Before we walked the Camino de Santiago, we had heard that we would need a Pilgrim Passport. We wanted to know more about what it was, where to find it and where to get it stamped along the way of St. James. We dug into the details and here is what we found.
What is a Pilgrim Passport? The Pilgrim Passport or “Credencial” is a document that keeps record of where you walked on the Camino de Santiago. In order to receive your Compostela (certificate of completion) when arriving in Santiago de Compostela, you will need the Pilgrim Passport stamped along the way to prove that you walked at least 100km of the Camino, or cycled at least 200km of the Camino.
The traditional Credencial has 16 pages (when folded), creating a mini booklet (much like a map). The first page offers information on the pilgrim and issuing organization, with the remaining pages left blank for collecting stamps along the way. The last page offers a special space for the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela to issue their final stamp. If you plan on receiving your Compostela in Santiago, be sure to keep your Credencial safe as you travel.
You will need a Pilgrim Passport to stay in a municipal albergue (pilgrim hostel). Most will stamp your Passport after your night’s stay. If you are staying at a private albergue or hotel, you will not need a Pilgrim Passport as a condition of your stay. We spent most of our nights at private albergues, hotels and apartments during our Camino, so we were rarely asked to present a Pilgrim Passport. The practice of presenting your Credencial for a place to sleep dates back many centuries, mainly to identify you as a pilgrim so that those providing you with shelter or food do so out of a spirit of hospitality.
Where can I buy a Pilgrim Passport?
The best way to obtain your Pilgrim Passport is to purchase it once you arrive at your starting point of your Camino route. The official Pilgrim Passport made available by the Cathedral is called the “Credencial del Peregrino”. It is widely available at albergues, hotels, parishes and stores in France, Spain and Portugal. For those arriving in St. Jean Pied de Port, you can find them at the Pilgrim Office. We picked up our Pilgrim Passport at our hotel in Sarria when we arrived to check in. If you are unsure if you will find a Pilgrim Passport at your arrival, do a quick Google search of your arrival town’s name and Pilgrim Passport. You can confirm who sells the Credenciales in that town. Check out your albergue’s website as well, as they may have it listed in the services they offer.
You can also buy a Pilgrim Passport before leaving on your trip. There are many associations and confraternities who sell the Credencial. Two great places to find them for sale are the Confraternity of St. James in London and the online Camino Forum store. These are good options for those who want to be fully packed before they leave on their pilgrimage. If you decide to purchase the Credencial before leaving, keep in mind that the price may be inflated. You will want to make sure that the cost falls in line with the normal price of a Pilgrim Passport.
How much does the Pilgrim Passport cost?
The most common price for the Pilgrim Passport (Credencial) is 2 euros. Depending on the albergue or pilgrim office that you purchase it from, the price could be as high as 5 euros. When we walked the Camino in July 2018, we paid 2 euros for a Pilgrim Passport. After checking the forums recently, 2 euros still seems to be the going rate for a Credencial in 2019.
A little-known fact for those who do not want to spend money on a Pilgrim Passport: Consider making your own Credencial. Because the Credencial basically serves as proof that you walked at least 100km of the Camino, then this means the most important part of the document are the impressions of the stamps (sello, in Spanish) earned along the way. To make your own Credencial, take a normal piece of paper, write the word “Pilgrim Passport” or “Credencial” at the top, be sure to include your name, and have it stamped with appropriate dates along your pilgrimage. The Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago de Compostela will be more than happy to accept your hand-made Passport as proof of your journey.
How often do I need my Pilgrim Passport stamped?
From the start of your pilgrimage you will need to have your Passport stamped one (1) time per day until you are 100km from Santiago de Compostela. Once you are 100km or closer (for example, Sarria 111km), then you will want to have your Passport stamped two (2) times per day. The reason for the increase in stamps per day is to deter abuse of the credencial system. If you are cycling the Camino, then you will want to have it stamped twice per day when you reach 200km or closer (Ponferrada, 205km).
You can have your Passport stamped as many times per day as you like, especially if you want to remember a specific place. We found it best to have our Passport stamped one time at the beginning of the day, and also around halfway through our walk for the day. It worked well for us because with this habit we didn’t have to keep track of whether we were getting two stamps every day, and it served as a reason to take a break to rest our feet from walking.
Where do I get my Pilgrim Passport stamped?
As you walk or cycle, there will be signs at most albergues, restaurants, bars, stores, and churches advertising that you can acquire your stamp (sello) there. Most of these establishments advertise this service because they want you to stop in and take a look at what they have to offer as you take your break. Most of the time we wanted to keep moving to arrive at our next route destination and settle in (although it was hard to say no to some of the coffee or sweets along the way). One overlooked location where you can receive a stamp for your Pilgrim Passport is at the Post Offices throughout Spain.
If you have watched the movie The Way, then you may have the expectation that someone will be stamping your Pilgrim Passport at every location. This is not the case, as most of the stamping stations are self-serve. There will be arrows directing you so you can find it easily.
A note on stamping your Passport yourself: Make sure to write in the date of each stamp as you fill in your Credencial along the way. This was a surprise to us, as we assumed each stamp would have the date pre-filled. These dates serve as proof that you walked the Camino de Santiago within a certain timeframe.
Does it cost anything to have my Pilgrim Passport stamped?
No, you will not need to pay for your stamp at most locations. There are some places that will ask for a donation (donativo), but this is not required. We did notice a couple of stamping stations that asked for 1 or 2 euros to have your Pilgrim Passport stamped, but we decided not to take our Passport there. These tended to be more culturally significant or famous tourist spots.
What should I do if my Pilgrim Passport fills up before reaching Santiago de Compostela?
If you are walking the entire 790km Camino Frances, or a similar route, and having it stamped one time per day, then your official Credencial will fill up. Once it fills up, you can pick up another Credencial in the next town. In a pinch, you could make your own Credencial as mentioned previously. When you arrive in Santiago de Compostela, present both Pilgrim Passports to the Pilgrim’s Office to receive your Compostela. Even if you are only walking the last 100km of the Camino, you will be surprised at how many stamps you will receive.
One last benefit of obtaining the Pilgrim’s Passport for your pilgrimage is various discounts at certain tourist attractions. Keep your eyes open for any of these reduced rates as you walk.
For many, the Credencial will be one of their favorite keepsakes from their pilgrimage. It is a wonderfully colorful visual for remembering your journey on the Camino, as most of the stamps will be in different styles and colors. Each will most likely feature the name of the town that you traveled through. There is a certain sense of accomplishment that is felt after walking the Camino de Santiago, and your Pilgrim Passport and Compostela provide tangible proof that you did it. You walked the Camino.