Walking the Camino de Santiago can mean many things. It might be a 2-week walking trip in Spain, or in France, or another part of “the way.” You might start walking in Germany. Or you might start in Portugal. There are so many options with the Camino and that’s why it’s so wonderful.
Keep in mind that the Camino de Santiago is a great big version of “Choose your own adventure” as you can pick when and how far you want to walk. Don’t feel like you have to walk a particular route or do things in a certain way. There are things you can do to make your Camino more enjoyable, which is why I’m sharing my tips with you. While some of these items might not apply to you, that’s ok.
Keep in mind that it’s your Camino, so choose your own path.
If you want to be an official pilgrim, you’ll need your CREDENTIAL which is also known as a pilgrim’s passport. You can receive your credential at different locations, such as churches, organizations, and albergues (hostels) along various points on the Camino. I applied and received my credential stateside from the American Pilgrims on The Camino organization.
It is not necessary to get your credential (pilgrim’s passport) before you leave, as you can get it in country. It would be good to confirm where you can get it, depending on where you start walking. You’ll need your credential to stay in certain places along the way.
You’ll also need it to obtain stamps so that you can present your credential at the pilgrim’s office in Santiago de Compostela to show that your either walked at least the last 100 kilometers or cycled at least the last 200 kilometers. If you do that, you’ll receive your Compostela.
Camino de Santiago Basics.
All sorts of people walk the Camino. The beauty of the Camino is found in all of the different types of people who walk it. Young, old, fit, not so fit, and of many nationalities.
There is NO model when it comes to being a pilgrim. There is no job description to be a pilgrim, you just have to start walking somewhere. That’s it. Warning: once you start walking you might not want to stop.
Keep in mind that some people walk the camino, ride horses, some bike it. I met an ultra-marathon man from Colorado who was running the Camino. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be referring to walking the Camino.
The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage. You might be familiar with “The Way” thanks to this film. Other English names include Way of St. James, St. James’s Way, St. James’s Trail, etc. These names refer to any of the routes that lead to the shrine of the Apostle St.James, which is in the northwest portion of Spain in Santiago de Compostela.
This is another great thing about the Camino. You can walk it anytime. There are pros and cons to walking it at different times of the year. Weather and how many other pilgrims on the route should factor into your decision.
There are multiple ways in numerous countries that lead to Santiago de Compostela, as seen on the map below. The main route (in red), is the most traveled is the “Camino Francés” or the “French Way.” This is the route that I walked in the fall of 2013. I continued to walk to Finisterre, Spain.
The French Way starts in the beautiful village of St. Jean-pied-de-Port, France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The total distance from the foothills in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela is 490 miles (790 kilometers). If you continue to walk from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre, Spain add another 54 miles (87 kilometers) for a grand total of roughly 545 miles in total (877 kilometers).
This question can illicit all sorts of answers. People walk it for religious reasons, spiritual ones, for sport, for fun, to find something, to run away, to run towards something, and everything in between. Some people might not know. My friends just recently walked a portion of the Camino during their honeymoon!
I found this question to be quite personal for many people I met, so I didn’t ask this question very often on the Camino. I figured people’s reasons would come out naturally in conversation, which they did or did not.
Start walking. Just one foot in front of the other. It’s that simple. Well not really. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t need to write this blog. But in reality it’s like this: just go. If you want to walk, book your flight, your train ticket, or however you need to get there and go.
If you live anywhere close to routes in Europe, you can start walking from your home. I met someone who started cycling from his home in Belgium and a Priest who walked from his home in Germany. It’s all up to you.
Top tips for walking The Camino de Santiago:
When you decide to walk the Camino is important. Weather and the population of other pilgrims will vary greatly from season to season. I am a huge advocate for walking the Camino in the autumn. Why? Less people, as most people can’t take vacation then or are back in school. From what I’ve heard, the summer can be brutal on the Camino, with a high number of pilgrims and hot weather.
The weather is typically quite good in the autumn, which is something I’ve experienced personally and heard anecdotally from other pilgrims who walked in other years during September-November. During my 6 weeks on the Camino I experienced about 5 days of rain, so I was a very fortunate pilgrim.
Don’t have one. I know that this might not be possible for you, but if you can walk the Camino without an end date. Do it. I saw far too many people having to “keep pace” or catch buses between cities so they would make it to the end to catch their flight back home.
If you can, give yourself ample time to complete the route you’ve set out on. Do what you want to do, but hopefully that won’t be dictated by a serious end date. I met a few people that had a 5-day window of when they we’re aiming to finish, this seemed to allow for much more flexibility and less stress.
I have mixed feelings about this. I went in super well-trained for the Camino. I’d been backpacking, hiking, and running leading up to my time as a pilgrim. Quite frankly, I was scared. I was scared an old running injury would come back to haunt me, so I trained and did a ton of physical therapy for my previously strained ligament. In reality, tons of training like I did probably isn’t necessary.
In fact, I found the people who went in the least trained or underprepared had the most transformative experiences in my opinion. They shed excess weight and found strength in their physical bodies and in their ability to buck up and walk. I was seriously impressed by people who kept walking despite physical ailments.
Needless to say, going in trained is probably better. You’ll be less likely to be injured and get blisters. Since I run quite a bit my feet are rough and sturdy, so blisters didn’t really have a fighting chance. I ended up getting one small blister after walking with sopping wet shoes during a relentless storm one day.
You don’t have to go too crazy, just do some preparation. Try and walk every single day, then your body will be more used to the idea. You don’t have to go really far, even just a few miles each day. If you have time, or when you make the time, do longer walks with your backpack on.
And as I said earlier, make the Camino yours. If you want to walk 20 miles a day. Go for it! If you want to walk 5 miles. Go for it.
Choose your own damn adventure.
Less is more. Pack light. Check back here for a whole separate post on packing, it’s in the works. A few words on packing. There are MANY outdoor type stores along the French Way. Although not every village has an REI, major cities like Pamplona and Leon have a few small outdoors stores to choose from. St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, which is a smaller village had quite a few outdoor stores to stock up on supplies.
If you’re going to spend time thinking about what to pack. Spend the most time choosing on YOUR SHOES. Break your shoes in BEFORE you start walking the Camino. I didn’t give myself enough time to do that before, so I ended up walking about 30 miles around Paris before hopping the train to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. Your feet will thank you.
I wore Brooks Cascadia Trail running shoes because they were lightweight and many people walk the Pacific Crest Trail with them. Because I bought mine last minute and I wear a size 11 women’s shoe I ended up wearing the men’s version, which worked for me!
If you make it to Santiago de Compostela, give yourself time to catch up with your fellow pilgrims, but keep walking. Take the extra time and walk all the way to the end, the real end which is about a 3 days walk to Cape Finisterre, Spain. Hardly any pilgrims take the extra few days to walk, but I highly recommend walking to the beach.
Continue to walk when you return home. I find there is so much value in going for a walk, even if it’s just around the block. Even the motion of walking will sometimes take me back to those beautiful days in Northern Spain.
I’m so very grateful I walked and continue to walk.
Camino Pilgrim Guides: http://www.caminoguides.com/index.html
Americans on the Camino: http://www.americanpilgrims.org/
Please do stay in touch and check back with this blog, as I’m still working on multiple articles for The Camino de Santiago: packing lists, guides, and stories from the way.
When it comes down to it, if you feel drawn to walk the Camino de Santiago – do it ASAP. You might not get the chance or have the time do it if you let the opportunity pass.
I met wonderful people. Experienced moments I’ll never forget and my world opened up thanks to the Camino.
That being said, Buen Camino!
No links associated with this post are paid affiliate links. These links come from the goodness of my heart in hopes that you’ll have a wonderful Camino in the future.