Reasons to Walk the Camino de Santiago

Pyrenees 19 guidepostYou have to be fairly motivated to walk the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain – as it is 800km.  Usually 800km with your rucksack on your back containing everything you need for a month.  Sleeping in hostels with strangers, communal showers, and no privacy.

To many this does not sound like a holiday or a good use of their precious time, however, more than 100,000 people walk one of the Camino routes in Spain each year – and the numbers keep growing.  Pilgrims, as they are called, come from all over the world and put themselves through physical hardship, subjecting their body to the rigors of walking between 25 and 30km a day – day after day.  It really is quite a feat in our modern convenience orientated life.

So why walk the Camino de Santiago?

Time Out

This appears to be the main reason for most.  Many of us have reached a point in life where we need time to think, time to get away from life as it is.  Many times I asked pilgrims why they were on the Camino and the simple answer was just getting away from everything.

And on the Camino you do.  The pace of life is slower, you are not subjected to advertising, and social media and the internet seems like another world.  Imagine for a month not being in a taxi, a car, bus or any other mode of transport – only walking.  You don’t have TV, ubiquitous email, and mobile phones.

There seems to be little that compares with walking for a month.  People come out the other end often wanting to make changes to their own lives, and having a sense of being refreshed – being washed clean of the daily cynicism that can surround us by hearing too much news.

I went more than a month, twice, without my daily morning check of email and news sites, something I find almost impossible at home and this does not cover the changes in my life since walking the Camino de Santiago.

A Challenge

And it is.  The real problem is not walking 25 or 30km, it is doing this day after day.  You discover if your boots really do fit if they don’t you learn very quickly how to repair the blisters on your feet.

Apart from looking after your feet, the main challenge is to have your backpack as light as possible.  The first time I walked the Camino my rucksack was 13kg at the start in St Jean; far too heavy.  The next time I had the weight down to 6kg; walking was much easier and I was happier.  Sometimes there are no washing machines, so you hand wash the clothes you wore for walking – I haven’t ever hand-washed clothes at home.

If you manage to just walk in the day and not think about all the days ahead, walk at your own pace, do your own Camino – there can be a tremendous sense of accomplishment at the end.  However, there can also be an anti-climax.  What next, is often a common thought?  What, no more walking? I felt a bit lost not walking – I was so used to walking all day every day.

Religious

Camino PhotosYes, lots of people walk the Camino de Santiago for religious reasons.  There are “holy years” on the Camino where the feast day of St James falls on a Sunday.  During a holy year, the door of Forgiveness in Santiago Cathedral is opened. During a Holy Year, all pilgrims can have a plenary indulgence for the forgiveness of sins – this is dependant on certain conditions. The next holy year is not until 2021, however, 2016 has been declared the Holy Year of Mercy. During the previous Holy Years, the number of pilgrims on the route increases dramatically.

In the Pilgrim’s office in Santiago, you can request a Compostela if you meet certain requirements – walk the last 100km or cycle the last 200km. The Compostela is a Latin document that states you have walked at least the last 100km or cycled at least the last 200km for religious or spiritual reasons to Santiago.  There is a different certificate for those that do not fall into these categories; this is a certificate of achievement for finishing the walk. Most people religious or not ask for the Compostela – it appears personal spirituality is alive and well along the Camino.

Because it is There and I am a Walker

I have walked other long-distance routes, the West Highland Way and the Wicklow Way.  There was never any big deal on why I was walking these – they were there and I like multiday hiking routes.  Getting away from the city and spending time walking in the countryside does wonders for my head.  A long walk on at the weekend has me set up for the week ahead.  A long walk on the Camino has me set up for many months ahead.

No matter your reasons for taking on the challenge of the Camino, most people thoroughly enjoy their Camino experience.  I talked to almost strangers about subject matters that I wouldn’t discuss normally; others pilgrims were the same.  Friendships build as you find yourself walking at the same pace as others; groups form that end up calling themselves a Camino family.  For me, I was especially lucky as I met my wife to be there.

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43 Comments

  1. Lyle on October 24, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Yes, people do still walk the Camino for religious reasons.

    Actually I think if you look at the official stats, and add up “Religious” and “religious + cultural”, you end up with around 90%.

    This isn’t the impression you get chatting with people. Maybe people don’t reveal their deepest motivations lightly.

    • Leslie on October 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      I think the stats get a bit influenced by the end of the Camino and reason for walking in order to get a compostela.

      • Hugh on January 20, 2018 at 7:04 am

        Absolutely… i’m about to walk it, i’m a militant atheist and i’m going to say religious and other just to get my compostela

        • Aleta on May 21, 2018 at 7:44 pm

          You need not walk the Camino for religious reasons to get your Compostela. Your reason for walking the Camino will not prevent you from receiving your compostela.

  2. skypilgrim on October 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    “Solvitur ambulando” (Walking solves all). While that may not be literally true, there is great historical evidence (Aboriginal people, Kurds, Bedouins) that humans on the move are happier and more peaceful. Because while moving, the point is to have less possessions, not more. And the battle over scarce resources is the root of so much human conflict.

    The Camino is a great example of a mobile international community; its basic format should be studied and replicated worldwide.

    • Leslie on October 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      Completely agree. If I get out walking a few times during the week I am a happier, more content person.

  3. Lois Tuffield on October 24, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Hi! I walked from Pamplona to Santiago in May this year. My reasons were more spiritual than religious. It was a pilgrimage of thanksgiving. I’ve just published a small book about my experiences, and would very much like to give details of it here. Am I allowed to do that? Or do I need to pay for advertising?

    • Leslie on October 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      If you send me a copy I will write a review, if you want. I will mail you.

  4. Ciaraan on October 24, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    I have my Compostela and would like to consider volunteering could anyone comment, Thanks

  5. Steve Barnard on October 24, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Hi, I walked the Camino last October with my 22 year old son. I hadn’t seen him for 1 year as he lives in China. We set off from SJPDP and took 23 days to reach Santiago ! What better way to spend quality time together ? Memories last forever!

    • Leslie on October 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm

      Now that is one of the best reasons ever to walk the camino.

    • nicky on October 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      My dream would be to walk together with my family. We live in such a fast paced world-and being together seems to be impossible.I can only imagine how wonderful your walk with your son was.And how great a gift it was for both of you. Congratulations for getting there and doing it!

  6. Jesse on October 24, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    I just came back from the Via Lusitana and it was great. I went for religious reasons and experienced God in a very real and vivid way. I saw the compassion of God in the many gifts I received along the way. I can’t tell you how many times while I was walking that strangers came up to me and offered drink and food. I saw miracles, I saw humanity at its finest! It changed my life and I for one am happier for it. Two hours before I left for Lisbon my cell phone went completely dead. I took it as a sign that God wanted me to be free from all distractions. And I was! I was better able to absorb and appreciate all the things I was about to experience. A little back story… I own a salon and some rentals. When I left I was experiencing turmoil at the rentals and chaos in my business. When I returned, all had calmed down and tranquility has beset my life. This was yet another camino miracle. I came back with a new resolve. At Fatima there was a poster which read “do not be afraid”. It was huge, that day I hadn’t eaten, there was a storm I was walking in, and I had no idea where I was gonna sleep. Yet I said ok I wont be afraid. By the end of the night I was fed, dry and sheltered from the storm that raged outside my albergue. Walk the camino, do it as soon as possible, and I say walk it alone. I know that I got soooo much more out of it that the couples that I met. To all the pereginos, past, present, and future, Bom Caminho! Next year the Primitivo!

  7. Nao on October 25, 2013 at 12:08 am

    I have walked from SJPP to Santiago de Compostela in May 2010.
    Religious reasons took a big part in my mind, but also walking was another big reason. And in fact, I have enjoyed walking of 800 km very much. Everyday new hiking trail was laying in front of me, met and talked with many peoples from different countries, attended the mass at evening.
    And those peoples helped my walk very much as a fact, which I felt that God was always walked with me.
    I still remember those happy days.

  8. M Nugent on October 25, 2013 at 1:20 am

    it began as a dare. July 1993 myself, my brother and two friends challenged each other to meet in St. Jean de Luz France on July 1 for a bicycle trip across the Pyrenees all the way to Santiago to Compostela.
    Day after day on this ancient pilgrimage route passing many obviously sick and devout people, there was lots of time to think. And thinking evolved into contemplation.
    When the journey ended and I received my “compostltellane” certificate and went to mass in the magnificent cathedral, as tradition demands, I bowed my head touching my forehead to a stone set low by the door. In order to maintain balance I placed my hand on the wall and into an indentation made but millions of hands of pilgrims from centuries before.
    A very moving moment. A wonderful experience. before.
    A very moving moment. A wonderful experience.

  9. Andrea on October 25, 2013 at 9:18 am

    My Camino Frances in 2011 not only allowed me to experience time out, time within and time to meet complete strangers….cementing new friendships. Recently, I was reunited with a Camino friend in South Korea. We had spent the week walking the Mesta together, and almost to the day two years later, she shared her family, friends and culture with me in her country of birth. We both know that our lives will always be connected as pilgrim sisters even though we live so far apart..USA and SAfrica…

    • Lois Tuffield on January 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      I walked the Camino for the first time last year when I was 65. I’ve written up a brief account of how I prepared for and ‘endured’ the experience. The title is ‘Do You Know The Way?’, and it’s available on Amazon in book form and on Kindle. You may find it helpful.

  10. Andrea on October 27, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    May sound crazy, but I plan to walk the Camino for my 50th birthday which isn’t until July 2015!

    The timing works well for the month’s absence from home and I figure my 50th is an ideal time for my first pilgrimage. I’m so looking forward to all of the special blessings this will bring- closer to God, relishing our planet, enjoying the company of other people from everywhere and God willing new friends.

    I enjoy reading your posts/adventures/accomplishments and in the meantime will train/prepare for mine so that I too can share.

    Can’t wait!

    • Barbara on January 16, 2014 at 3:34 am

      Andrea

      I am going to walk for my 67th birthday in September 2015. Maybe we will meet each other. Go you young thing and have fun.

      Buen Camino
      Barbara

      • Andrea on January 22, 2014 at 6:01 pm

        Hi Barbara,
        Celebrating your 67th on the Camino- I applaude you! You’re awesome!
        My plans have changed, I now plan on walking a part (125km) of the Camino beginning this July for 10 days with my daughter and then returning the year after.
        Very excited- maybe you could go sooner also.
        Anyhow- it’s nice to begin practicing our walking now

    • Mojca on January 28, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Hi. Is your decision still alive? Walking the Camino for your 50th birthday. Me too. I’m going to start may walking in SJPP on 10th July 2015. My plan is to get to Santiago on 10th August (the date is my 50th birthday). I’ve already bought a flight ticket from Venice to Bilbao – so, you see, my decision is conclusive. I’m from Slovenia and I’m a special teacher (I work with children with special needs). Write me an e-mail if you are planing the way to Santiago – we can share our plans and talk about them.
      Best wishes. Mojca Klug, Slovenija

    • Aleta on May 21, 2018 at 7:47 pm

      What a wonderful way to celebrate your 50th birthday!

  11. Errol van Rensburg on November 26, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    I walked the Camino for the first time in 2006 with my brother. My youngest daughter, age 18, at the time, was very taken with the idea. She always joked that we would do it together. Unfortunately she was murdered, by a family friend, in 2009. In 2011 I walked it again, for her.

    • Barb on January 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      I am so sorry for your loss Erroll. Many say why the need to walk 500 miles now and your posting should be a sign don’t put off until tomorrow that which you can do today. Life is really too short. I plan the walk September 2014. Hope I can meet you if you walk this fall.

  12. James D.Cain on January 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    I first heard about the Camino in 1956 while still a student at Seattle University. I was immediately attracted to the idea of doing the Camino, which I had heard about during my History of the Thirteenth Century class. After all, my name is James or Santiago in Spanish. However, Life intervened. I began a teaching career, got married in the same year in which I graduated from University. But I Never gave up me dream of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Finally, in May of 2014 at the age of 81, I realized my dream experience of walking from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela!
    Of course, I met many wonderful people along the Camino and I framed my Compostela and hung it on my wall in a very prominent place.
    Buen Camino!

    • Lyndsay Hepburn on May 21, 2018 at 6:51 pm

      Oh wow James, what an achievement!! I will be walking it in August 2018, and soooo looking forward.

  13. Lew Varney on January 28, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    I am planning on walking the Camino from SJPDP around the 5th of May and taking as long as I need. I will be walking it with my eldest Son. I will be 74 on the journey and am really looking forward to the challenge. I know it will be a challenge but I believe that I can make it. I am an experienced walker and am in training for long distances now. I do have an artificial knee but it is in good shape. I am also walking for religious and spiritual reasons for a lot of my deceased family and friends for God’s forgiveness, penance and for the joy of walking it with my Son. Please pray for me and wish us well.
    Lew

  14. James D.Cain on January 28, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    One more of my desires to walk the Camino has to do with the idea that this pilgrimage has been in existence for over 1,000 years. Some sources say it started in the ninth century. If that is accurate, this Camino would have started about 1,200 years ago. The thought that I have participated in an activity that is that ancient is mind boggling!

  15. fmichaelm on September 6, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    I have been pondering why I want to walk the Camino in September 2016. Ever since seeing the Way movie, the idea has captivated me. What does spiritual reasons mean?
    I partly want to walk el Camino to prove that I still can. More to the point, I view this exercise as a one month long retreat. To better listen to that voice within. To better diminish the voices outside, radio, TV, internet.
    Take a breath in, let it out, there is nothing to do – just walk, there is no place to go- except to Lands’ End – Finisterre. Breath in…

  16. mojca on September 8, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Hi, it way yesterday just one month from the day I have reached Santiago. I have walked 800 km from SJPDP to Santiago. I made it in 28 days without a single blister or serious pain. I am satisfied to do that just three days before my 50th birthday. It was sometimes hard but mostly it was a pleasant walk. I met lots of nice people. If I wasn’t in debts to have to stay in the job that doesn’t satisfied me anymore, I would go back or to stay there as a hostilero. I didn’t like last week of walking becouse of the crowds but it was just right to adjust to get back to the unnormal life. I enyoyed the minimalistic life there, with almost no stress. I feel like my old life collapsed when I have got home. I have been called to to The Way. If you feel that you must go there is a reson: You must go!

  17. Chris Hiriart on October 9, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Congrats to those of you that have walked the Camino. I’m aiming to start my walk September 2016 which is the year I’m 60 years old. I want to do this while I can and perhaps do the EPW after that. I walk the trails near home and I’m attempting to be in shape for the actual Camino and because I enjoy being out there. Not exactly sure why I want to do the camino, maybe I like time to be alone and think and ponder about my life or to be closer to the creator or simply because I want to go on a long walk, not sure but is calling me.

    • Mojca on October 13, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Go for it, Chris. If it is calling you, you should go. You won’t regret!
      Best wishes. Mojca

  18. Maggie on February 15, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Love all your stories. Thanks for sharing. I am planning and one day I’ll make that walk.

  19. Chandra Bordes on February 15, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Thanks for your swift reply. Do we really need to take a sleeping bag with all the albergues, sleeping accommodations available? I have suggested lists of things to pack, but are you allowed to share your personal list with the public? Actually, what to pack….this is what concerns me the most. Thanks. Chandra

  20. judijay17 on February 16, 2016 at 6:22 am

    My husband and I wil be walking the Caminho Portugues da Costa in May this year. We are Australian but live in Indonesia. By then we’ll each have had our birthday: his 78th, my 73rd. Age can just be a state of mind and we are both blessed with good health. Bom Caminho and perhaps some of our paths will cross. I intend to blog our journey as there is not a lot of information about this route.

  21. Terry on February 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Walked the Camino Frances from SJPP to Santiago September and October 2014 with my brother in law. He did it for religious reasons. I went for a long walk with no expectations. We met wonderful people along the way. Learned a lot about my own spirituality. Met many “angels”! (Yes they walk in human form!) Best trip ever! It does call you back and you will see signs that call you back. But be careful! It’s so easy to be pulled back into old habits and routines. I have to constantly remind myself of what I learned! My wife and I will be walking the Camino Portuguese this summer, June-July 2016. I’m sure it will change her life as it did mine! She s already wonderful so it should be fun to see her transformation! Hope to see some of you in Lisbon or almighty the Camino! Have fun, go slow, experience the side trips, have an open mind, and thank God for the opportunity to do something incredible!

  22. Victoria Scranton on March 6, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Errol, your post deeply touched me and what a beautiful way to remember your daughter and do something like this in her honor. Wishing you and your family all the best.

  23. Kristin on August 3, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I have now set to plan to do this, many people in my family have questioned why, since my separation and spending the last 17 years lost in a relationship I wasn’t happy in, the last 5 years I have brought up my kids alone, they are soon to grow wings and fly, and then I am asking who am I? I am now at a point in life I need to find myself again, I would say 800kms would be enough time to work out what I am feeling and where I want to be and hopeful show me and my children that life is what you make of it and the challenges that face you can be overcome. Time to start saving 🙂 This is the only thing I can think of for months now, so I know its time to get prepared and work towards this goal.

  24. Louise May on October 11, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    I am now 67, I have run large business, I have brought up my children as a single parent, I have cared for both my parents until they died, I have always been needed and in charge of what is happening. Now I have no purpose and nobody who needs me, I need to find myself and have a purpose, I feel the Camino is calling me, but can I do it on my own?

  25. Janet Johnstone on May 21, 2018 at 10:05 am

    I think it should be pointed out that you don’t HAVE to walk 25 kms a day. And a plus of not doing the standard stages is that there are no accomodation issues.

  26. Bryan on May 21, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    We did our Camino (SJPP-Santiago and on to Finnesterre) over 43 days of walking, 1 day off due to blisters and being tired, a one extra day at the ocean in September/October 2017. I first became aware of the Camino three years ago when my sister’s partner indicated that he wanted to do it. I did some research on the Camino, and it intrigued me since I had wanted to do a religious journey. I am also a history buff so that played a part as well. We were a group of four, all in our 60’s, not particularly athletic, who had an incredible trip. We saw God in action in so many different situations. We met and became friends with people from around the world. A couple of us would like to go do it all over again. We did maintain a blog for those who wanted to follow us, at https//:pilgrims4blog.wordpress.com which has our pictures and daily commentary by both my sister and I. I did not see the movie “The Way” until about 6 weeks before we left. I also saw “Six Ways to Santiago” but mostly I watched videos on Youtube that people put together about their trips and watched closely to learn about shoes, packing, how to do various things, etc. It was a great help. I think about our Camino every day.

  27. Linton on May 21, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    I am 75 in a few days time. I walked the Camino Frances from St Jean to Santiago in October/November 2015 with my partner who is 9 years younger.

    I returned in February to walk solo from Santiago to Muxia via Fistera and then the Camino Mozarabe from Granada to Merida – Caminos which are less travelled than the Camino Frances.

    I was walking for 21 days of which 16 days were rain affected and at least 4 of them meant walking in heavy rain and wind for at least 3 hours. It was Spains wettest March for 50 years. It was wonderful!
    I will return each year from now to walk Lisbon to Santiago, Seville to Santiago and Irun to Santiago on the north coast .

    I would add two other groups of people walking a Camino – the ones enjoying & experiencing the history of the villages, towns and cities they pass through and those persons who do not prepare properly & who thought it was a good idea at the time and who do not realise how punishing it can sometimes be.

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