will have lots of ups and downs. In addition to the coast, you will be walking along mountainous regions as well.
The Camino del Norte is an established route with yellow arrows to point the way. However, it is the least marked route of the top three routes, so you will want to bring a map and guidebook. The final stage is marked very well.
Many pilgrims remark that the food is exceptional along the Camino del Norte.
You can start at any point along the Camino del Norte, but below are the two main starting points.
Popular starting points on the Camino del Norte:
Best Cycling Routes on the Camin0
There are two routes that Camino cyclists continually cite as the best routes for biking the Camino: The Camino del Norte and the Portuguese Coastal Camino. The terrain and weather make these routes well suited for those who would like to bike the Camino.
While the Camino Frances may be the best route for walking the Camino, it is not necessarily the best route for cycling. Because it is the most popular route, cyclists will have additional challenges like navigating crowds, dismounting frequently and having a hard time finding beds at albergues (because albergues give preferential treatment to walking pilgrims).
We wrote a post dedicated to everything you would want to know if you decide to cycle the Camino, you can find it here.
Best Challenging Camino Route
For those pilgrims looking for a physical challenge, consider walking the Camino Primitivo, also known as the Original Camino (which starts in Oviedo, Spain). The total distance of this route is 321km.
The first half of the Camino Primitivo is especially challenging as you traverse mountainous regions. The bold few pilgrims that choose to walk this route remark that the views are breathtaking.
While the Camino Primitivo is challenging physically, it can also be challenging in other ways as it does not provide as much infrastructure as other routes. Very few people choose to walk this route each year, so expect an introspective experience. Also, you will want to plan out your walking days since there are not as many albergues.
Longest Camino Route
The longest Camino route is the Via de la Plata Route which begins in Sevilla, Spain with a walking distance of over 1,000km. The route is also known as the Silver Route, or the Camino Mozarabe. This route would take 6 to 8 weeks to finish.
Shortest Camino Route
You can adjust any of the routes to create a short Camino pilgrimage, but if you are looking for the shortest complete Camino route, that title belongs to the Camino Ingles (English Camino). It begins in Ferrol, Spain, with a total of 118km to Santiago de Compostela. We wrote an entire post about the Camino Ingles, you can find it here.
While there are many routes to choose from, the best route for beginning pilgrims is the Camino Frances as mentioned earlier. It will provide the best infrastructure with plentiful albergues, restaurants and other services along the way. The path is marked extremely well and there will be many opportunities to meet other pilgrims from across the world.
We walked part of the Camino Frances in 2018, and are looking forward to walking it again, as well as possibly walking one of the other routes in the coming years.
We hope this information was helpful as you are preparing for your upcoming pilgrimage. No matter which route you decide to walk, you will not regret taking this pilgrimage journey to Santiago de Compostela.
As you prepare for your Camino pilgrimage, you will be making decisions on where to rest your feet and get a good night’s sleep. There are many types of accommodations along the Camino de Santiago, each offering different ways of experiencing the Camino.
We wanted to help you sort out the various lodging options so that you can make the best decisions for your needs.
Where is the best place to stay along the Camino de Santiago? For those walking the Camino, the best lodging will be albergues. Albergues are run by the municipal government, local church or a private individual and offer extremely affordable rates to stay in a dorm-style room with bunk beds. Pensions, hotels or casas rurales will offer more amenities like private rooms but at a higher price.
Here is a quick list of the different types of accommodations you will find on the Camino de Santiago:
4) Casas Rurales
8) Miscellaneous Others (not found as much)
While it may seem like there are a lot of different options to choose from, the most common places to stay will be albergues, pensions, hotels and casas rurales.
1) Staying in Albergues Along the Camino
Albergues are the main (and most basic) lodging type along the Camino de Santiago. Regardless of whether you are staying in a municipal albergue, parochial or private albergue, most offer similar amenities at similar prices.
All albergues will offer dorm-style rooms with bunk beds. Some albergues will have a room of 20 beds while other albergues will offer massive rooms with over 200 beds. The price you pay will be for one bed (not room) for the evening.
The price of a bed for one night at an albergue will range from 4 euros to 12 euros. Some albergues (typically parochial albergues) will be donation-based (donativo). You cannot make reservations at municipal or parochial albergues, but you can make reservations at private albergues.
Albergues are the cheapest lodging option for your Camino pilgrimage. Because of this, they are typically the most sought after, despite the unpleasantries that can come from sleeping in a large room full of fellow pilgrims.
All albergues offer hot water and communal bathrooms. In busy months, the hot water can run out quickly, so you may need to plan your shower for when the hot water comes back. If you walk the Camino in the winter, almost all albergues have adequate heat.
Many (but not all) albergues will come with a communal kitchen with cooking supplies.
The marker for albergues is the letter A.
Your check-in procedure will be the same at all albergues. Most will open in the early afternoon. You will need your pilgrim passport in order to complete check-in. During busy months like July, a line will begin to form, sometimes before the albergue officially opens. You can hold your place in line by placing your backpack in the queue to hold your spot. You will want to stay relatively close though, because municipal and parochial albergues are first-come, first-serve.
All albergues are required to lock doors at night by law. Most will lock their doors at 10:00pm. If you are staying at a parochial albergue, check to see if they lock their doors early (there have been reports of some parochial albergues locking doors at 9:00pm). Also, when you get into Galicia (the final part of the Camino de Santiago), you will find that many albergues lock their doors at 11:00pm.
Albergues are the only form of accommodation along the Camino that are required to lock their doors at night.
You are only allowed to stay for a maximum of one night at albergues. After staying the night, you must vacate early in the morning, usually 8:00am or 9:00am. The only exception to this is if you have a medical condition (with a note from a doctor). For most who walk the Camino, the one-night maximum stay at an albergue will not affect your schedule unless you want to stay several nights in a location, in which case you will have to look for alternative lodging.
Who operates the albergues? A hospitalero is the person who runs the albergue. A hospitalero may be a local, or a religious (nun or monk) or a volunteer from a different part of the world. Each albergue will have a hospitalero who is in charge of opening the albergue, checking in pilgrims, cleaning up as well as locking up for the night.
Most hospitaleros live in the albergue while others live right next to it. Non-resident hospitaleros will live in town. You may hear hospitaleros also referred to as wardens or innkeepers.
Hospitaleros will have the best information about the local town, as well as restaurants, Mass times, shops and the Camino in general. Please express kindness to your hospitalero as they are offering their hospitality to you.
One of your main priorities while staying at an albergue will be washing and drying your clothes. There will be times where you will need to hand wash and hang your clothes outside. However, an increasing number of albergues are beginning to offer washing machines (lavadora) and dryers (secadora). Just keep in mind that other pilgrims will want to use the machines too, so you may have to wait (or find another pilgrim to split a load of laundry with you).
The pilgrims who enjoy staying in albergues typically like the low cost, as well as the social aspect of the albergue. It is easier to make friends when sharing a large room together. Pilgrims also report enjoying albergues because it feels more like a pilgrimage (by focusing on simplicity and not having as many amenities).
Some albergues will have wifi, others will not. Keep this in mind when deciding to stay at albergues.
Most pilgrims agree that the main disadvantage to staying at an albergue is you will not get a good night’s rest on most nights. Sleeping can be very difficult in an albergue dorm-style room, as there will be people who snore, others who get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and pilgrims who rustle through their backpacks to find something to keep them distracted because they are having a hard time sleeping! In order to get a better night’s rest, it can be a good use of money to opt for a private room at a private albergue, pension, hotel or casas rurales (or split a private room with another pilgrim).
As stated before, reservations are not accepted at municipal albergues or parochial albergues. However, you can make reservations at private albergues. We wrote an entire post covering how to make reservations along the Camino, you can find it here. For the last 100km of the Camino Frances route, you will want to highly consider reserving rooms, as this is the busiest part of the Camino and beds start to become scarce. Some pilgrims also recommend reserving beds at St. Jean Pied de Port.
Cyclists on the Camino will want to keep in mind that most municipal albergues will give priority to walking pilgrims. This means that you might arrive at an albergue, but they will ask you to wait until later in the day to check-in (typically 6:00pm), sometimes you will have to wait until 8:00pm to check-in. To avoid this, cyclists can opt to stay at private albergues, as they will not give the same preferential treatment to walkers. Cyclists are not required to wait at private albergues.
One note about municipal and parochial albergues that are donation-based. Please give some form of compensation to the albergue for their hospitality. Some pilgrims believe that since it is donation-based that they do not have to give anything. While this may be true, remember that the hospitalero and staff are giving their hospitality to you as well as their most precious commodity: their time. Most agree that a minimum donation of 4 or 5 euros is appropriate. When in doubt, follow the popular Camino phrase “Pay what you can, take what you need.”
If you are a Catholic or Christian walking the Camino, keep your eye out for parochial albergues (especially ones run by a monastery or convent) as they will have spiritual activities that pilgrims are welcome to attend. You will find vesper services, hymn sings, prayers and Masses offered. We wrote a post for Catholics and Christians on the many things you can do to deepen your faith on the Camino de Santiago.
To wrap up albergues, here is a quick reference guide to some of the distinctions between albergue types:
Municipal albergue (albergue municipal) - This is the official albergue system run by the local government. You will find state employees as well as local volunteers. Municipal albergues do not typically offer food. These will offer bunk bed dorm-style rooms with a pillow. There will be a place to dry your clothes. Price will be 4 euros to 8 euros (or donation-based).
Parish albergue (albergue parroquial) - Parochial albergue run by the local church. Most of these albergues are donation-based or a very low price. Sometimes they are run by the local convent or monastery (convento, monasterio). These are the most basic lodging. Most do not have wifi. Parochial albergues will offer spiritual practices open to pilgrims like vespers, prayers and Mass. Price is typically donation-based or a small fee of a couple of euros.
Private albergue (albergue privado) - Private albergues operate the same as municipal or parish albergues, but are owned by a private individual or family (many times by someone who previously walked the Camino). These are run more as a business. Because of this, they are usually updated and offer evening meal and breakfast. Some private albergues also offer private rooms. Most have washing machines and dryers. Price will be 6 euros to 12 euros.
Youth albergue (albergue juvenil) - These are albergues designed for younger people. You will not encounter many of these on the Camino.
Tourist albergue (albergue turístico) - Tourist albergues designated for non-pilgrim guests. You will not encounter many of these on the Camino either.
Refugio - this word was previously used to describe what we know as albergues. Now, it typically denotes a small albergue.
There are several other albergue types including association albergues and network albergues. These tend to run the same as the previous albergues, but they are part of a network of other albergue owners.
We hope this gives you an overview of what to expect if you choose to stay at an albergue. Now let’s move on to the luxury option on the Camino: paradores.
2) Staying in Paradores Along the Camino
Staying at a parador is the exact opposite experience of staying at an albergue. Paradores are luxury hotels managed by the Spanish government. They are typically located in historic buildings such as castles, monasteries, or other stately structures. Paradores are run by the company Paradores de Turismo de España.
These paradores are typically rated as a 3, 4, or 5 star hotel with all the amenities you would expect to find at a luxury hotel. They feature huge private rooms with beautiful architecture and decor.
Paradores are the most expensive option for lodging along the Camino. Costs per night vary greatly, but most cost several hundred euros per night per room.
Because of the price, most pilgrims will choose to stay at other lodging options such as albergues, pensions and hotels. If you would like to splurge on an experience, choosing to stay at a parador will give you an unforgettable memory.
There are currently 94 paradores operating in Spain, some of them are along the Camino de Santiago. The most famous parador on the Camino is the Parador de Santiago, which is located in Santiago de Compostela.
So far, we have covered albergues and paradores. If you are looking for something in between these two extremes, then you will want to consider pensions, casas rurales and hotels.
3) Staying in Pensions Along the Camino
Pensions will typically offer a room or set of rooms with no more than two beds per room. Some pensions also offer bunk bed style rooms, although it is more common to stay in a private room in a pension.
One advantage to staying in pensions is that a meal is typically included and you will have the privacy of staying in a room. Pensions typically have washing machines and dryers, but (typically) do not offer a place to dry your clothes.
The price of staying a night at a pension will be 30 to 40 euros per room per night. Many pilgrims choose to split the cost of a pension with another pilgrim for the many benefits of better sleep, additional privacy, food included, wifi, and bathroom access. Some pensions will have a private bathroom, while others will offer communal bathrooms (but you won’t be sharing the bathroom with nearly as many people as an albergue).
We stayed at several pensions during our Camino and found the added amenities worth the price. Since we were traveling together, the price per person was only slightly more than if we had stayed at a private albergue in a bunk bed dorm-style room.
You can make reservations for pensions and you can stay for as long as you want in each (there is no overnight rule). The best place to book online is www.booking.com. Another benefit of pensions is there is no “lights out” time, and no lock out time.
The markers for pensions are P and CH.
Pensions are a great way to spend your nights along the Camino, and can also be a nice retreat from the bustling albergues.
4) Staying in Casas Rurales Along the Camino
Casas rurales are more like a bed and breakfast and are most common in the region of Galicia, Spain. They are similar to pensions in that you will receive a private bed, food and laundry services.
Casas rurales can be luxurious at times, which can add to the price. You will typically spend between 30 euros to 40 euros per night per room. If it is an exceptionally nice casa rural or offers exceptional food, the price may be more.
A difference between pensions and casas rurales is that pension rooms usually have two beds, while casas rurales rooms typically have one bed. In this respect, casas rurales tend to cater to couples since there is only one bed in the room. Having one bed is not always the case, but it has been the experience of many pilgrims.
The signage for casas rurales is CR.
Casas rurales offer many of the same amenities as pensions at a similar price. Casas rurales are a good lodging option for couples.
5) Staying in Hotels Along the Camino
As mentioned previously, you will be able to find private rooms at pensions, casas rurales and (some) private albergues. Hotels offer another option to find a private room. Most hotels will be found in medium to large sized cities along the Camino.
Hotels will offer private baths and laundry services. Some hotels will offer breakfast (usually a continental breakfast), while others will not. Hotels typically will not have a communal kitchen.
Hotels will vary in price, but the prices are comparable to pensions and casas rurales. The rate will also vary depending on what city you are in and what time of year you are traveling. The best place to book hotels for your Camino pilgrimage is www.booking.com. You will be able to see the amenities of each hotel as well as pictures and other helpful information.
You can also choose to stay at apartments along your Camino pilgrimage. This is much like renting a room on AirBnB where a host rents out a portion or entire house for the night.
Apartments can be the best option if you are looking for a “homey” feel on the Camino. They tend to be large, with several bedrooms, private bath, and full kitchen and refrigerator.
We stayed at several apartments during our Camino pilgrimage and loved the independence that they offered. We used www.booking.com to make all of our reservations and found the process smooth and seamless.
7) Other Less Common Lodging Options on the Camino
While the previous lodging types are the main accommodations you will encounter on the Camino, we wanted to include a couple more words you may come across. You will not see these much, as they are not common along the Camino.
8) Camping Along the Camino
Camping the Camino will not be the lodging option of most pilgrims. However, if you are interested in how to successfully camp the Camino, we wrote an entire post covering the details from A to Z, including the many camping laws of Spain, you can find it here.
Respecting fellow pilgrims while staying in a dorm-style room
While this post has mainly covered the nuances between the different types of lodging along the Camino, we wanted to include a couple of things to keep in mind if you are staying in a large dorm-style room at an albergue, pension, or casa rural.
Do I have to stay at albergues when walking the Camino?
As seen in this post, there are many lodging options for walking the Camino. You can successfully walk the Camino without staying at albergues. You can choose to stay in pensions, hotels, casas rurales or apartments.
We hope this information helps you decipher the different accommodations available to you on your Camino pilgrimage. Regardless of which lodging type you select, we are confident that your pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela will be one you will never forget.
If you follow a vegan diet, you might be wondering if walking the Camino de Santiago will provide you with the appropriate food options for your diet. At home, we follow a whole foods, plant-based diet, so this was certainly something we were concerned about when we decided to walk the Camino. Based on our research and our experience walking the Camino, we provide a list of tips to help vegan peregrinos.
Can you walk the Camino de Santiago as a vegan? You can walk the Camino de Santiago if you follow a vegan/plant-based diet. You will be able to find vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in the bigger cities. In the smaller towns, you can remain vegan by planning ahead, relying on grocery stores, cooking your meals, and ordering side dishes.
If you are vegan and are planning to walk the Way of St. James, we hope the list below provides you with some useful suggestions.
1. Consider vegan breakfast options offered at albergues/cafes, but have backup provisions
Some albergues/cafes offer vegan breakfast options. These can include toast and jam, coffee, fresh fruit juice, and pan con tomate (toast with a fresh tomato spread). We had some delicious pan con tomate, and definitely recommend it. Since not all places will offer vegan breakfast options, we suggest taking advantage of those places that do offer vegan breakfasts, and enjoying having breakfast prepared for you by someone else.
But, not all places offer breakfast, let alone vegan breakfast, so we suggest having backup breakfast foods with you. At grocery stores, you can find things like bread, oatmeal, granola, and cereal, which can be good breakfast options. In case you need it, we have a post that includes Spanish words and phrases to use at grocery stores, especially if you have dietary restrictions.
The breakfast we most frequently had was oatmeal. We bought a bag of oats at a grocery store, and prepared ourselves some oatmeal in the morning by pouring water over the oats and letting them soak in the water. Sometimes, a cafe or albergue employee would be nice enough to give us hot water for free. We usually ate our oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter.
Another breakfast we had frequently was bread (or crackers) with peanut butter.
A major benefit of making your own breakfast is that you save a lot of money. Oats are very affordable, and one bag makes several breakfasts. Similarly, buying a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter is affordable and makes several meals.
One drawback of making your own breakfast is that eating the same thing day after day can get monotonous. This is why we suggest buying breakfast at a cafe or albergue every once in a while - it will give you a nice break from the usual meal.
2. Consider vegan snack options offered at cafes, but pack your own, just in case
As you walk, you will likely want to stop for a snack at some point. It was very common for cafes to sell granola bars, so a granola bar and coffee or fresh fruit juice could be a good option for a morning or afternoon snack.
You can stock up on snacks by going to a grocery store, where you can find nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruit, rice cakes, bread, and crackers, among other snacks.
We usually snacked on peanut butter and bread or crackers, granola bars, or fresh fruit.
As with making your own breakfast, packing your own snacks will be more affordable than buying some at a cafe.
3. Look up vegetable/fruit markets
We were pleasantly surprised at how many vegetable/fruit markets we encountered. Picture an indoor farmers’ market, where you find many varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables on display, and this is what we mean when we say vegetable/fruit market.
While you can find vegetables and fruits at the grocery stores as well, there might be towns where getting to a vegetable/fruit market is easier (or closer) than getting to a grocery store, so it’s a good idea to look them up. It is also possible that you might find a greater variety and/or fresher produce at these markets.
In addition, we thought it was an interesting cultural experience, since we don’t have these types of stores where we live.
4. Common vegan lunches/dinners on the Camino are veggie paella, cheeseless pizza, and pasta with tomato sauce
Paellas are a rice dish that usually have seafood and/or other meats. However, you can find vegetable paellas along the Camino. These are just basically a rice dish with vegetables. We had veggie paellas several times and they were a good meal option for us.
Pasta is also common along the Camino, and was many times part of the meal options provided in a pilgrims’ meal. Pasta with tomato sauce might already be on the menu, in which case you can just order that. If they offer a non-vegan pasta dish, you can ask them if they can cook the pasta and replace whatever sauce they had with a simple tomato sauce. You can even try ordering the pasta plain, with just olive oil, salt, and pepper. Remember to ask that no cheese be added to it!
Pizza is another meal that can be found on the Way. We even ate at a pizza place that offered a pizza pilgrims’ menu! You can ask if the pizza can be made without cheese. You would end up with the crust, tomato sauce, and veggie toppings, and this is a delicious alternative meal.
Each cafe will differ regarding whether and to what degree they can accommodate you. For example, a cafe might be offering pre-prepared pizza, which means they can’t offer you a cheeseless option. So, ask kindly, with the hope of being accommodated, but be prepared for your request to be denied at times. In those cases, having snacks with you will be helpful.
5. Consider modifying the pilgrims’ menu, but be aware of what the consequences will be
Vegan pilgrims have suggested asking a cafe or albergue to modify the pilgrims’ menu for you. For example, if a pilgrims’ menu consists of one vegetable dish or salad, one meat dish, and one dessert, vegan pilgrims have suggested asking whether you can get two vegetable dishes or salads, to replace the one meat dish.
You might also be able to ask if there are any grilled vegetables or baked potatoes that you could be able to order to replace the meat dish.
While this seems to have worked well for some pilgrims, it hasn’t been the case for others. For example, pilgrims have reported ending up with two small-sized dishes, or having non-vegan items be removed but not replaced (hence ending up with a smaller, less filling meal). In addition, it’s been reported that you might end up having to pay more.
6. Side dishes can make an excellent meal
When the pilgrims’ menu doesn’t work out, take a look at what side dishes are being offered. You can often put together several vegan side dishes and end up with a filling meal.
For example, one cafe we went to had sauteed mushrooms as a side. Ordering these sauteed mushrooms with a side salad, and eating this with fresh bread and olive oil made for a great meal. The sauteed mushrooms we had were one of our favorite cafe meals on the Camino.
Fries are offered pretty much everywhere, so a meal can be made out of any veggie/salad and fries. Fresh bread and olive oil are also served pretty much everywhere and can be a good, filling option.
7. Be careful with salads and “vegetarian” options!
Some salads and “vegetarian” options have tuna. Make sure you check the ingredients, which are usually listed on the menu, or check with the server. You can let them know you don’t eat meat, dairy, or cheese. Our post on Spanish words/phrases includes food-related words and phrases to indicate that you are vegan.
8. Grocery store dinners can be delicious, healthy, and affordable
When pilgrims’ menus don’t work out for you, consider going to the grocery store. Grocery stores sometimes have hot food bars, where you can order any amount of the offered foods. But, grocery stores can also have canned foods, such as canned beans, and salads.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are available as well, and you can buy some vegetables and bread to make easy sandwiches such as a tomato and lettuce sandwich, or an avocado sandwich.
One of our favorite dinners was bread, hummus, and a packaged salad. We were able to find multiple varieties of hummus, and different types of salads, so that we could vary our meals every once in a while.
In addition to fresh foods, grocery stores have packaged, microwaveable foods, which can be a good alternative on some days. For example, they might have rice dishes or pastas which you simply heat up in the microwave, or noodles or other foods that only require that you add hot water. These are another easy and affordable option.
When planning to rely on grocery stores, make sure you check the hours they are open each day, and whether they are open on Sundays.
9. Look up vegan restaurants along the Camino
Most vegans are likely familiar with Happy Cow. Here, you can indicate a specific town and you will be able to find a list of vegan restaurants in that town.
You can also check out the Vegetarian Way, which lists vegetarian and vegan restaurants along the Camino de Santiago.
You will likely only find vegan restaurants in the bigger towns. For smaller towns without vegan restaurants, the other tips provided in this list will prove to be helpful.
10. Look up ethnic restaurants
Some towns might not have restaurants that are branded as vegan, but they might have restaurants offering ethnic cuisines which often have vegan options. For example, we ate at a Chinese restaurant once, where we were able to get a dish of rice and vegetables.
Similar to vegan restaurants, you will most likely find ethnic cuisine in the bigger towns.
11. Consider taking a cab to towns where you know you can find vegan food
Finding a cab along the Camino is very easy. If you are at a town without a grocery store and without vegan food options, you can take a cab to one of the previous towns where you know you were able to get vegan food.
If you are interested in taking a cab, simply ask someone working at your albergue or at a cafe and they will help you find one.
While taking a cab to a neighboring town is easy and affordable, it might not feel like the best option. If you have snacks and breakfast foods, as suggested above, you might not need to rely on taxis, but we offer this option so that you know the possibility is there if needed.
12. Cook your own food
It is very easy to cook your own vegan meals from scratch. Simply buy some pasta, rice, or quinoa at the grocery store, cook it, and add some sauteed vegetables or salad, and you have a quick, delicious, and healthy meal.
In order to cook your own food, you will need to check whether your albergues have kitchens that you can use. Most albergues do, but some don’t, so you will have to check before you buy all your ingredients. Also, it’s been mentioned that while an albergue might have a kitchen available for you, it might be the case that there might not be pots/pans available to you, so this is something else that needs to be checked.
One option you can consider is staying at apartments. Apartments will have full kitchens, with the equipment you need, and if you share an apartment with several people, can be quite affordable.
We stayed in apartments a few times, and enjoyed being able to cook our own dinners.
As mentioned previously, cooking your food will be the most affordable option to eat vegan food on the Camino. Plus, you have the freedom to make whatever you want, instead of having to conform to a menu with limited options.
The downside is that you will need to check ahead of time if a kitchen will be available to you, and if it has pots/pans you can use.
13. Bring containers and utensils with you on your pilgrimage
If you plan on making any of your meals while walking the Camino, we recommend you bring the containers and utensils you will need. For example, having a small table knife will be useful if you plan on spreading peanut butter or hummus onto some bread. Having a spoon and a small bowl will be useful if you plan to eat oatmeal or cereal. There are many options for lightweight, small containers you can bring, and some are even collapsible, thus taking up less space in your backpack.
Keep in mind that at a minimum, you really only need one small, lightweight container per person, and the necessary utensils. Bringing these objects should not take up much extra space or add a lot of weight to your bag, but will make eating and making your food much easier.
In addition to a small container and utensils, we also brought one cloth napkin per person. We used these as napkins, or to wrap food (such as sandwiches) that we packed for the day.
14. Consider luggage transport services
If you need to bring more equipment (besides just a container and utensils) for your meals, look into luggage transport services along the Camino. For example, if you want to bring a small pot/pan in case an albergue doesn’t have any, or any other kitchen equipment that will be helpful to you, remember you don’t have to carry it all. Luggage transport services can take your bags from one albergue and deliver them to your next albergue.
Another benefit of using a luggage transport service is that it will allow you to stock up on certain food items when you are in bigger towns. In bigger towns, and in towns with grocery stores, you will be able to buy more quantities of your preferred foods (peanut butter, bread, rice/quinoa/pasta, nuts, etc.) and just pack them in your bags and have them transported to your next town, which might not have any grocery stores or vegan options.
Remember that if you are cooking for yourself, you will already be saving a lot of money from cooking instead of eating out all the time, so the cost savings can allow you to splurge on a luggage transport service when needed.
15. Bring some vegan essentials with you
Vegan pilgrims have recommended packing certain vegan essentials. These essentials will depend on each individual’s tastes, but suggestions include nutritional yeast, vegan parmesan, any seasonings of choice, and peanut butter powder, which has been recommended as a good alternative to regular peanut butter because it is much lighter.
Packing some of these essentials means you will be ready to improve any meal. For example, pasta and tomato sauce, as well as cheeseless pizza, can be greatly improved by adding some vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast.
16. Plan your Camino route to accommodate your dietary needs
Another option to consider while being vegan on the Camino de Santiago is to plan your route so that you end up spending the night in places that have vegan restaurants, have access to grocery stores, and/or will allow you to cook your own meals, either by staying at an albergue with a kitchen or by staying at an apartment.
Ideally, you will determine your preference beforehand: will you prefer to cook your meals? Will you prefer to eat out as much as possible and avoid cooking? Once you have determined your preferences, you can plan a route that will allow you to follow through with your intentions.
Try as you might, it might not be possible to end up every single night at a location that allows you to follow through with your preferences. On these nights, you will have to plan ahead and come up with a backup plan.
One thing that helped us was creating a table where we listed all the towns and lodgings we would be staying in. We marked which towns had vegetarian restaurants and grocery stores, and indicated the amenities included in each of our lodgings. Because we knew where we would and would not have grocery stores, we were able to plan ahead and grab extra items when we knew there would not be a grocery store at our next location.
17. Plan for the plane, train, and/or bus ride
Remember that your Camino begins the moment you leave your house, so part of your pilgrimage includes getting to the Camino starting point. Be sure to think about your vegan needs here as well.
If you need to fly to your starting point, check with your airline. Some airlines will accommodate your dietary needs and will provide you with vegan meals. It’s a good idea to bring some snacks with you as well, just in case. For our flight to Spain, we packed a couple of apples, some rice crackers, peanut butter packets, and some pretzel bites.
If you need to take a train or bus, you will likely have to bring food with you. We had to take a six-hour train to Sarria, and packed hummus, bread, and salad to eat for lunch on the train. We did a grocery store run right before heading to the train station and grabbed the food items we needed.
Finally, don’t forget about dessert! We found the most amazing dark chocolate at grocery stores, for less than a Euro a bar. We made sure we always had a bar of dark chocolate with us, and recommend you do the same!
Being vegan on the Camino is possible, but will require some planning ahead. We hope these tips help you as you prepare for your pilgrimage, and empower you to walk with confidence that you will be able to meet your dietary needs while making your way to Santiago de Compostela.
As we were planning our Camino pilgrimage, we wanted to know what was the best way to book our accommodation ahead of time. We sought this information because we were traveling as a couple and wanted to make sure we could stay together every night while walking the Camino.
We are going to cover the best ways to make reservations on the Camino de Santiago as well as offer reasons why you may want to consider booking ahead. As a bonus, we include a sample email and phone script in Spanish which you can use for booking!
How do you reserve an albergue on the Camino de Santiago? The best way to reserve an albergue on the Camino de Santiago is by calling or emailing the albergue in advance. Reservations are only accepted at private albergues while municipal albergues are first-come first-serve. You can typically make a reservation one day in advance or several weeks in advance. Having some basic Spanish skills is helpful.
There are two main approaches to making reservations at private albergues on the Camino. Both are straightforward and simple to do.
To find the contact information for private albergues, check out the Wise Pilgrim app. This app offers the email addresses and phone numbers for most accommodations. It makes it easy for calling while walking the Camino. You can also grab an up-to-date Brierley guide (pick the guide for the route you are walking), and this book will give all of the contact numbers for accommodations. Another helpful place for information on albergues in each town is this pilgrim site.
One more recommendation for making reservations is www.booking.com. This does not include information for albergues, but it is a great service for booking hotels, pensions and apartments.
Booking Ahead while Walking the Camino (Usually a Day or Two in Advance)
If you are booking one or two days in advance while walking the Camino, you will want to have a cell phone that can make calls and/or access email while in Spain. We provide a simple phone call script later on that you can use. Or if you do not feel comfortable making the call yourself, you can ask the host at your current albergue to make the call for you. There are also many Spanish-speaking pilgrims (some who speak some English) who you could ask for help.
Remember that private albergues will offer beds in a dorm-style room (where you reserve one bed in the room for the night), while also offering private rooms (which typically have one or two beds where you reserve one room for the night). When you talk to them, you will want to let them know if you are reserving a bed or a room.
Sample Phone Script for Reserving a Bed Ahead of Time
For additional useful Spanish phrases on the Camino, check out our post here.
When making your reservation by phone, offer a later arrival time, so that you do not need to call again if you do not make it there by the specified time. If you do not arrive by your stated arrival time, you will need to call again to make sure they did not give your bed away.
If you have problems communicating in Spanish, try English (or your native language). Many albergue hosts have some basic English skills for things like making reservations.
Booking Well in Advance (Typically Before Leaving for Your Camino)
If you plan on making your reservations at private albergues before leaving for your Camino, the best way to book is by email. You will want to communicate similar information as the phone script. The advantage of email is that you can use our script for contacting the albergue host, and then when they reply you can use an online translator to understand their email.
Sample Email Script for Making Reservations on the Camino
Important: If your plans change and you no longer plan on honoring your reservation, call the albergue to cancel your reservation. Here is a simple script to use: “Hello, this is (name), I am calling to cancel my reservation for (tomorrow or date). Thank you.” “Hola, hable (name), estoy llamando para cancelar mi reservacion para (manana). Gracias.”
Please be kind to your fellow pilgrims. Imagine showing up to an albergue only to be turned away because they report being full (due to reservations), only to find out later that there were plenty of beds available because people did not honor their reservations. This is becoming a major problem on the Camino and is one of the most frequent frustrations reported by pilgrims. There have been reports of people who “got the last bed” only to find out that 2 people stayed the night in a room of 20 beds because pilgrims did not cancel their reservations!
We want to state it again, please cancel your reservation if you will not be arriving. This will show respect to the albergue hosts (and your fellow pilgrims) who are offering such hospitality to you.
Pilgrims have varying views on whether to reserve ahead or not while walking the Camino de Santiago. Those that want a more spontaneous, flexible pilgrimage tend not to make reservations. They view reservations as something that hinder their experience of the ancient pilgrimage. Meanwhile, other pilgrims who want the security of knowing where they are sleeping for the night (as well as avoid the “bed race”) tend to plan ahead and make reservations.
Do I need to make reservations when walking the Camino de Santiago? You do not need to make accommodation reservations when walking the Camino de Santiago. Many pilgrims choose to walk the Camino and sleep only at municipal albergues, which do not accept reservations. Private albergues, hotels, pensions and apartments do accept reservations and you may want to strongly consider booking ahead especially if you are walking in the busy months of June, July and August.
Here are several reasons why you may want to consider making reservations on the Camino.
Reserving Private Rooms on the Camino de Santiago
Many modern-day pilgrims will choose to stay in private rooms rather than in the dorm-style bunk bed rooms. There are many advantages to staying in private rooms, but we wanted to point out that the reservation process is a lot easier for private room accommodations.
If you are looking to book private rooms (either at private albergues, hotels, pensions, or apartments), you can simply go to www.booking.com and make all of your reservations ahead of time (or while you are on the Camino if rooms are still available). The website is a great resource as you will be able to see pictures of each accommodation as well as availability and amenities.
We used booking.com to make reservations for our Camino. It can take a little bit of time up front (because you will need to have a route planner and plan exactly how many kilometers you will walk each day, which can be difficult to gauge if you are not used to walking long distances), but we found the overall experience seamless and straightforward. You can most likely make all of your accommodations on this site, although you may need to book ahead depending on the time of year you plan on walking. We did have two private albergues that we had to email/call to make reservations, but it was very easy to do (especially with our script!).
We found the best two things about staying in private rooms was that it was about the same price per person as if we had stayed in a dorm-style bunk bed room, AND we each got a good night’s rest almost every night (which gave us the energy we needed to walk the Camino).
Should I make reservations when walking the Camino de Santiago?
Deciding to make reservations or not comes down to personal preference. If you want your Camino to be spontaneous, then you will most likely feel restricted by making reservations. If you enjoy planning most of the details of your trips, then making reservations can provide extra peace of mind.
There is a popular saying that goes “the Camino will provide” and this is certainly true when it comes to finding a place to stay. If the albergue is booked, an overflow area will be opened (most likely at a church or stadium). If there are no rooms in your town, someone will taxi you to a neighboring town for an open bed. There are countless stories of pilgrims being helped along the way to find available beds.
We wanted to mention one more time, that if you decide to make reservations ahead of time, and for any reason you cannot honor your reservation, please call or email the albergue to cancel so they can open up the bed for someone else.
One last note about reserving ahead of time. Some private albergues are beginning to ask for a small deposit to hold your bed or room. This is because of the many reservations that simply do not show.
Hopefully after reading this post, you are equipped with more information about making reservations for your upcoming Camino pilgrimage. Whether you decide to book ahead or not, we are confident that your Camino de Santiago will be an unforgettable experience!
When looking at your schedule for walking the Camino, you may be considering if it is possible to walk the Camino in the winter. We are planning on doing a second Camino walk in the next couple of years, and wanted to know what other pilgrims have experienced while walking the Camino in the colder months of December, January and February.
We researched as much as we could and wanted to share with you what we found.
Can you walk the Camino de Santiago in the Winter? The Camino de Santiago can be walked in the winter months of December, January and February. The winter temperatures are warm enough to complete the pilgrimage, although you should be checking the daily forecast for snowstorms and dense fog. You will want to avoid walking between December 24th and January 7th as most albergues and restaurants will be closed during this time.
The winter can be a good choice for those who want more solitude on the Camino, as the number of pilgrims is a small fraction of those who walk during the summer. The scenery is beautiful on the Camino in the winter, which can add to the pilgrim experience.
The winter is beginning to attract more pilgrims than in the past, and because of this, more albergues are choosing to remain open during the winter months. One advantage of a winter Camino is that these open albergues will have plenty of beds, so you will not encounter the infamous “bed race” that occurs in the summer months.
There are several things you will want to consider before walking the Camino de Santiago in the winter. We will cover what the weather will be like, which routes are best for the winter, lodging considerations, and what gear to bring. At the end of the post you will find tips on walking the Camino in the cold as well as an FAQ section.
Weather on the Camino in the Winter
For most wondering if the Camino is walkable in the winter, the weather is the first thing you are curious about. The winter presents challenges when it comes to walking conditions, so you will need to be more alert and take additional precautions.
Overall the winter weather on all of the routes of the Camino de Santiago is similar throughout the months of December, January and February. The temperatures are mild (for winter season), and most days will be wet while walking through Spain as the area gets a lot of precipitation. You can expect snow in the mountainous regions, as well as during nights when the temperatures dip below freezing.
How cold is it on the Camino in the winter? According to the NOAA, the average daily high temperature in the winter on the Camino is 54° Farenheit (12°C). The average low temperature on the Camino, typically at night, is 42°F (5°C). Most days will be in the 40s or 50s, while the night will be 30s or 40s. Most pilgrims report that the temperature rarely falls below freezing during the day.
With the lower nightly temperatures, you have a good chance of encountering snow while walking the Camino in the winter. You will have to watch out for the occasional blizzard when walking a winter Camino, so check the weather forecast every day to make sure it is safe. You can keep up-to-date with the forecast on your phone, or you can ask the person who checks you in to your albergue/hotel about what to expect the weather to be like for the next couple of days.
As we heard other pilgrims’ stories on walking the Camino in the winter, it became clear that dense fog can become a real challenge. The reason fog can become dangerous is that it greatly increases the chances of getting lost while walking. Because it is winter, getting lost while walking can quickly turn into a perilous situation, with the cold nightly temperatures and physical exertion of walking.
The risk of dense fog is another reason to check the daily weather forecast before heading out for the day.
With the risk of blizzard or dense fog (or ice in some instances), you will have to be prepared to wait out the storm until it is safe to walk again. This does not need to be a negative experience, as you will be able to get additional rest during the storm, socialize with fellow pilgrims staying at your albergue, and enjoy more alone time for reflection.
We covered the topics of snow and fog first so that you will be prepared to encounter this type of weather, but from most accounts of those who walk the Camino, they mainly encounter mild temperatures and rain while walking the Camino in the winter. Another very common report is that the weather tends to be windy.
The reason for the milder temperatures is because, during the winter, pilgrims choose to take portions of the Camino path that are designed to go around the mountainous regions. You will find yourself taking these paths often, which will reduce the likelihood of encountering snow or ice.
If you enjoy the snow, you can choose to take the traditional routes that go through the mountainous regions. However, many pilgrims agree that it is best to avoid the mountains whenever possible - partly due to the dangers of walking in the snow and risk of blizzard, but also because fewer albergues are open in the mountainous regions. Lastly, if you are planning on walking the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port, there is a section in the Pyrenees that is closed for the winter, which will force you to take another route (called the Valcarlos route). For more information on this part of the Camino Frances, check out this post.
How many hours of daylight are there on the Camino in the winter? In the months of December, January, and February, you can expect between 9 to 10 hours of daylight each day for walking, according to the NOAA. This is plenty of time to be able to walk your intended route for the day and arrive at your next albergue or hotel before dark.
One of the advantages of walking the Camino in the winter is that you can sleep in longer than you would have if walking it in the summer. This is due partly because the sun rises later in the day, but also to the fact that there is no “bed race”, which means you do not need to get up early to beat the other pilgrims. If you like sleeping in each morning, then the winter may be an excellent choice for you!
How many people walk the Camino in the winter?
According to the Pilgrim’s Office, the total number of pilgrims who walked the Camino during the 2018-2019 winter months of December, January, and February was 6,409 people. December is the most popular winter month for completing the Camino de Santiago. The ratio of men to women walking the Camino in the winter (64% Men and 36% Women) is higher than the ratio for those walking the Camino in the summer (51% Men and 49% Women).
You may be surprised to find out there is a growing number of people deciding to walk the Camino in the winter. In the past ten years, the number of pilgrims walking the Camino in the winter has steadily increased with each year. Many claim they choose to walk the Camino in the winter because it more closely resembles a pilgrimage. Many enjoy the extra physical challenge of walking in cold weather, and almost all of them cite the added peace and quiet as their favorite part of a winter Camino.
Before leaving to walk a winter Camino, many pilgrims say they expected to walk alone or see very few people when walking. However, when they embarked on their journey, most were surprised to find that they regularly met new pilgrims every night while walking. It was easy for them to join up with a group if needed for either camaraderie or as a safety precaution in case of bad weather.
Which Camino routes are best for walking in the winter?
The best (and most popular) Camino route for walking in the winter is the Camino Frances (French Route). Over half of the pilgrims who walk in the winter will choose this route. The Camino Frances offers a higher proportion of open albergues and hotels than the other routes in the winter. The Camino Frances is also marked very well, which reduces the risk of getting lost in the cold. Lastly, there are good alternate trails to avoid mountainous regions, so you will be able to walk all the way from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.
The second best route for walking a winter Camino is the Camino Portugues (Portuguese Route). The Portuguese Camino offers good infrastructure so you will find open albergues and restaurants. About 25% of pilgrims who walk in winter will choose to walk the Portuguese route. Because it winds along the coast beginning in Porto, Portugal and ending in Santiago de Compostela, the temperatures are more mild for winter walking. However, you can expect more rain on this route as well.
The remaining routes that pilgrims walk in the winter to Santiago de Compostela are the Camino Ingles, Camino del Norte, and Via de la Plata. All three of these routes will take more preparation and planning as they are not as popular as the Camino Frances and Camino Portugues routes.
We also came across a route called the Winter Way (Camino Invierno), which begins in Ponferrada, Spain and extends 263 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela, avoiding the high peaks of O Cebreiro on the way. We had difficulty finding stories of pilgrims who walked this route, or statistics on how many people choose this option, so it is difficult for us to recommend this route.
We recommend the Camino Frances or Camino Portugues for pilgrims who are looking to walk the Camino in the winter. If you are concerned about things being closed, then walk the section of the Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (about 111km), because this is the most popular route year round and you will be sure things are open.
Are albergues open on the Camino in the winter?
This is a big concern for someone looking to walk from town to town, and you will want to know if there will be an open albergue for your next arrival.
More and more albergues are choosing to remain open in the winter, especially on the Camino Frances and Camino Portugues routes. Pilgrims who have walked in the past couple of years report being able to find open albergues and hotels along both of these routes for every night of their Camino.
While you will most likely be able to find open albergues, you will still want to check ahead to make sure. You can check on booking.com to see if accommodations are available for the dates you intend on walking. However, the best option to ensure that there is a bed for you in the next town, is to call a day ahead. If you do not speak Spanish well, you can ask your albergue innkeeper to do this for you. If you would like to do this yourself, learn some Spanish phrases before leaving, you can check out our post here.
The reason you want to call ahead during your Camino is because innkeepers can decide to close for a week or two for holiday without any advance notice.
Remember that if you have any concerns about being able to find a place to stay, you can always opt to take a taxi to a neighboring town to get a good night’s rest.
Another good option if you are concerned about albergues being open is to choose to stay at hotels instead.
One final recommendation about lodging in the winter is to avoid walking the Camino between the dates of December 24th and January 7th. Many of the businesses in Spain will be on holiday during this time, including albergues and restaurants. If you decide to walk during these dates, you will need to call ahead to make sure there will be somewhere for you to stay and eat.
Considering the holiday closures, try to time your winter Camino to start in November and finish up walking before December 24th. Or you could choose to start after January 7th and end in February.
What to Pack for Winter when Walking the Camino
Walking the Camino in the winter will require different clothing and gear than if you were walking it in the summer. In addition to the normal items that you will bring on your Camino pilgrimage (backpack, toiletries and water bottle), here are some additional considerations for what to bring in the winter.
Pilgrims who have walked the Camino in December, January or February agree that you will want to wear at least 3 layers of clothing to stay warm. This will insulate you from the colder temperatures while also giving you the flexibility to add or remove layers to keep up with your changing body temperature as you walk.
You can think of these layers as a base layer, middle layer and outer layer.
Consider a base layer that is made of merino wool or synthetic fabric. It will be important to have a base layer that can breathe a bit so that you do not have a buildup of moisture from sweat.
The most popular middle layer would be a fleece of some kind, preferably comfortable.
Your outer layer will be your jacket. Consider finding one that is wind-resistant.
In addition to these layers, you will want to bring a rain jacket. While we chose to walk the Camino with a lightweight poncho in the summer, we can see the value in investing in a better-quality rain jacket for the winter because of the frequent rain. Also, you will want to be fully protected from wet weather in the winter due to the colder temperatures.
We mentioned earlier that you will encounter a good deal of wind when walking the Camino in the winter. Men and women with long hair report getting tangles from the constant windiness. There are times that wind continues throughout the day because there are portions of the Camino that do not provide cover from the elements.
Because of the wind, you will want to bring a hair tie to keep your hair out of your face while walking. You will also want to cover your head and face, especially on cold days.
Here is a quick list of additional items to consider bringing for a winter Camino walk.
We usually recommend running shoes for walking the Camino, but in the winter we would recommend investing in a good pair of hiking boots. Make sure to break in your boots before walking the Camino to avoid injuries. To check out more ways to prepare physically for the Camino, check out our post here.
While you will be carrying additional gear for the winter, remember to keep your backpack’s weight to 10% of your body weight or less. This is especially important in the winter as a heavier backpack can lead to greater risk of injury.
What to Expect when Walking the Camino in the Winter
From reading many pilgrims’ experiences in the winter, we came across several themes. We compiled a quick list of things that these pilgrims learned from their winter pilgrimage.
To wrap up this post, we wanted to share a couple of FAQs for walking the Camino in the winter.
Is walking the Camino in the winter dangerous? Thousands of pilgrims safely walk the Camino de Santiago each winter. Despite being safe, you will want to take precautions so you do not get lost. Check the weather outlook for the day before you start to walk to see if snow or fog is in the forecast. Dressing in layers will help combat days when the temperature is low.
You will have opportunities to join up with a group of pilgrims to feel more safe. This way you have people around you which can help in the case of an emergency or if you lose your way. Many times you will be close to a highway, which is helpful in an emergency.
In Spain, the emergency contact number is 112. Put this number in your phone before leaving so you have it quickly available.
Will a winter Camino pilgrimage take longer? When walking the Camino in the winter, you may come across bad weather (ice, blizzard or dense fog) that will prevent you from walking until the storm has passed. You may also have days where you walk through snow, which can slow down your overall pace. It is prudent to plan for extra days to complete your Camino in the winter due to the possibility of waiting out a storm or walking in snow.
Is it hard to find your way on the Camino in the winter? The Camino is well marked with a series of yellow arrows, signs and statues pointing you in the direction to Santiago de Compostela. However, in the winter, you may encounter days with snow or dense fog which will cover up the waymarkers. Because of this, you will want to have a reliable map (either physical or on your phone). Having GPS on your phone is also helpful as you will better be able to tell if you have taken a wrong turn.
The good news is that there are many towns and villages along the Camino, so if you feel like you took a wrong turn, you can ask for directions from the locals.
After looking into walking the Camino in the winter, we feel this is an excellent way to experience the Camino de Santiago. The amount of solitude and reflection can be a powerful experience, especially in the crowd-free winter months. Some people choose to never go in the summer again because of the transcending winter experience!
Walking the Camino de Santiago was an incredible experience for us, and we always recommend that others take this journey. Prospective pilgrims who are considering walking the Camino alone, especially those who are women, wonder if it is safe to walk the path to St. James. Safety is a very important consideration, and we provide information below based on others’ experiences as well as our own walking the Camino.
Is it safe to walk the Camino de Santiago alone? Overall, it is safe to walk the Camino de Santiago alone, even if you are a woman. Although there have been reported incidents, this number is very small. While you can expect it to be safe to walk alone, it is a good idea to take certain precautions, which we outline below.
Reasons why you can expect the Camino to be safe
Overall, the consensus from other pilgrims is that it is safe to walk the Camino de Santiago by yourself, even if you are a woman. Pilgrims have shared many reasons why you can expect walking to Santiago de Compostela to be a safe experience. These reasons include:
How safe is it to walk alone, especially if you are a woman?
The Camino de Santiago is very safe. Pilgrims have shared, over and over, that they felt safe walking the Camino alone and did not experience any negative incidents. Women pilgrims have also expressed that they felt so safe upon walking their first Camino alone that they planned follow-up solo pilgrimages to St. James.
When we walked the Camino, we felt very safe. Irene is usually very attentive to safety and quick to notice safety concerns. But, given that we did pass towns, cafes, and albergues all the time, and given that there were usually pilgrims walking around us, she felt no concerns.
In addition, we would encounter the same pilgrims over and over again along the way. Even though we never officially walked with them as part of a group, and didn’t even know some of their names, we recognized each other and greeted each other all the time. There was a feeling of safety in knowing that others knew you, and a feeling of confidence that they would be there for you if you needed any help.
Another indication, for us, of the safety of the Camino, is that we regularly encountered single moms with children walking the Camino. These ladies obviously felt so that not only did they choose to walk the Camino, but they also felt it was safe enough to bring a child.
Although the above reasons indicate that the Camino is a safe place, and our own experience was safe and without incidents, the truth is that there have been some incidents along the Camino. But, the number of incidents is small.
Some have suggested that the number of reported incidents might be due to the increase in number of pilgrims over the last few years. They suggest that with more people walking the Camino, there is a greater possibility of unwelcome behaviors.
But, pilgrims also say that unwelcome behaviors will be experienced no matter where you are, and that this fear should not get in the way of your walking the Camino. Pilgrims suggest going on your pilgrimage, even if you are alone, but taking a few precautions, some of which are described below.
Precautions solo pilgrims, especially women, can take on the Camino
If you are walking the Camino de Santiago by yourself, there are several precautions you can take to increase your safety. While these recommendations are geared towards solo Camino pilgrims, some can be applicable to groups, and some also applicable in locations near the Camino.
Our experience, and the experience of most pilgrims, has been extremely positive and safe. Many pilgrims have even reported feeling safer on the Camino than in their own cities. We believe that it is safe to walk the Camino, even if you are alone, even if you are a woman and alone. But, danger is possible anywhere, so be sure you take the necessary precautions and listen to your instincts. Be safe, and enjoy your pilgrimage!
The cost of doing the Camino de Santiago is a primary factor to consider when you are planning your pilgrimage. If you choose to walk the Camino Frances (the most popular Camino route), you will be covering 790km, which takes 30 to 35 days to complete on foot.
Expenses begin to pile up for 35 days of traveling, especially considering you will most likely be paying for an airplane ticket and a month’s worth of lodging and food.
We walked the Camino de Santiago in 2018 and researched the best ways to save money. We compiled everything into this list and we hope you gain a couple of ideas on how you can save money on your upcoming pilgrimage.
This list is meant to enhance your Camino trip, and not subtract from it. There are alternative forms of doing the Camino that can both encourage the pilgrim spirit while also saving you money.
17 Ways to Save Money while Walking the Camino
1. Stay at Albergues with Kitchens
By choosing to stay at an albergue with a public-use kitchen, you will be able to buy food from grocery stores and prepare your own food. Most people know that grocery store food is less expensive than eating at restaurants, but may not know what food to expect to find at a grocery store in France or Spain.
From our experience, you will be able to find just about everything at a grocery store. They offer the healthiest eating options, as well as the most variety. Grocery stores are also the best option for those with dietary restrictions. The price of food is a fraction of what you would find at a restaurant.
Purchase ingredients for some easy-to-prepare meals (things that you are used to making) and return to the albergue to prepare your food. You may want to pack travel utensils to eat the food you prepare.
The best place to find out if an albergue has a kitchen is www.booking.com. Before you head into your next town, check to see what albergues are there and see if they have a kitchen listed as an amenity.
One last point, you do not need access to a kitchen to eat dinner from a grocery store. We ate food from a grocery very frequently for dinner, and rarely cooked. We would typically grab some bread, hummus and a salad and this tasted great (and saved us a lot of money).
2. Grab Lunch Items from Grocery Stores
As mentioned earlier, grocery stores will be your least expensive eating option on the Camino. If you are preparing lunch, choose easy-to-carry items like a sandwich. A couple of ideas would be a meat and cheese sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For gluten-free vegans, you can find gluten-free bread at most grocery stores and have a hummus with spinach sandwich.
You will most likely buy your groceries the day before you need them. Carrying your food will add extra weight to your bag for walking, but it will save you money that would have been spent at a restaurant for lunch.
We decided to separate our food from our backpack, choosing to carry all of our food items in a reusable bag (you could use a plastic grocery bag too), while the rest of our belongings were in our backpack. It was easier to carry a small bag of food rather than to add it to our backpack!
3. Walk a Shorter Camino
Decreasing the amount of days you walk the Camino will save you money on lodging and food (while still getting a chance to experience the Camino). You can decide to walk a shorter distance of the Camino Frances (deciding to start in Sarria, for example, would only take 5 to 7 days to complete with a total of 111km of walking), or you could decide to walk an entirely different (but shorter) Camino route. The Camino Portugues (Portugues Camino) is a good alternate route as it starts in Porto, Portugal and makes its way up to Santiago de Compostela, covering about 240km.
Or you could choose to walk the shortest complete Camino route, the Camino Ingles (English Camino) which covers 118km.
Many choose to walk the entire 790km of the Camino Frances because they want a more authentic or true Camino experience. If this is you, then definitely go for it, as the more days you walk the Camino, the more transformation you may experience.
However, it is becoming much more common to split the Camino up into multiple trips, or to walk only a portion of an ancient route. We ran into several people who have walked multiple Caminos, covering as much ground as they could each time that they walked it.
We did not have 35 days available to walk the Camino, so we opted to walk a shorter Camino for our first pilgrimage. At no time did we feel that we had a “lesser” Camino because of the short time frame. On the contrary, it inspired us to plan another pilgrimage for the future!
4. Cycle the Camino (and Travel Twice as Fast as Walking)
The biggest cost savings of cycling the Camino is the reduced amount of money you will spend on lodging and food. Because you can generally cycle twice as fast as you can walk, you can cover the Camino Frances in 14 days (instead of the 30-35 days that it would take to walk).
While the savings from decreasing your days on the Camino will add up, you need to keep in mind that cycling has additional costs associated with it. You will either need to rent a bike when you arrive (or pay to transport your own bike). You will need additional gear as well as biking clothing. You may also find that you eat more food due to the large amount of calories that you burn while biking.
For a complete guide to cycling the Camino, which includes all of the extra costs that you may incur, check out our post complete-cyclists-guide-to-the-camino-de-santiago.htmlhere.
5. Camp the Camino
We hesitated to put this one on the list because of the many camping laws in Spain, but if done correctly, you can save money by camping the Camino.
If you speak Spanish well, and feel comfortable communicating with the landowners in the rural areas on the Camino, you can ask them for permission to camp on their land. If they agree, you can set up your tent for the night and save money that you would have spent on an albergue.
You will have to follow rules like the overnight stay rule (you will not be able to camp more than one night at the same location) as well as other rules like no camping near an urban area, no camping close to a campground, and no fires allowed. Also, there are parts of Spain that do not allow camping at all.
If you decide to camp, please read our entire guide to Camping the Camino, which covers everything you need to know (including the many laws) before bringing your tent.
If you decide to stay at public campgrounds while walking the Camino, the cost would be about the same (or a little more expensive) than staying at private albergues.
6. Walk the Camino During Off-Season
If your schedule allows for it, you can save money by choosing to walk the Camino during non-peak travel times. The walking traffic on the Camino is lighter starting in October and does not pick up again until May. You can save money on airfare as well as on some lodging costs.
The best times for this would be late Fall (October or November) as well as late Spring (April or May). For a breakdown of the best times of the year to walk the Camino and what to expect, check out our post here.
7. Split Costs with a Fellow Pilgrim
This is one of our favorite ways to save money on the Camino de Santiago. We feel lucky that we were able to walk the Camino together, which allowed us to share many moments along the way, but also saved us a lot of money.
If you feel like making some Camino friends on your pilgrimage (or bring a friend), you may be able to help each other save on costs.
Here is a short list of things you can share on the Camino to help each other save money:
8. Carry Small Bills
As you may have already come across, much of the Camino is cash only. Most of the municipal albergues (and some private albergues) as well as some restaurants will only accept cash as payment.
Making sure that you always carry some smaller bills on the Camino will offer you a few benefits. The main benefit is that you will be able to pay in exact change. This will be most useful at cash-only municipal albergues, who, depending on the time of day, may not have small bills to break your larger bill. They may ask you to go to the back of the line to wait until they have smaller bills to check you in.
Another benefit is that you can negotiate the price at some local markets and local stores. If you have smaller bills, you can ask for a lower price. Although you may want to learn some Spanish before trying your hand at negotiating prices in Spain.
9. Buy Walking Gear in Advance
If you plan on buying clothes or gear for your upcoming pilgrimage, you will save money by purchasing these in advance.
We visited a couple of gear shops on the Camino and found that, overall, the prices were higher than what we would have paid if we had bought our gear before leaving. Other pilgrims have shared the same experience.
Buying things like your backpack, shoes, and toiletries before leaving will be the most affordable option.
Also, you may not need to buy as much new gear as you think. Try walking for a couple of hours in the shoes you currently own to see how they hold up. We used the sneakers that we used daily. See if your current backpack will work, and if so bring it along.
For clothing, don’t forget to check out thrift stores and secondhand clothing shops. We found several sweat-resistant shirts at our local thrift store that worked very well on our Camino (and only cost us a couple of bucks).
10. Share a Large Home-Cooked Meal (One Person Cooks, Everyone Eats Together)
This is a great way to save money on the Camino de Santiago while also getting to know your fellow peregrinos.
You will be able to find all of the ingredients you need at the local grocery store. As you walk during the day, ask your fellow pilgrims what food they are in the mood to eat that evening. One (or all) of you can head to the grocery store to buy food to prepare. Bring it back to your albergue (with kitchen) and cook up a delicious meal.
The best idea is to split the cost of the meal between the pilgrims for that evening. This is another good reason to carry small bills on the Camino.
We have talked about saving money on food extensively in this post because of the large difference in cost of eating at a restaurant compared to preparing your own food.
11. Walk the Beginning of the Camino Frances
The Camino Frances is the most popular route, and because of this, the cost will be less expensive than other less familiar routes (due to the extensive infrastructure of the Camino Frances). The Camino Frances is designed for the walker in mind and has ample resources along the way.
However, the last 100km of the Camino Frances (from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela) is so popular that prices have begun to rise for this portion of the Camino as compared to other Camino routes. Most pilgrims agree that the most expensive part of their Camino Frances was the last 100km or so.
One way to save money would be to walk the beginning of the Camino Frances rather than the end. This will still give you the benefit of a shorter Camino, while also providing more time for introspection since there is less walking traffic at the beginning of the Camino Frances.
Make sure you train physically before taking on the beginning of the Camino Frances. We have a complete guide for preparing to walk the Camino which can give you some ideas for training ahead of time, check it out here.
12. Stay at Municipal Albergues that Charge by Donativo (Donation)
There are two main types of albergues on the Camino de Santiago. The first is the municipal albergue, which is typically run by the local government or church. The second is a private albergue.
The municipal albergues are less expensive than the private albergues. Many of the municipal albergues will only ask for a donation (typically 4 euros or so) to stay for the night. This will give you a bed in a large dorm-style hall filled with other pilgrims.
The religious albergues are the most basic (typically no wifi), while the state-run albergues offer a couple more amenities. The private albergues typically offer the most amenities (including wifi and smaller rooms), but charge about 8 to 12 euros per night per bed.
You may have heard of the daily Camino “bed race” that pilgrims undertake when walking the Camino. This is referring to those who are choosing to stay at the municipal albergues (many pilgrims are drawn to the inexpensive price), and thus creates a larger demand for those beds. Sometimes municipal albergues will fill up before the end of the day. Be prepared for this when choosing to stay at the donation-based and less expensive municipal albergues.
13. Pack Lightly
Choosing to pack lightly will save you money in two ways. The first is that you will not have to buy as much gear if you decide not to bring certain items. We wrote an entire post of things NOT to bring on the Camino, you can find it here.
The second way that you will save money packing lightly is that your backpack will be easier on your body, and will reduce the risk of injury during your walk.
Choosing to bring less stuff was one of the best decisions we made for walking the Camino.
14. Check for Left-Behind Toiletries at Albergues
On a really tight budget for your Camino? One way to save a couple of euros is to check for toiletries that were left behind at the albergue you are staying at. Before heading out in the morning, ask the person who runs the albergue if any small toiletries (like shampoo, soap, toilet paper) have been left behind.
This is one way to save some money and also try out some different shampoos or soaps!
15. Buy Train or Bus Tickets Well Ahead of Time
Advanced preparation can be your friend when it comes to your Camino pilgrimage. The more time that you have to wait for good prices on transportation costs, the more likely you will be able to find them.
You will need transportation to your Camino starting point, and most pilgrims choose to either ride the train or the bus. You will pay less money for these tickets if you buy them ahead of time. Bus and train tickets are more expensive if you buy them while walking the Camino.
16. Keep an Eye on the Cost of Flights
Like the previous tip on buying train or bus tickets ahead of time, you will want to keep your eye out for inexpensive flight costs.
When looking up flights, always use an incognito (or private) window for researching so that you always know you are seeing the best prices available.
Two good websites for checking flight prices are Kayak and Skyscanner.
17. Borrow Gear
One last way that you can save money on your upcoming Camino pilgrimage is to borrow gear. Check with your outdoorsy friends and family to see who has a good backpack, sleeping bag, rain poncho or walking poles. By borrowing some of your gear, you will decrease the amount of money you spend for your Camino.
These are just some of the many ways to make the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage fit any budget.
If you would like to read more about how much money you can expect to spend on your upcoming Camino pilgrimage, check out our post that covers all the expenses you can expect in detail. We even break down the exact expenses we spent on our Camino in 2018.
We hope our research (and experience) for this money-saving list pays off for you and saves you money on your Camino!
One of the main considerations for many people planning to walk the Camino is what will it cost to take such a long journey. Before we took our trip in 2018, we did extensive research on the costs associated with walking the Camino and we wanted to share with you what we found as well as share with you our exact costs.
How much does it cost to walk the Camino de Santiago? For one traveler to walk the entire Camino Frances (French Way) in 35 days or less, a budget-friendly cost would range from €1,300 to €1,800. For those who want more luxury as they walk, the range is €2,700 to €3,200, These prices include airfare to a major airport, transportation, lodging, food and incidentals while you walk.
As you plan your budget for the Camino, there are many factors to consider when calculating how much you will spend.
For the considerations listed, we are assuming that you are walking the entirety of the Camino Frances (the most common route), a total of 790km, in a total of 35 days. This route has ample access to affordable albergues, restaurants, and pharmacies along the way.
After thinking about our own expenses, we realized it boiled down to two categories: one-time expenses before walking the Camino, and day-to-day expenses while walking the Camino.
Examples of one-time expenses are airfare, local transportation to your starting point, and walking gear. Day-to-day expenses would be food and lodging. Other incidental expenses include laundry, souvenirs, almsgiving, and toiletries. We will cover all of these in detail, plus as a bonus, at the end of this post you will find an exact breakdown of what we spent on our Camino that we took in July of 2018.
For the sake of simplicity, we listed all prices in euros (the current currency of Spain) so that you could more easily calculate the costs in your native currency.
One-Time Expenses Before Leaving
Airfare Cost for the Camino
For most people walking the Camino, airfare will be one of your biggest expenses. To keep this expense down, you will want to book your airfare in advance.
The traditional starting point of the Camino Frances is St. Jean Pied de Port in the southwest of France. You might be walking a different Camino route, which would affect your airfare cost. For those that are flying or taking a train from neighboring European countries, your travel costs will be significantly lower than someone flying in from China. It will also depend on what time of year you are traveling.
After researching online, we found that, when arriving from most countries outside of Europe, you can expect to pay 400 euros ($500) for ultra budget airlines and up to 1,325 euros ($1500) for standard airlines. For our Camino pilgrimage, we were able to find a budget flight on Vayama for 400 euros per person from Pittsburgh to Madrid. We were curious what flights from other parts of the world would cost, and on average this is what we found:
Estimates for basic economy round trip flights to Paris or Madrid from:
Beijing - 700€ - 1,050€
Sydney - 1,050€ -1,250€
Los Angeles - 700€ - 900€
New York - 500€ - 800€
Toronto - 700€ - 1,000€
Mexico City - 800€ - 1,000€
We have flown many times in the past, and have always found the best rates and service on Kayak.
You may find other budget airline search engines, but make sure to read the fine print on any tickets purchased from them.
Sometimes we will buy the airplane ticket straight from Kayak, while other times we will locate the flight on Kayak, and then head to the airline’s official website to complete the purchase.
We like finding the deals on Kayak first and then purchasing from the airline directly because of the added protections if the flight is cancelled. However, Kayak has been serving up some great hacker deals lately that combine multiple budget airlines in one trip, and in those cases the heavily discounted price is hard to pass up.
Total cost for airfare to your starting point: €400 - €1,250
Cost of Transportation to Your Camino Starting Point
After arriving at an airport in Spain or France, you will need to get transportation to your starting point. Thankfully, you have several budget-friendly options.
If you fly into a major airport like Madrid or Paris, your best options for getting to your starting point will be by train or bus. We arrived in Madrid and stayed for a couple of nights before taking a train to our starting point of Sarria, Spain. Our cost per train ticket was 26 euros.
The best way to find out how much tickets cost by train is to head to the websites of each country’s train system. In France, it is the SNCF railways (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer) and in Spain it is the RENFE train system.
If you decide to go by bus, there are several websites that include quotes by various bus companies. Omio is one of these and shows available bus tickets to your Camino starting point.
You may be able to find inexpensive local airfare tickets if your starting point has a local airport. Airline companies like Iberia, Vueling, Air Europa and Ryanair all offer very inexpensive flight options within Europe. You can go to the website of each, or start with Kayak.com which will compare all of the flight costs.
Lastly, taxis are a good option for those who arrive in an airport that is extremely close to their Camino starting point. These are easy to find, and you can simply contact the taxi company in the airport when you arrive.
Total cost of local transport to your starting point: €12-€100
If you are a backpacker who has had experience walking similar trails, then your cost for gear will be close to zero because you will most likely have much of what you need before leaving.
For the remaining beginner backpackers, you will want to take a moment to see what gear you have as well as consider what gear you will need. You might be surprised at how much gear you already have, further decreasing your overall cost.
If you buy most of your Camino gear beforehand (walking shoes, backpack, walking clothing, water bottle, toiletries, and Camino guidebook), you will most likely invest anywhere from 150€ - 300€ depending on the quality of your gear.
We did most of our shopping at budget stores before we left, especially for walking clothes and toiletries, and our spending on this category was on the lower end of the spectrum.
Overall we were happy with the gear that we took along. The item that we spent the most time looking into was a good backpack, and we found a perfect one made by Swiss Gear, sold at Target. It was important to us that it was durable, comfortable, affordable and had many compartments to organize our belongings. We were so happy with how it performed on our Camino pilgrimage that we continued to use it when we returned home, and we are still impressed with how it is holding up.
Total cost for gear for 35 days on the Camino: 150€ - 300€
Lodging Cost of the Camino
You will have several options for lodging as you walk the Camino. In order of affordability, these options are: municipal albergues (also known as public shelters or hostels), private albergues, pensions (guest houses), hotels, and casas rurales (country houses).
The price breakdown for a bed for one night at each is as follows:
Albergues are the most prevalent form of accommodation along the Camino de Santiago, so this is where most pilgrims tend to stay. The price is typically per person per night.
There are two different types of albergues on the Camino de Santiago, each with a different cost.
The least expensive lodging option is to stay at a municipal albergue. These are run by the local government or church and typically accept a donation (donativo) for a bed. This price is for hostel-style (or dorm-style) lodging where you will be sleeping in a room full of other pilgrims on bunk beds. Most pilgrims agree that a donation of about 4 euros is appropriate. Other municipal albergues charge between 6 to 8 euros per night per person. Reservations are not accepted; it is first come, first serve.
The second most affordable option is to stay in a privately-run albergue. Most of these albergues charge between 8 euros to 12 euros per night per person. Again, this price is for a dorm-style bed in a room full of other beds. Reservations are accepted and sometimes you can reserve for the same day, if a bed is available.
One note: many times private albergues will include extras like wifi, meals (sometimes), and towels. These can be worth the couple of extra euros compared to municipal albergues.
We were surprised by how many albergues also offered private rooms. Since we were traveling as a couple, we mostly stayed in private rooms in albergues or hotels. The cost was about the same as if we would have each paid for a bunk bed in an albergue.
While it will not affect cost very much, you will want to consider making reservations. Many people choose to walk the Camino without making reservations, in order to add to the pilgrim experience. We, however, chose to make room reservations about one month before leaving, and most private rooms were still available for reservations. For a dorm-style bed, you can usually make reservations the day before arriving.
By making reservations, you will also know, before leaving, your exact cost for each of your nights.
If you want to make reservations ahead of time (or to find out your exact costs), we found that the best site for this is www.booking.com. Grab your route planner, and type in the name of each city that you plan on staying in during your Camino. We found the reservation process seamless and enjoyed every one of our rooms. On the site, you can read reviews of each accommodation and they list whether there is a restaurant or not as well as other important information.
You can look into what lodging best fits your travel needs, but one option that is not talked about much in the Camino guides is the option to stay at apartments (much like airbnb but listed through booking.com). We stayed in a couple of apartments along the way, and found the independence and privacy worth the price. We usually had a full kitchen and bath. Keep an eye out for available apartments as you are planning.
One last lodging option for the pilgrim is to camp the Camino de Santiago. If you are staying at campgrounds along the way, it will be a comparable cost to staying at private albergues or hotels. Before deciding to camp the Camino, please check out our complete post covering everything you would need to know beforehand.
Total cost for 35 days in albergues: 280€ - 420€
Total cost for 35 days in hotels or private room: 875€ - 1,575€
Food Cost of the Camino
You will have two main eating options when walking the Camino. Depending on whether you have access to a kitchen most of the time, you can shop at the grocery stores and convenience stores and cook your food. This is the most budget-friendly option (and sometimes the healthiest).
The price for groceries on the Camino would cost about 5 to 10 euros per day.
The other option is to eat at restaurants along the way. This is the most common choice for pilgrims as you do not have to carry the food with you and you do not have to cook it.
Most lunches and dinners will run 6€ -12€, while breakfast could be a snack bar or fruit on the go.
With this, your daily eating budget would be 12€ - 24€ per day.
Total cost for food for 35 days on the Camino: 420€ - 840€
Other Incidental Costs
Other budget items to consider are laundry, souvenirs, almsgiving, and toiletries while walking. If you decide to use the available washers/dryers, laundry usually runs 2€ - 4€ per load. If you decide to hand wash, then it is free.
You may want to wait until the end of your Camino (when you arrive in Santiago) to purchase souvenirs.
Your pilgrim passport will be a couple of euros, and if you plan on receiving your compostela, you may want to invest a couple of euros for a compostela holder for the return journey.
You may encounter opportunities for almsgiving on your pilgrimage. For example, many small churches would ask for a small donation to get your passport stamped by them. Also, there were many people asking for alms in Santiago de Compostela. If almsgiving is something you would like to do, be sure to include it in your budget.
Total cost for incidentals for 35 days on the Camino: 20€ - 100€
Other Budget Considerations
You can find many ways to save money on your upcoming pilgrimage. This post was geared towards those walking the Camino Frances for 35 days. Here are some quick considerations that would save you money:
Accessing Money and Credit Cardss
Most pilgrims on the Camino will be using ATM debit cards or exchanging currency for accessing money. ATM cards are easy to use, but ATMs are only easily accessible in the larger cities. You will want to withdraw enough cash to get you to the next major city. For ATM cards, you will have a minimum charge per withdrawal for cash, usually a couple of euros per withdrawal, depending on the bank.
If you plan on using your debit card, please inform your bank that you will be traveling abroad so that your debit card transactions go through smoothly.
Most municipal albergues only accept cash (since they are primarily donation based), so you will want to have cash on hand if you plan to stay in these albergues. You may want cash on hand for other incidentals like laundry and taking a taxi, as well as smaller restaurants (who may not accept credit cards or debit cards).
We exchanged our money at our local bank before leaving for our Camino. There were fees associated with this, but we enjoyed not having to run to the ATM during our pilgrimage. If you plan on doing this, please consider using a travel money belt that you can secure under your shirt or under your pant leg to help keep your money safe.
Nowadays, very few people use traveler’s checks. We would not recommend these as they are more difficult to convert to cash.
Also, avoid exchanging currency at the airport, since these tend to offer the worst exchange rates with the highest fees.
Credit cards are a good way to pay for some (but not all) expenses on the Camino. Check with your credit company to see what their fee is for doing this (usually a couple of percentage points per transaction). Most of the credit card machines in Europe accept chip and pin, so make sure you know your pin before leaving.
How Much We Spent Walking the Camino
Here is a breakdown of how much we spent while walking the Camino back in July of 2018. For reference, we walked for a total of 10 days, arriving in Madrid and taking a train to our starting point in Sarria. We walked the last 111km of the Camino Frances staying in private rooms or apartments every night.
Airfare: 800€ for two people (400€ per person)
Train ride to starting point: 52€ for two people (26€ per person)
Gear: 150€ for two people (75€ per person)
Lodging: 372€ for two people (186€ per person)
Food: 230€ for two people (115€ per person)
Incidentals: Approximately 50€ (mostly for laundry and toiletries)
Total cost: €1,654 for two people (€827 per person) for 10 days
We hope this helps you get an idea of how much to budget for your upcoming Camino pilgrimage. We believe that the Camino is worth every penny and you will not regret taking this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
If you are considering doing the Camino de Santiago, you may have come across how some prefer to cycle the Camino over walk the ancient pilgrimage. Seeing a cyclist on the Camino would always bring up the same question for us: would you rather walk the Camino or ride a bike on the Camino?
We researched the pros and cons of each, and wanted to share what we found.
Is it better to cycle or walk the Camino de Santiago? For the majority of people, walking the Camino de Santiago will be the best option. Walking the Camino is better suited for first-timers since cycling requires additional physical stamina, bike maintenance knowledge and added expenses of bike transport or bike rental.
While walking the Camino will take longer to complete, it provides more opportunities for deep reflection and offers the most traditional way to do the Camino.
The paths of the Camino routes were made by walking pilgrims throughout the centuries, hence they are more geared towards walking. It was not until modern times (after the revival of the Camino pilgrimage in the late 20th century), that cycling became part of the Camino culture.
Is walking or cycling more popular on the Camino?
Walking the Camino is by far more popular than cycling the Camino. According to the Pilgrim’s Office 306,064 people walked the Camino in 2018. In contrast, only 20,787 people cycled the Camino in 2018. These numbers include all routes of the Camino counting only the number of people who receive their Compostela or similar certificate of completion. This means over 94% of people completing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela did so by foot, while less than 6% did so by bicycle.
The number of people who cycle the Camino has declined steadily over the past 10 years. For example, in 2008, the number of walking pilgrims constituted 83% of those arriving in Santiago de Compostela, while cyclists constituted 17% (compared to 6% in 2018). The highest number of cyclists on the Camino was in 2010 (a Holy Year) with 33,277 cyclists completing the pilgrimage.
It is difficult to pin down exactly why cycling has lost favor over the past decade. Possibly it is because walking traffic has increased, making it more difficult to navigate larger crowds for cyclists. It also seems that there are more repeat walkers on the Camino versus repeat cyclists, so once a cyclist has completed the Camino, there are less of them returning for a 2nd pilgrimage. Lastly, maybe walking simply feels more “pilgrim-like”.
Does walking give you more time alone on the Camino?
One of the biggest reasons many people choose to take on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is the transformation that is possible from detaching from work, distractions, and the normal way of life. The ability to spend time alone is a big draw to the Camino.
With this in mind, walking is better suited towards introspection and time alone than cycling.
The first consideration with time spent in deep thought is the physical speed at which you travel. Walking forces you to slow down in a way that cycling does not. It is easier to take in the sights, smells and sounds along the path. You notice smaller things, which can give you cause to reflect.
Another consideration is the amount of attentiveness needed for each. Cycling the Camino requires a higher degree of alertness and focus as compared to walking, further decreasing time for reflection. You will be thinking about what gear your bike is in, how fast to go on the gravel, and how to let the pilgrims ahead of you know that you want to pass. While you will have moments on the bike where you can coast and contemplate the beauty of nature, they will happen with less frequency than walking.
One argument that could be made in favor of cycling (in terms of reflection) is that you have the opportunity to arrive into town earlier than walking pilgrims. This then would give you more time in the evening for searching for the answer of “why did I do the Camino?’”
However, sometimes the best thoughts come from the time spent physically walking the journey.
Is walking the Camino less expensive than cycling?
The costs of your Camino will depend on many factors. One of the main factors when considering cost is the number of days it takes you to complete the pilgrimage.
Walking is less expensive than cycling in many ways. Walking pilgrims do not have the additional costs incurred by bringing a bicycle. A cyclist will have added expenses like bike transport, bike rental (for those renting a bike), additional food intake for calories burned and additional gear like panniers, bike repair kit, cycling clothing and bike bell.
However, you can cycle the Camino in half the time that it would take you to walk the Camino. A cyclist can cover the entire Camino Frances in about 14 days while it would take a walking pilgrim 30 or 35 days to complete.
This means that a cyclist will have less costs for lodging overall as well as less visits to restaurants or the grocery store.
After factoring in the added expenses of cycling, in the end you will most likely spend the same amount of money to cycle the entire Camino as you would to walk the entire Camino.
The only exception to this would be if you had a short time frame to only complete a portion of the Camino. If you only had 7 days to walk (or cycle) as much of the Camino as possible, then walking would be less expensive than cycling.
Is cycling the Camino easier on the body than walking?
There are several ways that cycling the Camino is easier on the body than walking the Camino. Cyclists will have less stress put on their joints as they cycle. Since cycling is a more strenuous workout for your muscles, you will have some muscle soreness, but you will not have the knee, back, and shoulder problems that walkers encounter.
One of the biggest differences is that cyclists will not get blisters on their feet to the extent that walkers do.
This does not mean that cycling the Camino is easier than walking the Camino. You will need to be in better overall physical condition to cycle vs. walk. It simply means that in terms of overall wear and tear on the body, cycling can be easier.
One final consideration is that cycling can be more dangerous than walking the Camino. One accident on a bike can result in a serious injury. Cyclists on the Camino also need to navigate difficult terrain and traffic. Both of these add to the risk of physical injury when cycling.
Do walking pilgrims get preferential treatment over cyclists?
Overall, walking pilgrims do not get special treatment over cyclists on the Camino. Cyclists have access to the same amenities that walking pilgrims have access to. The only exception to this is when it comes to lodging. Cyclists will want to make sure that the albergue they plan to stay at accepts bicycles.
Also, some municipal albergues give preferential treatment to walking pilgrims. Cyclists may have to wait until the early evening (sometimes as late as 8:00pm) to be accepted in a municipal albergue.
You can find a list of bike-friendly albergues here. Another good resource is the Brierley guide. A cyclist can go through the guide and highlight the albergues that are bike-friendly.
What is a peregrino? The word peregrino is the Spanish word for “pilgrim”. Peregrina would mean a female pilgrim and peregrino would mean a male pilgrim. Peregrino is typically used to describe a person taking the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela by foot.
What is a bicigrino? The word bicigrino is specifically used for a person who cycles the Camino de Santiago. It is a word that combines the Spanish words “bicicleta” and “peregrino”. In English it would mean a “cycling pilgrim”.
The main pros of walking the Camino de Santiago are that it is generally easier for a first-time pilgrim and the pace is slower, which offers more time for contemplation. You will not have added expenses of bringing a bicycle. Overall you will have a more social Camino as there are more walking pilgrims.
The main con of walking the Camino de Santiago is that you will be traveling slower than if you were cycling, increasing your lodging and food expenses. You will be more prone to injuries such as blisters.
The main pros of cycling the Camino de Santiago are that you can complete the Camino in a shorter time frame and you will be less prone to walking injuries like sore joints and blisters on your feet. If you arrive in town before walking pilgrims, you may get more time for reflection or exploration in the evenings. Having a bicycle will also make it easier to explore off of the Camino path.
The main con of cycling the Camino is that you will have added expenses that you wouldn’t have had if you were walking. You will have a higher risk of serious injuries from a possible fall. You will need increased physical stamina for cycling long distances. You may need to train more beforehand than if you had walked. Not all albergues will be bike-friendly. Unless you are part of a cycling pack, you will not have as much of a social Camino.
We hope this post helps you in deciding whether you would like to walk or cycle the Camino de Santiago. Whether you stick to walking on foot, or becoming a bicigrino, we wish you the best as you make your way to Santiago de Compostela!
While walking the Camino de Santiago in 2018, we encountered cyclists on the Camino daily. We wondered what it would be like to cycle the Camino, and began looking into what it would take to become a bicigrino (like a peregrino, but on a bike!).
We researched what other cyclists have to say about completing their Camino pilgrimage. We hope this guide gives you a primer of what to expect if you are considering biking the Camino de Santiago.
Can you ride a bike on the Camino de Santiago? You can ride a bike on the Camino de Santiago. There are trails and roads along each Camino route which will facilitate cycling the entire way to Santiago de Compostela. Prior training is necessary as well as having basic bike repair skills.
Much of what we cover in this post can be applied to biking any of the Camino routes (French route, Portuguese route, English route, etc.). Because the Camino Frances (French route) is the most popular route of the Camino, most of the information covered will be biased towards this route.
Before digging into the many considerations of cycling the Camino as well as what to expect, we wanted to address some common questions as well as share a couple of statistics.
How long does it take to cycle the Camino de Santiago? For the average cyclist in good overall health, it will take 12 to 15 days to cycle the entire Camino Frances. Since the Camino Frances is 790km (approximately 500 miles) long, your pace would be 50-70km per day (30-45 miles per day) depending on the number of breaks. A professional cyclist could finish the Camino in as little as 8 or 9 days.
How many kilometers to bike per day on the Camino? Most who have cycled the Camino agree that a pace of 50 to 70 kilometers per day is a good overall pace. The amount of kilometers you cover in a day will depend a lot on what terrain you encounter that day. For a well-experienced cyclist, you can expect to cycle between 80 to 100 kilometers per day and higher, if you have high endurance.
Can you earn a Compostela for cycling the Camino? Yes, you can earn a Compostela Certificate for cycling the Camino if you meet the following three requirements:
You will want to have your Pilgrim Passport stamped two times per day if cycling the Camino. The Pilgrim Passport serves as proof to the Pilgrim’s Office that you biked the required 200km to receive a Compostela. You can find out more information on the Pilgrim Passport in our recent post.
How many people cycle the Camino each year? According to the Pilgrim’s Office, bicycling the Camino de Santiago has been on the decline for the past 8 years. In 2011, 29,949 of the pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela did so by bike (16% of the total amount of pilgrims). By contrast, in 2018, only 20,787 of pilgrims who received their Compostela did so by bike (approximately 6% of the total pilgrims).
General Tips to Know Before Cycling the Camino
Physical Requirements for Cycling the Camino de Santiago
If you are considering cycling the Camino, one of the main considerations will be the physical requirements of the journey.
You will want to keep the following four things in mind:
The terrain of cycling the Camino
If you plan on cycling the entire Camino de Santiago (on the Camino Frances route), then you can expect to cycle on all types of terrain. You will encounter flat sections as well as mountainous terrain, forest trails as well as paved highways, and shaded terrain as well as exposure to the sun. Despite the varied terrain, hills are the most common terrain you will encounter.
Most of the cyclists who have completed the pilgrimage rate the overall range of difficulty of cycling the Camino Frances from moderately difficult to very difficult.
The most difficult part of the Camino is near the beginning of the pilgrimage, in the Pyrenees mountain range. If you are beginning in St. Jean Pied de Port (the traditional starting point of the Camino Frances), the first day is reported as the most difficult. It is a straight ascent up the mountains, with very little breaks in between hill climbs.
Due to the difficulty of the first day of the Camino, you will most likely find yourself pushing your bike more than you are riding it.
Other difficult sections include areas around the other mountainous regions of Alto de Perdon and Cruz de Ferro.
Cycling the Camino is a very active experience, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and even coasting downhill presents dangers because of small rocks, boulders, dirt, mud and worn-out trails.
That being said, the Camino Frances offers many optional routes that are more suited to cyclists. Most cyclists advise you to take the bike-friendly paths because of the benefits they provide. Many times these bike paths will be on paved roads. Even though you are sharing the road with cars at times, this can still be preferable because paved roads are easier on the body, and faster than dirt trails.
Most people who cycle the Camino prefer not to dismount during the day. Taking the alternate bike-friendly paths on the Camino will decrease the amount of times you dismount. This is due partly because of the terrain, but also partly because you will not encounter walking pilgrims on the bike paths.
The best way to get a feel of the terrain of the Camino Frances is to head to Youtube (like this one) and watch a couple of videos of people who have captured their journey on video and posted it there.
Distance you plan to cover each day
The amount of distance you cover in a day will be affected by the difficulty of the terrain. A moderate pace would be approximately 50-60km per day. 60-80km per day works well for experienced cyclists, while 90-120km per day can be done by professional cyclists.
Do not be afraid to lower your pace on days in the mountains. You will be able to pick up your pace on straight sections on paved road.
An easy way to plan your Camino route is to pick up the Brierley book, and anticipate completing approximately two stages per day on average.
If you are planning on biking the Camino with your family, most bicigrinos recommend a pace of approximately 25km per day.
Your previous experience riding a bike
After reading about the various terrain that you will confront on the Camino, you will want to take into account your previous cycling experience.
Considering the difficulty of cycling the Camino, we feel that the Camino is not the best choice for beginners. One cycling tour company rated the difficulty as a 4 out of 5 (with 5 being the most difficult), further showing the need for previous cycling experience before embarking on the Camino.
This doesn’t mean beginners cannot cycle the Camino, it just means that if you are a beginner, you will need additional training prior to cycling the Camino, or you will need to cycle it at a slower pace.
If you have completed at least one or two bike tours of similar lengths (or if you regularly ride a bike to work or for recreation) then you will have enough cycling experience to consider taking on the Camino.
Your overall health
Unlike walking the Camino, cycling the Camino requires more endurance and stamina.
If you rarely cycle long distances, you will want to visit your doctor for a general checkup beforehand to make sure that you are healthy enough for cycling the Camino. Let them know what you are planning so they can best advise you if cycling the Camino is doable or not.
Once you are good-to-go, then it is time to begin training for cycling the Camino.
Preparing Physically to Cycle the Camino de Santiago
Preparing to cycle the Camino is very similar to preparing to walk the Camino, except that you will be training with your bicycle.
We wrote a post detailing how we trained to walk the Camino, and after researching how people trained to bike the Camino, we found that the process is very similar.
For those that regularly ride a bike, you will want to begin training for long distances on varied terrain while carrying your gear. You will want to decide how many kilometers (or miles) you plan on completing per day on the Camino. As mentioned before, 50km or 60km per day is a good target (30 miles to 40 miles per day).
For those that do not regularly ride a bike, you will want to start training earlier. The best suggestion we saw for beginning cyclists is start riding your bike to work as preparation for the Camino. This is a good way to see if this is something you want to do, while also getting some exercise during your preparation.
Regardless of whether you are a beginner or an experienced cyclist, you will want to begin training 2 months prior to your Camino. Begin with riding on your bike for at least one hour per day. A good daily target would be to ride 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) each day. You can start with the terrain closest to your house.
For the entirety of your physical preparation, wear the clothes that you are planning on wearing when you cycle the Camino. This will help you decide whether you need to change your plan for the gear you bring. For example, by wearing the clothes you anticipate wearing, you will find out if you need the protection that padded shorts or a gel bicycle seat would provide.
When you are 1 month away from your Camino, you will want to increase your daily riding to at least 2 hours per day, covering a minimum of 20km (or 12 miles) per day. You will want to incorporate riding uphill and downhill. You will also want to add your gear to your bike.
When it comes to adding weight to your bike, we would recommend adding a similar amount of weight that you plan on adding to your bike when you ride the Camino. When we practiced walking, we simply added books to our bookbag and this worked well. This would also work well for cyclists by simply adding books (or other heavy objects) to your panniers.
About 2 weeks before your Camino, you will want to cycle your daily Camino distance (for as many days as your schedule will permit). If you are planning on riding 50km per day, then you will want to ride as many 50km days (on hills and with your gear) as possible.
The reason we advocate a training schedule before cycling the Camino is that you just don’t know how it will feel until you do it. You will be better prepared physically (and mentally) before taking your pilgrimage.
One last note about training. If you are unsure about your overall health, please train on a bicycle before buying your plane (or train) tickets to the Camino. Rent a bike for a week and see how you get along riding. If you don’t have a bike, head to a gym and ride a stationary bike regularly. Once you feel comfortable on a bike, then start planning your pilgrimage.
Lodging Considerations when Cycling the Camino
While looking into cycling the Camino, we it found it surprising that not all albergues accept bikes.
Before planning the stages (days) of your Camino route, you will want to take the Brierley guide and highlight the albergues that accept bikes. This way you have a clear idea of how many kilometers you can expect to cycle per day.
You can also find a list of the cycling-friendly Camino albergues here.
If you are planning on staying at municipal albergues (as opposed to private albergues or hotels), then you will want to be aware that municipal albergues give preference to walking pilgrims over cyclists.
What this means is that because you are traveling faster than most of the walking pilgrims, you may arrive in town before most of them arrive. You might find yourself heading to check in at a municipal albergue, but they may turn you away. Some municipal albergues will not accept cyclists prior to the late evening, sometimes as late as 8:00pm. This can make it difficult to plan, as you might be turned away from an overcrowded municipal albergue in one town, which then forces you to find other lodging (or bike to the next town’s municipal albergue, which may or may not be full).
Because of this preference at the municipal albergues, almost all bicigrinos agree that the best option is to stay at private albergues (or some other lodging that accepts cyclists without giving preference to walking pilgrims).
Other than checking to make sure your lodging accepts cyclists, and not relying too heavily on municipal albergues, your lodging options are about the same as a walking pilgrim.
Advantages of Cycling the Camino
A couple of advantages of cycling the Camino (compared to walking the Camino) include:
Disadvantages of Cycling the Camino
Best Time of Year to Cycle the Camino
When is the best time to cycle the Camino de Santiago? Due to the cold winters and hot summers, the best months for cycling the Camino are in the Spring from April to June and in the Fall in September and October. Because you will be working up a sweat when cycling, it is best to avoid the hot summer months of July and August.
For more in-depth information on the weather, we wrote another post covering the weather of the Camino de Santiago and the best times to take your pilgrimage. Much of what we discussed in that post applies to both walking the Camino as well as biking the Camino.
To Cycle the Camino Alone or to Go with a Group?
Regardless of whether you decide to cycle as part of a group or go solo, the Camino de Santiago will be a deeply personal experience. We wanted to highlight the pros and cons of both going as a group (typically with a bike tour company) as well as cycling alone.
Cycling the Camino with a group highlights:
Cycling the Camino alone highlights:
If you choose to cycle the Camino with a group, here is a list of several Camino bike tour companies:
Added Costs of Cycling the Camino
For a detailed post on what to expect to spend during your Camino pilgrimage, click here. We included costs on everything that you may spend money on, including airfare, lodging, local transportation, restaurants, groceries, laundry and more.
In addition to what we covered in the Camino costs post, here are several additional costs that will be incurred by those cycling the Camino:
Gear Considerations for the Camino
One thing we found while looking into biking the Camino is how abundant bike shops are along the Camino Frances. This is important to keep in mind when considering what gear you bring along.
Most cyclists agree that you will pass a bike shop every hour or two while cycling the Camino.
We found one cyclist who offered a list of bike shops on the Camino; you can find the list here.
With this in mind, you will be able to pack light. We recommend packing as lightly as possible. Another option would be to send your panniers (and other luggage) ahead of you while cycling. These services are readily available on the Camino, and cost anywhere from 3 euros to 8 euros per transport depending on which company you use.
In addition to regular clothing, you will need toiletries and other typical things you would pack for the Camino. Here is a list of gear you will want to consider packing if you are cycling the Camino:
While all of the previous items will serve you well on your Camino, there are two that we wanted to highlight.
The first is biking gloves. While you may feel certain items on the previous list are optional, biking gloves is an item that we want you to highly consider taking. We have seen several cyclists encourage others to use them. Biking gloves can serve several purposes: they will protect your hands from the cold mornings, they will protect your hands from the many bumps along the way, and they will keep you from serious injury in the case of a fall.
The second is a bike bell, which we cover in the next paragraph.
Passing Walking Pilgrims on the Camino
If you talk to other pilgrims or read the online forums, you will quickly find that the number one complaint that walking pilgrims have of cyclists on the Camino is that some do not give a warning that they are approaching.
Please consider how you will notify walking pilgrims of your intent to pass them. A bell is highly encouraged as a way of letting people know you are about to pass. Please ring the bell well before you reach the walking pilgrims and slow down as you approach them. This way, they will have enough time to figure out how to let you pass, and will not be scared (or worse, jump in front of you).
A bell is the best (and quickest) way to let people know of your fast approach. If you do not use a bell, you can always call ahead, but just remember that not all pilgrims speak the same language as you, so they may or may not know what you are saying. By slowing down, passing them gently and acknowledging them with a “Buen Camino”, you will make many (walking) friends on the Camino.
What Kind of Bike Do I Need to Cycle the Camino?
After looking into several options for Camino cyclists, the most common characteristics we saw of rental bikes from Camino-specific tour companies were aluminum frames, disc brakes, 27.5” wheels and over 20 gears. We think these bike features would be a good fit for the terrain of the Camino. If you would like more information on appropriate bikes click here.
What to Expect When Cycling the Camino
In addition to all we have covered in this post, we wanted to list a couple of tips for when you cycle the Camino.
What If Something Goes Wrong While Riding a Bike on the Camino?
The bad news is that riding a bike presents higher risks of serious injuries than walking. The good news is that the Camino de Santiago is designed for pilgrims, meaning there are abundant resources for those who sustain injuries while biking (or walking).
If you are not part of a cycling tour group who has a van following you, the good news is that there are still taxis and ambulances waiting to be dispatched if you need help. A good way to be prepared is to carry your cell phone with you and make a phone call if you need help.
When you arrive in a new town or albergue, ask the person who checks you in for emergency contact numbers of the area and for taxi cab drivers’ numbers. This way you will be prepared to call for help in the case of an emergency. You can also find this information in most other places as well, including gift shops, restaurants, churches, and grocery stores.
Carry your health insurance card with you.
The word for help in Spanish is ayuda, por favor (help, please).
Don’t worry if you do not have a phone. In the case of a true emergency, simply notifying someone that you need help will get the ball rolling. Either they will have a phone, or they will ask someone with a phone to help you.
What to do if you can’t continue biking the Camino? If, in the middle of the day you find that you cannot physically bike the rest of the Camino, you can call a taxi to pick you up. If you cannot arrange to take your bike on the taxi, then you can still take the taxi and then arrange for a luggage transport service (typically a van) to pick up your bike and bring it to your albergue.
We cannot emphasize enough how easy it is to get a taxi on the Camino. You can always ask around for a cab number and find one quickly.
One last note about cycling injuries on the Camino. The Camino is a pilgrimage and you may want to spend a lot of time in deep thought. Please consider contemplating while off your bike to avoid injuries. Many of the bicycle injuries sustained on the Camino happen because of not staying alert.
If you are comfortable riding a bike, stay alert at all times, and jot down emergency numbers beforehand, you will be prepared to have a safe Camino biking pilgrimage.
Various Biking Laws for Cycling the Camino
There are two main cycling laws that you want to be aware of:
As mentioned previously, cycling the Camino is best suited for those who have previous cycling experience and are physically fit enough to cycle 50km or more per day.
We hope that you find this information helpful as you plan your Camino pilgrimage. Hopefully soon enough, you will be able to call yourself a bicigrino of the Camino de Santiago. Buen Camino!
If you have arthritis, you might be wondering if walking the Camino de Santiago is possible in your condition. While doing our research on the Way of St. James, we saw that many people with arthritis have successfully completed the pilgrimage.
Can you walk the Camino de Santiago with arthritis? Yes, it is possible to walk the Way of St. James with arthritis. Pilgrims have found that walking ends up helping their pain, and recommend using walking poles, lightening the load you carry, and walking shorter distances to ensure you make it to St. James. Below, we share some tips that will help you walk the Camino de Santiago with arthritis.
1. Take the time to train before you go.
Before your Camino, take the time to walk or hike to practice for the Camino. You should be wearing the shoes, socks, and gear you plan to take. Taking the time to train has two important goals.
First, by taking the time to train, you will be able to see how long and how far you can go before your arthritis flares up. You can then use this information to plan how many miles to walk each day on the Camino.
Second, taking the time to train will strengthen your body and prepare it to undertake the pilgrimage. For more information on what to do, please go to our post on training physically for the Camino.
Pilgrims have mentioned that exercise, especially walking and strength building exercises, have been beneficial in their struggle with arthritis.
2. Use walking poles.
Pilgrims have noted that the constant walking, as well as the uphill and downhill parts of the Camino, can be difficult. Peregrinos with arthritis have indicated that walking poles have been invaluable in the trek. Walking poles have been noted to be especially helpful in the downhill parts of the Camino.
You can buy walking poles before your trip, so you can begin training with the poles. Or, you can buy walking poles at the starting location of your Camino.
3. Lighten your load.
Carrying a heavy load can worsen your arthritis pain. Take a look at your backpack and what you plan to bring: can you bring a lighter backpack? Are there things you can leave behind?
Many pilgrims have recommended luggage transport services for those who have arthritis. These services pick up your bags and drop them off at your next albergue. That way, you can walk without the burden of your backpack.
In addition to lowering or eliminating the weight of your backpack, many have recommended weight loss (if possible) as a means of easing your arthritis pain. Training before the Camino has the added benefit of potentially helping with weight loss.
4. Bring anti-inflammatory medication.
Anti-inflammatory medication has helped pilgrims manage their arthritis pain. While it might be a good idea to bring some with you, know that you will be able to find over-the-counter pain medication in the pharmacies along the Way as well.
Of course, if you have any prescription medication, you should be bringing that with you.
Pilgrims have also suggested looking into anti-inflammatory supplements, and have specifically mentioned turmeric. A holistic or functional medicine doctor might have more information on appropriate supplements.
5. Walk at a slower pace.
As mentioned above, training will let you know how many miles you can comfortably walk. As you plan your route, don’t go over that number of miles in a given day. You might end up walking at a slower pace and walking less miles than others do. Remember that the Camino is not a race. It is better to get to Santiago at a later time, and do so without pain, than to hurt yourself by trying to keep up with others.
If you only have a certain number of days for the Camino, consider starting at a closer town (instead of St. Jean Pied de Port), starting in Sarria, or picking a shorter Camino route, such as the Camino Ingles.
6. Schedule your breaks.
Throughout your walk, make sure you schedule breaks to let your body rest and recover. Taking an afternoon off or a day off has also been recommended when walking the Camino with arthritis.
Taking a cab or bus to the next town is an option if you would like to take a rest day without falling behind on your schedule.
7. Schedule your pilgrimage during the appropriate time of year.
An additional suggestion that has been offered to pilgrims with arthritis is walking at the best time of year for their arthritis. For example, is your arthritis worse when it is hot, cold, or rainy?
Avoid walking to St. James during the worst kind of weather for your pain. Our post on the best times to walk the Camino will provide you with more information about weather on the Way.
8. Remove inflammatory foods from your diet.
Certain foods can promote or reduce inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation listed several foods that promote inflammation.
Removing these foods from your diet can help with your arthritis. Some of these foods, as indicated by the Arthritis Foundation, include sugar, saturated fats (including red meat), trans fats, gluten, dairy, and alcohol, among others.
The Foundation also suggests adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
9. Talk to your doctor.
Ultimately, everyone’s health is unique. It is always recommended that you speak to your doctor before doing something that might affect your health. Let your doctor know how many miles you plan to walk and for how many days. Your doctor will be able to advise you on whether it is okay for you to walk with your arthritis, and will be able to provide information on medication.
Your own doctor will have important information about your personal health, and is therefore a key resource. But, pilgrims have also recommended seeing physical therapists, especially those with knowledge of sports medicine.
10. Consider massages or acupuncture.
Pilgrims have recommended massages and acupuncture. These can be done prior to the Camino, or during the Camino. You will find signs in some of the towns offering massages for pilgrims.
11. Use ice packs to reduce the inflammation.
Pilgrims have recommended using ice packs to reduce the inflammation and ease the pain. This might be hard to do, since you won’t have anywhere to freeze your ice pack while you walk. One option would be to bring empty ziplock bags, then order a glass of ice at your next stop, fill the empty bag with the ice, and then apply the bag with the ice where needed.
12. Walk with a group.
An additional recommendation for pilgrims with arthritis has been to schedule your Camino as part of a group, such as an organized group tour. In this way, you will have support from the group when needed. Some tours even take care of transporting your bags for you, so that’s an additional concern you would not have to worry about.
There are even arthritis-focused groups, such as Arthritis Ireland, who have planned Camino walking trips.
13. Consider biking the Camino.
Some individuals with arthritis who feel pain when walking might not feel pain when cycling. So, cycling the Camino is an option. However, cycling the Camino does have its own challenges (as we describe in this post), and does require a certain level of physical fitness.
14. Let go of the fear.
Many pilgrims who have walked the Camino de Santiago with arthritis have mentioned that the walk actually helps ease their arthritis. So, let go of your fears and give it a shot!
If you follow the above tips, as recommended by fellow pilgrims, follow the advice of your doctor, and listen to your body to take the necessary breaks, you might find, like other peregrinos, that walking to St. James is not only possible, but results in improved health.
In addition to the above tips, depending on where you have arthritis, aids like knee supports or inserts might be helpful. Your doctor or physical therapist will be able to help you with this.
Also, keep in mind that the Camino takes you through different kinds of roads: dirt roads, rocky roads, and paved roads. If you know that your arthritis pain is worse when walking in a specific kind of road, be sure to prepare accordingly, and don’t be afraid to use a cab to skip those parts, if necessary.
Everyone’s body is different. In addition, arthritis manifests itself in different parts of the body for different people. So, it is important to know your body, know your particular condition, and know that not all tips will affect everyone the same way.
But, know also that walking the Camino with arthritis is possible and many others have already done it before you.
***NOTE: We are not physicians. If you are experiencing arthritis or other health issues, please consult your doctor.
If you are considering walking the Camino de Santiago, you may not be sure what to expect. We found when walking the Camino that some of our expectations were not quite in line with what we were experiencing.
We wanted to share what we encountered while walking the Camino, including pleasant surprises as well as unexpected problems.
1. It is very easy to get a cab on the Camino.
If you are worried about what to do if you get injured or if you are just too tired to walk at some point, it is very easy to get a cab to your next town. To get a cab, you can ask someone at your albergue or at any local store.
If you find yourself too tired mid-walk, you can stop at any cafe or albergue you spot, and ask for a taxi. Or, you might be able to wave to a cab you spot on the road, and the driver might stop and pick you up.
We know two people who on one occasion mid-walk, were unable to continue, and they easily found a cab at the next albergue they spotted. In another occasion while walking, they saw a cab driving down the road, waved to the driver, and the driver stopped and took them to their next location.
2. It is very easy to have your luggage transported from one town to the next.
Luggage transport companies are available along the entire Camino to pick up your bags and deliver them to your next albergue or hotel. This is especially helpful if you have a longer-than-usual day of walking, or if you have a medical condition which worsens when carrying heavy loads.
You can talk to someone working at your albergue to learn about where to leave your bag and how to pay. The cost for the service can be as low as 3-5 euros, but will depend on the company you end up choosing and how far you intend to transport your bag.
We had our bags delivered on our longest day of walking and it was one of our best decisions while walking the Way!
3. Overall, the food offered at restaurants on the Camino is the same, or similar, everywhere you go (except in bigger towns).
Menus along the Way looked very, very similar. This is fine if you love the food. If you don’t love the food or have dietary restrictions, then eating at restaurants might not be your favorite part of the day. Even if you love the food at first, you might get tired of eating the same thing later on in your pilgrimage.
Note that bigger towns do have a variety of restaurants and food offerings, and even cater to different dietary restrictions (such as vegan or gluten free).
The monotony in restaurant food in the smaller towns is one reason why grocery stores are so amazing (see #4).
4. Grocery stores are available along the Way and offer a variety of food options, especially for those with dietary restrictions.
We loved going to the grocery stores along the Camino. At grocery stores, you can find food that caters to your dietary restrictions and preferences, at affordable prices. You will many times find a greater variety of lunch and dinner options than at restaurants.
In addition, you can find snacks such as granola bars, nuts, and fruits, that you can pack with you and eat as you walk.
Our favorite grocery store purchases were bags of salad, hummus, bread (you can find gluten free bread), peanut butter (yes, you can find peanut butter in most grocery stores), and local dark chocolate.
5. Physical training is very, very helpful before your Camino pilgrimage.
Taking the time to train before your Camino will be incredibly helpful. Your body will be better prepared for the long trek if you begin to hike/walk beforehand.
When training, use the shoes, socks, and gear you plan to bring with you. Even something as small as trying out new kinds of socks while walking the Camino can cause issues. For example, we trained using one type of sock, but when walking the Camino, decided to try out a different kind of sock that many others had recommended. The result was that one of us got a blister. Both of us went back to using the socks we trained with and had no issues after that.
As part of your training, make sure to include some hills. Walking uphill and downhill will pose challenges that walking on straight paths don’t. The Camino has many parts of uphill and downhill walking, and it will only be to your benefit to prepare for them.
Our training did not include hills, and we definitely felt the lack of training when we encountered those parts along the Camino de Santiago.
If you are curious about what other things you can do to prepare physically to walk the Camino, please check out our post detailing everything you would want to know about training beforehand.
6. You will still feel the weight of your backpack, no matter how much you train.
We trained with backpacks that held approximately the same weight we were going to carry on the Camino. Even though we trained, and our backpacks were relatively lightweight, as we walked the Camino it felt as though they kept getting heavier as the day went on.
You will feel this weight in your shoulders, your back, or other parts of your body. Regardless of where you feel it, be prepared to feel the strain and pain of the weight.
7. You need less than you think!
Pack as lightly as you can. It’s been recommended that once you have packed as lightly as you can, you should remove 25% of the weight.
Truly, you will need less than you think you need. We believe so much in packing lightly that we wrote a post including 10 ways to keep your backpack under 10 pounds. In the post, we provide more information on what to pack and what not to pack. Carrying a light backpack is something you will not regret!
8. Microfiber towels do the job, at a fraction of the weight.
Microfiber towels are a great addition to your packing list. The microfiber towel we packed was small, lightweight, and effective. It got the job done, dried quickly, and was not a burden to carry.
9. The Camino path is so well marked, you won’t need a guidebook as you walk.
You will see yellow arrows and waymarkers very frequently, and as long as you are paying attention, you will not get lost. If you do, you can always ask a local and they will point you in the right direction. So, you really don’t need to bring a guidebook with you.
Of course, some people might like guidebooks for the additional benefits they provide. For example, some guidebooks provide historical information about each town, or provide Spanish words and phrases. But, this is information you would also be able to find online. There are also some Camino apps that do the same thing.
Sometimes, there are forks in the road, where you have the option of continuing the Camino by going one way or by going another way. Whichever way you choose, there will be yellow arrows and waymarkers to guide you, and eventually, both paths merge to form one path again.
To lighten our load, we did not bring a guidebook with us. Instead, we took pictures of some maps and kept them in our phone, just in case. We found that following the signs on the road was sufficient to get us to where we needed to be.
10. If you are traveling with someone else (or a group), you might not be socializing with others as much as you think.
Although we met fellow pilgrims along the Way, we did not spend much time socializing with them. Part of the reason might be that we had our own group. This means we were less likely to approach others outside our party, and less likely to be approached by others as well. We found other families who traveled together had similar experiences.
The experience of a solo pilgrim might be different. In fact, we know of a solo pilgrim who did meet and interact with others along the Way, and still maintains those relationships after the Camino.
You get to decide how social you want your Camino to be. If you are walking as part of a group, keep in mind that others might find it a bit intimidating to approach your group, and that you might have to be the one to extend an invitation for others to join your group.
Many pilgrims have mentioned that the relationships they made along the Camino were one of the highlights of their pilgrimage, so it might be worth the effort to approach others and initiate these relationships.
11. You might save money at municipal albergues, but private albergues save you time and are less stressful.
Municipal albergues are very, very affordable, at around 4 euros per night, or any other donation (donativo). But, depending on what time you get into town, there might not be any beds available. In addition, because they are usually pretty crowded, that means fighting for or waiting for receptacles to use (to charge your electronics).
You may also have to wait to use bathrooms, and laundry facilities.
Private albergues allow you to make a reservation ahead of time, and you can conveniently do it through Booking.com. By reserving ahead of time, you are guaranteed a bed, and don’t have to worry about rushing to the next town or participating in the “bed race”. A bed at a private albergue might cost 8-12 euros per night.
We made reservations for all our accommodations, and it was great to be able to take our time walking, if we so desired. We had a guaranteed bed, and the eliminated stress made our walk much more enjoyable.
While we made our reservations ahead of time (by carefully planning how much we would walk each day), you can choose to be more spontaneous by reserving your bed(s) a day or two before arriving to your next town (again by using booking.com).
12. Private rooms are amazing and, if you split the cost with someone, quite affordable.
There are many benefits to sleeping in a private room, as opposed to the bunk bed, dorm-style accommodations. First, you are not affected by the noise caused by others, such as snoring, others getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, rustling through their backpack, or getting up early in the morning.
Second, you will have a private bathroom and shower and don’t have to worry about taking turns. Third, you will have your own receptacles to charge your electronics, and won’t have to worry about not being able to charge them.
Sometimes private rooms and apartments seem very expensive. The cost of private rooms and apartments were between 25-50 euros per night. A bed at a private albergue costs between 8-12 euros per night. Depending on how many people are sharing a private room, the cost of the room per person ends up being about the same as if you had each paid for a bed, AND you get all the added benefits of a private room, such as privacy, quiet, and your own bathroom/shower.
If you stay at an apartment, you’ll be able to fit more people, thus bringing down the cost even more, and at an apartment, you’ll have the added benefit of having a kitchen and living room area as well.
13. Starting from Sarria, there are times when there are a lot of people on the road.
There were times along the Camino where it was very crowded. There would be pilgrims on their own as well as groups walking together.
If you are interested in meeting people or socializing as part of your pilgrimage, these times are great opportunities to go approach fellow pilgrims.
If you are looking for a more solitary pilgrimage, there will be plenty of time to be alone (see #14), you just have to get through the crowds. Also, once you identify what times of the day are more crowded, you can schedule your day to avoid those times.
One of the nice things about the more crowded times of the day are the multiple “Buen Camino!” that you hear from others. Sharing this message with other pilgrims was something we really enjoyed.
14. But, there are also times when it’s just you on the road.
If you want to enjoy quiet time while walking, you will definitely have the opportunity. Sometimes, it seemed that we were in the middle of a large crowd of pilgrims one minute, and completely alone the next minute.
If you are interested in a solitary pilgrimage, these will be your favorite times of the day. If you are interested in a more social pilgrimage, you can approach other pilgrims at the start of the day, and ask if you can walk with them for the rest of the day.
Ultimately, as pilgrims we have to accept what we encounter on the road, and whether it is crowded or solitary, there will be things to enjoy either way!
15. You can prevent bed bugs.
Using a permethrin product to spray (or dip) your pajamas and sleeping bag will reduce the risk of bed bug bites at night. Always follow the instructions when applying.
Another way to prevent bed bug bites is to stay in a private room. This way you can easily check your bed before sleeping to see if there are any signs of bed bug activity (it is a lot easier to check 1 or 2 beds in a room rather than checking 30 bunk beds!). We stayed in private rooms and apartments for our pilgrimage and never had any issues with bed bugs.
16. You will be surprised at how meaningful seemingly small things can be.
Your shell (if you choose to get one) will become something very meaningful (even if you are not typically a nostalgic person). It becomes the symbol of your pilgrimage, the token that indicates your status as a pilgrim. This small item is suddenly filled with meaning, and reminds you not only of your status as a pilgrim on the Camino, but as a pilgrim in life. Our post about the shell provides more information about the shell, where to get one, and why it is used as a symbol for the Way of St. James.
Your credencial (pilgrim passport), though just a piece of paper with stamps, becomes meaningful because it is a record of the places you have been, and proof of your journey. Your Compostela, though just a certificate, is proof that you made it to your destination. These two documents will become meaningful and something you will treasure after your journey.
Our post on the credencial will provide information on where to get one and how much it costs, as well as where to get yours stamped. Our post on the Compostela will provide you with information on where to get one, how much it costs, and what requirements you need to fulfill to get one.
The botafumeiro and pilgrim Masses also become very meaningful. The botafumeiro, similar to the Compostela, will provide a sense of completion, since the botafumeiro is associated with arriving at the Cathedral of St. James. The pilgrim Masses are just like regular daily Masses, but pilgrims receive a special blessing. These Masses and the blessings add meaning to your pilgrimage on a day-to-day basis. For more information about pilgrim Masses, check out our post.
17. You will find bathrooms along the Way, but make sure you are prepared.
You will find many bathrooms in cafes as you walk. However, you will either have to pay to use the facilities (about a euro), or be a paying customer for the cafe, meaning you bought some of their food or beverages.
We usually scheduled cafe breaks along our walks, and it was helpful to combine our snack and bathroom use in one break. That way, we were a paying customer at the cafe because we bought our snacks there, and were able to use the bathroom as a result.
18. Have soap and toilet paper handy - not all bathrooms will have some!
While you will find bathrooms along the Way, there were some that did not have toilet paper or soap. Having a little bit of toilet paper and soap tucked away in your pocket or an easy-to-access spot in your backpack will save you a lot of trouble.
19. Bring a few extra Ziplock bags.
Ziplock bags are really useful. You can use them to store your valuables and your documents (such as your passport), so that they are protected from rain or other circumstances. You can use one to store your extra toilet paper (see #18), and you can use one to store any wet clothes, if necessary.
Having a couple of extra Ziplock bags will not add much weight or take up much space, but will prove to be useful.
20. Even on the Camino, it is very hard to get rid of distractions.
We had been thinking of the Camino as an opportunity to get away from the distractions of our day-to-day lives. Yet, all around us we saw pilgrims engrossed in their phones, computers or headphones.
While it is possible to remove the distractions, it might not be as easy as you were expecting, not only because these have turned into habits, but also because those around you will be engaged in their own distractions as well.
21. Spiritual preparation is very, very helpful.
The Camino is both a physical and a spiritual journey. Preparing physically is extremely important (see #5), but preparing spiritually is also important.
Whatever your faith tradition, spend some extra time beforehand in prayer, meditation or attending religious services.
It helps to take the time to think about the purpose of your pilgrimage and what you hope to learn or accomplish. In addition, you will be spending a lot of time alone with your thoughts. Due to our day-to-day distractions, this is something many of us are not used to.
Just like preparing physically trains your body to walk for long hours, preparing spiritually will prepare you to think, meditate, and pray for longer periods of time.
While we were prepared for some of the items on this list, several others were a surprise. As you prepare for your Camino, read as many other pilgrims’ experiences as possible (and watch Camino videos) to get a feel for what to expect. Each pilgrim will have different experiences that you can learn from and will help you best plan your Camino.
No matter what you think the Camino is or isn’t, you won’t know until you walk it.
Before walking the Camino, we had never considered that children could walk the Way of St. James. When we walked the Camino, we were pleasantly surprised to see children of all ages walking the Camino: a baby (likely around one year old) being pushed on a stroller by his parents, a little girl on a cart attached to her dad’s bicycle, older children walking with their families, and teenagers walking with parents or as part of a group of other teenagers. Truly, the Camino is a place for pilgrims of all ages!
If you are considering walking the Camino with children, it can be done. Below, we share what we have learned, both based on our research and based on what we saw when we walked the Camino.
Can you walk the Camino with children (babies, toddlers, older children, teenagers)? You can walk the Camino with children of all ages. How you prepare and what you do will depend on whether your children are able to walk comfortably on their own (typically the case for older children and teenagers), or whether you will need to carry them yourself (typically the case for babies and toddlers). Below, we provide more information on the considerations of walking the Way of St. James with children.
Before You Leave for the Camino
Take the Time to Train. Whether your children are able to walk on their own or not, you all need to train before embarking on your pilgrimage. If you are curious about how to do this, we have a post on how you should train physically for the Camino.
If you have a baby or toddler, you will be carrying your child most or all of the way. This means that you should think about how you intend to carry your child. Most people might choose to bring a stroller, but you can also consider a wagon, cart, or carrier that you wear on your body (similar to a backpack).
Whichever option you choose to carry your child, make sure you practice walking with your child and all your gear. Taking the time to train will prepare you for the extra weight of pushing or carrying, and will prepare your child to be in that position for a long length of time.
Taking the time to train will also let you know whether your child is comfortable as well as if they do well with the mode of transportation you decided upon. If your child is uncomfortable, you will need to consider another mode of transportation, or will need to postpone your pilgrimage.
When walking the Camino with babies or toddlers, because you are dealing with the extra burden of carrying or pushing your child, you might need to rely on luggage transport services so that you do not have to also worry about the weight of your own backpack.
Older children and teenagers will need to train, like you and as we recommended in our post, using the shoes/socks and gear that they will be carrying.
For children who are old enough to walk but still somewhat young, you will need to assess how long they can comfortably walk. Will it be necessary for you to bring a stroller for them, in case they get tired?
For these children, also determine how much weight they can carry. It might be that you need to either carry the weight they can’t carry themselves, or that you will have to rely on luggage transport services to carry their bags from town to town.
Take the Time to Mentally and Spiritually Prepare. If you are bringing older children or teenagers with you on the Camino, many have recommended that you encourage them to prepare mentally and spiritually in addition to physically.
For example, some suggest encouraging them to learn about what the Camino is and who St. James is. If they are old enough, they can think about what they want to accomplish or learn about themselves by walking the Camino.
Some have suggested that involving older kids in the travel preparations and planning can also be beneficial. Being involved in the planning might get them more excited to take the time to train, and might result in them being more engaged and less bored while they walk the Camino.
Visit the Pediatrician/Doctor before Walking the Camino. It might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about what you plan to do with your child, especially if your child is a baby or toddler.
Let your doctor know that you are planning on walking the Camino, and how many miles (or kilometers) that you plan to walk each day. For a regular pace on the Camino, you will cover about 16 miles per day (or 25 kilometers per day). If you decided to go at half pace, you can expect to walk about 8 miles per day (or about 13 kilometers per day).
It would also be a good idea to talk to your doctor if your child has any conditions such as asthma, severe allergies, or any other chronic condition. Your doctor will let you know the implications of walking the Camino with those medical conditions, and will have information on how to deal with any complications.
To be on the safe side, you can also research pediatricians and hospitals along your Camino route, especially if you have a baby or toddler, and/or a child with medical conditions, and bring that list with you. Of course, if you have an emergency along the way, any local will be able to help you and inform you where the nearest hospital is.
Create Your Child’s Packing List. If you are traveling with a baby or toddler, you will have to carry your child’s belongings with you. It is advisable that you find a backpack that will hold both of your belongings, and also be comfortable for you to carry the extra weight.
Your child’s packing list will be very similar to yours in the sense that you will both need clothing and toiletries. Additional items that you will need to pack for your baby or toddler for the Camino de Santiago include:
If you end up having too many things to carry, luggage transport services are always an option, though it would mean an extra expense (usually 3 to 5 euros per day/transport).
For older children and teenagers, their packing list will likely be very similar to yours. They will need clothes, toiletries, and appropriate shoes, as well as a backpack that is comfortable for them to carry. For ideas on what to pack and what to avoid packing, you can see our post to keep your backpack under 10 lbs and our post on how to travel lightly on the Camino.
Pick the Best Route and Time for Your Children. You know your children best, and different Camino routes might be better for different personalities and temperaments.
If your children would do better without the crowds, you can pick a less popular route or choose to go at a less popular time of year. You can also pick the shortest route you can, so that the journey is more doable for you and your children. For example, you might consider the Camino Ingles (see our post for more information) or the Camino Frances starting from Sarria.
Pilgrims have reported that children (babies, toddlers, and younger children) on the Camino tend to be popular among the other peregrinos, and you might have strangers asking to take pictures with your little pilgrim(s). If this is not something you are comfortable with, then a less popular route would be a good option.
Know, however, that pilgrims have also reported that peregrinos will usually be very generous in offering help with your children, such as helping you carry your stroller up the stairs that you encounter along the Way, or pointing out harder sections of the Camino and the best routes to take with a stroller.
As You Walk the Camino
Think About How to Incorporate Rest Breaks. Whether your children are walking or being pushed/carried by you, you will all need to take breaks. Some suggestions for rest breaks are:
Bring Snacks and Water, or Plan to Buy Snacks on the Way. Older children and teenagers can bring their own water bottles, but you will need to carry water for younger children. Make sure you remind them to drink their water, so as to avoid dehydration.
Because of the increase in exercise (if your child is walking), extra snacks will be needed. You can consider packing snacks in your backpacks, or you can plan your rest breaks to stop at a cafe or albergue along the way to buy a snack.
Bring Entertainment. Children might be entertained for a while by looking at other pilgrims and animals on the way, but this will only last for a while. For children that will be in a stroller or cart, you can bring books, coloring books, toys, or a tablet with games or movies.
If you have a younger child who can from time to time walk alongside you, you can bring a pull toy or other toy that they can play with while walking.
Older children and teenagers who are walking might benefit from having a game you all play together as you walk. They can also listen to music or an audiobook as they walk.
Get Them a Compostela Certificate When You Arrive at Santiago...Maybe. We have a post that provides more information about the Compostela. According to the Pilgrim’s Office, babies and toddlers will not receive a Compostela. Instead, their names will be included in their parent’s Compostela.
According to the Pilgrim’s Office, older children and teenagers can receive a Compostela if they are mature enough to understand the spiritual component of the pilgrimage, or have already received the sacrament of Communion. If neither of these are the case, they do not receive a Compostela, but receive another certificate instead.
Do Your Research on Accommodations. Pilgrims have reported that not all albergues will accept younger children. If you have younger children and are sleeping in the dorm-style accommodations, their sleep might be disrupted by other pilgrims. Similarly, they might disrupt other pilgrims’ sleep if they wake up or cry during the night.
So, do your research online to find appropriate accommodations. Many albergues will offer private rooms with their own bathrooms. If several of you (say, mom, dad, and child) are sharing that room, it will many times be more affordable to stay in a private room, because you will be paying for a room rather than paying per bed/person. Plus, you get the benefit of more privacy and your own bathroom.
You can also look at private hotels, private apartments, or AirBNB. These may or may not be close to the Camino route, so you may have to do some extra walking to get there.
During our Camino, we stayed in private rooms at albergues, private hotels, or private apartments. Prices ranged from about 25-45 euros per night.
In addition, because some albergues do not accept children, and because you might sometimes be desiring special accommodations like a private room, it might be a good idea to plan your route and reserve your rooms ahead of time.
You Will Be Able to Find Diapers, Food, and Other Supplies. There will be many grocery stores as well as pharmacies and clothing stores along the Camino. You will find most, if not all, of the things you will need for your children, so don’t worry about packing things “just in case” or packing extras.
Have a Back-Up Plan. Think about what to do if you realize the walk is simply too much for your or your children. We have not come across stories of pilgrims who have had to cut their pilgrimage short due to walking with kids, but it is a possibility, especially if you are walking with younger children and/or children with a medical condition. It is good to have a back-up plan in mind, in case you realize that getting to St. James is no longer the best option for you and your children.
Some People Will be Judgmental. Pilgrims who walk with children, especially those walking with younger children, have encountered others who have demonstrated a negative attitude towards their decision to bring a child on the Camino. Be prepared to just smile and keep going on your way. If you have taken the appropriate precautions, your child will be fine. And while some might be judgmental, you will mostly find other pilgrims who will be helpful, supportive, and kind to the little pilgrims.
Based on the research we conducted as well as seeing other families walk the way, it is possible to walk the Camino with children. Older children and teenagers, who are able to walk for themselves and even carry a backpack, can for the most part follow all recommendations provided for adults. Younger children, babies, and toddlers will need to be pushed or carried either always or from time to time, and their belongings will also need to be carried.
Walking the Camino with your children will take time to train, require extra entertainment options, possibly extra time on the Camino to account for breaks and resting, and possibly more financial resources to pay for luggage transport services or special accommodations.
But, it can be done and can prove to be a fun and meaningful experience for your family.