Why do People Walk the Camino de Santiago?

There are many reasons why people walk the Camino de Santiago, but you have to be fairly motivated to walk the Camino 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 bodies 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?

People Want Time Out

hiking on the Camino de Santiago
Having some quiet time on the Camino de Santiago

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 seem like another world.  Imagine for a month not being in a taxi, a car, a 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.

Walking the Camino de Santiago is 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 walk in the day and not think about all the days ahead, walk at your own pace, and do your own Camino – there can be a tremendous sense of accomplishment at the end.  However, there can also be an anti-climax.  What’s 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 Reasons or Pilgrims

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Out destination: Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Yes, 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 dependent 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 increased 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 who 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.

Why I Walked the Camino de Santiago

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 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 strangers about subject matters that I wouldn’t discuss normally; other 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 there.

6 thoughts on “Why do People Walk the Camino de Santiago?”

  1. Hi, I walked The Camino in 2013 with my best friend who happens also to be my Daughter Amy. It was my 60 th birthday adventure was going to be a family thing with my son and his wife but they by the time we left at the end of September were too involved in the process of adopting two little boys. So just me and Ayms set off, it was the most amazing, enjoyable and at times painful thing I have ever done. The walk, people we met and the feeling I now carry with me and will for ever get me through all that life has to offer. We loved it, we love each other always will. Stay safe xx

  2. Four members of my family hiked the Camino in 2017. None of us had heard about the Camino but my sister and brother-in-law Vince watched the movie “The Way” and my brother-in-law said “I have to do that!” My sister called and told me I had to go along to keep him from loosing his wallet, loosing his mind, and loosing his way. I had never hear of it. After family discussion, some planning, and very little training four of us did the Camino. To say we were unprepared is spot on. It was a great struggle early on, and we wound up taking one day off for some healing. After a couple of weeks we were somewhat in sufficient shape and successfully went from St. John Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostella and then on to Finnesterra. We had planned on 7 weeks total and we only had one spare day left when we got done. But what an experience and two of us want to do it again. We would do much better now knowing what we would be getting into.


  3. I did the CF in 2015. And will return in May 2023 to do the CP ( Camino Portugese). For me it was the best way to absorb some of the culture along the way. As well as opening up to people from many walks of life. You cannot do a Camino without feeling changed somehow.

  4. I loved walking the camino. I have done it twice both with my oldest Son,Bob. the first time in 2015 and we did half of it. the second time in 2017 and we did the whole thing. all 800 KM. My wife and his wife came over for the last 75 miles from Sarria. It was a wonderful experience both times and it was a major form of satisfaction for all of us. It was very difficult as I was 76 at the time. i am now close to 82 and I want to do it one more time. I did it for prayers for many people in my life that had health and spiritual problems. i prayed the rosary each day. I think it was a tremendous help to me and others. I will do it again.

    • My wife and I walked the Camino Frances in 2018. Why? Because friends did it and they were so positive that we decided to do it as well. At the time I was 73 and my wife 62. It was one of the most profound experiences of our life. We are not religious, but it was the spiritual aspect that captured us.
      We planned to go again in 2019 but then Covid happened…
      Now I am 78 and I don’t think I could do it again, although I would very much like to. Since cycling is much easier than walking (particularly with today’s electric bikes) we are planning to do a 2-3 months cycling holiday through Western Europe next year.
      But the Camino experience remains an an unerasable experience in our life.


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