Walking the Camino de Santiago in Winter

Walking the Camino de Santiago in winter offers several benefits, including fewer crowds and a more peaceful experience. However, it also presents unique challenges, such as unpredictable weather and the need for appropriate gear. This article provides helpful information about what to expect on your winter journey along the Camino, which routes to consider, and how to prepare accordingly.

Key Takeaways

  • Winter offers a quieter and more peaceful Camino experience
  • Be prepared for unpredictable weather conditions during a winter pilgrimage
  • Choose winter-friendly Camino routes and pack appropriate gear for a more enjoyable journey

Why Should I Walk the Camino in Winter?

For starters, the Camino is much quieter in winter. As most pilgrims prefer to walk during the warmer months, you will encounter fewer crowds. This means more availability regarding accommodation and more personal space on the path. Additionally, with fewer people around, you have more opportunities to connect with other pilgrims and locals, fostering a more profound sense of camaraderie.

Walking the Camino in winter, you’ll discover a more peaceful and serene atmosphere. The landscape takes a different perspective, allowing you to see the route’s beauty in a new light. Snow-capped mountains, frosty fields, and cozy villages create a magical backdrop for your pilgrimage, offering unique photo opportunities and unforgettable memories.

Another bonus of walking the Camino in winter is that it’s generally cheaper. Many services and facilities, such as hostels and restaurants, offer lower prices or discounts during this season. This can be a great advantage if you’re traveling on a budget, helping you save money without sacrificing the quality of your experience.

Lastly, the experience of walking the Camino in winter can be enriching. It requires more preparation, resilience, and determination compared to milder months, but the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel upon reaching Santiago de Compostela makes it all worth it. Embracing the challenge can lead to a more profound spiritual journey and personal growth that you might not experience during peak season.

What is the Weather Like on the Camino in Winter?

The weather on the Camino in winter varies depending on the region, the altitude, and the time of the year. In general, the Camino experiences lower temperatures and an increased chance of rain. However, it is essential to remember that the weather is unpredictable, so you should always check the forecast and be prepared for any conditions.

Temperatures typically vary depending on your specific Camino route. For example, on the Camino Frances, you can expect average temperatures between 5 and 15 degrees Celsius in November and December. In contrast, the Camino Português Coastal route usually stays milder, with temperatures ranging from 10 to 14 degrees Celsius during winter.

Regarding rain, you should always bring your rain gear regardless of your chosen route. Although rainfall varies, it tends to be higher from November through February. While walking in winter, you may encounter snow, especially in higher elevations.

Daylight hours are also limited, with the shortest day of the year occurring on December 21st. You can expect a gradual increase in daylight hours throughout the rest of the winter months.

Which Camino Routes Are Good in Winter?

Not all Camino routes are suitable or advisable for walking in winter, as some may be too difficult, dangerous, or deserted. To choose a good Camino route for walking in winter, consider the following factors:

  • The length and difficulty of the route: Shorter and less challenging trails can be more accessible and enjoyable during winter months. Remember that days are shorter in winter, so you will have less daylight to cover your daily distances.
  • The availability and quality of accommodation and services: Some routes may have fewer open accommodations or services during winter. Choose a path with enough available facilities to avoid problems during your pilgrimage.
  • The weather conditions and scenery of the route: Different routes have different weather patterns and landscapes in winter. Coastal paths, for example, may be milder in temperature but have more rainfall.
  • The personal preference and experience of the walker: Ultimately, your choice will depend on your preferences and previous experiences. If you’re an experienced winter walker, you may be up for a more challenging route. But if it’s your first time walking the Camino in winter, you might prefer sticking to a well-trodden, easy-going path.

One route that is known to be a good option for walking in winter is the Camino Portuguese Coastal route. Its temperatures typically range between 10 and 14 ºC during winter, ideal for walking. Pack some rain gear since you may encounter rainfall along this coastal route.

When it comes to the Camino Frances, the most famous Camino route offers a more significant number of services even during winter, so you can still find enough resources to reach Santiago de Compostela. But remember that some parts of the route may experience harsher weather conditions in winter.

Camino Frances in Winter

The Camino Frances is the most popular and classic route of the Camino de Santiago, starting from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France and ending in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. If you’re considering walking the Camino in winter, this route is one of your best options.

Firstly, the Camino Frances offers a moderate length and difficulty level. While there are some challenging sections, such as crossing the Pyrenees or climbing to O Cebreiro, they are manageable with proper preparation. So, whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you can confidently take on this adventure.

Secondly, accommodation and services along the Camino Frances are plentiful and of good quality. Many albergues (hostels) along the route are open all year round. They are well-equipped with heating, hot water, and meals to keep you comfortable during the colder months.

Lastly, the Camino Frances offers a rich history and culture along the way and is suitable for both beginners and experts alike. Walking this route in the winter allows for a more personal and reflective journey, as the crowds are smaller and the atmosphere is quieter.

So, go ahead and plan your winter Camino Frances adventure! Just remember to prepare well, pack the right gear, and enjoy this season’s unique beauty on your pilgrimage.

Camino Portugues in Winter

The Camino Portugues is another popular route of the Camino de Santiago, starting from Lisbon or Porto in Portugal and ending in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. If you’re considering walking the Camino in winter, the Camino Portugues is also a good option for several reasons.

Firstly, the Camino Portugues is shorter and more straightforward than other routes. The paths are mostly flat and paved, with few elevation changes. This makes it a more accessible choice for those new to long-distance walking or simply prefer a less physically demanding journey.

You’ll find decent availability and quality along the Camino Portugues regarding accommodation and services. Some albergues (hostels) are open all year round and offer heating, hot water, and meals.

Another advantage of walking the Camino Portugues in winter is the milder weather conditions and scenery. With a coastal climate and views of the ocean, rivers, and villages, you can appreciate the beauty of the landscape even during the colder season.

Lastly, the Camino Portugues can cater to walkers of various personal preferences and experience levels. It’s suitable for beginners and intermediate walkers and offers a unique opportunity to immerse in Portuguese culture and cuisine.

The Camino Ingles in Winter

The Camino Ingles is a lesser-known but fascinating route of the Camino de Santiago, starting from either Ferrol or A Coruña in Galicia and ending in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. If you’re considering walking the Camino in winter, the Camino Ingles has many benefits.

First and foremost, the Camino Ingles is a concise and manageable route, with a distance of only about 100 km or 75 km, depending on your starting point. This makes it an accessible option for those with limited time or looking for a gentle introduction to walking the Camino.

Furthermore, the Camino Ingles has reasonable accommodations and services, even in winter. You’ll find some albergues (hostels) open year-round, offering heating, hot water, and meals to keep you comfortable and well-fed during your journey.

You may encounter wet weather while walking the Camino Ingles in winter, but it also means you’ll be treated to beautiful Galician landscapes of sea, forests, hills, and charming churches. The winter season allows you to experience the typical Galician climate, adding a unique atmosphere to your journey.

Finally, the Camino Ingles is suitable for beginners and those with limited time who want to connect with the historical tradition of English pilgrims who arrived in Spain by boat and walked this route to Santiago. The Camino Ingles allows you to walk in their footsteps and enjoy a more serene pilgrimage.

Via de la Plata in Winter

The Via de la Plata is a long and ancient route of the Camino de Santiago, starting from Seville or Granada in Andalusia and ending in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Walking the Via de la Plata in winter can be a challenging but rewarding option, with several factors to consider.

First, the distance of the route is impressive. Depending on your starting point, you’ll be walking about 1000 km or 800 km. This makes it a challenging journey, but the sense of accomplishment will be immense if you’re up for it.

Accommodation and services can be sparse during the winter months. Not all albergues (hostels) are open year-round, and those might have limited amenities such as heating, hot water, and meals. You should be prepared to be self-sufficient and plan your stops carefully to ensure you find a comfortable place to rest each night.

The Via de la Plata boasts diverse landscapes and weather conditions. Walking through deserts, mountains, plains, lakes, and cities, you’ll encounter various climates and breathtaking views. However, it’s essential to prepare for these extreme weather conditions, pack appropriate clothing and gear, and be ready to adapt your plans as necessary.

Lastly, the Via de la Plata is best suited for experienced and adventurous walkers due to its length and difficulty level. If you have previous long-distance trekking experience, this is a fitting challenge. You’ll also marvel at this ancient route’s rich Roman and Moorish heritage.

Hard Caminos to Santiago During the Winter

Walking the Camino de Santiago in winter can be a peaceful and rewarding experience, but some routes are not recommended or even possible during this season. They may be too difficult, dangerous, or deserted.

One such route is the Camino del Norte, which follows the northern coast of Spain from Irún to Santiago de Compostela. This path is quite long, about 800 km, and challenging due to the many hills and cliffs. Moreover, the weather along the coast is often wet, with frequent rain and storms. Lastly, the Camino del Norte is lonely in winter, with fewer pilgrims and albergues to keep you company.

Another challenging winter route is the Camino Primitivo, the oldest Camino de Santiago route that starts in Oviedo and leads to Santiago de Compostela. While it’s relatively short, about 300 km, it’s difficult due to the mountainous terrain and steep passes. Also, cold weather conditions can be intense, with snow and ice common. Lastly, the Camino Primitivo tends to be isolated, with few other pilgrims and albergues to encounter during winter.

Remember, if you’re considering walking the Camino de Santiago in winter, choosing a route that suits your abilities and interests and is safe and enjoyable during the colder months is essential.

On Foot is Better than by Bike

Walking the Camino in winter has several advantages over cycling, making it the preferable choice for many.

Safety is one of the main reasons people prefer walking over cycling during the winter. When roads and paths become slippery or icy in winter, walking can be a much safer option than cycling, where the risk of accidents increases due to less control and stability on wet or slippery surfaces.

Another advantage of walking is that it’s often easier to navigate the steep or uneven terrain and slopes that the Camino may present. Walking allows you to take time, ensuring you maintain proper footing on challenging paths. At the same time, cycling may require more skill and stamina, especially when dealing with slippery or complex conditions.

Walking can also provide warmth on those windy or chilly winter days and nights. While cycling, the wind can quickly lower your body temperature, making it a less enjoyable experience overall. In contrast, walking steadily can help you maintain your body heat, helping you stay warmer and more comfortable throughout your journey.

Lastly, walking the Camino in winter allows you to slow down and truly appreciate the beautiful scenery and historic sections. Walking enables a more immersive experience, allowing you to enjoy your surroundings leisurely and connect with fellow pilgrims.

Take the Right Winter Gear

Taking the proper winter gear is essential for walking the Camino in winter, as it can make the difference between a comfortable and a miserable experience. In this section, we’ll provide some advice on what to pack and what to leave behind for the Camino in winter.

When packing, focus on light and smart choices. Select items that are versatile, durable, and easy to dry. A waterproof backpack and cover and plastic or ziplock bags are essential to protect your belongings from moisture. Good hiking boots or shoes should be waterproof and provide proper traction.

Bundle up with a warm, waterproof jacket or coat, and remember a fleece or sweater for layering. Essential accessories include a hat, gloves, scarf, and socks, preferably made from woolen or synthetic materials. Make sure you pack a sleeping bag, a thermal mat, a pillowcase, and a towel.

A headlamp, flashlight, and spare batteries or a charger are essential. Prepare a first aid kit and necessary medications, including painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, and blister plasters. Pack snacks and water bottles for nourishment on the go, and consider bringing a thermos flask for hot drinks.

It’s equally important to know what to leave behind. Avoid packing unnecessary or bulky items such as jeans, cotton clothes, sandals, umbrellas, books, or laptops.

What Should I Wear for the Camino in Winter?

What to wear for the Camino de Santiago in winter depends on the weather conditions, preferences, and body temperature.

Dress in layers to adapt to the changing temperatures and activity levels throughout the day. You can adjust the layers as necessary, adding or removing them when needed. This allows you to stay comfortable throughout your walk. Layering usually starts with a moisture-wicking base layer, a warm insulating layer, and finishes with a waterproof and windproof outer layer.

Choosing suitable fabrics is crucial for keeping warm and dry. Wool, fleece, and synthetic materials are great choices because they are friendly, breathable, and quick-drying. Avoid using cotton or denim, as they tend to absorb moisture and take longer to dry, leaving you susceptible to the cold.

Bright and reflective colors are a good choice for clothing during the winter Camino. Opt for colors like yellow, orange, or red, which will make you more visible to others and ensure your safety. Steer clear of dark or dull colors like black, brown, or gray, as they don’t stand out in the winter landscape and can reduce your visibility on the trail.

Why I Love Winter Walks

For many reasons, walking the Camino de Santiago in winter can be a wonderful and memorable experience. Some of these include it being more challenging and rewarding, peaceful and relaxing, beautiful and magical, and spiritual and meaningful than walking in other seasons.

Winter walks on the Camino can test your physical and mental strength and endurance. It can make you appreciate life’s small comforts and joys and give you a sense of accomplishment and pride. This sense of overcoming obstacles and achieving something extraordinary makes winter walks on the Camino special.

Walking the Camino in winter can offer you more solitude and silence. You can walk at your own pace and rhythm, disconnecting from everyday stress and noise. The tranquility of these walks grants you a deeper connection to yourself, nature, and the surrounding environment.

The beauty and magic of the Camino in winter are unparalleled. You’ll encounter different colors and contrasts of nature, accentuated by the white blanket of snow. Unexpected sights and sounds may surprise and enthrall you, and the play of light and shadows creates an enchanting atmosphere that’s hard to find in other seasons.

Lastly, a winter walk can be a more spiritual and meaningful journey. The silence and serenity allow you to connect with yourself and your inner voice, helping you reflect on your life and aspirations. It can also connect you with others who share the same values and seek a more profound experience. Moreover, the history and tradition of the Camino come alive when you have the space and time for contemplation, making your journey unforgettable.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does weather differ in March, January, and December?

You can expect milder temperatures in March as spring approaches, while January and December usually bring colder weather and even snow, especially in the mountains. Be prepared to encounter rain, wind, and occasional snow during these months. Layering your clothes and having quality rain gear is essential for a comfortable Camino experience.

How many pilgrims walk the Camino during the winter months?

Winter months typically see fewer pilgrims compared to the peak season, which runs from May to October. The upside is that you’ll enjoy a quieter and more intimate experience on the Camino, with more space in albergues and less crowded paths.

Is it recommended to walk the Camino in October?

Walking the Camino in October can be a great choice, as it’s towards the end of the busy season, meaning there will be fewer pilgrims on the route. Also, the weather tends to be more relaxed and more suitable for walking compared to the summer months. Remember that you might experience some rain, so pack accordingly.

What is the typical weather in September?

September usually offers pleasant temperatures, with daytime highs around 20-25°C (68-77°F) and nighttime lows around 10-15°C (50-59°F). However, the weather might change quickly, and rain could be encountered. Therefore, it’s essential to be well-prepared for various weather conditions.

Are any special preparations required for winter Camino?

Yes, some special preparations are required for a winter Camino. Invest in quality cold-weather gear, including warm layers, waterproof clothing, and proper footwear. Also, start your day as early as possible to maximize the limited daylight hours. It’s essential to check weather forecasts regularly and adjust your plans if needed.

10 thoughts on “Walking the Camino de Santiago in Winter”

  1. I made my pilgrimage in 2013 in the 6 weeks before my 60th birthday and also highly recommend using pensions! For the first two weeks my Camino friend & I stayed exclusively in alburgues (honoring her desire to spend as little money as possible!) but after she decided to return home & I wanted to continue the pilgrimage, I booked the rest of the way in pensions (I used a company called CaminoWays.com) and the security of knowing exactly where I was staying each night was a terrific boon. I recommend pensions for travelers of any age, but especially for older peregrinos!

    • Thank you for the info. I walked the Camino from St.Jeanne to Santiago in 2012 when I was 63. It took me 49 days stopping once for 2 nights and I always stayed at Auberges. I often thought of doing it again but I’m 70 yrs old now and with this Pandemic who knows when it will be open again? It’s good to hear that pensions worked well for you. I will consider it IF I ever do it again.
      Buen Camino.

  2. Hello…I am 72 and God willing will begin my 3rd Camino in May of 2021. Memories of earlier adventures will always be with me. I am looking forward to new experiences,meeting new pilgrims,experiencing a spiritual revival.Buen Camino to all,Pat

  3. Do not hesitate to go again, if you can walk you can do it. I ran into many Octogenarians on my Camino, Ken 81, some wonderful lady from Cornwall, 85. Just approach it as you did the winter one, at your pace and enjoy!

    Wow, look at all that snow!

    • I LOVED your story, thank you so much for sharing it! I walked the Camino Del Norte from Arun to Santiago in June 2018 just after my husband was killed in a awful vehicle crash and highly recommend that route! There are far less people walking that trail which suited me and although I was 60, I chose to stay in Alburgues so met many lovely young people and still keep contact with them! It was the simplicity of that time that I needed, walk as far as you want each day, eat when you find somewhere to buy food and sleep where there is a spare bed! (good ear plugs essential) I will not forget that special time, where I was able to grieve without having to deal with the fallout of my husband’s death and make decisions with clarity. I carried a small container of Greg’s ashes with me (he never wanted to miss out on anything) leaving some along the way and finally at Finisterre, Lands end!
      I may never be able to walk another pilgrimage coming from the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, but I will carry the one I did with me always!

  4. You can do it! Age is just an idea. The way from La Puy is the so beautiful. Learn some French first!
    La ruta portugués is also fabulous, but do it in the spring since the summer is unbearable.

  5. What a wonderful memory! I was in Luzaide/Valcarlos visiting family in March of 2016. Our cousin is a firefighter with Vacarlos Fire and talked about having to rescue multiple pilgrims that winter, despite having closed the pass. What a record snowfall year that was–and what an incredible time to make the pilgrimage! Thank you for sharing–and thank you from all of us who either live in or have family roots in Valcarlos for staying there. As we say in Valcarlos, the Camino Francés truly starts here! 🙂

  6. I loved your post. I also hiked the Northern route in winter (Feb 2018). I loved the solitude, yet the fewer pilgrims on the way made running into fellow pilgrims extra special. I too stayed in hostels because most all the albuerques were closed. I really enjoyed your memories and look forward to hearing about your future pilgrimages!


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