Walking the Camino de Santiago : What is it Really Like?
Created by Colleen Sims * 1 April 2023 * Updated 11 February 2024
I have walked many different Camino routes and thousands of Camino miles. If you want to know more about Walking the Camino de Santiago then read on; I’ll share what I’ve learned from a decade of walking.
The Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James is one of the world’s most famous walking routes and attracts pilgrims from across the globe. The Camino is not one route but many, although the most famous route is the Camino Frances.
This 800 kilometre trek through the picturesque landscapes, culminates at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Its a journey that demands physical stamina but rewards you with a spiritual and emotional experience like no other.
Since my first walk I have walked once or twice every year, I am now a walking guide on the Camino and I hold training workshops at my home in France.
What’s it Like to Walk the Camino de Santiago: A Journey of a Lifetime
What’s it Like to Walk the Camino de Santiago? I first walked a decade ago and it’s true that walking the Camino really did change my life. Like many people, I didn’t walk for religious reasons but felt, nonetheless, that I was called to walk. Once I had decided I would make the journey, nothing would distract me.
The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It’s a spiritual experience that challenges you both physically and mentally. But how can you prepare for such an adventure and what should you know before embarking on your own pilgrimage?
I am asked over and over what’s it really like to walk the Camino de Santiago, from people who have heard about the walk or who have a desire to discover the Camino for themselves. If you are planning to hike the Camino de Santiago, I hope that the following will answer some of your questions.
Be warned this is long, so maybe use the Table of Contents to find a particular answer to a particular question. If you have a specific question in mind, reach out to me and I’ll do my best to answer it.
Accommodation along the Camino de Santiago : Albergue, Hostel, Casa Rural or Hotel
One of the first questions people ask about the Camino is where will they sleep and what is an albergue?
The Camino de Santiago offers walkers an array of accommodation options to suit all budgets. There are caveats to this though, the lesser known routes will offer fewer options. Along the Camino Frances, the Portuguese, the Norte and the Primitivo there are choices and accommodation is generally plentiful, with a few exceptions.
Albergue offer basic accommodation at very reasonable rates. Much like hostels, you will probably sleep in bunk beds and quality can vary. There will also be rules such as when the door gets locked at night!
In older municipal albergue and some monasteries the facilities can be more basic. In many private albergue the accommodation can be first class. Sometimes I’m prepared to accept less comfort for a unique experiences.
Albergue prices range from as little as 8€ up to around 22€ for a bunk. Many albergue offer facilities for clothes washing, a kitchen and you get to mingle with other pilgrims. Many offer communal dinners and breakfast for an additional fee. If you’re familiar with hostels then an albergue is really a Spanish Camino equivalent.
I enjoy staying in an Albergue; I call them pilgrim nests. There is a fellowship and a shared experience here but it comes at a cost; privacy, quiet and comfort. Regardless, I feel that everyone’s Camino experience should include at least one or two nights in an albergue, if for no other reason than to have that experience; choose well because there really are some fabulous albergue along the way.
Private Rooms in Albergue
My favourite kind of albergue will offer both bunks and private rooms and I LOVE this option. It’s perfect when travelling with Gerry who really does not enjoy the shared bedroom experience.
This option offers all the advantages of staying with pilgrims but with privacy.
Alojamiento Rural or Casa Rural
Contrary to popular belief there are many hotel and private room options along the Camino and a great many pilgrims prefer this option; Gerry included. Some of the Alojamiento Rural, or Spanish bed and breakfast, offer such excellent value for money that it’s sometimes cheaper for two or three people to share a private room.
The Alojamiento Rural is usually a traditional house, usually found in a more rural setting. Casa Rurales are ideal for those looking to experience a little slice of authentic Spanish life, they are usually family-run, offer a homely atmosphere and often provide traditional Spanish cuisine. Some also offer services such as laundry at a small extra cost.
I am so often asked if there are hotels along the Camino; and yes there are! My sister has told me that she would never cope with albergue life and therefore she assumed that she could never walk a Camino. I know that she’s not alone in thinking this. However, hotels are plentiful and always very busy with pilgrims who feel exactly the same way.
If you want more privacy and comfort, there are many options available, particularly in larger towns and cities If you are travelling as a couple or in a group a hotel room can often prove to be excellent value. They will often be larger and less ‘homely’ than the casa rural but will often offer more modern facilities. I wouldn’t say that they are a better choice than the Casa Rural, they are simple another great option to add to your accommodation choices.
If I’m staying overnight in a large town or city I often decide to ‘treat’ myself to a really nice hotel and luxuriate in a hot bath and just enjoy the comfort.
Parador Hotels are a chain of luxurious and historic Spanish hotels, usually found in older castles, palaces, monasteries or fortresses. They are owned and run by the government and offer a really unique experience. If you have the chance I thoroughly recommend a night in one!
Parador Hotels are very special and offer you the chance to stay in some truly magnificent historical buildings with all the modern comforts that you’d expect from a luxury brand such as Parador.
Not all Paradors are ancient, in Cordoba the building is modern but the rooms are no less stunning and the more modern Paradors can also be a little less expensive.
We have an unwritten rule that if there is a Parador on our route then we MUST stay there. Paradors, aren’t the cheapest pilgrim option however, they do offer a pilgrim rate, they do have special offers (where we’ve found some great prices), their breakfasts are amazing and if you share a room with another pilgrim the costs becomes really reasonable, considering the luxury accommodation.
Along the Frances, there is a Parador in Leon (featured in the film The Way), another in the centre of Santo Domingo de Calzada which is also wonderful (I stay here with my groups) and another in Santiago de Compostela, which books very quickly.
You’ll also find Parador hotels along the other routes; Pontevedra, Tui and Biaiona on the Portuguese are all magnificent. There are Parador hotels across Spain and we’ve yet to stay in one that we didn’t love.
Are there Books about Walking the Camino de Santiago?
There are many excellent books on the Camino, (so many that maybe I should write another post about books). Here are some of my favourites and ones that I would recommend if you’re just starting your journey.
John Brierley Guides
John Brierley is considered an authority on the modern Camino; indeed it is his recommended stages that most people follow today. The influence of these stages cannot be understated; you only need to see the accommodation choices at stage ends to see this.
John Brierley guide books are revised and updated each year and I guarantee that at any café stop along the Camino you’ll find a group of pilgrims browsing their Brierley guides.
On my first walk, just outside of Pamplona, I met a group of ladies from the USA. Their first words to me were about the Brierley guide; “We call him Uncle John” one told me. A decade later we’re still firm friends and have crossed the Atlantic to see each other, such is the power of the Camino.
Travels with my Donkey by Tim Moore
When I decided to walk the Camino Gerry gave me a book by Tim Moore : Travels with my Donkey. Gerry’s intention was to show me what a folly it would be to hike 800 kilometres across Spain.
He had hoped that Tim’s struggles with Shinto his donkey would deter me. It had the opposite effect. I love the book, laughed at Tim’s exploits and read it over and over and made notes in the margins. I still love this book. Put it on your gift list!
The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago by Gitlizt and Davidson
I bought this book before I walked my first Camino and The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago remains on my kindle app to this day. I have dipped into it many many times over the last decade.
To me it’s an historical masterpiece and describes in detail many of the buildings, features and history of the Camino and it’s in ‘walking order’ so it’s easy to find information ‘on the go’.
Sadly only relevant to the Camino Frances and the Camino Aragones, but regardless it is a fabulous resource and I recommend everyone buy a copy. It’s a big book so the kindle version is much easier to manage whilst walking.
Wise Pilgrim Guides and Apps
I know this is the ‘books’ section and I tend to use Wise Pilgrims Apps but their guide books are also great and deserve a mention. I buy these guides for groups that I lead and I ALWAYS ensure I have his app on my phone. Michael lives in Galicia and works tirelessly to keep his app, website and guidebooks current and up to date.
They are very inexpensive and I find the information invaluable. A purchase of his products helps to secure the future of this very valuable local resource.
Walking Back Home : Find Clarity on the Camino
No book list would be complete without a mention of my dear friend Maggie. I walked over 1000 kilometres with Maggie along the Via de la Plata and our lives will be forever joined. I met her on my second Camino Frances in 2015 and we became firm friends.
She wrote a book, Walking Back Home : Finding Clairty on the Camino. She documents her experiences on the Camino Frances and how it changed her life!
What is it like to walk alone on the Camino de Santiago?
Can you walk the Camino alone? Yes. I did. When I first walked I never considered walking with someone else. The Camino is for everyone. You’ll find people walking solo, but in equal measure you’ll find groups of friends, couples, families, walking groups and organised tours.
The Camino Frances is certainly the most popular route and if you walk this route you wont be alone unless it’s by choice. On the lesser walked routes you may find yourself walking solo for many days and likewise in the winter months you could feel more alone.
Solitude though is not a bad thing, many pilgrims seek this and many people prefer to hike alone. When deciding on which route you hike the time of year you walk will very much dictate your route choice due to the popularity at certain times.
I like to spend time walking alone, even when travelling with a group. There are two advantages:
- I get to spend time thinking or better still clearing my head and not thinking. One of the joys of walking is to switch off from everything and solo walking allows this.
- When you walk alone you are more likely to strike up a conversation with others
I have started the Camino alone many times but ended the walk with a handful of now life long friends. Walking alone gives you freedom to choose where to sleep, when to rest, when to be quiet, when to get up, when to eat or when go to bed. And in that quiet space many people find a freedom on the Camino.
There is no right or wrong way to walk. Gerry is my favourite walking buddy and I LOVE our hikes and gosh I love walking with my groups. Alone or with friends you will find joy in this glorious route.
Can I Hike a Pilgrimage with my Family?
I’ve not walked with my family, apart from Gerry and never walked with children, but many many families do walk together, young and older members of families very often walk together and I’m sure their relationship is richer for the experience.
The most challenging aspect of your planning will be your accommodation. I have stayed in albergue with families with toddlers and babies and this option is totally possible, but I would recommend that you book ahead to ensure that you have the beds and the space that you need.
If you are travelling in a larger family group you may wish to reserve your accommodation in advance to ensure that everyone gets a bed. I will only walk with a group when all beds have been booked in advance. I understand that this can take away a little of the Camino spontaneity but it also offers peace of mind to larger groups.
There are several great blogs and websites about hiking with children and the Camino De Santiago forum is a great place to ask for first hand experiences.
Top Tip : If you’re walking with other adults consider hiking pace. I walk at a different speed to Gerry and when I lead groups we agree that everyone should walk at their own pace. Set up a whatsapp chat group so that you can stay in touch or agree to stop at the first bar in town but never feel the need to stick together. It’s a good idea to agree this in advance as it will be an important part of the Camino experience.
How do I Prepare for the Camino de Santiago?
Physically the best way to prepare for the Camino is to walk. I know that sounds a little simplistic but the best way to prepare is to get walking. There are many groups online that offer advice and support too. I would like to stress though that not all the advice online is good and not all of the advice online is true. So be discerning.
When I lead a group I recommend a training plan of between 8 to12 weeks but the longer you have then the more conditioned your body will be and the easier your hike will be. So if you plan to walk next year, use the year to get fit!
- Start slowly and ensure that your doctor is happy with your walking plans.
- Train with the shoes, backpack and clothes that you’ll be using on the camino.
- Mix up your fitness regime. walk, stretch, yoga, take the stairs and get off the bus early.
- Get moving and slowly build up your endurance and stamina
The Camino isn’t a race. You don’t need to be an athlete. It’s about stamina, you will get up every day and just keep walking. You will need a reasonable level of fitness before starting the Camino.
It is also important before embarking on the Camino de Santiago, to prepare your mind as well as your body. You can start with short hikes to build up your walking, but don’t forget to build up your knowledge of what to expect. Read books, or join online forums to learn from other pilgrims’ experiences. Often the mental journey is much harder than the physical one.
Consider how you will cope with tiredness, a different diet, missing home, not able to communicate. All of these factors will test you so thinking about them in advance can help you develop coping strategies.
However, for both the mental and physical preparation I would stress that you shouldn’t over think things. Have a plan, get moving and let the walk do the rest.
How do I Clean my Clothes on the Camino de Santiago?
A friend on my first Camino renamed pilgrims to Grims as we approached Santiago; she decided that we all smelt so bad that it was more appropriate. But there’s no need to arrive in Santiago smelling like a medieval pilgrim as there are many options for laundry whilst walking.
- You can hand wash your clothes each day.
- You can use the facilities offered by your accommodation
- You could find a launderette in town and use their facilities.
Albergue often offer hand washing facilities along with drying areas, some also offer washing machines and dryers too. If I’m travelling with a group we will ‘pool’ our laundry so that we only need one wash.
I also recommend that you try hand washing all your clothes at home before you leave. Check to see if they are easy to wash in a sink and to see if they will dry overnight.
I also carry a small washing line like this Sea to Summit clothes line; I even take this when we’re travelling and I reckon I use it on every trip.
How Fit do you Need to be to Walk the Camino?
As fit as you can be. The Camino is not a marathon but there is plenty of elevation and you’ll need to be able to handle that. The Camino is an endurance activity, you’ll be walking day after day so will you be able to cope with this? Of course you can choose to walk shorter days; if you feel that 10-12 kilometres a day is enough for you then, certainly on the Camino Frances, this is easily achievable.
I think you also need to be flexible. There is plenty of bending and stretching and reaching as you walk so as well as building stamina you should to work on dexterity.
However, you don’t need to be super-fit. You need to be in good health and have a good level of fitness.
I had a year to train for my first walk. I lost some weight, tried to walk a little every day and built stamina. It’s true that you get fitter as you walk the Camino but if you’re starting your hike in St Jean Pied de Port you face a great deal of elevation on that first day. Training and being ready for this will make life considerably more enjoyable for you.
The Camino is not a stroll in the park. I do believe that most folks are capable of walking the Camino de Santiago and you don’t need to be super-fit BUT you do need to be in good health and you do need to prepare and take the enormity of your task seriously.
How Long do you Need to Walk 800 km?
This is personal choice. You can walk as fast or as slow as you like. There is no hard and fast rule about how much you walk each day but a great many people stick to the Brierley stages (roughly) and others opt to walk about 20 kilometres each day.
I prefer to walk at least 25 kilometres each day but I know for many folks, less would be better.
Depending on which book or website you use, the general consensus is that to walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, you should allow between 33 to 35 days as an average. However, this doesn’t allow for a rest day or shorter days or days exploring cities; so I would allow more.
If you are booking onward flights, I recommend that you allow a few extra days for contingencies such as blisters or illness too. Being away from home for so long on such a long journey will inevitably throw you a few surprises, so if you can spare time, allow for this.
What are the Daily Distances on the Camino de Santiago?
Again this is a totally a personal choice but the average will be between 20-25 kilometres, depending on the terrain, the weather conditions and your overall walking speed. Certainly on routes such as the Camino Frances, you can break the walking distances down to much shorter or longer distances.
Before I walked my first Camino I had never walked 20 kilometres in my life. My plan was to walk between 15 to 20 kilometres a day and yet by day 5 I was walking 26 and then 28 kilometres. I surprised myself; my training and eventually finding the right shoes paid off and I was at ease with those distances.
If you’re worried about walking that far remember that you have nothing else to do but walk. You can go at whatever speed works for you and stop as often as you need.
How Much Does it Cost to Walk the Camino de Santiago?
How much money you should budget per day will be totally down to personal circumstances; as so much of the Camino de Santiago is. There is no ‘one size fits all’ Camino and that’s a great thing.
If money is tight then you can get by on very little. Municipal albergue offer beds for around 10€ a day, a three course menu del dia or pilgrim menu may cost as little as 15€ and many albergue will have a kitchen so you could buy some basic staples and cook for less and make a pack for the following day. Often Gerry and I will buy supplies for supper and make enough for a picnic; it would cost us around 20€ and keep us both going for 24 hours.
If you chose to stay in Municipal Albergue, carried your own pack, kept a very tight control over your budget and spending, and ate a pilgrim menu each day, it would just about be possible to walk for perhaps as little as 30€ a day. For a more comfortable walk I would certainly recommend that you allow more.
If I was walking solo and staying in an albergue my daily costs could be : Bed 18€ – Lunch 5€ – Pilgrim Dinner 15€ – drinks and snacks 10€
You would also want to allow for extras such as museum or cathedral entrance costs and occasional treats and expenses.
For those with very little money to spare, there are Donativo albergue. They exist specifically for pilgrims who genuinely cannot afford a bed and need financial assistance in order to complete their pilgrimage.
Donativo does not mean free. These glorious havens are often places where you’ll find the true spirit of the Camino; one such place is Peaceable Kingdom run by Rebekah Scott. If you are in need, Rebekah will find you a bed. Indeed she works tirelessly to support Camino projects and helps to ensure that this glorious path remains for future generations. Take a look at her website and feel free to make a donation to one of her many great causes.
If you opt to stay in a Donativo but if you can afford to stay in a hotel, the correct payment should be what you would have paid for you hotel. The idea is that whatever money is collected today, will be in the pot for tomorrow.
Please do not take advantage of the Donativo system. It is a system that has existed for as long as the Camino has, providing shelter for pilgrims. It exists to support and help those in need. It is not in place to support your free travel. Do go and stay in a Donativo Albergue. Do go and support these wonderful people. But do pay for your stay and maybe a little more if you can spare it.
How Safe is the Camino de Santiago?
Generally the Camino de Santiago is very safe. However, it is a sad fact of life that wherever people go, we tend to bring our habits with us, both the good and the bad.
Petty theft is not unheard of and you should ensure that you keep your personal belongings safe. Don’t leave your bag or your phone unattended and take sensible precautions.
More serious crime is thankfully very rare. There is a good network of information sharing on the Camino and in Camino groups online.
You can also download apps such as the Alert Cop app, which will give you direct access to the Spanish police.
On the whole, Spanish people regard the pilgrimage to Santiago as something special and pilgrims are respected. Indeed, it never ceases to amaze me how welcoming and kind Spanish people are; especially given that pilgrims don’t always repay the kindness.
My advice to all pilgrims would be to remain sensible. The Camino is not a dangerous place but it would be foolhardy to say it is crime free. However, I do walk alone and I don’t feel anxious about doing this.
Don’t Forget Road Safety
One very real safety concern that is often overlooked is that of road safety and hazards underfoot. Many pilgrims feel so at ease with their walking that they sometimes forget that they may be walking on a road. Make sure you keep good road-sense about you, be on the look out for traffic, take care when crossing the road and generally remember that on rural roads cars may be travelling at speed.
I never recommend walking in the dark. I know that some folks like to start early to avoid the heat of the day but you are limiting your vision. Tree roots, uneven pavements and lose gravel could mean that your biggest danger is tripping; and a fall can certainly end your Camino.
Food and Water Safety
Also do consider food safety. I’ve seen pilgrims carry a sandwich in their backpack for days with the meat or cheese filling warming nicely in the sun and the heat of their pack. We would never do this at home because we know it could lead to a very upset stomach. Spanish restaurants have excellent food hygiene standards but it’s often pilgrims that are forgetful about best practice.
I also hear pilgrims saying the water causes problems. Can I state that it is absolutely fine to drink tap water in Spain! There are also many drinking fountains and if they are marked as suitable for drinking then they will be.
Take Care in the Sun
The weather is also a danger that we often overlook. I’ve walked in snow in May when a sudden snow storm hit O Cebreiro and I’ve walked in 38c on the Via de la Plata in October. Many pilgrims under estimate the weather conditions. Before leaving home just be sure that you have adequate clothing to cope with the extremes that the Spanish weather can throw at you. If you’re heading over the mountains, check with your alberuge about weather conditions and always follow local guidance.
Remember to drink plenty of water every day to avoid dehydration and do protect yourself from the hot sun. We love our Tilley Hats and I would not have completed the Via de la Plata without my UV umbrella.
Colds and Bugs
Finally, we also forget folks get sick when walking the Camino de Santiago. Colds and bugs spread easily in shared bedrooms. If you are feeling unwell then it might be wise to spend a night in a hotel or a private room and rest for a day. Give yourself a chance to recover and help prevent the spread of illness between other pilgrims and staff.
Feeling safe on the Camino is a common concern for most would-be pilgrims and their friends and family at home. We think about awful dangers but often overlook the obvious every day dangers that we do have control over. I’ve had to stop a Camino three times and every time it’s been a fall or illness that stopped me.
Never leave home without travel and medical insurance. Accidents happen so make sure you have full travel insurance before leaving home.
Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.
TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions
Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me. although we’ve not used them personally.
How Strenuous is the Pilgrimage to Santiago?
It would be foolhardy to suggest a journey such as the Camino de Santiago is going to be easy. It’s not. It’s a strenuous journey. Depending on the route that you choose and the time you have to walk, you could be walking over 1000 kilometres or probably you’ll be walking 20km a day for several days. You will encounter ascents and descents, trails and pavements and tarmac, a changing terrain and differing climates means that you will need a good level of physical fitness and endurance.
However, not all of the Camino is hard going and I totally believe that for most people, it is possible to train for and walk the Camino.
Be honest about your ability and your time constraints and plan accordingly. Some routes are less strenuous than others. The Meseta on the Camino Frances is ideal for those looking for something a little less physical and the coastal Portuguese Camino offers a less demanding route.
You can make the Camino as difficult or as less strenuous as you want. I recommend that you take your time, walk at a pace that suits you, walk shorter days, take rest days and simply enjoy the beautiful Spanish countryside. If you know that this is how you wish to walk then plan accordingly and slow down.
Is it True that Vultures Circle Overhead on the Camino?
Yes! But! Vultures were reintroduced in the Pyrenees some years ago and if you are lucky then you’ll see them. I’ve seen them once on the Camino Frances and we saw a lot on our first day from Irun on the Camino Norte. However, they won’t be looking for you. They’re looking for a suitable meal and a pilgrim doesn’t fall into that category.
While pilgrims have reported seeing large numbers of birds flying above them, and this may be especially true in hot weather, they don’t present any danger. When we walked the Camino Lebaniego we saw many vultures flying overhead. It was glorious to watch them flying on the thermals, we could even hear their wings beating!
If you’re really lucky, you’ll also see other types of birds too such as kites or eagles.
Is there a Camino de Santiago Route Planner
There are many useful websites and apps to help you plan your own walk along the Camino. If you’re lucky enough to live in France then I offer Camino Planning Workshops but for those further afield, the following planning tools will be your best option.
Godesalco : A great website which is ideal for distance planning. You can choose a route, choose your start and end point and then choose your daily stages. I love that you also can choose a spreadsheet to display the final results… I’m a girl that likes a spreadsheet!
Camino Forum : An institution for all would be pilgrims. Ask a question here and experts from around the world will offer you guidance. There is also a fabulous resources section with free downloadable information. Honestly, if you can’t find an answer here about the Camino then I don’t think an answer exists! It’s a fabulous community.
Wise Pilgrim Apps : I mentioned these earlier but they are also a great resource when planning your camino. The apps provide distance, route and accommodation and service information.
Finally, I would also like to give a shout out to my Camino Buddy Carol at Camino Confidence. She lives on the Camino and also leads groups and runs the Camino Confidence website AND she offers a service planning your route and your accommodation. If you’d rather someone do all the hard work for you then I suggest you get in touch with her!
Is there Luggage Transfer along the Camino de Santiago
Yes. You can have your luggage transported along the popular routes. Jacotrans, CaminoFacile, TuiTrans and even the Spanish Post Office will collect and deliver your bags. When travelling with my groups I use CaminoFacile and I’ve always been happy with their service but I have also used Jacotrans and the Post Office and never been disappointed either.
Allow 7€ – 9€ per day per bag – a bag should weight no more than 20kg but less would be better.
On the lesser know routes you may struggle to find this service although local taxi firms may help, but at a cost.
What is a Good Backpack for the Camino de Santiago?
The most important thing to look for when choosing the backpack for the Camino de Santiago is lightweight and comfortable. Next to your shoes, your backpack is one of the most important items you’ll have, so it’s essential to choose well. It should be comfortable, offer the correct support and fit and have enough space for all your essentials.
If you are planning to carry your gear on your back then you will want a pack with hip and chest straps to distribute the weight evenly. A 40-liter backpack should suffice, although some folks are happy with 30 litres. Your pack should be waterproof or at the very least have a rain cover.
I walk with an Osprey Tempest 40L and I love this pack; Gerry also uses Osprey and we love their Osprey Almighty Guarantee. I have tried others but it is now my bag of choice regardless of whether it’s for a day pack or my main pack.
Other popular brands include Gregory, Deuter, Lowe, Decathlon and North Face to name but a few.
Your first decision will be are you having luggage transported? Once you know what kind of pack you need and for what purpose you should try on lots of different packs, and remember to wear the cloths you plan to wear on the Camino. Go into shops and ask them to add weight to the pack. A good shop will be able to measure you to ascertain the right pack. Try on several and see what feels most comfortable.
What are the Best Shoes for the Camino de Santiago?
Finding the perfect pair of shoes for the Camino de Santiago is essential. My Camino almost ended before it began because of ill-fitting shoes. Finding the right pair of shoes can sometimes feel like searching for the holy grail but it’s worth the research.
My first Camino almost ended after a few days because my boots were too heavy and too snug. I had blisters on blisters and I had to stop for two days to let them heal. I had no idea at that stage if I could continue onwards and for a little while had to contemplate the idea of just going home.
Thankfully a very knowledgeable chap in a shoe-shop in Estella introduced me to Salomon shoes and the right fit! And I was able to continue and finish my journey.
I know I’m opening a can of worms here but I’ll say it anyway! You do not need heavy boots to walk the camino. If you are an experienced hiker and you love this kind of shoe that’s cool but if you are starting out then go for a light hiking or trail shoe. Nothing more is needed and your feet will thank you.
Some very popular brands include Altra, Salomon, Merrell, Hoka One One, New Balance and La Sportiva but if you have a standard width shoe and no oddities then there are plentiful options for you to test. I have a very wide foot and I have worn and loved :
- Altra Lone Peak
- Salomon X-Ultra Pro
- Merrell MOAB
Top Tip : Remember to search for shoes at the end of the day when your feet are at their widest. Wear the socks that you intend to walk in AND go a size up!
I cannot tell you how many times folks ignore the advice to go bigger than normal. Your feet will swell. When you walk every day for hundreds of kilometres it’s entirely possible that your feet will never go back to the size they were at the start of your journey. You should allow for this when buying your shoe. A small shoe will result in blisters. A blister will stop a Camino.
I don’t buy waterproof shoes. I’ve walked all day in the rain and accept that my feet get wet. I do ensure that I have spare dry socks and a pair of shoes that will dry quickly.
I insist on wearing shoes that have excellent traction. I want to know that when I place my foot on the ground that it’s going to stay there. The one area that you should not ‘go cheap’ is with your shoes. They will get you to Santiago so buy well.
I carry a second pair of shoes. I really like Teva sandals and Chaco Sandals and I wear them whilst walking on the trail and in the evenings; it’s a good idea to bring a second pair for when you’re not walking to give your feet a break.
I really recommend this website for information on shoes, socks and blister prevention. And my last words of advice are no matter what the sales assistant tries to sell you trust your gut, and your feet. And you don’t need a heavy shoe and you do need to room for your toes and for your feet to swell.
What if the Albergue is Full on the Camino de Santiago?
This is a genuine concern for many walkers and at times I have arrived and found no room at the inn and had to keep walking.
Ultimately, your choice is to either keep walking or book a room off the Camino and use a taxi to take you to and from your start/end point.
There are some pinch points along the Camino, especially at busy times and in areas with limited accommodation. In these situations, I try to ensure that my bed is booked before starting out.
For example, St Jean Pied de Port can get very busy and you should always reserve in advance. I like to break day one from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles and there is very limited accommodation in the mountains. I also very much recommend that you book your accommodation at Roncesvalles and the for the following 2 days
Pamplona and Logrono are both destinations in their own right and accommodation can be limited, especially at weekends and festival days. I would ensure that I book ahead to secure my bed.
Even if you wish to be flexible with your bookings, booking just one day ahead can also give you peace of mind. Otherwise, you might find yourself having to walk on. On quieter routes and during low season it should be less busy but you may wish to call ahead to check the accommodation is open.
Another way to have more chance of a bed is to stay off the main stages. Walk inbetween two stage ends and you have more chance of finding a bed.
There is no guarantee of a bed on the Camino. If you are really stuck ask your ‘current’ albergue for help. They will know of alternative solutions and can help you phoning head or arranging taxis.
Of all my thousands of Camino kilometres I have always managed to find a bed but there have been a couple of times when it was looking unlikely.
What is it Like Hiking the Camino de Santiago?
Hiking the Camino de Santiago is an amazing experience that will test you both physically and mentally. Your journey will be peppered with breath taking views, moments of self-reflection, and interactions with pilgrims from all over the world.
It will also test your patience a lot! I have found a greater appreciation for nature, my own strengths and weakness and of my own spirituality with every walk.
I have walked around the world but there is something very special about the path to Santiago de Compostela. One thing I am sure of, you will be changed by your experience.
What is it Like to Walk the Camino as a Non-religious Person?
I undertook my first walk solely as an adventure. I’d had cancer and I wanted to prove that I was fit and able. It was never a religious experience. However, I would be dishonest if I said that it didn’t become an incredibly enriching experience, and indeed made me question faith and spirituality.
You will walk with pilgrims, who may or may not be deeply spiritual and religious, but regardless most will offer you their kindness and understanding. Everyone on the Camino is walking for their own reason and we are all connected by the shared journey.
Whether you are religious or not, you will still appreciate the beauty of the trail and gain a deeper understanding of yourself and what you are capable of.
What your Best Advice for Walking the Camino de Santiago?
I guess there are so many things but in a nutshell :
- If you want to walk the Camino de Santiago then do it. Even if you can only walk for one week. Do it!
- Start walking at home to prepare. The more able you are to cope with the physical demands of the walk, the more you will enjoy the experience.
- Practice mindfulness: Take time to stop and appreciate everything around you, stop at the monuments and churches, reflect on your journey, meet with other pilgrims, and enjoy this unique experience.
- Pace yourself: Set realistic goals and take regular breaks, plan rest days but also stop and rest when needed. Don’t rush.
- Come prepared with an open mind and heart for the journey ahead.
- Respect others and Spanish Culture; be a good guest.
- Drink plenty of water and don’t forget sunscreen.
Be familiar with the stages of the Camino. Test your gear, sleep in your sleeping bag, test your underwear, get your shoes right, wear your rain gear in the shower and make sure it doesn’t leak. The more you can prepare for the unexpected the better able you will be able to cope with what the route will throw at you
Also, don’t forget to get travel insurance before leaving home!
What is the Average Age of People Walking the Camino?
The youngest solo walker I’ve met was 16. At the time my youngest son was also 16 and it staggered me that this young Danish man had set out to walk 800 kilometres alone. The oldest lady I walked with was 87. She had walked 25 full Camino and was now walking small sections with her son. I met her as we walked over the Pyrenees!
According to the Pilgrim Office, the average age of walkers on the Camino is around 60 years old. Pilgrim statistics suggest that 61% of pilgrims are between the ages of 30 and 60.
No matter your age, if you are in good health and have a passion for adventure, then the Camino de Santiago is open to all.
What is the Best Month to Walk the Camino de Santiago?
As with all good trails, the Camino de Santiago is best enjoyed in Spring to Autumn. I have started walking in April and walked in every month through to December. April and May can be wetter with spring showers and occasionally snow. I’ve found the driest times are September and October.
It is hot in Spain in the summer and we no longer choose to walk in July and August, but if you’re good in heat then it would be fine for you.
Regardless of the weather, there is no best time to walk. It is down to personal choice. I would rather walk in the cold than the heat so I would choose October or November over July. I don’t like the trail to be too busy and May and September are the most popular times so I might choose a quieter route at that time of year. However, if you are looking for company then May and September will be perfect for you.
Accommodation, particularly private rooms maybe more expensive in peak season, this is especially true along the coast. Some albergue close in winter so you will need to check your accommodation choices before setting off. Winter can be a great time to walk and if you follow pilgrims such as the amazing Sara Dhooma you’ll know that she often walks the Camino in winter and has a wonderful time.
Just as every Camino experience is unique to individuals, when you choose to walk is also a personal choice; whatever time you choose I’m pretty sure it will be wonderful.
What is the Hardest Part of the Camino?
The hardest part of the Camino differs for everyone, but many people find the mental challenge the toughest. Being away from home, walking for hours every day, and facing your inner demons can be a daunting experience. But you’ll learn to appreciate the solitude and gain a new perspective on life as a result.
Some say that the first step is the hardest, others that the last is even harder. Learning to let go and be totally at the mercy of the elements and the trail is also hard for those more used to order and control. The path tests you and it’s often not the physical but the emotional that catches folks out more.
I always say to my groups, they will have a day 5; or a day when they question why they are walking. They’ll have a bad day and want to go home and quite possibly they’ll be miserable. Everyone has a day 5 (even it’s on day 4 or 6 or 26). Be prepared, expect that day to come and know that you’re not alone.
I remember one morning walking out of Granon, sobbing as I walked as I was so homesick. When I told my German walking buddy later he said he’d done the same. The Camino tests you. Some days are very hard and yet we keep walking!
What is Your Most Memorable Experience Hiking the Camino?
I guess my first Camino has so many truly beautiful moments, but walking into Santiago de Compostela and greeting my family at the steps of the Cathedral was pretty amazing.
Walking on the Via de la Plata and learning about Thin Places was also very emotional day and one that will stay with me always. I also found our day watching the sunset at El Acebo emotional, when walking with my group on the Camino Frances in 2022.
Our stunning, stunning day walking over Fuenta De on the Camino Lebaneigo was maybe one of the most beautiful hikes we’ve ever done; the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier and Dana to Feynan in Jordan are the only days that might come close.
It is really hard to list one memorable moment. There have been so many days when the view took our breath away, or when the memory is so precious, or when we stayed in ancient monasteries or in homes where the kindness of strangers was so amazing, or overcoming obstacles, or just the glorious nature. It’s hard to quantify. There are too many memorable moments.
Where Does the Camino de Santiago Start?
Traditionally, the Camino de Santiago started at your front door and there are still a handful of pilgrims who do indeed walk from home. I live near the Camino Vezeley in France and I have walked from home along many of the stages in the Perigord region; not to Santiago though!
Most pilgrims today start at some point along the Camino Frances, the most popular starting point being 100 kilometres before Santiago de Compostela in Sarria. If you plan to walk the full 800kms of the Camino Frances you would start in St Jean Pied de Port in France.
But in truth, you can start anywhere and there are routes across Europe.
If receiving a Compostela is important for you then you must walk at least the last100 kilometres into Santiago, so Sarria, Tui, Vigo, Ourense, Ferrol or Lugo would be your start point. You’ll also need to collect two stamps a day on your credential to prove you have made the journey.
What Should you Wear for the Camino de Santiago?
Comfort is key. No matter what anyone else will tell you, comfort is essential.
I take three complete changes of clothes and one extra pair of socks. Some folks will only take two changes, I’ve done this but prefer three. Four is too many and I ended up wearing the same few items and carrying the rest.
I do think it’s worth investing in technical clothing, items that will help wick moisture and keep your warm or cool but do shop around on discount websites as I never pay full price for an item. Shops like Decathlon or REI have some excellent own brand clothing and look out for sales too!
There is no right or wrong in style choice. Comfort and fit for purpose is the only caveat. Layer items for warmth and make sure you are wearing the correct clothes for the season. Also be sure you have something appropriate for wearing in churches.
Are There any Camino de Santiago Groups or Forums?
Yes. There are many excellent groups and a few that are… well perhaps not so excellent.
There are lots of Facebook groups, some just for women such as Camigas and Camino Confidence. There are also local regional groups such as the America Pilgrim Association and many other country based ‘Friends of the Camino’ groups.
I also really like Ivar’s Camino Forum. I find the information here is really great, particularly relevant and with thousands of experienced international pilgrims engaged, you’re sure to find an answer to your question.
And of course there’s my Facebook page and this website. I will be adding pages and posts about trails, and gear and tips and advice often so follow me and Then We Walked on Facebook or Then We Walk on Instagram and you’ll always stay up to date with my news!
The Last Word : What’s it Like to Walk the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago is a journey that everyone should take at least once in your lifetime. It is a journey that requires physical endurance, but rewards you with inner peace, self-discovery, and a huge sense of accomplishment.
My advice is to take it slow, enjoy the scenery, the people, the food, even the bunk-beds and embrace the experience. Pack light, stay hydrated, and listen to your body. The Camino is not a race, nor is there a right or a wrong way to do it, simply take your time, and immerse yourself in the journey.
Walking the Camino de Santiago is a unique experience. It’s been said so many times but it’s true; it’s the journey, not the destination that matters. Buen Camino pilgrim!