Le Puy Camino

How Much Does the Camino de Santiago Cost?

The main costs for any of the Camino de Santiago routes are your daily budget on the Camino and getting to and from your start and finish points.  For most of in Europe it is fairly quick and easy to get to and from any of the routes – not so from North America, (see travel page here), however the exchange rate between the US Dollar, Sterling and Euro currently makes walking the Camino cheaper than it has ever been for pilgrims from American and Britain.

Day to Day Costs While Walking

The most popular Camino routes are the Camino Frances and the Portuguese Camino.  Both of these routes have good infrastructures for pilgrims; the most important of these are hostels, which are the cheapest, friendliest and best places to stay to meet and talk with other pilgrims.  Just a quick note on the hostels: almost all of the hostels you see in any pilgrim guide are only for pilgrims.

Le Puy Camino

Day to day living can be very reasonable – alternatively, I know of people that stayed in hotels all along the route. I have met one man who stayed in every Parador he could.  I stayed almost always in Albergues, two nights while on the Camino I stayed in a pension, (bed and breakfast), it cost about €20, (budget €30 for small towns and villages, €50 min for larger towns and cities), each time for one room for myself – this though is along the way in small villages and towns – expect to pay a lot more in Santiago or any of the major cities where it is about double this for a low-end hotel.

Therefore:

Albergue each night     8 to 15 euro

Evening Meal            10 to 12 euro for the pilgrim menu

I would start each morning in a cafe having breakfast, about €3 inc coffee.  During the rest of the day I would spend about €4 on coffee, tea, cold drinks, and ice cream.  Lunch I would buy and make myself: cold meats, cheese, bread, and fruits, about €3.  Sometime I would eat in the Albergue in the evening, cooking with other pilgrims, sometimes eating the pilgrim menu.  In all the large cities I spent much more, between €20 and €30, as I treated myself to some great seafood – though this was only four times before Santiago de Compostela.

Total costs per day: 35 Euro, about $38 or £28

Hostel: 12, Evening Meal: 12, Breakfast: 3, Lunch: 3, sundries: 5 – note no beer money included here.  (My words of warning: my budget for any trip has never been under my plan it has always been over)

Effectively you can walk the whole route taking 31 days and it will cost about €1,085, personally, I would budget for another few hundred if possible, things just happen.

My daily costs were between €20-30 – back in 2005, in 2012 walking in France I spent about €50 per day.  Over the four weeks that I walked I spent about €1000, €250 per week, therefore just over €35 per day on average.  I always made sure that I always had money for any emergencies, (never used or needed).  My bank cards worked fine in all the Spanish bank machines and the same for my credit card.

How much did you spend per day on the Camino is a thread and poll on the forum.  The largest percentage spent between €20 and €30 per day, though it is very closely followed by those who spent between €30 and €40.

Travel to the Start of the Camino

Getting to the start points of any of the Camino routes is not simple and takes a little planning.  For example, the most common start points of the Camino Frances, St Jean Pied de Port or Pamplona, do not have large airports.  If you are travelling from outside of Europe this thread on the Camino forum has great information on the best connections for flying to and train travel in Spain.

Paris

I flew to Paris the first time, and travelled by overnight train on SNCF to Bayonne; the connection from here to St Jean is easy and very short; alternatively stay on the same train to Pamplona.  The second time I drove from Vienna and left my car at Roncesvalles for four weeks, the car park is free but has no security.

The amount you spend on air travel will depend on how far away from Spain you live and how you get there.  However air travel is a major expense – currently Skyscanner.com is my favorite booking engine for comparing flight costs.

Getting home.  I think most would book their return flights in advance, more so if you are flying outside of Europe.  I didn’t.  I wanted some flexibility; I had all summer and did not know if I would finish the Camino before I went to France and Spain for more travel.

It can be expensive to pay for any returns flights from Santiago de Compostela if they are not booked in advance. If you have to be back for a certain time for work, family or anything I would recommend booking your tickets in advance, especially in July and August.  There is a rumor that goes around every year that Spanish Airlines will provide reduced flight prices for pilgrims – I have never seen any evidence of this.

 

How Fit do You Have To Be?

I think I am a terrible example of getting fit before walking the Camino de Santiago.  I walked only once for about 3 hours, with a rucksack, to see how I would be walking before going to Spain.  I did have some hill walking experience, though not a lot.  I would have walked in the Wicklow hills about twice per month in the two years previous to my first Camino, that was it in total.

The year before my first Camino I was very ill.  I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and was taking medication that I later found out I was allergic to.  I went on the Camino two months after stopping the medication and I really had no idea how I would be; would I be able to walk every day or would I have to abandon the Camino at some point? But, amazingly – I was bloody wonderful – I had never been so fit or healthy for quite a long time.  Even though my feet suffered a great deal initially.

Pyrenees-03

 

First Week Hell

The first week on the Camino Frances passed in a haze of agony.  I was overweight when I started and had no walking fitness, I paid the price for both of these.  My first day from St Jean Pied de Port was tough, it is all uphill – and I stopped at the Orison on the top of the Pyrenees; thereby splitting the one day from St Jean to Roncesvalles into two.

orission

The days from Roncesvalles to Pamplona disappeared with little memory of the small villages – only the pain remains in my mind, I concentrated every moment in putting one foot in front of the other.  My body was not used to this exercise, my boots were not great, (cheap – I was a student at the time), and I was paying the price.

My boots went into the bin just before Pamplona and I walked the rest of that day in my sandals.  The boots were killing my feet – they were fine for a one day walk in the hills of Wicklow, but not for all day everyday use on the Camino.  I walked in my sandals into Pamplona and went and bought the best walking shoes I could find, – a great decision.

However, I suffered the rest of the Camino with my feet – the blisters that had developed during the first week had to be cut off with scissors and bandaged every morning – but the pain was bearable while walking and I learned how to look after my feet very well. I developed a mantra that helped – Pain reminds me I am alive – whatever works I guess.

Fitness After One Week

After the first week I was good, I found a good walking pace.  I walked every day and felt great at the end of each day.  I lost about 7 – 8kg in weight and I learned that I did not need all the stuff I brought in my rucksack, I left books in albergues for other people to read and gave away everything I did not want.


Pyrenees-05

After I got home from the Camino I went jogging.  I was amazed at how easy it was and how fit, (it’s all relative), I had become.  I walked the Camino again the next year and I had no problems with my feet – I had the same good walking shoes from the year before, (they are now in walking shoe heaven).

Perhaps this is a short description on how not to do it.  I would have better if I had invested in good walking boots or shoes the first year, and – or have been a bit fitter before I went; it wasn’t what happened, the above is.

If you are prepared to get a little fit before you go you will enjoy the Camino de Santiago more. This page is a good guide and training plan to slowly getting fit before you set off.

Buen Camino.

How Long is the Camino de Santiago Distance?

One of the most common questions I am asked when I speak about the Camino is how long is the Camino de Santiago in kilometers and miles. Usually, I just answer by saying 780 kilometers – though if the person is very interested I will get into explaining that there are many different routes in Spain and lots of other Camino routes throughout Europe leading to and joining the main routes in France and Spain, so the distance is relevant to each Camino de Santiago route .

Below is a list of the main routes that are walked and cycled in Spain with some information about each and of course how long each is. All statistics are from the pilgrim’s office in Santiago, they keep a record of Compostelas issued- so the numbers that complete the route are higher as many do not collect a Compostela and others who complete their Camino are walking only one week a year over a few years.

camino-routes-map

Camino Frances – Distance 780 km about 500 Miles

The French Way, as it is also known as, is the most popular route.  In 2015 there were 172,243 pilgrims on this way; this is a huge increase compared to the first time I walked in 2004 when there were 138,646.  2004 was a Holy Year; during Holy Years the number of pilgrims increases dramatically – for example in 2005 only 79,393 collected a Compostela.

Traditionally the Camino Frances starts in St Jean Pied de Port, though like all the pilgrimage routes you can start and stop anywhere – though most people prefer to finish in Santiago de Compostela.  For that reason, Sarria, which is 112 km from Santiago is the most popular starting point – in 2015 67,419 pilgrims started there.

Camino Portuguese 600 km or 370 Miles

There are three routes in Portugal, so starting the Camino Portuguese as 600 km is slightly misleading.  The route that is becoming the most popular is the coastal route which is approximately 620 km, the other option is the central way.

Both the above routes start in Lisbon and follow the same path to Porto.  There is an extension along this route diverting to Fatima. Between Lisbon and Porto there can be long distances between albergues, after Lisbon the route has a good infrastructure of accommodations.

The third and least popular route is the Portugues Interior which starts in Farminhao and ends in Santiago after 420 km.

The pilgrim’s office group all these routes together under Camino Portuguese, showing 43,151 pilgrims completing the route. The two most popular start points are Tui, (110 km and 13,800 pilgrims), just inside Spain and Porto, (230 km and 13,201 pilgrims).

Camino del Norte – The Northern Route 830 km or 515 Miles

The Camino del Norte starts in Irun in Northern Spain and keeps to the coast for approximately 620 km.  The route then turns inland toward Arzua on the Camino Frances where the two routes meet, about 40 km before Santiago. The Norte is one of the tougher routes with many climbs to the tops of hills and then back down to the coast again.  The views and scenery are exceptional.

In 2015 there were 15,828 pilgrims recorded having walked the Northern Way, of this 4,175 walked the whole route starting from Irun, other popular start points are Bilbao, (704 km, 1,230 pilgrims), Santander, (580 km, 1,154 pilgrims), Vilalba, (120 km, 1,061 pilgrims), and Gijon, (345 km, 938 pilgrims)

Camino Primitivo – 260km or 160 Miles

The 260 km refers to only the Original Way, another name for the Primitivo.  This route starts at Oviedo, though many walk along the Northern Route and then follow the waymarked route from Villavicioas which makes the route approximately 300 km until it joins the Camino Frances at Melide, where there is another 50 km to Santiago.

During 2015 11,473 pilgrims walked this route to Santiago; the largest majority started at Oviedo, (6,412 pilgrims), the traditional start.

Camino Ingles – The English Way – 110 km or 68 Miles

Once again the 110 km is slightly misleading.  It is 110 km from Ferrol to Santiago – the Camino Ingles can also be started at A Coruna and it is 75 km from there to Santiago – not long enough for a Compostela.

In 2015 there were 9,247 pilgrims who completed this route, 8,685 started in Ferrol.

Via de la Plata – Silver Way 1,000 km or 621 Miles

This route is also referred to as Ruta Via de la Plata and Silver Way.  The trail starts in Seville, although there is an extension from Cadiz, however, it is said this is not well marked.  On occasions I now see this route being referred to as the Camino Mozarabe, however, I still see that as a separate and distinct route – more below.  The pilgrim’s office in Santiago still refer to this as the Via de la Plata, so I will stick with that.

In 2015 there were 9,221 pilgrims awarded a Compostela after walking or cycling this route.  At Zamora there is a choice of routes; continue heading north and join the Camino Frances at Astorga or head west where there is again a choice of two routes – a northern and southern – both meet at Ourense.

Amazingly in 2015 2,290 pilgrims travelled all the way from Sevilla.

Camino Mozarabe 400 km or 248 Miles

Once again stating the Camino Mozarabe as 400 km is slightly misleading. This Camino can be started in Granada which is 400 km – or in Malaga or Almeria, both of which are on the southern coast of Spain.

The Camino Mozarabe joins the Via de la Plata at Merida where it is another 790 km to Santiago. The pilgrim’s office in Santiago do not have statistics for pilgrims walking this route, however, they have recorded 94 hardy pilgrims who travelled all the way from Granada.

Camino de Finisterre & Camino Muxia – 90 km & 29 km

Many after walking all the way to Santiago keep walking to the coast at Finisterre, another 90 km, to what was once known as the end of the world.  There is the choice after Hospital on this Camino to follow the trail to Muxia and then walk south back to Finisterre or after Finisterre walk north to Muxia. (See the Camino Finisterre route overview)

This is not a recognized Camino route by the church in Santiago and they have only registered 758 pilgrims on this route, far less than actuality.

Camino del Salvador 120 km or 75 Miles

The Camino del Salvador is the only Camino trail that ends further away from Santiago.  Officially the route starts in Leon and finishes further north in Oviedo; while in Santiago last year I met someone from the local tourist office who informed me they are marketing this route for pilgrims starting in Oviedo and joining the Frances to walk to Santiago.  The route does not yet have many albergues and there are no statistics for this route at the pilgrim’s office.

Camino Aragones – 160 km or 100 Miles

This is a great alternative to starting in St Jean Pied de Port. I walked part of this route in 2004 and it was a welcome change to enjoy silence and few pilgrims after having just walked the Camino Frances.

The trail starts in Somport, France, and joins the Camino Frances just before Puente la Reina. The route is the connection between the Via Tolosana in France and the French Way in Spain.

Camino de Madrid 320 km or 199 Miles

This route has become well marked only in recent years by the Amigos de los Caminos de Santiago de Madrid. The Camino Madrid joins the Camino Frances at Sahagun, where there is another 370 km to Santiago. There are no statistics for the total numbers walking this route, but 516 pilgrims were given Compostelas after walking from Madrid.

Camino de Levante 900km or 560 Miles

The Camino de Levante starts in officially Valencia, but can also be started in Alicante and joining the main route at Albacete.  The route joins the Via de la Plata at Zamora, leaving approximately another 300 km to Santiago. There is little data on this route, but still 134 pilgrims were recorded in 2015 as having completed the journey from Valencia.

Whew, that was harder work than I expected when I started.  But now if someone asks me or you how long is the Camino de Santiago there is somewhere you can point them to.

Image credit Wikipedia

leslie in albergue

Did You Lose Weight on the Camino?

leslie in albergueI lost about 8kgs, about 18 lbs, over a four week period. So yes I did lose a lot of weight on the Camino. However losing weight was never one of my intentions for walking. I did not set out on the Camino to lose weight and I must admit that it never entered into my mind at any time while I was there.

Losing the weight was simply the result of walking, I ate pretty much anything I wanted, including ice cream every day – well it was hot.

I had managed while on the Camino Frances, to forget about how I looked. Most of the time I was dirty and smelly, this is what comes from walking 20-30 kms every day and wearing the same clothes over and over again, even though I washed them every day. After a few days, I managed to stop caring about how I appeared to other people. That was great and very welcome, a real freedom.

Why the Weight Dropped Off

In my day to day life, I spend about 10 hours a day sitting in front of a computer – not much different from many people.  My daily exercise routine amounts to getting a walk for between 30 and 60 minutes, likely not enough.  In fact, recently I have read articles comparing this amount of sitting to the new cancer of the western world.  That article should shock all us computer geeks.

So for between 4 and 5 weeks, I walked about 25km each day – very different from my normal life style.  I did not have a fridge to hand filled with anything that I wanted at that moment, essentially the larder was empty.  Walking that amount naturally uses up energy.  The other huge change was TV.  Never on the Camino did I watch a TV.  At home I try to watch only a little TV, however, I do get into the habit during the winter of watching about two hours each night – I have come to regard this as my switch off period.  My head stops working and I leave work behind.  However, I notice a big difference between TV watching and reading, while reading I never munch away on snacks – but while watching the television I can eat without really noticing it.  So that one really answers itself…

My Mental Health

Not looking after myself whether by socializing, eating good foods or having enough exercise outside does affect my mental health.  By nurture or nature, I have a grumpy disposition and I am prone to stress.  I know I have the power to change this – however when having to get work out the door other things are abandoned – and the first to go always seems to be the very good stuff – my health. It is much easier to throw something in the microwave, and put off seeing friends, or spend time with family or exercising.  Again I answer my own questions.

After each Camino, my habits had changed for a while and then slowly the older not so good habits came back.  I think I could well be the type of person that could do with walking the Camino de Santiago for a month every year.

While on the Camino I ate breakfast, lunch, and diner.  That was about it, (and a few ice creams).  I spent a lot of time every day with other people – talking and listening as was needed.  And as for helping people – here I sit staring at one of my three screens just getting on with work – the contrast is stark, in my daily life my help of others amounts donating to Kiva or some other cause – my help is at arm’s length and doesn’t involve my time only money.

I did not set out in this post to talk about what is wrong with my life, but writing leads where it does.  What about you?  Did you lose weight on the Camino, have better habits after the Camino, or notice any changes in your thought about life in general?

Evening meal in Grannon

Why Walk the Camino de Santiago

In 2004 I first walked the Camino Frances the main Camino de Santiago route; I first wrote this article in 2009 and thought it could do with some updating.

I was a student at the time and I wanted to do something different during the summer, something interesting – I am not one for lying on a beach and prefer to be active. One of my college mates had walked from Holland to Santiago de Compostela a few years before and he kept going on about this “Camino de Santiago” – to me it sounded horrible, walking all day across Spain in the height of the summer heat, carrying my own clothes, sleeping in a hostel every night with people I did not know. No thanks.

Dara, my friend, ended up making it sound good and I decided to “give it a try” – I had no religious or spiritual beliefs regarding the Camino, even though I was a student at Ireland’s main Catholic University. My thoughts setting out on the journey were – if I don’t like this experience I will just go somewhere else in Europe for the Summer, (kind of arrogant first world issues).

The Camino Frances

I walked the Camino Frances, I had no idea that there were several Camino routes.  The Internet was still young, there were not many guide books, and blogging was still only for nerds. I just knew I had to get to this tiny town in the South of France and then walk for a month.  I travelled by train from Paris to Bayonne and then changed for St Jean Pied de Port. And I just started walking.

Evening meal in GrannonMy Camino journey turned into “something” for me – and I still have problems putting that something into words many years later. My attitude and thinking about some things changed while there – I spent time talking to people who gave their time freely to man albergues, I talked to many others walking the Camino from all over the world – something happened to me, and it was good, very good.

More Capable than I Believed

I endured pain, heat, and the lack of privacy that I never thought I would; I became ill and was helped – I came back from my first Camino a stronger and perhaps a more caring person – and in a strange way I developed some pride in an achievement that I had not set out to achieve. I suffered greatly from sore hot feet and blisters.  The blisters had developed under hard skin around my heals and the skin had to be cut off.  I would wrap my heals each morning in tape to walk.  It was a painful, but after a few minutes I was fine – it only hurt after I had stopped and had to start walking again.  At home I would have been at the doctors getting treatment, but my endurance was more than I thought.

After reaching Santiago de Compostela I went by bus to Finisterra and walked back towards Santiago for two days – I did not have time to do more as I had arranged to meet my friend Dara and walk the Camino Aragon with him.

I went back and walked the Camino Frances again the next year. It was different, this time, I went with a different mind and a softer heart.

So Why Walk the Camino?

I am not generally given to hyperbole or psycho mumbo jumbo, however the Camino changed my life and its direction. I now believe that journeys like this, pilgrimages, are very important for people and it is a great idea to do it at least once. The second time I walked I met my love and we had our first child in December 2014 .

I would rather that pilgrims did not set out with a mind like mine the first time – but if that is where they are at that time, then so be it. I talked, listened, and read a lot about the Camino while there – and almost nothing before I went.

The one thing that I read that sticks in my mind today goes things like this, forgive my paraphrasing. While on the Camino you follow the yellow arrows, they show you the way, give direction. What do you follow after the Camino de Santiago?

Camino with children

Walking the Camino de Santiago with Children

Walking the Camino is without a doubt an extraordinary experience – but what about walking the Camino de Santiago with children?

An escape, an adventure in time where too many things are planned out and controlled. But it’s not always easy to get away, especially if you are taking care of more than yourself. Perhaps you have been dreaming about this

Once you have children it’s not always easy to get away. Perhaps you have been dreaming about this pilgrimage for years but couldn’t bring yourself to leave your child or children behind, and the idea of taking them along seemed unrealistic.

But is it?

Many pilgrims set out on the road alone, looking for a solitary spiritual journey but that’s not the only way to do it. While today children on the Camino are still a rare occurrence, it’s not impossible, and I assure you it has been done before.

Kids are intricate and diverse, so we can’t put everyone in the same pot. Different age mean different rules.

0-5 years old Children – Toddlers

Camino with children

I know what you are thinking but yes, you can!

Naturally, you need to think it through, but it’s not as hard as you might think.

Transport. Your little one will not be able to walk 15-20 km a day, that’s why you need a way to carry your child that will work well with you. (Or as you can see in the photo above turn yourself into a human mule.  This was a couple I met on the Camino in 2006.)

If you are traveling with a baby, you can opt for a baby wrap or baby carrier (backpack or front). It’s a relatively comfortable way and should not make walking too difficult. They are not that expensive, and many of them are designed so you baby can fall asleep or stay awake without feeling uncomfortable.

The other options are a hiking stroller or an adjusted chariot carrier which is perfect for toddlers who are no longer that light and are significantly more active and fidgety. When selecting one, focus on the quality of suspension and sturdiness. Also, it is better to opt for a stroller or chariot with a reclining seat as this way your child can nap during the day.

Entertainment. If your baby is long passed the phase where sleep and food are the best entertainment options, you need to stock up on supplies. Popular options on the forums include taking along an iPad filled with fun or educational games, or multiple coloring books. They are both light and easy to pack, you can get more coloring books along the way if you run out. Or take anything you know will make your little one happy and occupied during the day.

Accommodation. The opinions regarding accommodation differ. Whether you decide to stay in albergues or private accommodation options, is up to you. Nobody will kick you out from anywhere just because you have a baby. However, children might find it difficult to fall asleep in crowded albergues despite the lights going out at 10 pm, because people wake up and go to sleep at different times, talk, turn on headlights to look for things and cough or make other loud bodily noises. While it’s possible, it’s not the most comfortable of choices.

The majority of pilgrims traveling with children prefer to book their places, (at least), one day in advance. Looking for a place to sleep tired after a long day of walking can be extremely frustrating for you and your baby. It’s good to know exactly where you are walking and knowing a bed is waiting there for you.

If you are on a budget and hotel is not an option, take extra time to research and locate smaller albergues, refugios or hostels and book them in advance to ensure your place. Sleeping in a room with 10 people as opposed to 40 makes a hell of a difference. However, if money is not the issue, go ahead and stay in small hotels or houses in the countryside known as “Casas Rurales.” To get the best of both worlds, you can alternate between private and pilgrim accommodation because some of the albergues are quite lovely.

Backpacks. Packing lightly for one person is challenging packing lightly for an extra little creature is even more so. Just because they are small, it doesn’t mean they need fewer things. Thankfully, there is a backpack transport service along the Camino.

Whether it’s too much to carry or you simply want to enjoy the day of walking fully focused on your little one, you can always pay to have your backpacks transferred to your next destination. Simply, leave your backpacks in your albergue or hotel with an envelope containing the payment (3-7 €). When you arrive at the next one, (which you booked in advance), it will be waiting at your next stop.

6-12 years old Children

With older kids, you need to adjust your narrative a bit. They are capable of understanding the concept of this journey and will have a lot of questions, so you need to start preparing them way ahead.

Psychological preparation. With young kids, you really need to sell the story. Explain them the meaning, the history of the pilgrimage, even sell it as an epic adventure quest. The important thing is that the kids understand what the trip entails as well as why they are doing it. Kids are smart and full of energy, with the right motivation, they can probably do better than you. It’s imperative to keep their spirits up.

Physical preparation. While you still might want to consider using a chariot for a six years old, kids of this age will be OK walking the pilgrimage on their own.

However, walking a little bit and walking day after day is very different. Therefore, make sure your kids are in a good physical condition, you don’t want them to be in pain for one reason or another. For example, if you are not used to going hiking as a family before you book anything, organize a few one-day hikes to see how they will do and if they enjoy it. Slowly build their confidence and physical strength. It’s also a great opportunity to break in their hiking shoes and avoid painful blisters on the Camino.

On the road. Your worst enemy on the road will be short attention span. If you want to avoid the ‘Are we there yet?’ scenario,  break down your day into smaller sections. For example, break the 15 km for the day into three little sub-stages each marked by a break or a family game, give your children little tasks to do along the way. Encourage them to observe animals, plants, and people, tell them about the country’s history and culture, let them talk with other pilgrims. The beauty of the pilgrimage is also in the strange sense of community which can enrich the experience. Plus, this way the walk will not seem that long.

13+ Walking the Camino With Teenagers

Teenagers are their own species, no doubt about it. The Camino can be an excellent way to find some common ground, have a little unorthodox adventure.

Like with younger kids, motivation and physical preparation are also crucial. However, you don’t need to go overboard with trying to entertain them.

Before you go. If they have never heard of Camino before, introduce the concept, let them do their research, let them be part of the planning and decision about stages and distances you will be taking. If they are interested, make them feel like a partner, rather than just someone tagging along.

On the road. If there is one advice worthy of mentioning it’s giving them a bit of space. Trying to control them too much can result in conflicts. If they want to walk at their pace, let them. The Camino is all about “finding your way,” plus, it’s incredibly safe. Make sure they have the name of the next town and hostel where you’ll be staying and a phone to call you in case something happens.

Everything else. Regarding everything else, traveling with a teenager is not much different than traveling with an adult. There is no need to book accommodation in advance or undergo any significant preparations.

Bottom Line

I hope I persuaded you. It can be done. Why not, after all? It will be a great family memory. Plus traveling with a baby will make you a Camino celebrity, and the stories about you will reach the ears of many pilgrims.

My advice is, whatever your circumstances, do not give up. The Camino is worth it, and you can do it. How do I know? In Finisterre, I met a single mom with her precious two-year-old daughter. She walked the entire Camino del Norte with a self-made improvised chariot, carried her own backpack and stayed in the cheapest albergues. She was one of the tiniest women I ever met in my life, yet there she stood. She did it, and so can you.

Bed Bugs on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino to Santiago might be a spiritual journey, but it’s not exempt from common earthly troubles like bed bugs. Who would have thought that such little creatures could be such a huge pain in the neck? In the past decade, bed bugs have infested some albergues along the Camino causing trouble not only to pilgrims but also hospitaleros.

Although inconvenient, the problem is being handled and should not be a reason to give this one-of-a-kind journey. In fact, bed bugs are not exclusive to the Camino or the cheap albergues. You can equally come across them in a five-star hotel. Their widespread reign was not brought about by uncleanliness as much as by the massive increase in international travel.

Before I get started on how to fight these little incarnations of evil, let’s get something straight!

Camino ≠ bed bugs

While it’s a problem, it’s also very likely you will walk the entire way without making this unpleasant acquaintance. Many pilgrims, me included, experience a bedbug-free pilgrimage. And if there is an outbreak in an albergue, be 10 or 200 km away, you will know about it (you would be surprised how fast rumors travel on the road).

Bedbug Facts

Bedbugs, or in fancy terms – Cimex lectularius, is a blood-sucking insect. They are, quite simply, a de-romanticised version of vampires.

  • Bedbugs are approximately 4 mm long creatures of a reddish-brown color.
  • Bedbugs feed on human or animal blood. They are nocturnal creatures that hide in dark spaces until the time comes. Unfortunately, they are not very picky in term of their habitat and don’t stick to beds exclusively but can infest furniture, sleeping bags, rucksacks… anything fabric-based.
  • Fortunately, bedbugs don’t transmit any diseases, at least not in temperate climates, so you don’t need to be afraid of long-lasting consequences. However, their bites can be quite painful and create rashes for some people or provoke an allergic reaction. You will know bed bugs have bitten you if the bites are in a line or zig zag pattern.
  • While you sleep, they don’t just bite but also sneak inside luggage, sleeping bags or clothes and thus hitching a ride to the next albergue to spread their reign of terror.

Before You Go

There are a few things you can do to prevent bedbug infestation before you leave for the Camino.

  • You can buy sleeping bags, backpacks or sheets that have been pre-treated against bed bugs.
  • Get silk liners as bedbugs find it difficult to get through silk.
  • Spray your equipment against bedbugs yourself using permethrin-based products. However be careful and make sure to follow the instructions as the product might be toxic to pets.
  • Arm yourself with a small torch so you can check the beds thoroughly, and if you know, you are sensitive to insect bites, in general, consult your GP and take along some medicine. Otherwise, you can buy general treatment in pharmacies along the road. Pharmacies in Spain are like Starbucks, on every corner, literally.

How to Spot a Bedbug

You know there are (or have been) bedbugs if you can find the following indicators on  the mattress or bed frame:

  • small blood spots
  • clusters of suspicious black dots (their feces)
  • cast-off see-through skins
  • live bed bugs on the mattress or the bed frame

On the Camino

  • When you get to an albergue, don’t put your backpack on the bed just yet.
  • Take out your torch and make sure to check everything above and beyond the bed. Examine the bunk frame, mattress as well as pillows (if available). Focus on cracks, mattress seams and bed joints in particular because, as mentioned already, they like dark spaces.
  • If you do find anything inform the hospitalero immediately, pack your stuff and shuffle on to find new accommodation. You might be offered another room, but I wouldn’t take the risk. If one room is infected, it’s likely the other are too although it might not yet be visible.
  • If you are slightly paranoid and need to take it a bit further, don’t put your backpack on, under or against the bed no matter where you are. Keep it closed when you aren’t packing or unpacking and seal it in a plastic bag overnight.
  • Keep yourself covered, as the bugs go after exposed skin. Hence most bites are on the arms, feet or neck.
  • Before packing and walking on, thoroughly shake out the sleeping bag.

If You Find a Bite

  • Rule number 1: Don’t panic, it’s gonna be OK.
  • No matter how tempting it is, try not to scratch the bites and seek out the closest pharmacy to buy the necessary treatment. If you feel queasy or have a violent skin reaction, pay a visit to a local hospital.
  • Inform the hospitalero immediately. However, if you don’t notice the bites until you are on the road, tell the hospitalero in the next albergue, so they can call and inform them for you.
  • Whether you have a single bite or hundred, assume the whole “operation” has been compromised. Before you settle in the next hostel, you need to debug your belongings.

Debugging on the Road

Method 1

  • Lay out all your possessions on the ground (outside) and spray with Permethrin or other bug insecticide known to be effective against bed bugs.
  • Allow the items to dry in the sun
  • Next, wash them by hand or a washing machine with hot water and dry in a hot dryer.
  • If you are in a bigger town and have the finances, take everything including your clothes, sleeping bag and backpack to the dry cleaners.

Method 2

  • If it’s summer, take everything out of your backpack and turn all the pockets inside out.
  • Put everything into a black garbage bag (pack loosely)
  • Close it tightly
  • Leave it boiling in the sun for several hours
  • Then, if possible wash everything in hot water and dry in a dryer.

After the process is done thoroughly examine all the seams and pockets of all your items. It’s a hassle, I know, but if you fail to act quickly, you risk spreading the bedbugs to other albergues and even to your home after your return.

Bottom Line

Bedbugs have been a problem on the Camino but definitely not a reason to give up the pilgrimage altogether. It’s probable you will not come across any infected albergues. Plus, if you follow advice and check beforehand, you will be able to avoid impending disaster and find another place to sleep.

Keep safe, be smart and don’t let the bedbugs bite!

Best Starting Points for One Week on the Camino de Santiago

The Pilgrimage to Santiago is a one of a kind experience. While many would love to walk the entire way, it is not always easy to get away from our day-to-day duties and responsibilities for a whole month.

Rather than giving up the journey altogether, many pilgrims opt to undertake a shorter one-week version of the Camino. When the time is limited, people want to make the most of the experience. Thus, the pressing question on the minds of to-be one-week pilgrims is that of the best starting point.

Where should you kick off your journey to get the best of the Camino in a short period of seven days?

Camino Frances from Sarria

 

If you are in for the most classic of experiences, Sarria is probably the best place to start. It is just over 100km away from Santiago which complies with the minimum distance to receive the pilgrim’s certificate. You can divide your journey into 5 to 7 stages, depending on your physical condition and preference. Personally, I recommend you to take it slow. You only have a few days on the road, so it’s important you savor it.

The main stopping points are Portomarin, Palas de Rei, Arzua, Melide, and Pedrouzo. The terrain is relatively easy yet varied supplying you with plenty of breathtaking views. The route will take you through a lovely countryside riddled with streams and rivers, hidden in the shade of oaks and chestnuts trees. Although there are a few asphalt roads on the stage from Portomarin to Palas de Rei, the next stage to Arzua will surprise you with beautiful eucalyptus forests. The road is winding but there are no significant ascends or descends that should worry you.

Perhaps the only downside of this route is it is very busy. Being the last part of the most popular of the Camino ways, it is also the busiest. If you are looking for a more solitary experience this is not the route for you, as the number of pilgrims can leave you feeling overwhelmed. However, if this is your first time on a similar journey, you can enjoy an authentic pilgrim experience while having the safety of well-built infrastructure and services.

Camino Portugues from Tui

If you want to get a taste of two different cultures, Camino Portugues might be the right choice for you. Tui, similarly to Saria, is a little over 100km from Santiago (118km) and can be walked in six to seven comfy stages of around 20-25 km a day. From all the Caminos, this way is probably the easiest regarding ascends and descends, making it easy on your knees.

This route takes you through peaceful forests that wrap you in vivid greenery, rich farmlands and lovely historic towns with plenty of stories to tell. The main stops on the way are O Porriño, Redondela, Pontevedra with its typical Galician old town center, Caldas de Reis and Padron. The way will take you to the coast, to the town called Arcade that is well-known for its Oyster Festival.  

Comparing to Sarria, this route is much calmer yet not too solitary, after all the Portuguese way is the second most popular Camino. It offers a full dose of historical jewels as well as natural beauty which makes one of the top one-week choices for pilgrims all over the world.

TIP: If you are traveling in summer and want to enjoy a bit more of the coast, start in the alluring seaside town of Baiona (128 km from Santiago) which lies on the coastal variant of the Portuguese way. After giving you 43 kilometers of stunning coastal views, it joins the original route at Redondela.

Camino Primitivo from Lugo

Starting in Lugo will allow you to experience the oldest recorded route to Santiago de Compostela. Due to its long history, the Camino Primitivo is sprinkled with Roman ruins and monuments. There is something to worth seeing in almost every stage of the journey. Lugo itself is protected by the best preserved Roman wall in Europe. You will leave Lugo through the oldest city gate following the historic tracks that connect tiny old villages like Seixalvo, Xende, and Ferreira.

You will pass through cool green woods and extensive farmlands, following old paved Roman roads and picturesque medieval bridges. The Camino Primitivo joins the Camino Frances in Melide.

This is a great choice if you want to get a little bit of both worlds. A little taste of the original route that will give you a couple of days of peace and solitude as well as the experience of the classic French way so many times referenced in books and movies around the world.

Via de la Plata from Ourense

Out of all the last 100km routes before Santiago de Compostela, Via de la Plata from Ourense probably offers the most fairytale-like experience. With 111 km, the distance can be conquered in 5 to 6 days, (7 if you want to take your time). It is the best choice for those seeking a bit of peace and quiet far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The city of Ourense is impressive in itself, conveniently located on both shores of Rio Mino and known for its 12th-century cathedral and natural thermal springs. The way takes you through lovely lush Galician countryside that bursts with greenery. The main stops along the way are Cea, Castro Dozón, Lalin, Silleda and Ponte Ulla.

You will encounter quiet woods, farmlands and sleepy ancient villages with lovely Romanesque churches and chapels. This part of the Camino is a real jewel in the rough.

Is There More?

Of course! There are plenty more! For example, if you want to complete the whole pilgrimage but only have the seven days, Camino Inglés starting in Ferrol is perfect for you. The whole pilgrimage is no longer than 120 km. While the first kilometers can be a bit industrial, the stage between Miño and Hospital de Bruma will make up for any asphalt roads you had to cross.

If you are feeling rebellious and yearn to swim against the flow, starting in Muxia, following to Finisterre and making your way to Santiago from the east is a fascinating option. The way is waymarked both ways, so you do not need to worry about getting lost or confused. Plus, you are bound to encounter many pilgrims with intriguing stories. The whole route is slightly over 100km and filled with inspiring coastal views, eucalyptus forests and farmlands dotted with quiet forgotten settlements.

Not everyone is interested in getting all the way to Santiago, so if you are one of those who simply want to enjoy the hike, you have plenty of options to choose from. For instance, any stage in the Basque Country (whether on Camino Francés or Camino del Norte) is definitely worth checking out. Serious hikers will enjoy the mountainous challenge that comes with it while enjoying the spiritual serendipity of the Camino.

Where Can I Get a Pilgrims Passport?

A pilgrim’s passport is a must, (also known as a credential), you must have one to stay in the municipal and parish Albergues, some of the private albergues do not require one.  The passport will have spaces for sellos, (stamps), this proves that you have walked that day and are entitled to stay in an Albergue, (pilgrims only hostels), if there is space, they are valid for walkers and cyclist.

The passport often ends up being a treasured possession as it is a great reminder of all the places you have stopped and stayed overnight.  The stamps are all different and almost all bars and cafes will have one.

If you are walking from St Jean or very early on any of the Camino routes you need to have one stamp per day.  If you are walking the last 100km, (from Sarria 112km), or cycling the last 200km, (Ponferrada 205km), you will need 2 stamps per day if you want the Compostela when you reach Santiago de Compostela.

pilgrim-sellos

 

USA pilgrims can join American Pilgrims on the Camino here. You do not have to be a member to request a credential from them, (See here), but membership and donations help you – as they award grants that help make pilgrims’ lives easier on the Camino, from help upgrading hostels and training volunteers to work in the albergues. More info here.

The Irish Society of St James is the Irish association that provides credentials.  You can order online here and the cost is 10 Euro, you do not require membership. The Irish Society are friendly and organize Camino information events around Ireland.

irish-pilgrims-passport

The Canadian Company of Pilgrims supply passports in Canada, see here.  They have an online ordering of Credentials.  The cost is 5 dollars and that includes membership.

The Confraternity of St James in the UK provide a wealth of information on their website and via Amazon where they also now sell their guidebooks in digital format on Amazon.

The UK Confraternity have an online ordering system, that looks like it works a treat.  The Pilgrim’s Passport can now be purchased by members and non-members for £5. Order page here.

The Confraternity of St James in South Africa provide credentials only to members, however, due to visa restrictions, it is worthwhile becoming a member as they provide a letter to enable the visa.  They have good information on their site regarding this process.  Membership is R40 and the passport is R70 – see this page.

The Australian Friends of the Camino will send you a pilgrim’s credential for free if you are a member, you can order online.

Non-English Camino Pilgrim Associations

If you are living in mainland Europe or further afield these websites can help:

Du Quebec a Compostelle for French Canadians

La Société Française des Amis de Saint Jacques de Compostelle – France

German:

Deutsche St. Jakobus-Gesellschaft e.V

Region Norddeutschland in der Deutschen St. Jakobus-Gesellschaft e.V

Fränkische St. Jakobus-Gesellschaft Würzburg e.V.

Confraternity of Saint James, Norway

Nederlands Genootschap van Sint Jacob

Sankt Jakobs Bruderschaft Österreich – Austria

Polski Klub Camino de Santiago – Poland

Vlaams Genootschap van Santiago de Compostela – Flemish

Association Belge des Amis de Saint Jacques de Compostelle – Belgium French

Les Amis du chemin de Saint–Jacques de Compostelle Suisse – Switzerland

Confraternita di San Jacopo di Compostella – Italian

Associação de Confrades e Amigos do Caminho de Santiago de Compostela–São Paulo–Brasil – Brazil

Associação Brasileira dos Amigos do Caminho de Santiago – Brazil

Collect Your Pilgrims Passport in Spain

French-pilgrims-passport

Where can I get a pilgrim’s passports in Spain is a question I am asked a lot. Pilgrim’s passports are also issued in various albergues.  In St Jean Pied de Port is where most passports are issued.  Pamplona main albergue issue the passports, also the pilgrim’s office beside the albergue in Roncesvalles.  All the main cities, Burgos, Leon, issue the passports, as for the small albergues in between – sorry but I don’t know – if anyone else does let me know and I will post the information here. Below is a table of all the places where you will be able to buy or donate for a Pilgrim’s Passport for the Camino Frances:

For the Camino Madrid – Association of Friends of the Road to Santiago de Madrid

It is likely that I have missed some places if you would like to add to the list please email me, Leslie using the email address caminoadventures@gmail.com – in addition, if you know of places on the other routes I am happy to add those also.

Saint Jean Pied de port Pilgrims Office
Roncesvallles In the monastery
Larrasoana Albergue Municipal de Pilgrims
Pamplona Municipal Albergue
Pamplona University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain) – they are open 24/7 – enter by the front and ask for pilgrims office – you can also have your passport stamped here.
Puente la Reina Municipal Albergue
Estella Municipal Albergue
Logrono Municipal Albergue
Santo domingo de la Calzada Albergue de pilgrims de la Cofradía del Santo
Burgos Albergue de peregrinos (Asociación de amigos del Camino de Burgos)
Carrión de los Condes Oficina del peregrino (Monasterio de San Zoilo).
León Municipal Albergue
Astorga Municipal Albergue
Rabanal del Camino Albergue Nuestra Señora del Pilar
Molinaseca Albergue de peregrinos (Alfredo)
Ponferrada Municipal Albergue
Villafranca del Bierzo Albergue de peregrinos AVE FÉNIX (Jato)
O Cebreiro Albergue de peregrinos a Santuario
Samos Albergue del Monasterio
Sabria Albergue de peregrinos
Sarria Church of Santa Mariña, Rua de Maior
Sarria Monastery of the Magdalena, Avenida de la Merced
Portomarín Albergue de peregrinos
Santiago as a pilgrim

What is a Pilgrim?

The first thing that comes to mind when I ask myself what is a pilgrim is Canterbury Tales and Chaucer’s partying crowd, or of Homer in the Odyssey.

I associate the words pilgrim and pilgrimages as belonging to a bygone era.

Going on a pilgrimage in the middle ages was often the only form of travel that was acceptable, therefore, those seeking adventure could legitimately travel across countries.

It is said that the purpose of pilgrims was veneration, asking for heavenly help or to know God better.  This definition really only fits modern religions where there is one God and not many.  Greeks in the pre-Christian era believed they knew their Gods well – they had human traits, what defined them as Gods were their supernatural powers.

Santiago as a pilgrim

From online sources I find the following definition:

being a pilgrim is commonly known as someone who travels to a foreign land to visit somewhere of religious or historic importance.

But how does that fit with being Spanish and walking the Camino Frances – meaning that you never leave Spain?

The following is my idea of what makes a modern day pilgrim.

Santiago pilgrimagePilgrims have Purpose

I believe the purpose of the journey is important to Pilgrims.  When I first started walking my first Camino I found it difficult to see myself as a pilgrim – though I would be referred as one by locals in Spain as I passed by.

I now see that I was not a pilgrim at the start of my journey.  I had set off to France, then Spain with the purpose of some adventure travel.  I had no commitment at the start to finish the journey, and the tales of St James did not touch me in any way.

As I walked that changed, but not enough to view myself as a pilgrim.  I went back the next year and I did view myself as a pilgrim.  My purpose was different, it was no longer just an adventure, but a journey with a specific goal in mind.

State of Mind

Just walking every day for long distances changed my state of mind.  The internal noise that I live with daily quietened and peace flowed – in a way that in itself is quite incredible as I am not someone known to be in a state of peace – at least back then.

I began to read more about the Camino as I walked.  I learned some of history, I listened to others talk about continuing their journey when they no longer had the yellow arrows to follow, what then?

In retrospect, with the right attitude, I found the Camino as a pilgrimage life changing – something I have written about a few time here already.

Does a Pilgrim need to Travel?

I lived in Ireland for many years and walked frequently in an area south of Dublin called Glendalough – it is beautiful. This is still a pilgrimage site for some.  However, I would find it slightly amusing to think of myself going on a pilgrim to a place that was less than an hour away.

But, again my purpose was hill walking and not spiritual or religious.

Many in Ireland travel west to Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July to make a pilgrimage to the top of the mountain; some walk in bare feet.  Apart from those walking in bare feet, it is hard for me to hear someone saying they were on a pilgrimage there – perhaps I need to open my mind a little…

Leaving Behind the Comforts of Home

Often being on a pilgrimage evokes images of living with much less for a period of time.  So what do I or others think about those on the Camino that stay in hotels every night, have their rucksack transported, or even only walk the minimum distance?

My gran used to go to Lourdes on a pilgrimage with the church every few years.  We lived in Glasgow and there would be 40 or so getting on the bus on Monday morning and coming back on Friday – they drove to the south of France and stayed in Lourdes for a couple of nights and then endured 24 hours or so for the drive back home. For my gran, I believe this was more adventure travel even though she had her belief in a God, but I think she used the opportunity to get away for a while.

If she had stated that her purpose was being a pilgrim to Lourdes, even internally, perhaps that would have been different.

Time Taken

It is also believed that a pilgrim is someone who travels a considerable distance in carrying out this goal while leaving behind the comforts of home.

Does this automatically bar anyone living or born in Santiago de Compostela walking the Camino as a pilgrimage?  It is an odd thought isn’t it, leaving home, going to St Jean Pied de Port and walking home as a pilgrimage?

But they are walking a considerable distance and leaving behind the comforts of home.

It is easy for me to see the Camino as a pilgrimage, I travel to a foreign land, I don’t understand the language, I carry all the belonging I need, and eventually I finish at a Holy place after walking for a month.

My Understanding Problem

I believe my problem with the words and idea of pilgrim and pilgrimage is due to not being brought up attending any church.  Atheism to me was not something I had thought much about until I attended NUIM, which is still a catholic university if you study philosophy. One of the results was my atheism becoming quite militant. (And I do think atheists can be spiritual)

However, after walking the Camino the last time I felt a bit more like a pilgrim. I had walked from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. During that walk, I carried all in my rucksack for just over four weeks. I became ill, and once I had to be treated in hospital, and for my own private reason, it was very important for me to finish – I continued, doctors gave me painkillers in order for me to finish.

sunset at finisterre

So I guess for me being a pilgrim is a state of mind. If I felt like I was on holiday on the Camino, I don’t think I would have felt like a pilgrim. I had a task to do, walk to Santiago, and I was quite focused on that task – while at the same time I believed a result of this pilgrimage is that something about me would change – most likely in my mind.

Many people I spoke to on the Camino were looking for answers to their current problems in life, or a way how to make a decision at their current cross road. I don’t know if it does help in that way, however, it does give a time out and show that life can go on while those problems still exist.

The Journey

The actual travel itself I see now as the pilgrimage, not the arrival.  For me, this is where I connect with people and learn more about myself – my ego and motivations.

There is a certain amount of perseverance required to walk 800 kilometers carrying all that you need on your back.  I believe walking the Camino gave more to me than I have ever given back; one thing it gave was a certain amount of improved confidence.

What a Pilgrim is Not

I had some naive and unrealistic expectations on the Camino. I set out with the idea that everyone, as they were on a pilgrimage, would be kind, patient, and tolerant with others.

I am fond of saying when describing myself, if you take a grumpy guy from Glasgow and put him in Dublin – you are likely to still have a grumpy guy. (This was one of my first big signs that I had to change, not the world)

The last negative I will touch on is some pilgrims expecting everything to be free for them.  I don’t know where this belief comes from, a pilgrimage was never cheap.  In the middle ages, villages would save money just to send one member of the village on the Camino to Santiago.

It is not free, never has been, and likely will never be.

So What is a Pilgrim?

I have really rambled a bit here usually I find it quite easy to write – but answering this question is perhaps fairly simple and that would have meant for a very short post.

I believe if someone says they are a pilgrim on a pilgrimage – then they are.

In addition to that, I don’t care why someone goes on the Camino – like I don’t care why someone why someone may go to therapy – once they are there the motivations may change.

You can read many other opinions on what is a pilgrim here on the forum.

What do you think, tell me below where my thinking can improve, why did you walked the Camino, or what are your thoughts on pilgrimage.

What is Food Like on the Camino de Santiago

Yes, what about food? A question which had not occurred to me before going to Spain and France to start my first Camino. I have had the pleasure of traveling in Spain and France on numerous occasions before and I love their food. Compared to the usual British cuisine I find it more tasty.

All that said, the food along the Camino is was not what I had become used to or expected in Paris or Madrid.

The Pilgrims Menu

tortillaDuring the first two weeks, I ate out every night. In every town and village along the way you will see the option of the pilgrims menu.  It is stated as three courses normally.  However, the three are not like you would expect in your local restaurant. The starter is normally a small bowl pasta or if you are lucky a salad.  I hope you like chicken.  The main course of the menu was nearly always chicken – I did get a bit tired of it.  The third course is normally fruit or a yogurt.  When I say fruit I mean an apple or an orange put down in front of you.

The Pilgrims menu will normally include wine or water.  I found the menu fine, it was enough to fill me and I am a big guy.  I was never left hungry.

My Eating Along the Camino

Mornings I just wanted coffee to start with. Most of the time I had a snack bar that I had bought the day before. Then I would walk to the first bar. It would normally be full of pilgrims getting breakfast and like me their first coffee of the day. So the walk to breakfast could be 5km but normally much less. If the albergue I had stayed in was in a large enough town there would be a bar open about 6.30 or 7.00am so breakfast would be had there.

More and more of the hostels now serve some sort of breakfast.  Normally it is continental – cold except for the toast.

Lunch had a little more variety, I got used to a Spanish dish which is made of egg and potatoes – Tortilla de Patatas – and I would often have this in a baguette. Sometimes I bought tuna, or cold meats, fruit and some bread; then I would stop along the way during the hottest part of the day and rest and eat. However, many pilgrims push their walking quite fast so that they are finished walking for the day by this time. See What is a usual day like?

There are small shops in villages, so buying your own food to cook in the evenings in Albergue’s is also possible. I did this mostly during the last ten days or so. Pilgrim’s menus become very boring night after night – very much the same from village to village.

Once I had met and traveled with others it was easy at night to all get together and pay together to cook food between us. Cheaper – but more importantly more convivial. Most Albergue’s had cooking facilities, see the Albergue list for kitchens.

Some of the hostels serve an evening meal.  The ones that I enjoyed the most like Granon were communal affairs.  For me there was something very special about these meals eating together.

Treating Yourself

I love my food.  During the Camino was a time that I could eat anything and not have to be concerned with putting on weight.  I had no idea at the time but I lost a lot of weight while walking.

There are two areas that stand out to me as great places to eat.  Pamplona had the best tapas that I have ever had in my life.  I could sit and eat them all night if I could.  So if you stay over there it is worthwhile splashing out.

Towards the end of the Camino as you near the sea, seafood is available everywhere.  We treated ourselves to a slap-up meal in Santiago and again in Finisterre.  But even the smallest of bars have great squid.

Being a Vegan or Vegetarian

I am neither I love my meat too much.  However it is possible to be both or either along the Camino, it does take a bit of work and some planning.  See this post for more information and this thread on being vegan on the forum is great.

Camino de Santiago in the Winter

What is the Best Time to Walk the Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago in the WinterThis is one of the questions I get asked most frequently, what is the best time of year to walk the Camino de Santiago. Usually though people are asking about the Camino Frances to Santiago, and for that reason that is the route this post refers to.

January and December: unless you are located the other side of the equator January and December are winter.  Winter in Spain can sometimes be fairly cold, in 2008 there were snow blizzards in what was the worst winter for 15 years – last year, (2015), there was again lots of snow on the hills after Leon, however 2011/2012 was a warmer winter all over Europe.  So you can plan in advance but in the winter be prepared and check the forecast before heading up any of the hills, especially from St Jean Pied de Port.

Apart from the weather the other main problem between the end of Oct and the start of Easter is that some places are closed, especially between 15th December and 15th of January.  If you are walking at this time of the year make sure your guide book has updated information on what hostels and albergues are open.

I would not make the choice to walk at this time of the year, however many don’t have a choice due to time constraints.  Here are some threads from the forum about preparation for winter walking and some people walking this winter.

Also this post on Sil’s blog has loads of good advice from someone who has actually walked the Camino during the winter.  http://amawalker.blogspot.com/2009/10/walking-in-winter.html

October, February and March:  these months are much wetter than the rest of the year so be prepared with rain gear.  It can be fairly cold in the mornings, however if you are lucky often the sun will burn off the frost and you will have mild days. That said the last 100km into Santiago can be wet at any time of the year, I have been caught in rain that lasted two days while walking in September.

April, May, June and September:  these are likely considered the best months to walk any of the Caminos  to Santiago.  During these months the weather is generally warm or hot, everything is open, and the routes are not as busy as the main summer months.

July and August:  these are the most popular months on the Camino.  I would try and avoid starting on July 25th from Roncesvalles – the feast day of St James, as it can be a very busy day.  The same is true if you plan to arrive in Santiago during the week before and after the 25th July.  If you are arriving in Santiago at this time be prepared for the hotels to be harder to book and more expensive, additionally the albergues will be very busy.

There is a Spanish public holiday on the 15th Aug, (the Assumption of Mary), again I would avoid starting from St Jean or Roncesvalles on this date.  I once stayed in Roncesvalles overnight at this time and it was very crowded, the hostel needed overflow tents to accommodate everyone.  But the worst, for me, was walking the next day.  I find in general the Spanish extremely helpful along all the Caminos, however I am not used to the noise when there are many Spanish walking nearby talking on their phones, sorry Spain.  This is a local problem in every country due to the availability and cost of mobile data, while at the top of Ben Nevis in Scotland I over heard many Brits calling friends with the start of the call being – guess where I am…

Below are the weather charts for Bilbao, Leon, and Santiago.  Notice how wet Santiago can be, and it is generally a bit colder in Leon.  I will be updating the packing list page shortly to include additional walking gear for the winter – however not much more is required.

Above photo courtesy of Amawalker

Santiago Weather

Leon Weather

Bilbao Weather

Leslie Anna 13km from Santiago

A Typical Day on the Camino

My typical day on the Camino de Santiago started about 6am. I was a mature student before hiking the on the Camino de Santiago for the first time; at that time I would have been doing well if I was awake before 9am, (I had got into student life and loved it). So six in the morning was initially shocking, however, I easily got used to the early morning.

There are the “bag rustlers” – these are pilgrims that think it is a good idea to start in the dark anywhere from 4.30 onward. Personally this was never attractive for me. Sleeping in albergues demands tolerance and the bag rustlers test it to the limit.  There are quite a few pilgrims on the Camino who start very early and intend to finish their walking day by noon or the latest 2pm – in many cases this is the due to the fear of not finding somewhere to sleep the next night due to albergues being full – this was never an issue for me until after Sarria the last 100km or so on the Camino Frances.

The only other people that push the tolerance to the same extent are the snorers, (afraid I am one, hay-fever made it worse than usual – I’m told). Buy good ear plugs, a must. The worst snorers are the ones that have had a few drinks, to be expected.

Leslie Anna 13km from SantiagoThe first big difference for me was no coffee first thing in the morning, usually I had to walk to a cafe which was often 3 to 5km in the next village where I would stop for breakfast.

At home I would not leave the house in the morning without having a shower.  This is a luxury that is not available while staying in hostels or albergues.  The only time I was able to have a shower before starting my walking was the few nights I stayed in a pension, (B&B).  Being a bit smelly is just a fact of life for pilgrims using albergues on the Camino.

So given my aversion to mornings at the time, I would often be the last to leave the albergue in the morning, about 6.45 or 7.00am.  Many albergues close in the morning at 7.30 or 8am, though this is changing slightly due to the high number of private hostels.

Then simply walk. I did not hurry and walked at my pace. Some days I walked with other pilgrims, sometimes on my own. Simplicity itself, just bloody wonderful. Nothing to do but walk and eat and talk – if I wanted to – an incredible break from my norm.

Often I would not finish walking until 3 or 4pm, after having lunch somewhere I would rest from the heat under a tree.

Once I reached the albergue I would shower and wash my clothes. I had one set of clothes for the evening and another for walking, no others.  More often than not I hand washed my walking clothes – this again has changed quite a bit over the years and almost all private albergues have washing machines.

Then perhaps an afternoon sleep for an hour, read, or chat with pilgrims, some that I might not have seen for a day or so. It was surprising that I could sleep for an hour in the afternoon and then easily sleep again at 10pm.

Sometimes some pilgrims need help, help fixing blisters, advice on how to care for very hot feet, (a basin of very cold water for 20min, great).

Then about seven in the evening I would eat a pilgrims menu in the local village bar or cafe; the pilgrim menu is sufficient and I never went hungry, however it is not exciting food, (and I lost a lot of weight without trying). Some albergues cook an evening meal or have a kitchen where you can cook, if there is a communal meal I suggest participating as they are a great way to meet more people and the food is usual very good.

I would be in bed and fast asleep by 10 or 10.30pm, I would wear little to bed – usually my shorts that I was planning to walk in the next day.  After a few days getting used to sleeping in rooms with other people I slept great almost every night.

Then get up and do it all again, Buen Camino.

Planning Rest Days on the Camino de Santiago

For most people walking the Camino de Santiago means a month walking across northern Spain covering about 800 km, (500 miles). So it is not surprising that most of us plan on a few rest days along the Camino. Below are some of the towns and villages that I suggest are good places to stop for a day and be a tourist instead of a pilgrim.

Why a Rest Day?

It is fairly easy to walk 10km; if you are fit enough it is easy to walk 25 or 30 kilometres. However you body starts to feel the strain when you walk day after day. Muscles you did not know existed hurt, and sometimes they strain – at this point it is a good idea to rest otherwise you run the possibility of not being able to finish.

Cizur Minor - Cirauqui 04 countryside 04

Two Trains of Thought

There are people who want to walk every day even if it is just 5, 10 or 15 km. If you are used to walking 30km everyday then 10km feels like a rest. This has been my usual way of taking a few easy days when needed. Others like to take a full day off and have two nights somewhere. If you fall into this category I suggest booking a hotel or Casa Rural / Pension, much like a Bed and Breakfast. If you are having an extra night somewhere most pilgrim hostels don’t allow you to stay more than one day except for medical reasons, (though many private albergues will allow this). And really do you want to get woken at 6am or earlier with noisy pilgrims on your day off? After a week sleeping in albergues and hostels I looked forward to the feel of clean sheets, a real bed, and a room to myself – so a hotel is well worth the price.

St Jean Pied de Port

St Jean the start

St Jean the start

The Camino Frances starts in St Jean, so why have a rest before you start? This is normal for visitors from other continents. Starting to walk while suffering from jet lag or having just finished two days travel is not the best start to your pilgrimage.

St Jean Pied de Port is a pretty little market town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees that separate France and Spain. There is enough to keep you occupied for a day or so.

Pamplona

Pamplona is the first major city on the way and famous for its San Fermin festival and the running of the bulls, (July 6 to 14). It normally takes three days to walk from St Jean to Pamplona, so this might be a little early to have a day off. However Pamplona is a beautiful city with tapa restaurants on every corner.

pamplona-bulls

Other sites to see in Pamplona include:

  • The 14th century Gothic Cathedral
  • Museum of Navarra
  • The two 13th century Gothic Churches of San Sernin and San Nicholas
  • And in the evening before eating have a stroll around the old city walls

Burgos

Burgos, the capital of Castile, comes after thirteen walking days. It is not a city well know outside of Spain, however it contains one of the best and oldest Gothic Cathedrals in Spain. The city is home to El Cid, evidenced by the many statues.

burgos

The Museum of Human Evolution is the best museum in the city to visit; it is housed in a futuristic looking building built on old barracks. The museum aims to be one of the top ten in Spain.

Ten miles outside of Burgos are the Atapuerca Mountains. This is the main reason for the above museum being situated in Burgos. Excavations in the area have discovered the earliest humans remains in Europe at 1.2 million years old. The local tourist office can supply information on tours to the caves.

Ponferrada

ponferrada

Ponferrada is another small city that few people will have heard off, however it is a great size to stop in for a rest day. It has it all in miniature; a Templar Castle, the Renaissance Basilica de la Encina with its baroque towers, and the Museum de El Bierzo which contains the history and important archaeological pieces from the area.

Santiago de Compostela

I stayed in Santiago for three days, one day two long. It is a small city and a tourist city and after being a pilgrim walking the Camino Frances in peace and quiet it was overwhelming. You have to see Santiago Cathedral, meet with friends that have been made along the way, but it not a place for quiet relaxation.

If you are not a city person there are lots of small villages and market towns along the way to rest in. Often the best way is just to rest when you are ready, rather than planning ahead and creating a timetable for yourself; however if you have certain sights you want to see then planning your rest days on the Camino de Santiago might be a good idea.

Tortilla

I Walked the Camino de Santiago as a Vegan and you can too

In May and June, (2012), I walked along with my husband, the Camino de Santiago as a vegan as well as sugar and gluten free. I spent a good amount of time before leaving on the internet looking for information about being vegan on the Camino…but to no avail. So, I decided to keep notes of what I ate during our trip to help others with this challenge. Because I have a minor problem with wheat and other gluten products, I was also very conscious of the details of how I remained this way for 99% of my Camino. I have been a vegan for about 15 years.

tortilla

The wish to be vegan for me stems from three different “routes”. First is for the benefit to our planet, secondly are the health benefits for me and thirdly for the lives of animals. I practice yoga regularly and believe in “ahimsa” which means “do no harm”. These three reasons fit with my spiritual practice and is important for me and I knew it would be important on the Camino as I was looking at the trip as a spiritual experience. I also believe that I should allow others to live as they wish so my intention here is to provide information to those who are interested in traveling the Camino this way and not to profess that this is the “only” way. One big lesson that we both learned on the Camino was that it represents life itself and that there is no “one” way. Each of us needs to find our own “way”. I found that planning was important but letting go is also important. Trying to control oneself or others at all times is impossible.

Spain, is a meat and fish eating country and we found that this was true in the north. Many people did not understand the words vegetarian or vegan (a bit like 15 years ago in the USA). I realized early on that I needed to ask many questions in restaurants before choosing items. My level of Spanish was sufficient for understanding all food labels and this would have been difficult without the language. One interesting note about buying vegetables in stores…many would not allow us to choose and bag our own vegetables. One has to wait for a store employee to choose them and weigh and bag them. Their reason is that they do not like the food to be handled by many people to prevent bruising of the fruits/vegetables. They also want to reduce the transmission of germs. Many of the stores had beautiful displays.

Here are the basics of our eating on the Camino:

  • Most days I started off eating fruit and/or 1 or 2 rice or corn cakes for breakfast with a cup of tea. The most common activity for most pilgrims was to stop for a “café con leche” after 1-2 hours of walking and I would usually have a cup of tea. For those vegans who eat bread there was usually bread or toast available in most of the “bars” where one eats and or drinks all day. Juice, often fresh, was always available.
  • Lunch would usually include nuts, corncakes and fruit. There were a few times during the early days on the camino when there was no option at all and so my “off vegan” moments included what the Spanish call a Spanish tortilla, torta or omelette which consisted of mostly potato, onion and some egg. For me I felt that the protein was important when I did not have any nuts or beans. After several days on the camino I discovered stores that had both nuts and beans – usually lentils and garbanzos and here and there red or other beans. Some might cringe at the following…I put my beans or lentils in little baggies and ate them cold along the way, with my spork. I actually liked this snack, sometime scooped with some endive or lettuce.
  • Snacks were nuts, fruit, veggies, beans, corn or rice cakes (bread for Richard), potato chips, occasional dark chocolate (sugar free for me).
  • Dinner for most folks was a “Pilgrim’s Meal” – 3 courses including wine or water. These meals always contained fish or meat and for us was not a favorite as we also do not drink alcohol. We did, however, manage and usually had a salad (reminding them to hold the tuna and egg), a vegetable dish (many times was white asparagus or menestre de verduras -vegetable stew). Pasta with tomato sauce or some vegetables was often an option for the pilgrim meals and I did it eat it on a very rare occasion, though it does not sit well in my stomach. In the several cities including Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and Santiago we found vegetarian restaurants and a great vegan restaurant in Burgos. We found vegetarian paella in many places and this was a delicious alternative.

When options were slip, I concocted our own meals in the many albergues that had kitchens. This usually involved going shopping in the little villages for some vegetables and beans. Using either a stove or microwave I was able to cook delicious meals. There were often some spices or condiments in the albergues that could be used by pilgrims. From time to time I found microwaveable rice in small packets that I served with a hot meal and we often had salads to go with the meals. Richard would enjoy the many breads of Spain which were available in every town.

Please contact Susan via email if you want any additional information. She is happy to support anyone who plans to walk the Camino as a vegan. It was one of the best trips of her life. You can find Susan’s blog at this link Susan Neulist and email sneulist {@} gmail.com