Here are some Frequently Asked Questions. Hopefully they include yours too.
About the Camino
Isn’t the pilgrimage only for religious people?
NO. According to statistics, there are relatively few pilgrims who walk solely for a religious motivation. Most pilgrims walk the Way with a spiritual or intellectual purpose that is not always linked directly to their religion or faith.
What does ‘Camino’ mean?
The direct translation of el camino in English is ‘the way’. The Way of Saint James is the pilgrimage leading from various European cities to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain. The Way is living its second Renaissance right now. Pilgrims from all over the world walk to Santiago seeking spiritual experience.
What does ‘ultreia et sus eia’ mean, and why do I keep hearing it?
Onward and even further! This comes from a 11th century hymn titled Dum Pater Familias, which appeared in the Codex Calixtinus. Pilgrims gradually came to use these words to greet each other.
What is Saint James day?
Saint James day is celebrated on 25th of July. Many pilgrims arrive to Santiago in this specific day. Events and holy masses take place in the cathedral.
Panning Camino Frances
Can I walk the Camino with my children?
This is generally not advisable. Think of the following: would you take them on a 10/20/30-day vacation that involves walking 10/20/30 kilometres every day?
Unless your children are old enough to want to walk their own Camino, to be able to carry their own belongings and not to get bored after a couple of days, you shouldn’t take them with you.
Do I have to train for walking the pilgrimage?
This is optional, but wouldn’t hurt you, of course. If you are in good health and physical condition, you can walk the Way without special training preparations. However, it is advisable to take walking excursions to gauge your physical fitness, and also to test and break in your walking shoes/boots. In case you have some sort of physical deficiency, or just simply are not used to walking great distances day by day, it is highly recommended to try your capacity and limits before embarking.
How long does it take to walk the Camino Francés?
This, of course, depends on where you start and whether you walk, ride a bicycle or a horse.
The classical Camino Francés (remember, there is no established ‘official’ route) starts from the small village of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and ends in Santiago de Compostela, more than 800 kilometres from there. Walkers, depending on the weather, their pace, stamina and desire to take some resting days, generally allow between four to six weeks. Cyclists will need around two weeks to cover this distance.
How much money do I need?
It depends a lot on your needs and preferences. Accommodation prices vary from zero (donativos) to 10 or even 15 euros. If you’re not planning to have hot meals every day, you can make it out of 10 euros. Add another 5 to 10 if you plan to have a pilgrim menu or take your share of community dinners.
Some additional expenses may be:
Washing machine: most albergues charge up to 3 or 4 euros
Internet: usually between 2 and 4 euros per hour
An average day’s spending would thus be between 15 and 30 euros, assuming that you don’t want to stay in hotels and won’t usually dine in the town’s fanciest restaurant.
I only have one week. Where should I start walking?
It is advisable to start from a major city, where you can obtain your pilgrims’ passport, and to finish in another major city from where you can travel home easily. In case you want to finish in Santiago de Compostela, start from Sarria, which is 100 kms from Santiago. (In fact, more than one-third of the pilgrims arriving in Santiago start from Sarria.)
Many pilgrims make the Way in stages over a couple of years. They usually resume walking where they finished it the previous year.
When should I go?
The ‘pilgrimage season’ starts around the Holy Week (the week before Easter) and lasts until mid-October. The most crowded month is usually August. In late autumn, winter and spring, bad weather, snow, and sometimes impassable roads are to be expected. In the cold months there are less albergues you can find open, so plan carefully if you’re doing an ‘off-season’ Camino. Use the Camino Planner to find out which accommodations are open in your chosen month of walking. For more details, click here.
When should I start to plan the trip back home?
It depends on how much time you’ve got. In case you don’t know how much time you will spend walking, you can arrange your trip back home when you’re on the way, one or two weeks before your planned arrival at your destination. In case you only have a limited timeframe for walking, you can buy your tickets at home, well in advance. As a general advice, always add a couple of extra days to your schedule, to have enough time for stopping and resting and to eliminate the need to hurry.
Of course, you can always turn around in Santiago de Compostela and head for home on foot, as pilgrims used to do back in the olden days.
Which route should I follow?
Which route? Are there more than one? Oh yes, there are. Although the most popular route, the one most people mean when talking about ‘the Camino’ is the Camino Francés, the French Route which traverses from the Franco-Spanish border at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles through Pamplona, Burgos and León, there are numerous others. Not considering starting points outside Spain — and there are many —, within Spain other possibilities include the Vía de la Plata from Sevilla through Mérida and Salamanca, the Camino del Norte (the Northern Camino) which begins in Irún at the western end of the French-Spanish border and which generally follows the northern Spanish coastline, and the Camino Portugués which travels northward from Portugal.
Are there bed bugs on the Camino?
In several albergues there was a big wave of bed bugs along the Camino Francés in 2005/2006. In most cases the problem has been solved, but still every now and then they multiply again. Occasionally arriving pilgrims’ belongings get disinfected by albergue owners before they are allowed to cross the threshold. As a precaution, it is advisable to use a very light, synthetic bed sheet, which solves not only the bed bug problem, but also other hygienic issues.
Can I find books for reading in accommodations?
In almost every albergue you can find books left by other pilgrims. You are usually free to take those books with you. If you are done with your own book (and don’t want to carry it further), just leave it in an albergue for pilgrims coming after you.
Can I recharge my mobile phone/camera on the way?
Yes, you can in almost every albergue (save the very humble ones), but bear in mind that others will want to charge their gadgets as well. There is mobile phone coverage everywhere on the Camino.
What does ‘donativo’ mean?
The Spanish word donativo means donative, that is, maintained by pilgrims’ donations. At such albergues and refugios there is no fixed price for the accommodation, but pilgrims donate as much as they can afford and feel like.
What is the difference between an albergue and a refugio?
Nothing much; generally these terms are interchangeable. The term refugio in Spanish or abrigo in Portuguese (‘refuge’, ‘shelter’) has been around for longer, and the more recent overnight facilities tend to call themselves albergues.
Where can I stay at night?
Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has been going on for more than a millennium, and during that time a strong tradition of support for pilgrims has developed. Through the Middle Ages this included hospices operated by kings, queens and religious orders. The tradition continues today in Spain in the form of refugios and albergues.
Until recent years, these were principally operated by municipalities, regional governments or religious organizations. Presently the number of privately owned albergues is boosting rapidly, following the increasing interest in the Camino. Most of them still operate in similar manners. Most have dormitory-type sleeping arrangements, usually bunk beds and communal bathing and toilet facilities. Some have a set price per night, and others are donativos (run on pilgrims’ donations). A few serve or organize evening and/or morning meals as well, and some have cooking facilities available. Most open in the early or mid-afternoon, require that you be on your way by 8 AM the next morning, and only allow one night’s stay. Some put restrictions on cyclists and walkers using backpack transport.
To stay in an albergue or refugio, you are required to present a credencial, which is the proof of being a ‘true’ pilgrim, and not just someone trying to take advantage of cheap accommodation.
Reservations generally cannot be made ahead in refugios and albergues.
You can, however, choose a hotel to stay, although this way you might also might miss some of the experiences of pilgrim life. Please note that on this website you won’t find any hotels, guesthouses, bed&breakfasts; and the like.
Where can I stay if I’m doing the Camino by bicyle?
There are plenty of accommodations on the Way where you can lock up your bike safely. Note, however, that most albergues give preference to pilgrims arriving on foot over cyclists.
Where can I stay if I’m doing the Camino on horseback?
There are albergues that provide shelter for horses as well, but not too many. Check out the town and accommodation pages and plan carefully.
Where can I wash my clothes?
You can wash your clothes practically in any albergue. In most cases you will find a sink for washing clothes, and a rope in the garden where you can hang your clothes. Many albergues have coin-operated washing machines. It is advisable to join others to wash your clothes together and share the expenses.
Am I too old or young to walk?
Rule of thumb is as follows: you can walk if you can carry your own gear. If you have a known health problem, you have to ensure the conditions for your walk. Certainly, for underagers it is advisable to walk with an adult.
I am a diabetic, can I walk the Camino?
Yes, but you have to look after your insulin supply. Consult your physician. Carry at least a day’s supply of food at all times. Test your blood sugar very regularly and adjust your insulin dose as needed. Consider going with someone who knows you well and recognises your sugar low symptoms. Eat as regularly as possible. Look after your insulin and carry a spare pen. Drink plenty of water. It is advisable to take a regular walks prior to the Camino to see how your body respond to such exertion.
I am a disabled person, can I walk the Camino?
Yes, but you have to inform yourself about stages you intend to make. There are many stages you cannot accomplish by wheelchair. The Way is mostly leads on dirt roads, forest tracks, or cobblestone roads which are not suitable for wheelchairs. By all means you have to get some information about stages you want to make.
I’m a vegetarian. Will that be a problem?
Of course you can walk the Camino as a vegetarian as well, but you need to consider that almost every pilgrim menu contains meat dishes. Be prepared to make your own food. This may increase your expenses.
What should I do if I get a blister?
If you do find a pocket of fluid (blister well under way), take a sterlized needle with thread and puncture the pocket close to the base, pulling the thread through it to drain the fluid, or simply push out the fluid form the blister. (Do not cut into the blister or peel off the skin, this will only expose the underlying layer to infections.) Disinfect the area by rubbing in whatever antiseptic you chose to carry (tea tree oil, iodine, alcohol, chlorhexidine etc.).
To avoid friction as much as possible, wear special, touring the 2 layer sock system. A thinner sock layer to act as a friction barrier to the skin, and an outer trekk sock to absorb the humidity (sweat) created. (Talcum can be applied to the feet before putting on the socks, to absorb the humidity and keep the feet dry).
On the road
Can I get a stamp in my credencial if I don’t spend the night in an albergue?
Yes, most of the time you shouldn’t have any problems. There are even places where there is no accommodation but they will offer you some water, a cup of coffee, a conversation or a stamp.
How do I start walking?
Walking starts with obtaining the credencial, the pilgrims’ passport. In major cities, as well as in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, you can find a pilgrims’ office where you can ask for your one. This document is needed for sleeping in albergues and refugios, and getting a compostela, which certifies that you have made the Way. Don’t start walking without a credencial.
How much can/should I walk per day?
There is no such thing as a compulsory daily distance — you walk as much you like. On the Camino Francés nearly every town or village has its own pilgrim accommodation, so it is enough to walk only a few kilometers a day if you like.
An average walker’s speed is 3-4 km/h
An expert walker’s speed is 4-5 km/h
A fast and tough walker’s speed is 5-6 km/h
Pilgrims usually walk 20 to 25 kilometres per day, and complete the Camino Francés in 30 to 35 days. Always choose a daily distance that your body can tolerate. Never exploit your resources, because you endanger your entire pilgrimage by that.
How will I know which way to go?
The answer is basic: follow the yellow arrows. The way is well marked almost everywhere. Locals will also be eager to help you whenever you seem to be lost or going the wrong way. If you don’t feel so secure about yourself, there is a multitude of guidebooks with maps available.
Is it true that there are dangerous dogs on the Camino?
There aren’t any more dangerous dogs on the Camino that in any other part of Europe.
What is an average day on the Camino like?
Pilgrims usually get up early. In summer they start their way at 5-6 o’clock to take considerable distance comfortably before the summer heat. Usually pilgrims must leave the albergues by 9-10 o’clock at the latest. Pilgrims walk during the day, and arrive to the their next stop early afternoon. Albergues usually open around 13:00. Pilgrims rest at siesta time, and later in the afternoon they can go sightseeing or just hang around. In the evening they have dinner, meet each other, read, or write their diaries. Sleeping time usually starts at 22.00. In spring and autumn the schedule mentioned above starts a few hours later.
Where and what can I eat?
On your way, you will find bars in almost every settlement, where you can have a tortilla (potato omelet), bocadillo (sandwich) or tosta mista (toasted ham and cheese sandwich in Portugal) even in the morning. You will encounter several places during the day where you can buy food in shops. If the albergue you stay in has its own kitchen, you can cook for yourself, or you can cook together with other pilgrims. Some restaurants offer three-course menus del peregrino (pilgrim menus), which usually cost between €8 and €12. It is advisable to inform yourself about the settlement where you plan to stay for the night, so in case there are no shops or bars nearby you can buy some food beforehand. It might also be a good idea to carry some food (e.g. snacks, bread, sweets) with you in case you get hungry while walking.
How much should my backpack weigh?
Ideally, your backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of your body weight. Try to keep that in mind when packing. To keep the weight of clothes in your backpack to a minimum, prepare to wash them every two or three days. Also count in the weight of water you’ll be carrying with yourself. In case of smaller people, the 10% ratio is unrealistic, so don’t be suprised if you can’t keep the weight of your backpack under 8 kgs.
Should I take a tent?
Generally, you should rather not. There are albergues where you can sleep in your own tent, but in most cases you can use it only when all the beds are occupied, and there is a garden or open area where you can set it up. Carrying a tent means unnecessary overweight. By sleeping in your own tent, you also deprive yourself of being together with other pilgrims and the feeling of companionship.
Should I take walking poles?
Using walking poles is not a must. If you have walked without it up to now, you don’t need to get such gears. It is mostly useful going uphill and downhill. It’s advisable to borrow it at home to try how it’s fit for you to walk. In case you don’t need an expensive walking pole which is professional, and has its advantages of course, during your Way nearly in every town you can buy a traditional wooden staff for a few Euros. In case of feet problems walking poles support your weight and its use is suggested.
What should I take with me?
See a detailed list here.
Where can I get my pilgrims’ passport?
You can obtain a credencial in every major town, as well as accommodations and churches. For more info, click here.
I don’t speak Spanish/French/Portuguese. Will that be a problem?
If you speak English, German or Italian, communication won’t be a problem. If you don’t speak major European languages, don’t worry. With openness and confidence all language barriers can be overcome. It is advisable to keep a simple vocabulary that includes the most important sentences in the local language. Keep looking around, because there is always a chance that you find a fellow countryman near you. And don’t worry, you will meet many kind and helpful people on the Way.
If you are still uncomfortable, organize your Camino to walk with a companion.
Can I take my dog with me?
Yes, you can, but you have to consider the following: many albergues don’t welcome dogs. However docile you dog is, it will still be seen as trespassing the territory of the local ones, and could be attacked. Furthermore, dogs also get tired and they may have health problems as well. In summer, dogs’ paws might get burnt on the hot cobblestones and asphalt. If it is not absolutely necessary, you should rather not take your dog with you.
Guide and service dogs are a different matter. Albergues have different policies for welcoming those dogs. You will have to ask locally about this issue.
Is it safe for a woman alone?
Yes, it is. Lots of pilgrim walk alone, men and women alike. The Way is no more dangerous than any other city in Europe. In summer you meet pilgrims everywhere. As long as you rely on your commons sense, you are not in danger. Every major and medium sized town has its police station. See Towns list at Routes.
Should I walk alone or with a group?
If you walk to receive answers for your own questions, or you want to be in seclusion, go alone. Walking with somebody or with a group means conforming. The Way presents different things to one who walks alone and to one who walks with other people. If you walk with a companion, we suggest you to take your time and find periods, opportunities, days to walk alone.