Frequently Asked Questions about the Camino
Do you have questions about the Camino? Well, you’ve come to the right place!! Here is a collection of questions we have been asked about the Camino, together with the answers! Dive in!
If your question is not answered here, please contact us.
Questions About the Camino
I am vegetarian/vegan/gluten-intolerant or have other dietary needs. Can I get suitable food on the Camino?
Before You Go
What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago (the Camino or el Camino) is the name given to a number of walking (or cycling or horseback) routes through Spain, Portugal and other European countries that lead to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They range in length from 100km to 780km or more. The most commonly taken route, the Camino Francés, starts at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, and is 780km long. Anyone who is walking the Camino is considered to be a pilgrim. The Camino has been in use for over a thousand years. Find out more about the history of the Camino here.
What are the advantages of walking the Camino compared to other long-distance treks?
- The Camino routes offer facilities to support pilgrims. There are plenty of hostels, called albergues, as well as other types of accommodation. Cafes and restaurants are plentiful. This means that, for most routes, you do not have to carry cooking equipment, your food, or a tent.
- The cost per day is relatively low.
- Most of the routes are well marked with the Camino symbol, a yellow arrow or a shell.
- You can choose the distance you wish to travel daily and overall on the Camino. This means that people with varying levels of fitness can walk the Camino.
- It is up to you to choose how to walk ‘your’ Camino. There are no hard-and-fast rules. Think of the Camino as a journey of personal discovery or adventure, whether you are walking on your own or part of an organized tour, whether it lasts for only few days or takes several weeks to complete, whether you carry your own pack and or have it transported. The options are limitless and entirely up to you. Everyone who walks the Camino is a ‘true pilgrim’.
- There is a serenity and a sense of connection that comes from walking through a landscape where many previous generations of pilgrims have passed. Many people find themselves transformed by the experience of walking the Camino.
- The beauty of the landscape that the Camino passes through is enhanced by many sites of historical, cultural and architectural interest.
- The Camino is safe, even if you’re walking alone.
I love wilderness hiking. Is the Camino for me?
The Camino at times takes you through breathtaking countryside — but it is not a wilderness trek. The path goes through vineyards, meadows and forests; it also goes through cities, villages, suburbs, farmyards and industrial subdivisions. Portions of the route are along busy roads, and some routes are more isolated than others. In walking the Camino, you will experience the many different faces of Spain, including the beautiful and the not-so beautiful. You will also get an in-depth appreciation for the people, their language, culture, architecture and lifestyle.
I’ve heard the Camino is getting too crowded: is this true?
It is true that some of the routes, in particular the Camino Francés, can be very busy, notably in July and August. Some pilgrims love the companionship and vibrancy of this very social Camino; others prefer more solitude. You have the option to avoid the crowds by choosing one of the many alternative routes or by travelling during a less busy season.
How many people walk the Camino each year?
In 2019, the last full year prior to COVID-19, there were a total of 347,578 people (including 5,279 Canadians) who completed one of the Caminos ending in Santiago de Compostela. Of these, 327,281 walked the Camino. The remainder travelled mostly by bicycle (19,563), with another 406 on horseback, 243 who sailed to Santiago, and 85 in a wheelchair. For detailed statistics, see the official pilgrims’ office in Santiago de Compostela. Note that these numbers do not capture the thousands who did not apply for the compostela, and those who voluntarily, or involuntarily, did not continue all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
Do I need to speak Spanish to walk the Camino?
The short answer is no, but the longer answer is that it is very useful to know at least a few Spanish phrases, as many of the people you will meet do not speak English, and everyone appreciates an attempt to speak their language. Of course, if you are travelling a route through another country, such as France or Portugal, a few phrases in those languages would be useful. You can use an app or dictionary to translate phrases like “Thank you”, “Yes”, “No”, and so on, but there are certain words that refer specifically to items relevant to the Camino. A few of these common terms, which are in Spanish, regardless of the language of the speaker, are:
Albergue or refugio: These are hostels along the route catering to pilgrims. Typically they have mixed dormitories with bunk beds, and some also have a few double rooms. Usually, anyone staying there is required to present a pilgrim’s credencial.
Buen camino!: You will hear this expression of greeting and encouragement wherever you go, both from fellow pilgrims and from villagers and people serving pilgrims along the way.
Credencial: Pilgrim’s credential. The credencial or pilgrim passport, a distant successor to the safe-conducts issued to medieval pilgrims, is a document authorized by the cathedral authorities in Santiago de Compostela. The credencial has room for a number of stamps (sello in Spanish), which prove that you have been travelling the Camino. This document can be used to gain entry to albergues, can allow you to use the ‘pilgrim’s menu’, can give you discounted access to cathedrals, and, perhaps most importantly, can be used to prove that you have traversed the Camino when you get to Santiago de Compostela to obtain the compostela. Your stamped credencial is also a wonderful souvenir of your journey. Recently, an electronic option for the credential has become available.
The Canadian Company of Pilgrims is authorized to issue credenciales. Learn more and order your credencial here.
Compostela: This is a certificate stating (in Latin) that you have completed the Camino, and that you have walked the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons. It can be obtained from the Pilgrim Office in Santiago on presentation of a suitably completed credencial.
Hospitalero (m)/Hospitalera (f): The person(s) responsible for managing the albergue.
Peregrino (m)/Peregrina (f): A pilgrim.
What are the requirements to obtain a compostela?
In order to obtain a compostela, you must travel by one of the approved means (walk or wheelchair, bicycle, on horseback or sailing), you must make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons (or at least an attitude of search), and you must collect at least two stamps per day in your credential for the last 100 kilometres if you are walking or in a wheelchair, or 200 kilometres otherwise. See the official statement from the Pilgrim’s Office for more information on these requirements. For details on the process, see below.
In addition to the compostela, for a small fee you may also obtain a Certificate of Distance, which records your starting point and how far you have walked. If you’re walking the Camino Francés, you can get a “Halfway” certificate in Sahagún (ask at the tourist office for details). If you walk to Finisterre or Muxía, and get your credencial stamped on the way, you can get a Fisterrana or Muxiana (ask at your albergue or the tourist offices in Finisterre or Muxía, respectively).
What is the process to obtain a compostela?
The compostela and the Certificate of Distance can be obtained from the Pilgrim’s Office. In order to save time for those wishing to obtain a compostela or Certificate of Distance, the Pilgrim’s Office has put in place a system whereby pilgrims must enter their information, either on arrival, by scanning a QRCode at the Pilgrim’s Office, or in advance (from a few minutes before arrival to a maximum of three weeks). To enter your information in advance, access the form by visiting the Pilgrim’s Office website, selecting “Register” from the top menu, and then selecting “Single”. When the form appears, simply fill in the information and submit the form. Once the form has been completed, you will receive an email with a barcode and an alphanumeric code. When you arrive at the Pilgrim Office, show the barcode and/or the alphanumeric code to receive a timeslot to return to request your compostela and/or Certificate of Distance, at which time you will have to show your credencial to demonstrate that you meet the requirements. Note that the timeslot may not be on the same day, particularly if the office is busy and you arrive later in the day. As a result, it is recommended that you allow an extra day in Santiago de Compostela to obtain your compostela or Certificate of Distance. See the Camino Forums for more information on this process.
Do you have any hints or tips for walking the Camino?
Our members have a wealth of experience in walking the Camino. A good way to access this experience is to attend chapter events. In addition, once or twice a year most chapters run a day-long introduction to the Camino, called “Camino 101”. To find out more about upcoming chapter events, click here, or contact your local chapter co-ordinator.
What are the main routes of the Camino?
Route: El Camino Francés, or The French Way (55% of pilgrims).
Starting point(s): Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (778km); Roncesvalles (750km); Burgos (490km); León (311km); Sarria (115km).
Approximate time required: From Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port 32 days; from Burgos 20 days; from León 13 days; from Sarria 5 days; plus rest days.
Description: This is by far the most popular route, and the one that most people think of as “El Camino”. It is known as the French way because virtually all of the Camino routes in France converge at the starting point of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees. It’s a long and varied route, well marked, with plenty of pilgrim accommodation of different kinds. Towns and villages are frequent. The last few days, from Sarria, are the busiest, because many pilgrims (especially from Spain) walk the last 100km from Sarria to get the compostela.
What kind of pilgrim would enjoy this route? First-time pilgrims; those who enjoy being part of a community of pilgrims; walkers seeking a pilgrim ‘family’; those with an interest in history and architecture; pilgrims who are concerned about their language ability (since English is commonly spoken by other pilgrims and in the pilgrim services along the way).
Route: Camino Portuguès (central and coastal options) (27% of pilgrims).
Starting point(s): Lisbon (626km); Porto (246km); Tui (116km).
Approximate time required: From Lisbon 26 days; from Porto 10 days; from Tui 5 days; plus rest days.
Description: By far the most popular starting point for this route is Porto; from there this is a comparatively short and scenic route, half in Portugal and half in Spain. The terrain on both the central and the coastal route is fairly flat (though sometimes stony or rocky, with many cobbled roads) and with frequent towns and villages. Many Portuguese people speak English, and the food is excellent. The coastal route is generally more scenic and is gaining in popularity. From Lisbon it’s a much longer and more difficult route; towns are further apart, there is more road walking, and there are a lot fewer pilgrims.
What kind of pilgrim would enjoy this route? From Porto: first-time pilgrims; those who enjoy being part of a community of pilgrims; walkers seeking a pilgrim ‘family’; those with an interest in Portuguese language, culture and food; pilgrims who love coastlines. From Lisbon: experienced pilgrims seeking a more challenging route.
Route: Camino del Norte(5.5% of pilgrims).
Starting point(s): Irún (829km); Bilbao (682km); Gijón (344km).
Approximate time required: From Irún 34 days; from Bilbao 28 days; from Gijón 14 days; plus rest days.
Description: A spectacular coastal route along the north coast of Spain, with beaches and cliffs. Mountainous terrain but with plenty of towns to provide services.
What kind of pilgrim would enjoy this route? Pilgrims who like a rugged up-and-down hiking experience and a degree of solitude; pilgrims who love coastlines and beaches. Be prepared for competing for bed space especially on the weekends in the summer time as this is also a high tourist area.
Route: Camino Inglés (4.5% of pilgrims).
Starting point(s): A Coruña (74km) or Ferrol (118km).
Approximate time required: From A Coruña 3 days; from Ferrol 5 days.
Description: This route is entirely through Galicia, and is reminiscent of Ireland, Wales, or Brittany. There is some road walking near towns. The countryside is gently rolling and green, and you can probably expect some rain.
What kind of pilgrim would enjoy this route? Pilgrims looking for a shorter walk. Those who want to qualify for the compostela may walk 25k in Canada and then the 75k from A Coruña as long as they have collected stamps in their credencial to prove it.
Route: Camino Primitivo (4.5% of pilgrims).
Starting point(s): Oviedo (316km).
Approximate time required: From Oviedo 13 days; plus rest days.
Description: The first historic route of which there is a written record, but a fairly recent route in terms of being promoted to and familiar to modern pilgrims. Mountainous, challenging. Towns and villages are further apart. Baggage transfer is available. The route joins the Camino Francés at Melide. There is some road walking.
What kind of pilgrim would enjoy this route? Experienced pilgrims seeking solitude or a challenge; pilgrims wishing to walk in summer without the summer crowds.
Route: Via de la Plata (2.5% of pilgrims).
Starting point(s): Sevilla (973km); Salamanca (473km); Ourense (108km).
Approximate time required: From Sevilla 39 days; from Salamanca 19 days; from Ourense 5 days; plus rest days.
Description: A very different Camino, taking you south to north along ancient Roman trading roads and through the calm and sometimes deserted landscapes of Andalusia and Extremadura. Some beautiful historic cities on the route. Towns can be far apart and services are limited.
What kind of pilgrim would enjoy this route? Experienced pilgrims and those seeking solitude or a challenge and wanting to experience the south of Spain; pilgrims wishing to walk in very early spring or late fall.
Route: Finisterre-Muxía (less than 1% of pilgrims).
Starting point(s): From Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre (88km), or to Muxía (85km), plus about 30km between the two towns.
Approximate time required: 3 or 4 days for either route; a very full day between them.
Description: This route is really an extension of the Camino Francés, taking you on to the ‘end of the world’ at the west coast of Spain. Tradition dictates that you burn your pilgrim clothes on the beach at the end of the journey (although this is no longer permitted), and jump into the sea to bathe — and pick up a scallop shell as a symbol and memento of your journey.
What kind of pilgrim would enjoy this route? Pilgrims who reach Santiago and still want to carry on just a little further.
How many rest days should I allow?
The number of rest days required naturally depends on each individual person, taking into account their level of fitness and any medical conditions. A rule of thumb is to plan on one rest day for each six days of walking. Be aware that some albergues do not permit pilgrims to stay for more than one day. Even those albergues that do permit multi-day stays may require pilgrims to remove all their belongings when they close in the morning for cleaning until they re-open in the afternoon.
How do I make a decision on which route to take and where to start?
There are many factors which go into the decision of a starting point. Perhaps the best way to decide is to consider the following issues:
- whether or not you want a compostela;
- the length of time you have available and the time of year you will be walking; and
- your level of fitness, and any medical issues that you may have.
If you want a compostela, you must meet the official requirements. One of these is that your journey must end in Santiago de Compostela.
The next steps are to determine how much time you have available, and your level of fitness, including any medical issues, which will determine how far you can walk each day. Most people on the Camino who are walking travel between 10km and 30km per day, with a large number covering about 20km per day. For example, if you want to get a compostela, and you are not comfortable walking longer distances, you might want to consider starting your journey 100km from Santiago de Compostela. This is the minimum distance required for a compostela. Now, depending on the time you have available, and the expected distance per day that you can travel, you can determine an appropriate distance from Santiago de Compostela at which to start. Suggestions for different distances on each route can be found in the table of starting points below.
Some pilgrims choose to do their journey in stages. If you choose this approach, you can do a portion of the distance, and resume your journey at a later date. For more details, see the requirements for a compostela.
Table of route starting points and distances
The following table gives the distances and number of walking days for selected starting points for each route. Note that the distances below are approximate; each route has variants and alternative paths, so the distances may vary. The number of days shown does not include any rest days.
|Number of Walking Days Required to Complete the Route|
|Starting point(s)||km||35km/ day||30km/ day||25km/ day||20km/ day||15km/ day||10km/ day|
|Camino Portuguès (Central Route)|
|Camino Portuguès (Coastal Route)|
|Camino del Norte|
|Vía de la Plata|
|Camino Finisterre-Muxía (from Santiago to)|
How do I get to/from the Camino?
For most Canadians, the journey starts with a flight to one of the major gateway cities in Europe. It is usually best to fly into the same country as your starting point, as transportation services within a country are usually more frequent, and cover more locations, than cross-border services. It also often makes sense to book a flight all the way to the closest airport to your starting point; there’s often no difference in fare. You can return home directly from Santiago de Compostela, or from another major airport. There is usually no need for your flight to arrive at and depart from the same European city. Check with your travel provider or favourite travel website for these “open-jaw” arrangements.
From your gateway city, consider taking the train to your starting point, or a nearby location. Many countries in Europe have high-speed train services (TGV in France, AVE in Spain), which travel at speeds of about 300km/hr (about 186mph). Train stations, unlike airports, are typically located close to the centre of the cities or towns that they serve. Train tickets can be purchased in advance, typically about three months before the journey, at significant savings. For suggested websites with more information on trains, see our Camino Links page.
For the last step of your journey to your starting point, you may need to use a bus. Buses in Europe tend to be clean and convenient. Note that, if you have a backpack with you, you may not be permitted to take it on board with you. Instead, you may be asked to place it in a compartment under the bus. Naturally, you can keep a small bag with you. For suggested bus company websites, see our Camino Links page.
If you prefer to drive, it is worth noting that many rental car companies in Europe have one-way rentals without drop fees if your journey is to another location in the same country. Note that members receive discounts with selected rental car companies.
The information below gives approximate times to reach selected starting points from the major gateway cities, by country.
The main gateway cities with direct flights from Canada are Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse. The nearest of these to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is Bordeaux, which is about 240km away by road, or three hours by train. The next nearest is Toulouse, which is about 300km away by road, or about six hours by train. Paris has many more direct flights, and is about 820km away by road, but only about five and one-half hours by train, using the high-speed (TGV) services. It is also possible to get to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port through Spain – see the instructions for Roncesvalles on the Camino Francés below. See our Camino Links page for websites to assist with information on trains, buses and flights.
Spain (various starting points)
The main gateway city with direct flights from Canada is Madrid. If you are planning to drive to your starting point, all the major car rental companies have locations serving Madrid airport. If you are planning to take public transport:
- For starting points which are close to Santiago de Compostela, it is often fastest to take a train to Santiago de Compostela, about five hours, and a train or bus from there to your staring point. If your starting point is Ourense, the train from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela stops there.
- Camino Francés: If you are planning to walk the Camino Francés from Roncesvalles, it is usually best to take a train to Pamplona, about three hours, and a bus or shared taxi to Roncesvalles, about one hour. Burgos and León are easily reached directly from Madrid by train. The train from Madrid to Burgos takes about four hours, while León has high-speed train (AVE) service from Madrid, about two to three hours.
- Camino del Norte/Camino Primitivo: The main starting points on the Camino del Norte are Irún, Bilbao and Gijón, all of which are on Spain’s northern coast. They can all be reached by train from Madrid in about eight hours, five hours, and five hours, respectively. For the Camino Primitivo, Oviedo is on the same train line as Gijón, and the train takes about four and one-half hours to get there from Madrid. Be aware that trains and buses to Spain’s northern coast tend to be less frequent than other services, and may require allowing an extra day depending on connections.
- Via de la Plata: Sevilla is served by direct high-speed train (AVE) from Madrid, which takes about two and one-half hours. Salamanca, although much nearer to Madrid, takes about three hours by train.
For more details on train/bus times and costs, see the suggested websites on our Camino Links page, which also has links to websites with information on flights.
The main gateway city with direct flights from Canada is Lisbon. Porto is about 320km from Lisbon by road, or three to four hours by train or bus. See our Camino Links page for websites to assist with information on trains, buses and flights.
Which season is best for walking the Camino?
Santiago de Compostela is about the same latitude as Fort Erie, Ontario, although its climate is significantly milder. Nonetheless, snow is common on the higher points of some of the routes in the winter, and, on the Camino Francés, the route over the Pyrenees is closed from November 1 through March 31 and may be closed at other times subject to weather. Also, many albergues on the northern routes close in the winter months. In the months of July and August, it is not uncommon for temperatures to reach 35C or 40C along the routes to Santiago, and these also tend to be the busiest months.
For the northern routes, including the Camino Francés, this means that the best months tend to be May/June and September/October. For the southern routes, which tend to be warmer, you may want to consider starting in April or earlier, and perhaps avoid starting before September.
How should I begin preparing to walk the Camino?
Our number one suggestion is to attend one of our “Camino 101” sessions, which are hosted by Canadian Company of Pilgrims chapters across the country. See our Events page for a schedule of upcoming events.
They will provide you with the answers you need in planning your Camino, including things such as packing lists. An important starting point is having good quality, well-broken-in hiking boots/shoes and socks. Taking care of your feet is a top consideration on any long walk. Also, a well-fitted and durable backpack, quality rain gear/water-proof jacket and a rain-proof cover for your backpack are also high priorities. See our Camino Links page for more information.
Do I need to take an organized tour, or can I travel on my own?
Most pilgrims walking the various Caminos make their own way, but, if you prefer to travel with an organized tour, there are numerous tour companies who can help. In most cases, these companies will make reservations for your accommodation, and transport your luggage, so all that you have to do is walk. The Canadian Company of Pilgrims does not endorse any specific service or tour business, but information and reviews of tour companies can be readily found on the Camino Forums.
Which guidebook should I use?
There are various sources of information on each of the routes of the Camino, including books, both physical and electronic, websites and apps. Smartphone apps developed specifically for the Camino have been, and are being, developed, although most pilgrims at this time still use electronic or paper books. You can find more information about the books, websites and apps on our Camino Links page. In this section, we provide a few suggestions on books.
It is wise to review relevant books early. However, things do change, so, for your trip, you will probably want the most recent version of a book. For planning purposes, the most common books may well be available from your local library, although they may not have the most recent versions.
From each publisher, there is typically one book for each of the major routes. The front portion of each book usually provides information on travel, suitable phrases, and packing. Each book has suggested days with maps, elevation profiles and places to stay. While the books typically focus on albergues, that is, hostels, they also typically include information on other accommodation, such as hotels. They typically also have descriptions of each day’s walk, usually called a stage, including alternate routes and suggested sights. Most books have a set of “standard” stages, which vary from author to author, and even year to year. Some books also have suggested stages for faster or slower walkers. Most books are also available in a “maps only” version for those who want only the maps showing the main and alternate routes, the elevation profiles and the places to stay. Some books provide URLs for online bookings, while others have links to online bookings on their websites. Booking online can be useful with language issues and cell service problems. You may be able to get a discount on a book by pre-ordering the following year’s release in November or December. The new versions of each book are typically released each year in January.
Perhaps the most common, and well-regarded, books and apps are:
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley
These are probably the most common guidebooks used by English-speakers for walking the Camino, in particular the Camino Francés. Some of the books are available in electronic format.
Camino de Santiago (Village to Village Guides) by Anna Dintaman, David Landis and others
Another commonly used series of guides, these books have an associated website with links to booking sites for accommodation, itineraries of different lengths, and GPS tracks. These books are available both in paper and electronic versions.
Wise Pilgrim by Michael Matynka Iglesias
This series of guides is available as books, as apps, and on the website. A purchase of the app includes future updates and upgrades.
Moon Camino de Santiago: Sacred Sites, Historic Villages, Local Food & Wine by Beebe Bahrami
This guidebook provides all the essentials of walking the Camino Francés, from maps and suggested stages, to accommodations and cuisine. It also explains in rich detail the history and cultural significance of cities, towns and villages along the way. This book includes a chapter on the Camino Finisterre/Muxía.
For more details on these and other books, apps, podcasts, YouTube videos and websites, see our Camino Links page.
What should I pack?
The short answer to this question is “less than you think!” The rule of thumb for your fully loaded backpack is that it should weigh 10% of your body weight. This includes the weight of the pack, and all contents, including any water or food you may be carrying. If you are staying in albergues, you will need a light sleeping bag or sheet liner, and a light travel towel. Depending on the season and the Camino route, you may need a light, warm, jacket, and possibly a hat and gloves. Since wild camping is not permitted in some parts of Spain, and campgrounds are uncommon, pilgrims rarely bring a tent. For more details on what to pack, consult one of the websites and or books on our Camino Links page, or attend one of our chapter events or Camino 101 information sessions.
What key documents should I bring?
You will need a valid passport that will not expire while you are away. You may also want to bring your driver’s license, in case you need to rent a car while you are away. You should also bring along your health and travel insurance card(s) with the phone number(s) to call in case you need to report an injury or make a claim. We also recommend that you purchase the Canadian credencial before you go. It’s a good idea to take a photo or photocopy of these documents (and of any prescriptions you may have, and any credit cards you may be bringing) and keep them in a safe place, away from the documents themselves, in case of loss or theft.
Do I need a visa? Do I need insurance?
Canadian citizens do not need a visa to visit Spain, France or Portugal provided their visit is less than 90 days in any 180 day period. See the Canadian Government’s official travel advisories page for more information. Citizens of other countries should consult their governments for information specific to their situation. The Canadian government recommends that you get travel insurance for any trip outside Canada. Please note that the Canadian Company of Pilgrims has negotiated reduced travel and health insurance rates for our members.
How do I train my body?
It is easy to under- or over-estimate the difficulty of walking the Camino. First, it is walking. If you can walk reasonable distances, say a few kilometres, you can walk the Camino, or at least part of it. On the other hand, when you’re walking the Camino, you may be carrying a backpack, and you walk day after day after day. Bear in mind that, if you’re walking the Camino Francés starting at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the first day or two are probably the toughest days you will experience on the Camino.
If you’re an active person already, and work out regularly, you may not need extensive preparation. We would suggest that you might want to do two or three back-to-back daily hikes, with your full backpack, approximating the distances you plan to do on the Camino.
If you’re a regular day hiker, you may already be used to hiking the distances that you plan to cover on the Camino. Perhaps the hardest part for you is that, on the Camino, you carry a multi-day pack, and you walk multiple days in a row. You may want to start by doing shorter hikes with a lighter backpack, working up to carrying your full pack on longer day hikes on successive days.
If you’re not very active, we would suggest training over a few months before your trip. Start out with some easy hikes, say, 5-10km without a backpack, and work up to your planned distances on the Camino with your backpack containing the weight that you plan to carry.
Whether you are active or not, you may find it useful to go on the practice hikes planned by many of the local chapters. These hikes are typically run on a regular basis, and you can start with easy hikes, and work your way up to longer ones, while walking with others who plan to walk, or have walked, the Camino.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, and make sure that your hiking boots or shoes are well broken in before you go!
I’m not sure I can carry a backpack for long distances. What are my options?
Arranging for baggage transfer on the Caminos is easy. Most albergues and other accommodation on the Camino routes can provide you with an envelope which you attach to your pack, with your destination for the day and the fee. At the end of the day, your pack is waiting for you at your destination. Naturally, you carry your valuables, plus water and any food, with you. Some albergues do not provide this service, but, in those cases, the transport companies arrange pick up and drop off at a nearby store, café, or restaurant. You can also arrange to have a bag shipped ahead to Santiago de Compostela and held there for your arrival. Bag transport and storage services are offered by a number of companies as well as by the Spanish postal service (Correos), and are very reliable. For more information, see our Camino Links page.
Preparing for a Winter Camino
Can I walk a Camino in the winter months?
Yes! If solitude is something you prefer, a winter Camino might be a great option for you. There are far fewer people on the Camino in winter and it’s not unusual to walk considerable distances each day without encountering fellow pilgrims. And while some albergues and restaurants might be closed (especially during the Christmas holiday season), there are usually far fewer lineups for everything from registering at albergues to getting your credencial stamped. Albergues are often only partially full in winter so they tend to be quieter.
What is the weather like during the winter?
Weather can be an issue – not only because of the lower temperatures but also the day-to-day unpredictability. You may have low temperatures and snow one day, the next day may be warm and sunny, while the following day may be cold with rain. Bear in mind that the weather can be quite different depending on the Camino and the month. For instance, walking the Camino Portuguès in late February/early March will be quite different from walking the Camino Francés in December/January. On the Camino Francés, you might want to tailor your walk to avoid certain stages. The Napoleon route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is closed from November 1st to March 31st each year (the Valcarlos route is an alternative), while on the later stages the Camino de Invierno (the winter way) avoids the final mountainous areas of the Francés. On the Camino Portuguès, the biggest challenge is likely to be cool, wet conditions although daytime temperatures can often be a comfortable, mid-teens Celsius. The average temperature on the Camino Francés in winter is about 7-8 Celsius while on the Portuguès it is about 13 degrees.
What should I wear for a winter Camino?
It is best to be prepared to dress in layers, with a base layer, such as a fleece, and a warm, preferably down, jacket, so that these layers can be added to or subtracted from depending on the weather. Other necessities are a warm sleeping bag, good rainwear, a hat or toque, waterproof gloves, and good waterproof walking shoes or boots. Hiking poles are also recommended because of the possibility of slippery or icy conditions.
What is the best piece of advice you would give for a winter Camino?
Thoroughly research the expected winter conditions and accommodation availability on the route you choose. Websites such as Weatherspark provide typical weather for each month (see also the weather section of our Camino Links page). For accommodation on the Camino Francés, there are a couple of sites, one that provides a list of available beds (in Spanish), and one that shows albergues that are open (there is also a Facebook page). Gronze (in Spanish) has the opening months for many of the albergues, and you may find some other useful links in our accommodation section. Regardless of the source, it is always recommended that you contact the albergue directly.
When You’re on the Camino
What is a typical day like on the Camino?
While everyone’s experience will be different, a typical pilgrim day on the Camino starts early, as most pilgrims want to avoid travel in the heat of the afternoon. Depending on the season, a typical day might begin with getting up around 6am. Some pilgrims leave their accommodation around 7am, and get breakfast on the road; others take breakfast at their accommodation, and leave a little later (especially in late fall, when the sun doesn’t come up until after 8am). Most pilgrims break for lunch at a suitable restaurant or cafe, and arrive at their accommodation for the night between 2pm and 4pm, depending on the distance to be covered each day. It is then common for pilgrims to shower, to wash the journey off themselves, and perhaps do some journaling or reading. And then, amazingly enough, the next thing they do is to take a saunter around the town or village to join in the paseo, or evening stroll, which is an endearing feature of Spanish life in both cities and villages. Usually, around 7 or 8 pm, pilgrims take their evening meal, sometimes at their albergue, and sometimes at a restaurant, where there is often a ‘pilgrim menu’ on offer. Depending on the amount of sleep they need, and how tired they feel, most pilgrims go to bed anytime between 9pm and 11pm, though quiet time and ‘lights out’ are often enforced at 10pm. Many albergues have a curfew that pilgrims need to abide by.
Where do I stay on the Camino?
The Camino routes have a variety of accommodation choices, ranging from hostels (albergues), which have mixed dormitory rooms, sometimes with some double rooms available, to luxury hotels in the larger towns and cities. Albergues can come in three different varieties: donativo, municipal, and private. Donativo albergues do not charge a fixed rate, and rely instead on donations. Municipal albergues are run by the local municipality or, in Galicia, by the autonomous region (province), and typically do not accept reservations. Private albergues are privately owned, often accept reservations, and may have private rooms available as well as dormitories. Spain has several levels of hotels, ranging from pensiones and hostales (both are budget hotels, despite the name), to casas rurales, hotels, and paradores (luxury government sponsored historic inns, many of which offer a discount to pilgrims). Some people prefer to let the Camino provide, and do not make reservations. In this case, it is advisable to arrive at your destination early, perhaps around 1pm, although it is wise to check the opening times of the local albergues, some of which may not be staffed before mid to late afternoon. Others prefer to book ahead. Often, if you ask, those who manage albergues or hostales will phone ahead for you to book your next night’s accommodation if you are having difficulty doing it yourself. On most routes, booking one or two days ahead is usually sufficient. On busy routes, such as the Camino Francés, or during Holy Years, and on the routes through France, it may be advisable to book further ahead. For more information on accommodation, see our Camino Links page.
Where do I eat on the Camino?
Restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores are plentiful along the Camino routes, so you can buy prepared meals, or make your own (many of the albergues have cooking facilities). Also, many of the albergues, particularly in the smaller towns and villages, have prepared meals available at an extra cost. Be aware that eating times may be later than Canadians are used to; for example, in Spain, lunch is typically served from 1pm or 2pm to 4pm, and the evening meal is served from 7pm or 8pm to 11pm or later. This means that, in some cases, restaurants are closed at lunchtime! It is advisable to review each day before you set out. In some cases, there are long stretches between villages, and you may want to buy a sandwich (bocadillo) to take with you.
I am vegetarian/vegan/gluten-intolerant or have other dietary needs. Can I get suitable food on the Camino?
Most of the Camino routes involve many small villages or towns, which typically do not have specialty restaurants/cafes. However, most people in the restaurants and cafes are very helpful and will do whatever they can to meet your dietary needs. Be aware that dishes may contain unexpected ingredients; for example, a mixed salad in Spain typically includes tuna. Many of the albergues have cooking facilities, and grocery stores are plentiful, so cooking your own food is an option. For more information and links to websites for certain dietary needs, see our Camino Links page.
Do I need to carry water with me on the Camino?
The short answer is yes, but perhaps less than you might be used to if you usually hike longer distances. The tap water in Spain, Portugal and France is generally provided from municipal water systems. On most Caminos, water is available in cafes, bars, restaurants and grocery stores, and there are fountains along the way which are clearly marked if they are not safe to drink (agua non potable in Spanish). If you have a water bottle, bars, cafes and restaurants may fill it up without charge, especially if you are buying something else there.
How much should I budget for my trip?
The amount you spend per person naturally depends largely on the level of accommodation you stay in and the meals you eat. A person traveling alone, sleeping in the lowest-cost albergues, and cooking their own meals whenever possible, could travel the Camino Francés for approximately €30-€35 per day (approximately $45 – $55 Canadian per day at a typical exchange rate of $1.50 per euro). Two people traveling the Camino Francés together, staying in private albergues and the occasional casa rural or other low-cost accommodation, eating their meals in restaurants and cafes, might spend more in the €40 to €50 range ($60-$75). A breakdown of these costs might be as follows (all amounts are per person, per day):
|Food||€13 ($19.50)||€22 ($33)|
|Accommodation||€12 ($18)||€18 ($27)|
|Laundry/Miscellaneous||€5 ($7.50)||€5 ($7.50)|
|Total:||€30 ($45)||€45 ($67.50)|
Note that prices since the pandemic have tended to be higher. Costs on other Caminos in Spain and Portugal are typically similar, perhaps slightly higher on the Camino Portuguès. Costs on Caminos in France tend to be about 75% higher, in part because the accommodation is usually semi-private and includes dinner and breakfast.
Should I use my credit cards or cash?
Many, if not most, of the smaller establishments along the Caminos accept only cash, although accepting credit cards is becoming more common, and this process has accelerated since the pandemic. ATMs are readily available along the routes, so you will not need to keep any more than one or two weeks’ expenses on you in cash, and withdraw money in similar sized increments as you travel. Many pilgrims split their cash into two portions, and carry two credit cards, placing one portion of the cash, and one credit card, readily available for daily use, and the other hidden away. This is so that, in case of loss, you still have half of the cash and a credit card.
What is the path like?
For the most part, the Caminos have reasonably good trails, usually two, or sometimes three, pilgrims wide, and with a flat dirt, gravel or paved surface. For some relatively short portions, the trail may have a number of rocks in the surface which make the footing more difficult. Very occasionally, you must walk along the shoulder of a busy road.
Is it easy to find my way?
Most of the routes are well marked with a Camino symbol, a yellow arrow on a blue background , or a shell on a blue background, or both. The base of the shell is intended to represent Santiago, with the lines of the shell representing the different routes to Santiago de Compostela, but it is common to see Camino markers which have shells with the lines pointing towards Santiago de Compostela. Sometimes you will see just a yellow arrow painted on a building.
On, say, the Camino Francés, just about every turn on the main route and alternate routes is marked, but junctions where you go straight on may not have markers.
Are there dangerous dogs on the Caminos?
While anyone can encounter a dangerous dog anywhere, dogs you may encounter on the Camino are no more dangerous than dogs you may encounter hiking in Canada. In fact, the dogs that live along the Camino are so used to seeing pilgrims that they are unlikely to pay much attention to you at all. If you follow the approach that you use with Canadian dogs, you should have no trouble on the Camino—and of course never encourage a stray dog (or cat) to follow you!
What about safety on the Camino? Is it safe to walk the Camino as a solo female?
While the Camino is a safe place to travel for everyone, including solo female walkers, it is important to consider helpful safety tips:
- Learn a bit of the language, such as:
- I am lost. Me he perdido.
- I am walking the Camino de Santiago. Estoy andando el Camino de Santiago.
- [Excuse me, ]Where is the Camino? [Disculpe, ]¿Dónde está el Camino de Santiago?
- I don’t feel well. No me encuentro bien.
- I need medical help/an ambulance/a hospital/a doctor/a dentist/a clinic/a pharmacy. Necesito ayuda médica/una ambulancia/un hospital/un médico/un dentista/una clínica/una farmacia.
- My backpack/wallet/purse/passport has been stolen. Me han robado la mochila/la billetera/la cartera/el pasaporte.
- I have been assaulted. Me han agredido.
- Please call the police. Por favor llame a la policía.
- and, of course: Please/Thank you/Sorry! Por favor/Gracias/¡Lo siento!
- 112 is the Emergency Number in Europe;
- Consider using the AlertCops app while in Spain (requires data; allows communication with the police in English);
- Carry a whistle;
- Study the route ahead of time for the day, and plan for breaks where there are people;
- Always be aware of your surroundings;
- Walk with others, or at least in sight of others when possible;
- Avoid being out in the dark alone (don’t arrive too late at an albergue, and don’t start out too early if you are walking alone);
- Keep valuables safe, (have cash and a credit card stashed in two separate places);
- Do not leave your valuables with anyone. Rather, have a waterproof pouch for documents and money and bring that with you. When you shower, consider bringing an S hook to hang the pouch from;
- Avoid bringing or wearing expensive/flashy jewellery as it may draw unwanted attention to you, and could be lost or stolen.
- Keep a copy of your documents at home with approximate timeline of where you will be and check in once in a while to let someone know you are safe. Keep another copy of your documents hidden in your backpack as well;
- If listening to music with earbuds/pods in consider using only one so that you are aware of your surrounds;
- If you are feeling uneasy, followed, or threatened, go talk to other pilgrims, let them know if you are travelling alone and are uneasy or stop at the restaurants or albergues, or a house and tell them you are being followed. People are gracious and are willing to help.
How can I be a considerate and environmentally conscious pilgrim?
It is said that the ‘tourist’ demands but the ‘pilgrim’ is grateful. Pilgrims are considerate, and respectful of the land, the people, the culture and the environment that they travel through. They often help each other out, sharing supplies and they show gratitude to those who are hosting. Respect the Spanish daily life schedule as your home schedule may be very different. Leave albergue common rooms such as bathrooms, kitchens and sleeping areas cleaner than what you find it. Make space for other pilgrims at wash lines, or in the bathroom. Be considerate to others especially at the end of the day when one is tired from walking. Respect albergue rules, such as lights out, quiet time, or curfew. If you leave early in the morning, leave quietly as people still may be sleeping. It is equally important to consider the environment and to embrace a “leave no trace” personal policy, regardless of what messes you will see on the Camino. Bathroom etiquette is that you use the facilities that are provided in bars and restaurants along the way and make sure that you buy something from the restaurant owner or leave a couple of Euros if you do use their facilities. If you need to ‘go’ on the trail, do not leave any paper products behind. Some people carry a trowel to bury their waste but paper products still need to be picked up; others carry small pet bags (they are light) and pick up their own waste and dispose properly when they get to the next town. Please respect the environment even if others do not.
What can I do when I get to Santiago de Compostela?
Of course, your first steps were to have your picture taken in Praza do Obradoiro in front of the Cathedral, and visit the Pilgrim’s Office to get your compostela and/or distance certificate (the first ten pilgrims each day get a free lunch). After that, there is a lot to see in Santiago de Compostela. You may want to take a tour of the Cathedral, possibly including a tour of the Cathedral roof. You may want to attend a Pilgrim mass at the Cathedral (all are welcome), and, if you’re lucky, see the famous Botafumeiro in action. You may want to see the Shadow Pilgrim in the Plaza de la Quintana. If you haven’t had enough walking, you may want to take a walking tour. Read all about these and many more options in our guide (PDF), provided through the generosity of Johnnie Walker.
Health and Wellness on the Camino
What are the most common ailments on the Camino?
Most pilgrims develop a sense of health and wellbeing as they build up their strength and stamina on the Camino. Minor aches and pains such as blisters or shin splints (especially in the first week or two) are common, and you may experience a tummy upset as you get used to different food or water. Major injuries are rare (walking is a very safe activity), but accidents can happen.
Do I need to carry health and travel insurance?
You should check your provincial and extended health care coverage, to find out what you are covered for when you are out of the country. You may wish to supplement this coverage with additional travel insurance and/or trip cancellation insurance. CCoP members are eligible for group coverage under our partners program with Johnson Insurance. You should be aware that while some clinics will accept your provider’s card and bill directly, others may ask you to pay up front and then make a claim to your insurer. Fortunately health care in Spain is not costly.
Is there good health care in Spain?
Spain has excellent public and private health care, and there are clinics or hospitals in all of the larger towns and cities along the Camino. The health care providers on the main routes are very used to seeing pilgrims, and many of them speak English. Pharmacists in Spain are trained to diagnose and prescribe some medicines.
How can I prevent getting blisters?
When it comes to blisters, an ounce of prevention is key. Be sure you have well broken-in boots or shoes, ones that fit your feet well. Change your socks and air your feet every few hours. If you feel a blister starting, don’t wait till the next stop, but look after it immediately. Some pilgrims coat their feet in body glide or Vaseline before putting their socks on. You can get lots of good advice and tips at the Camino 101 sessions offered by the nearest CCoP chapter to you!
What about bedbugs?
Bedbugs can be a problem anywhere. Along the Caminos, the albergues and other accommodation work hard to keep their establishments free of bedbugs, and the hospitaleros have been trained on how to deal with them. You can help by never placing your backpack on your bedding, by inspecting your mattress and sleeping area before you sleep, and by reporting any bites to the hospitalero/a or the owners of the establishment. They can help you with treatment and decontamination.
Should I bring a first aid kit?
It’s a good idea to put together a small lightweight kit with your prescription medications and a few Band-aids and non-prescription remedies for pain or cold symptoms. Keep in mind, though, that pharmacies in Spain are plentiful and well equipped with everything the pilgrim needs, including blister kits, ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), sunscreen, cold remedies, braces and tensor bandages. And the pharmacists are a great resource for questions about health, injury, treatments, etc. However, pharmacists will not fill prescriptions from doctors outside Spain, so if you run out of your prescription medications you may need to see a doctor to get a new prescription.
What other tips do you have for staying strong and healthy on the Camino?
- Remember that food is fuel: eat well and make sure you take in lots of protein;
- Stay hydrated. Water is usually safe to drink from taps and fountains, unless it says agua non potable;
- Doing some stretches and/or yoga after a day’s walk can really help your body recover.
What number should I call in an emergency?
The universal European emergency phone number (like 911 in Canada) is 112. If you are carrying a smart phone, record this number in a readily accessible place, and also be sure to fill in the Health Information app with an emergency contact, your blood type, immunizations you have had, and any allergies or chronic health conditions you may have. The emergency department at Spanish hospitals is called Urgencias.
Keeping in Touch on the Camino
Should I bring my phone?
Most people bring their phone with them. In addition to providing a camera, there are numerous apps which can assist with making online bookings, translation, tracking expenses, and offline maps.
Should I buy a local SIM card?
It can be useful to have a local SIM card, as many of the accommodation establishments mainly accept bookings by phone. You may want to consider buying a local SIM card at your arrival airport, as the vendors there tend to be very familiar with installing a SIM card in an international phone.
Is WiFi readily available?
Most of the accommodation establishments have free WiFi, as do most of the bars and restaurants. The following Spanish terms may be useful: WiFi (pronounced weefee in Spain); la contraseña, por favor (the password, please).
How do I keep my electronics charged?
Most of the accommodation establishments have electricity available for pilgrims to charge their phones, sometimes right by your bunk. Obviously, if you’re in a dormitory, don’t leave your phone out in the open being charged. Some people take a powerbank, and leave that to charge, as, if it is stolen, it is easily replaced. You will need a European adapter, or you may want to consider purchasing a USB charger in Europe.
When You Get Home
How do I keep the Camino spirit alive?
Your local chapter of the CCoP hosts events for pilgrims, both those who have completed the Camino, and those who are planning to go. Often, there is a get-together which enables experienced pilgrims to talk about their experiences with those who are planning a pilgrimage. This is a great way to relive your experiences while at the same time providing information and giving back. See our events page for a list of your local chapter events. You would can also sign up to receive emails for future chapter events.
I want to do more. How can I contribute?
There are numerous ways to give back to the Camino, so you can select the one(s) that suit you best:
- You can become a member of the CCoP, if you are not a member already;
- You can attend chapter events;
- You can assist with chapter events and consider becoming a volunteer or chapter co-ordinator;
- You can make a donation to support pilgrim-related services along the various Caminos;
- You can assist CCoP at the national level as a volunteer; and/or
- You can train to become a hospitalero/hospitalera.
If you are interested in assisting with chapter events, your local chapter organizer can always use your help. Please review the chapter events, and contact your local chapter co-ordinator. Be sure to let them know which events, or what type of event, you would be interested in assisting with, and any restrictions you may have. On behalf of the chapter co-ordinators, thank you!
If you are not already a member of the CCoP, becoming a member is a great way to start giving back. A portion of all membership fees goes to support establishments providing services to pilgrims on the Camino, and the remainder supports the organization in its mission to support pilgrims, including those who are considering walking a Camino.
If you are interested in assisting at the national level, be sure to check our national newsletter, Pilgrim Footprints, where we regularly post volunteer opportunities as well as publishing an annual Call for Nominations for positions on the Board of Directors. If you have some particular skills or experience that you think would be valuable to the organization, you needn’t wait for us to ask! Simply contact us and let us know how you might be able to help.
If you are interested in becoming a hospitalero/hospitalera, training by approved trainers is available in Canada.
Cycling, Horse Riding and Sailing the Camino
Although most pilgrims walk, it is possible to obtain a compostela by cycling, riding on horseback, or even sailing. In 2019, 94.2% of pilgrims walked the Camino, while 5.6% cycled, and only 0.2% rode or sailed a sea route. Pilgrims who cycle use the same facilities, and for the most part, the same paths, as those who walk. In some cases, pilgrims who walk most of the distance use a bicycle for part of the route. One-way rentals for bicycles are readily available at various locations along the major Caminos. If you are considering riding or sailing the Camino, you may want to consider using a tour company.
Tell me more about the history of the Camino
The Camino de Santiago, also known by the English name The Way of St. James, is the name given to any of the pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried.
Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. The name comes from the Spanish Sant Iago (Saint James).
The Camino was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem, and it was a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the journey began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site.
During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
What is a Holy Year?
In Santiago de Compostela, a year is considered Holy or Jacobean if July 25, Saint James Day, falls on a Sunday. On such years a special door from the Plaza de la Quintana into the cathedral, the Holy Door (Porta Santa), is opened to pilgrims arriving in Santiago. In Holy Years, pilgrims entering the Cathedral through the Holy Door may receive a plenary indulgence, forgiveness of all their sins, if they meet certain other requirements. Learn more about Holy Years and earning the plenary indulgence on the cathedral’s website.
The year 2021 was a Holy Year, so the Holy Door was opened on December 31, 2020. In view of the pandemic, the Pope declared the whole of 2022 to also be a Holy Year. During Holy Years, there is a considerable increase in the numbers of pilgrims travelling to Santiago to enter the Cathedral by this “Holy Door”. The previous Holy Year was 2016. The next Jacobean Holy Year is scheduled to take place in 2027, and the one after that is 2032.
Where can I find more information about the Camino?
An excellent source of information is our chapters which are all across Canada. Many chapters have events where you can meet and chat with experienced pilgrims, and of course many chapters run a Camino 101 course from time to time. There are also a considerable number of websites that specialize in providing information about the Camino. For a list of selected websites, see our Camino Links page.