FAQs about the Camino

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 based on the knowledge of the organization. Dive in!

 

Getting Started

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago, often referred to as just the 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, called the Camino Frances, 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 [hyperlink].  The Camino has been in use for over a thousand years.  Find out more about the history of the Camino here [hyperlink].

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 [hyperlink to definition], 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 [hyperlink to food], or a tent [hyperlink to “What should I pack?” question].
  • The cost per day[hyperlink to cost per day] is relatively low.Camino Shell and Arrow
  • Most of the routes are well marked with one or both of the Camino directional symbols, a yellow arrow on a blue background, and or a shell on a blue background.
  • You can choose the distance you wish to travel, both overall for your time [hyperlink to choosing start points] on the Camino, and each day. This means that people with varying levels of fitness [hyperlink] can walk the Camino.
  • There is a serenity and a sense of connection that comes from walking through a landscape where many previous generations of pilgrims have passed before. 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 very safe, even if you’re walking alone [hyperlink to females walking alone question].
I love wilderness hiking. Is the Camino for me?
The Camino sometimes takes you through breathtaking countryside—but it is not a wilderness trek. The path goes through vineyards and 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 [hyperlink]are more isolated than others. In walking the Camino, you will experience the many different faces of Spain: 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 Frances, 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 [hyperlink] or by travelling at a less busy season [hyperlink].
Isn’t Spain very hot in summer and rainy in winter?

Yes, Spain can be very hot in the summer months, and you should expect rain in the north (especially Galicia) in almost any season.  For a discussion of the best time of year to walk different Caminos, click here [hyperlink].

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 you will find it 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 [hyperlink], can give you discounted access to cathedrals, and, perhaps most importantly, can be used to prove[hyperlink to requirements] 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.

The Canadian Company of Pilgrims is authorized to issue credenciales.  Learn more and order your credencial here[hyperlink].

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 [hyperlink to the requirements for a Compostela].

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 100kms if you are walking or in a wheelchair, or 200kms otherwise.  In addition to the Compostela, for a small fee you may also obtain a Certificate of Distance [hyperlink] , which records your starting point and how far you have walked.  See the official statement from the Pilgrim’s Office for more information.
Do I have to be Catholic/Christian/religious to be a pilgrim on the Camino?
No. Anyone who walks the Camino is considered a pilgrim. There are certain requirements [hyperlink to Compostela requirements] to obtain the Compostela, but people of all faiths, and none, travel the Camino.
Do I have to walk? I would like to ride my bicycle or horse.

In order to obtain a Compostela, you may walk, ride a bicycle, ride a horse or donkey, sail, or, if appropriate, use a wheelchair. For more details, see here [link to Compostela requirements].

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[hyperlink].  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[hyperlink], or contact your local chapter coordinator[hyperlink to chapters page].

 

Camino Routes

What are the main routes of the Camino?
There are half a dozen different pilgrimage routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela, and dozens more that connect to these routes from Portugal, southern Spain, France, and other countries in northern and eastern Europe[hyperlink to map]. We describe some of the most popular routes below; each person must make their own decision about which route is best for them.  Note that the distances described below are approximate; each route has variants and alternative paths, so the distances may vary.

Route: El Camino Frances, or The French Way (55% of pilgrims)
Starting point(s): St. Jean Pied de Port (778km); Roncesvalles (750km); Burgos (490km); Leon (311km); Sarria (115km)
Approximate time required: From St. Jean Pied de Port 32 days; from Burgos 20 days; from Leon 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 St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees.  It’s 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)
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 (682k); Gijon (344k).
Approximate time required: From Irun 34 days; from Bilbao 28 days; from Gijon 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.

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 Frances 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%)
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: Muxia-Finisterre (less than 1% of pilgrims)
Starting point(s): From Santiago de Compostela – 88k to Finisterre, 85k to Muxia, about 30k 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 Frances, 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 now discouraged), 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.