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!