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When is the best time to walk the Camino de Santiago? This is probably one of the first questions you’ll ask when planning to walk the Camino. In short, the answer is up to you, but below I have broken down the weather season by season as well as mentioning some other important factors to consider when choosing the best time to hike the Camino including how many pilgrims walk each month and what route you take.
When to walk the Camino de Santiago
There is no “best time” to walk the Camino de Santiago. The routes to Santiago de Compostela are open all year round so the best time to walk the Camino really boils down to the type of experience you’re hoping to get out of your Camino.
Like with any holiday, there are a few things you’ll likely want to consider beforehand. The two biggest factors are:
- Seasonal weather
- The number of pilgrims on the route
Most routes are better enjoyed in the Spring and Summer (April to October) when there is less rainfall and the mountainous trail sections are clear. But better weather means more pilgrims so below I will try to help you weigh up the pros and cons of each season to help you make a better decision.
Peak Season on the Camino De Santiago
The middle of the summer (July and August) are typically the busiest months on the Camino and consequently, this is when the albergues are at their busiest and the routes (especially the Camino Frances) are full of pilgrims. Below is a graph of the number of pilgrims registered each month on the Camino in 2019.
If you’re looking to enjoy a sociable experience on the Camino then the summer months are the perfect time to walk the Camino. If you’re looking for a more solitary and peaceful walk on the Camino, you may want to consider walking in the quieter months of April, May, September or October which fall outside the typical European holiday season or choosing a less popular route such as the Via de la Plata or the Camino Primitivo which is one of the oldest and original routes to Santiago.
What are the most popular routes on the Camino?
Camino Frances is the most popular route to walk to Santiago. This is for a number of reasons including diversity of landscapes and challenges, availability of albergues and services, markers and social media influence.
The Camino Portugues has been rising in the ranks over the past few years to become the second most popular route chosen by pilgrims on the Camino. Other routes are less popular and on certain routes such as the Via de la Plata and the Invierno route, you can expect to see little to no pilgrims at all.
The Finisterre Camino is another popular route but most pilgrims choose to walk this Camino starting in Santiago and finishing in Finisterre as a continuation of their Camino, therefore official statistics of pilgrims that start in Finisterre and walk to Santiago are low.
Best Month to walk the Camino
The weather is often the biggest factor people consider when choosing when to walk the Camino de Santiago. Every season has its pros and cons but ultimately it is up to you to decide what season suits you best.
Some people want to walk in the warmer months when there is a bit of heat, others don’t do well in heat and may prefer the cooler temperatures of Spring. Rain if often something on people’s minds, but unfortunately rain is unavoidable regardless of the season but some seasons have more rain than others.
It would be impossible to chart out the average rainfall for each month as each route passes through different countries and regions and each region can often have its own climate.
Galicia for example, where Santiago de Compostela is located, is said to have a similar climate to Ireland and the UK as it is a very green, unprotected from the mountains and is heavily affected by the Atlantic ocean and therefore Pilgrims report it rains more often there than in Castilla y León region which is considerably drier and hotter, especially in the Meseta.
Walking the Camino in Spring (March, April and, May)
Walking the Camino during Spring brings Pilgrims a host of benefits. By March, the temperatures have slowly started to rise and come April temperatures can reach the low twenties (°C) in some areas. As the weeks pass, the weather will become drier and warmer and by the end of May temperatures will be high enough to need summer clothing. But note, weather can still be unpredictable and rain will be likely so you can expect muddy puddles on certain parts of the routes.
Spring on the Camino is a beautiful time of year, with the countryside blossoming in colour and floral scents, the hills are green and lush, and young baby animals can be seen on the farmlands. Mountain passes in the Pyrenees will be clearer although they still tend to be dangerously frozen over and can be affected by heavy fog so pilgrims may be advised to take alternative routes.
Accommodation during Spring on the Camino
You should be aware that some Albergues are seasonal so if you walk in the early parts of March you may find many are still closed but come April and May most will be open and welcoming Pilgrims as this is the time when the Camino routes will become busier. You should definitely pack a sleeping bag during this period as nights are still chilly and many albergues do not have heating.
Easter on the Camino
Walking the Camino during Lent has become a popular choice for many Pilgrims who choose to walk the Camino for religious purposes. During the season of Lent, you’ll find special services held in local churches along the Camino and you may even experience local Easter traditions, celebrations and Easter markets in bigger towns.
Walking the Camino in the Summer (June, July and August)
June welcomes warmer temperatures and longer days with the Summer Solstice on the 21st June. The early mornings will be lighter and the sunsets later, so Pilgrims can often relax a little if their pace is slower as there is no need to fret about walking in the dark.
June, July and August are the peak months on the Camino because the weather is at its best. Temperatures soar in July and August so Pilgrims should take measures to avoid sunstroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration on the Camino. During these months it is common for Pilgrims to rise early in the morning and walk while temperatures are low, avoiding the strong sun of midday. The Maseta will be exceptionally hot as this stretch of the Camino on the Camino Frances has very little shade.
Accommodation during Summer on the Camino
Albergues are often at full capacity in the summer months and while you shouldn’t stress too much and rush your Camino in order to get a bed every night, you may want to set off earlier in the morning to allow yourself more time to arrive early afternoon to ensure a bed in the busiest towns. Alternatively, stay in towns that are “off route”. This means avoid the towns that are at the end of the planned route for the day laid out in guidebooks. You could also add to your budget and account for one or two nights where you can stay in a private room or hotel if beds are fully booked.
St. James Day on the Camino
July is a particularly popular month on the Camino as many Catholic’s who walk the Camino aim to finish on the feast of St. James which falls on the 25th July. In Jacobean Years, you can expect vast numbers of Pilgrims to ascend upon the Camino routes the entire year although July will be the peak month (see below for more information).
Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls
The Running of the bulls in Pamplona is held in July. It is an iconic festival that brings in thousands of tourists so accommodation in Pamplona (if you plan on staying there) will be higher in this period. I highly recommend avoiding Pamplona during the festival and do not run with the bulls if you find yourself there for the festival. If you get hurt, you’ll risk the rest of your Camino.
Walking the Camino in the Autumn (September and October)
September is a popular month to walk the Camino as temperatures are still high but the number of Pilgrims on the Camino drops considerably. Temperatures start dropping in October but the scenery as the trees turn colour is beautiful. You can expect more rain in October, especially in Galicia and in the higher altitudes you can even expect some snowfall as early as the end of October. Evenings and early mornings can be very chilly in October so you’ll want to pack accordingly.
Accommodation during Autumn on the Camino
Pilgrim numbers drop dramatically in late September and October so most Albergues will have plenty of space and beds available. You may want to call ahead to albergues you plan on sleeping in during late October/early November as some close down for the winter.
September and October are harvest months especially in the wine regions. You can expect to find local festivities and see vineyard harvests along the way during these two months.
Walking the Camino in the Winter (November, December, January and February)
The winter season is the low season on the Camino. Walking the Camino in the winter is a little more challenging, with extreme weather conditions, snow covered trails, hidden way markers and closed albergues to contend with.
The weather will be cold regardless of the route you choose and you can expect snow on the higher altitudes as well as frost. For this reason some routes and passes will be closed (Napoleon route of the Camino Frances for example). Winter is the most peaceful period to walk the Camino but it requires better planning and you’ll have to pack warmer clothing which takes up more space and adds to your weight in your backpack.
Accommodation during Autumn on the Camino
Many albergues will be closed during the winter so advanced planning is required. The few albergues that are open will be cold and many are not heated so a warm sleeping bag is a must. You should plan you days out in advance because you may find you have to walk longer days to reach albergues or accommodations that are open in the winter.
Fewer daylight hours
Consider that if you walk the Camino in the winter, there are fewer daylight hours than the summer, therefore you may end up walking part of your day in little to no light. For this reason, you may want to consider adding more time to you Camino if you do not wish to walk in the dark.
Walking the Camino during a Jacobean Holy Year
Jacobean years or Holy Years are very special years on the Camino. This is when the Feast of St.James falls on the 25th July falls on a Sunday. In these special jubilee years, Catholic Pilgrims can obtain a plenary indulgence, leaving them completely absolved of all their sins. Depending on leap years Holy Years occur on a fixed pattern of 5, 6 and 11 year intervals. The most recent Holy Years were 1999, 2004 and 2010. The next Holy Years on the Camino will be 2021, 2027 and 2032.
Typically, because of this, the Holy Years attracts more people from all over the world to the Camino routes and albergues are very full, especially on the Camino Frances towards the end of June and the month of July. So you may want to consider planning your trip in advance or choosing a less popular route such as the Via de la Plata or the Camino Primitivo (the Original Way).