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!