When you embark on such a long and extensive journey such as the Camino de Santiago, you’re bound to have a million and one questions that you want answered before you decide it’s right for you. While it doesn’t take much planning, there are a lot of elements of the trip that people often have questions about. So I have compiled a list of all the common FAQ’s for the Camino de Santiago. If there are any questions I have missed out, send me a comment and I’ll answer it the best I can for you!
What Is The Most Common Route?
The most popular route and the route I took is called the Camino Francés. Covering almost 800 km, it begins from Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees and ends in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Western Spain. The route typically follows the historical Catholic pilgrimage trail also called “The Way of St James”. It is frequently and clearly marked with iconic symbol of the pilgrimage including yellow arrows and shells.
How Long Does It Take?
A typical walk of the entire Camino Francés normally takes around 4 weeks or 33 days however many choose to take longer to allow for rest days. It really depends on how much you are able to walk in a day and be comfortable. To gain the official Compostela in Santiago you only have to walk a minimum of 100 km (which is why you’ll find the last 100 km of the Camino from Saria much busier than the rest of the route).
Some also choose to do the Camino in stages, returning year after year to complete smaller stages of roughly a week at each time. However it is completely up to you to decide how long to take. I met many people who decided to take months to walk the Camino and to enjoy every element and every place they visited along the way.
Do I Have To Walk It Or Can I Cycle It?
If you are short on time or you fancy a challenge, the Camino de Santiago can also be cycled. The route and distance are the same, although there are sections where cyclists are able to follow a main road as opposed to rocky mountain foot paths. Walking pilgrims typically cover 4 – 5 km on a good speed per hour while cyclist are able to cover around 12 km in an hour, making the Camino do-able in around 10 – 12 days. Either way walking or cycling you’ll have a fantastic journey.
What Is An Average Speed & Distance Covered Per Day?
This depends on how long you have decided to take to walk the Camino. Typically on a 33 day itinerary most people walk anywhere from 20-25 km ( 10-15 miles ) however if you want to factor in rest days this average may go up. As for average speed, it is considered a good pace if you can accomplish 5 km an hour, however I recommend that you factor in that you normally walk much quicker in the morning and your pace will slow in the afternoon after you have eaten and in the heat or sunshine. Your pace will also be considerably slower if you get tendinitis or suffer from muscle pain along the way, one of the many problems you may face on the Camino.
When Is The Best Time To Go?
This is a very debatable question since a lot of people have their own opinions on the best time of year to walk the Camino. In all honesty it depends on what you are looking for or hoping for. If you’re not too keen on walking in extremes of weather than the heat of July & August and the cold and possible snow from December – February may not be for you. However many argue that the winter months are a great time to experience an empty and far less busy Camino. Spring and Autumn are beautiful months to walk the Camino but they can bring unpredictable weather and rain.
I walked the Camino during July & August. Although there were many hot days, the weather was overall pleasant with an average temperature of around 25 degrees. If you plan on walking in the summer it is advisable to start your days earlier to enjoy a reasonable length of time in the morning in a cooler temperature to get the majority of your walking done and finish your day before the heat of the day hits you from 12 pm on wards. The heat was bearable and I even experienced a few days of rain. Bare in mind that when you’re higher up in altitude the weather can be more unpredictable and I found the mornings and evenings to be chilly even though the days were hot, so a fleece and waterproof clothing is still advisable to take even in the summer.
Do I Need To Take Any Specialist Hiking Equipment?
While the Camino covers a wide range of landscapes and terrain you will not need to take any specialist equipment to successfully complete it. The only two pieces of equipment I would personally advise considering are a good pair of boots that support your ankle (especially if you walk in the winter months with snow, ice and rain) and hiking sticks to assist you with some of the steep ascends (and more importantly the descends) of the trip. However again these are optional but I found mine to be incredibly helpful on the hills and it made a huge difference on my knees.
Is There A Recommended Weight My Backpack Should Be?
The trick of the game is to pack as lightly as possible. It is recommended that you take no more than 10% of your body weight, which depending on the season you travel in can be incredibly easy or very difficult. My pack weighed 8 kg, more than the 10% of my body weight which would be around 5 kg. I packed the bare minimum items and I even included luxury items such as a camera and mobile phone. I also packed a Swiss army knife and a head torch, two of my most essential of items.
Do I Have To Carry My Bag?
While most pilgrims carry their backpacks on their bags, some pilgrims decide the weight gets too much for them or they simply want to walk a bit faster on a particular day or have a break from carrying weight. If this is the case there are a couple of bag transport services that will pick up your backpack in the morning and deliver it to your next provided albergue.
I used JacoTrans which is the only company who transports along the COMPLETE route of Camino Frances.
You fill in a form, attach it to your bag, call the service providers to notify them to collect your bag, give them both addresses and enclose the small fee (roughly 5 – 10 euros) in an envelope attached to your form. You then leave your bag with reception or in a designated place for them to collect in the morning. You are then free to walk to your next albergue where your bag will be waiting for you.
Do I Need To Speak Spanish?
Learning a little Spanish before you embark on your Camino wouldn’t go a miss. Learning the polite greetings and thank you will be helpful to you and it will also be another way you can completely immerse yourself into the Spanish culture and Camino experience. However you do not need Spanish to walk the Camino. Many of the people you meet in the albergues will speak English and you can get by with very basic Spanish in the small restaurants and cafes in the villages.
I Am A Solo Traveler. Is It Safe To Go Alone?
YES! You may be surprised about the number of solo travelers you will meet on the Camino, In fact, some say travelling solo is the best way to experience the full extent of what the Camino offers. Of course as with any solo trips you do have to be vigilant and be ware of your surroundings (and belongings) if you are walking solo in the early mornings or late evenings. There have been cases of women being approached by men on the Camino and more recently a tragic murder on the Camino, however please be ware that these are very rare occurrences. I had a very safe and enjoyable solo experience on the Camino, and I met many solo female and male travelers who had no problems walking by themselves.
If you feel unsure about certain areas of the Camino (i.e walking through some of the longer stretches where there are fewer villages), I am sure that if you ask a fellow pilgrim to join them for that section they would be more than happy to accompany you through. You will meet many like-minded travelers along the way and if you don’t want to walk alone I am 100% positive you will find a suitable group to tag along with or find a friendly face along the way.
What Type Of Shoes Are Suitable?
This is a kind of sticky question since it really depends on your comfort and your feet. It is highly advisable NOT to buy new shoes or boots for the Camino. Whatever style of shoe you choose, whether it is a comfortable but sturdy trainer, hiking shoe or trekking boots, they need to be well-worn in with over 100 hours of use and walking time attributed to them (at least). People I met who walked in new boots had MAJOR problems with blisters and sore feet.
Also think about the season you are walking in. Make sure that if you decide to walk in the summer that your shoes and socks are breathable (in fact they should be anyway to avoid the build up of moisture = blisters), and they should all be gore tex or waterproof. Expect rain in any season, and if this happens you will want you feet to be as dry as possible!
Also bear in mind that some of the Camino is walking on very stoney, boulders and mountain passes that will require a shoe that supports your ankle. The last thing you will want is a twisted ankle because your foot wasn’t supported enough.
Do I Have To Be Religious To Walk The Camino?
Definitely not. People walk the Camino for types of reasons and while it is a historic pilgrimage many people you will meet have alternative reasons. Be ware that you will meet people who are on pilgrimage for religious reasons and you should respect that they may wish to walk alone and or have slightly different perspectives, wishes and desires while on the Camino.
Is It Physically Challenging?
The Camino is easy – said no one ever! The Camino is one of the hardest things I have done in my life to date. I saw even the most fittest and well-trained hiker suffer and struggle on the Camino.
You don’t have to be an athlete to walk it, but a reasonable level of fitness and health will be beneficial if you want to successfully complete it. Walking long distances every day will take its toll on your body and mind. Regardless of your age or fitness, you are likely to suffer from blisters, joint pains and muscle aches which can cause you to slow your pace or take unplanned rest days.
Some people advise taking hiking trips and long walks up to 6 months prior to walking the Camino to prepare your body for the long journey ahead. I did absolutely no training for my Camino and I successfully completed the journey with only minor health problems (oh and a broken hand – but that’s another story!).
How Easy Is It To Get Lost?
The Camino Frances is very well-marked with yellow arrows, signs and shells to point you in the right direction along the entire journey. Pair that with a suitable guidebook for the Camino and it is incredibly difficult to get lost. If you are unsure of the direction you are walking in you can of course ask a local and or retrace your steps to when you last saw an arrow or shell to double-check your route.
What If I Get Sick?
Getting sick or injury is very common on the Camino. The most common injuries are feet sores, blisters, tendinitis, cuts to the legs or knees from falling over and muscle injuries due to over working. If this happens it is important to tend to your wounds on the spot to avoid infection and or seek medical help from the nearest Centro de Salud (a medical health centre). If you are an EU citizen, your European Health Card will be sufficient to seek care and medical attention. Others will need some kind of proof of insurance and or may have to pay for their care.
It has been known for pilgrims to fall sick with food poisoning and water poisoning by drinking unsuitable drinking water from the fountains along the Camino. Please check if the fountains are for drinking before filling up your bottle or purchase water from the nearest shop or have a cafe fill up your container to be safe.
Where Do You Go To The Bathroom On The Camino?
There are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants along the Camino route that are available for toilet breaks. There aren’t many sections of the route where you will have to hold it for more than 5 km. Most bars and cafes allow you to use their toilet providing you buy a coffee or something from them.
Of course in times of emergency and if you feel comfortable you can do your thing on the route. Of course for men this is much easier, but for women you will need to find a bush. And if you are doing a number two please do not put it in a plastic bag and leave it or hang it in a tree. If desperate times call for desperate measures bury it and be kind. Do not leave evidence f your business and do it far enough of the track.
What Type Of Accommodation Is There?
The most commonly used accommodation on the Camino are albergues. These types of accommodations are often family, locally or church run hostels that provide basic amenities and single beds to pilgrim with a valid credential. Most albergues are clean and offer a place to sleep, wash and eat for a small donation or around 10 euros per night.
There are numerous hotels or small private hostels along the way that offer single or double rooms and more privacy for those who seek it, however expect to pay more than the normal albergues (somewhere in the region of 20 – 40 euros per night). Also note that in the smaller villages and towns this option may not be available.
The larger and more luxurious hotels can only be found in the bigger cities. These are quite expensive and most pilgrims do not stay in them. However the Parador chain is quite popular with pilgrims who wish to splash out during their pilgrimage.
Do I Have To Book Accommodation In Advance?
It is sometimes advised to book your accommodation in St Jean Pied de Port and in the albergue in Orisson in advance of your stay especially in the peak months during the summer. However it is not necessary (and most of the time not possible) to book your albergues in advance. Most are on a first come first served basis and if they have limited bed space be prepared to take a taxi or walk to the next town or find another form of accommodation. I found it very rare for albergues not to have any space to accommodate late arrivals (in peak season) however be prepared and budget for private rooms in the last 100 km as I found this to be the most problematic area for lack of basic albergue accommodation.
Can I Do Laundry?
Most albergues have a place for you to wash your clothes and do laundry either by hand or by machine for a small fee (2 or 3 euros). Some also have the option to pay and have your washing done for you and also tumble dried if the weather isn’t suitable to hand your clothes out to dry. Again the fee is around 2 or 3 euros each for wash and dry.
Is There Wifi?
Some albergues especially in the bigger towns and cities do provide a WiFi service. However do not expect a fast or reliable connection and no not expect WiFi at all in the more rural and mountainous parts of the Camino.
If you are set on having a WiFi connection for your entire Camino then you should consider renting a WiFi hot spot dongle from a provider such as AllDayInternet from as little as 5 euros per day. However note that I had this option during my Camino and while it worked fantastically, there were remote places were the connection was slow or didn’t have signal at all.
What Is There To Eat?
Spain is a country full of delicious and traditional cuisines and you’ll come across a whole range of tastes along the Camino. There is no shortage of places to eat or stop for a snack along the Camino. You will be spoilt for choice in cities, and even on the remote long stretches of the Maseta you will find small cafes or shops where you can stop and top up your energy.
As an example this is what my menu every day consisted of:
Breakfast: Normally eaten after the first 10 km
A glass of orange juice
A glass of coke or similar (for sugar)
A croissant or pastry of some kind
A piece of fruit
Lunch – Normally eaten in a snack bar or cafe along the way
A Bocadillo (sandwich) or tortilla (egg omelet)
Another drink (normally something sugary)
Dinner – Almost every day I ate the pilgrim set menu for around 10 euros. It is a very basic menu consisting of a starter (a soup or salad), a main and a desert. It also comes with a bottle of wine! (Some times endless bottles!) Note that these menus are not a reflection on Spain’s normal delicious cuisine.
Of course there are any albergues that offer the option to cook for yourself, in which you will need to visit the local supermarket for supplies. If you are on a budget – this option may suit you better.
NB: Vegetarians will find the Camino hard in regards to choices of food to eat. Pilgrim menus are normally set and you will be limited to salads and potatoes a lot of the time.
How Much Does It Cost?
Since the Camino is essentially a pilgrimage, costs are kept fanatically low meaning it is a great adventure for those on a budget. You can budget as low as 15 Euros per day if you strategically plan your accommodation and cook for yourself every day. There are a number of donativo albergues where you can offer a donation to sleep there (it is advised to pay around 5-10 euros as a donation) and there are plenty of supermarkets to purchase your own supplies for dinner and make your own sandwiches for lunch.
Most people (myself included) budgeted around 30 Euros per day which included a reasonable breakfast, lunch, dinner and lodging every night. There were a few days when I splashed out on a double room for privacy and comfort that meant I went over my daily budget.
Also allow a budget for pharmacy purchases including plasters, tape, pills or anything else you may need on the Camino.
Is There A Guide Book I Can Purchase?
Yes there are plenty of guide books for the Camino and its various routes. The best one and the one I took with me is “A Guidebook to the Camino de Santiago” by John Brierley. It currently isn’t available by e-book or kindle although there are other e-books available if you are looking to save weight and space.
Where Can I Get A Credential?
There are various ways of obtaining your credential for the Camino de Santiago. The easiest and most popular way is to visit the pilgrim office in St Jean Pied de Port and receive your first official stamp. Other ways include reaching out to your local Catholic church and getting in contact with a local office that can provide you with a local version of the Credential or there are various websites where you can purchase your credential in advance and have it sent to you via post.
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