For many people waking the Camino de Santiago is a lifetime experience. Many start preparing for it a couple of years in advance. We often get questions from our readers regarding the Camino. In this post, we put together the most FAQ and answers to them based on our Camino experience. If you don’t find an answer to your question feel free to leave a comment. We’ll be happy to assist with it.
Is there more than one Camino de Santiago route?
Yes, there are many Camino de Santiago routes across Europe. They start in different places and all finish in Santiago de Compostela except the Camino Finisterre which starts in Santiago. I’d highlight 7 most popular Camino routes: Camino Frances, Camino Portugues, Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo, Camino Ingles, Camino Finisterre, and Via de la Plata. All routes are different in length, landscape, popularity, and facilities. The Camino Frances is the most famous route walked by most pilgrims. It starts in St.Jeams Pied de Port in Frances. We have a detailed post on different routes of the Camino de Santiago where you can find a lot of information on each route.
Which route is the best for first-timers?
This is probably one of the most FAQs that we get from our readers. Many people walk the French Way as the first Camino but it’s not necessarily the best option. First of all, because it gets very busy, public albergues are full, many people on the route especially the last 100 km. The French Camino is quite long (if you walk the whole way) – 820 km.
We’d recommend starting with the Portuguese Camino from Porto (flat, moderate distances, beautiful scenery, good infrastructure), the Camino Primitivo (if you’re a fit person, it’s quite short but there are many ups and downs), or the Camino Ingles (the shortest route, a good one just to get a taste of the Camino). Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to convince you not to walk the Camino Frances or the Camino del Norte I just think there are other good options to consider.
How long does it take to walk the Camino?
Depending on the route you choose, your walking pace, daily distances, etc. it can take anything between 4 days e.g. the Camino Inglés to 40+ days e.g. the Via de la Plata. The easy way to calculate how long it’ll take for you to walk a Camino is to divide the total distance of the chosen route by the average distance you can comfortably walk in a day. Let’s say you’re going to walk Camino Frances which is about 800 km if you walk an average of 25 km a day it’ll take you 32 days to complete it.
How many hours a day do you walk on the Camino?
Daily distances on the Camino de Santiago are between 20 km and 25 km. The average walking speed of an adult is 5 km/3 mi per hour. If you walk at that pace it’ll take you 4 to 5 hours of walking per day. Add to that time 1 – 2 hours of rest, lunch, etc. Overall expect to spend 6 – 7 hours on the Camino a day including breaks. Of course, there are people who can walk much faster than 5 km per hour as well as those who walk slower (especially considering that you walk with a backpack). To know your personal time try walking one day 20 km with a backpack at a comfortable pace. Having a GPS watch is quite useful. It gives you your average pace, exact walking time, resting time, and many other insights.
How difficult is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino is quite difficult because it’s a long walk (not all routes but most of them). If you have never done a multi-day trek or a long-distance walk before it’ll be quite challenging to walk the Camino especially the first week or two. To make your Camino easier our main advice is to listen to your body. If you feel tired then rest don’t push yourself too hard. Rather skip a stage or two by taking a bus or a train than exhausting yourself. Take your time even if you need 8 hours to walk 20 km.
The Camino is not only physically difficult it’s psychologically demanding as well. To live out of your backpack for several weeks moving every day from place to place, sleeping in dormitories with other pilgrims, and not having much privacy are some of the challenges. If at any point you feel overwhelmed find a nice private place and stay there for a couple of days and rest. One of my Camino tips is to stay at least once a week in a private room. It always helps me when start feeling burned out.
Do you have to be very fit to walk the Camino?
Not, you don’t have to be a very fit person anybody can become a pilgrim and walk the Camino. If you’re fit it is great the Camino will be easier for you. You probably don’t need to prepare for it. If you’re not in the best shape and don’t hike/walk on a regular basis then it’s better to start training for the Camino. Endurance is very important here. You should be able to walk every day at least 10-15 km/6-9 mi for a couple of weeks or a month (depending on the chosen Camino route).
Where to start walking the Camino?
It depends on several factors. How far do you want to walk? Do you want to complete the entire route or only a part of it? Do you want to get the Compostela for completing the Camino or not?
It’s not compulsory to finish the entire Camino in one go. You can start walking from anywhere on the route. If you want to complete the Camino but don’t have one month for walking you can choose one of the shorter Camino routes e.g. Camino Primitivo, Portuguese Camino from Porto, Camino Inglés, or Camino Finisterre. If you want to complete one of the longer routes e.g. Camino Francés, Camino del Norte, Via de la Plata but can’t do it in one go you can break it down into parts and walk it over several months or even years (many locals do it that way). If you want to get the Compostela certificate for completing the Camino de Santiago you must walk at least the last 100 km (200 km for cyclists) Santiago de Compostela on any route. Most pilgrims walk the last 100 km on the Camino Frances starting from Sarria.
What is the Compostela?
The Compostela is a certificate confirming that you’ve completed the Camino de Santiago. It is granted to any pilgrim that walked at least the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela on any Camino route. The required minimum for cyclists is 200 km. You can get your Compostela at the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago. The Compostela is free it has your name and date. If you want you can get another certificate the Certificate of Distance, which is a fancier version of the Compostela. It costs 3 Euros.
What is the Credential?
The Credential or a Pilgrim’s Passport is a document (a small paperback book) with your name and some other details. You collect stamps into your Credential. You can get stamps at all albergues, most hotels and guesthouses, and many restaurants on the Camino. The Credential confirms that you’re a pilgrim. You need it for staying in public albergues where only pilgrims are allowed. You can get your Credential at churches and cathedrals on the Camino, at some albergues, pilgrim’s offices, or at the regional Camino association in your country.
Camino associations in different countries:
- https://americanpilgrims.org/ – US
- https://www.santiago.ca/ – Canada
- https://www.csj.org.uk/ – UK
- https://www.caminosociety.com/ – Ireland
- https://www.csjofsa.za.org/ – South Africa
- https://www.afotc.org/ – Australia
Luggage transfer on the Camino
It’s possible to walk the Camino de Santiago with a daypack and arrange our luggage transferred for every stage. There are several companies that offer the service. Correos, a Spanish post office offers luggage transfer on the Camino Frances, Camino del Norte, Camino Portuguese (the Spanish part), Camino Primitivo, Camino Finisterre, and Camino Sanabres. The price is 5-7 Euros per backpack/suitcase per stage. You can use it for the entire route or only for the toughest parts e.g. St.Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles stage on the Camino Frances. For the Portuguese Camino from Porto, you can use Camino Facil.
Is the Camino de Santiago a religious walk?
For many pilgrims (but not for everybody) the Camino has a spiritual component. People do walk for religious reasons, but there are many who walk for other reasons; they love walking, they need time to reflect on their lives, they like the idea of slow traveling, want to try something new, want to challenge themselves, etc. Whichever reason you have it’s a good enough reason if it made you decide to walk the Camino.
Is it safe to walk the Camino for a solo female pilgrim?
Another frequently asked question on our blog. I’ve walked alone only the French Camino and I didn’t have any trouble. The rest of the Camino routes I’ve walked with my husband. I traveled quite a lot around Spain before (as a solo twenty-something female traveler) and in my experience, I never had any problem. You do get attention if you’re alone but if you don’t look interested you’ll be left alone.
I’ve heard of one girl that was bothered by a man on the Camino San Salvador from Leon to Oviedo. That route is not very popular, there are very few pilgrims walking it. I can recommend if you’re a solo female pilgrim rather choose one of the more popular Camino routes or find a companion. On every Camino, we saw many female pilgrims walking solo and nobody complained about being bothered.
Walking the Camino without speaking any Spanish
First of all, don’t worry you’ll be fine even if you don’t know a word in Spanish. On some routes, there are more foreigners than Spanish people. English is commonly spoken among pilgrims, we met some that were even complaining that they wanted to practice their Spanish but didn’t really get many chances as everybody around speaks English. You definitely will be able to communicate with fellow pilgrims in English. German and French are the second and third spoken languages on the Camino. If you don’t speak English it’ll be easy to find fellow German or French pilgrims.
As for albergues and restaurants in Spain, in many private albergues people speak some English, they’ll be able to tell you how much, when, where, all the basic stuff. In public albergues, English is not that common but there is always somebody around who speaks Spanish and English and will be able to translate. Google translate works quite well with English-Spanish you can install it on your phone and use it every time you need it. As an extra help, you can take a Camino Lingo – English – Spanish Words and Phrases book with you on the Camino.
If you’re planning to walk the Portuguese Camino it’s even easier. In Portugal, we were surprised by how many people spoke English. It’s definitely easier to communicate with locals in English in Portugal than in Spain.
The Camino is a good reason to learn some Spanish, people like it when even if you don’t speak fluently but you try to speak their language, plus Spanish is the second most spoken language (as a native language) in the world, it might be quite handy for your next trips. There are many online resources for learning Spanish, Duolingo is one of the most popular.
What is the accommodation like on the Camino?
Most pilgrims who walk the Camino stay in albergues, the cheapest accommodation option. Albergue is a hostel for pilgrims with dormitories and shared facilities. Albergues can be public (municipal) and private. Public albergues are usually run by local authorities, volunteers, or churches. They’re exclusively for pilgrims who walk or cycle the Camino. You pay between 5 and 8 Euros per person to stay in a public albergues. Private albergues are similar to hostels. Anybody can stay there though pilgrims are usually predominant. There are hotels and guesthouses along the Camino. The price is 10-15 Euros per person. If you prefer having more privacy and better facilities you can stay in private rooms in hotels. For more information on accommodation read our post on the albergues on the Camino de Santiago.
Is there wi-fi on the Camino?
The majority of private albergues have wi-fi unless it is in the middle of nowhere. Many public albergues, especially those that are in bigger cities or towns, have wi-fi as well. On our last Camino, we didn’t buy a SIM card, we were planning to buy one but every time we reached a town or a city everything was closed due to a public holiday, Sunday or lunchtime, in the end, we never got around it. We had Internet access every (or almost every) day.
Is there phone reception?
We had Internet almost every day if not in the albergue then at bars, restaurants, or cafes along the way. If you’re planning to work online we’d suggest buying a local SIM card as a backup. Another reason to buy a local SIM card is to be able to phone albergues if you want to book a place or find out if places are open. The cheapest one to buy is Lycamobile. A 28-day package costs 15-20 Euros, it includes 35Gb data, unlimited local calls, and 100 SMS. You can buy it at some supermarkets and grocery stores.
Do I need a sleeping bag?
Yes, you do need a sleeping bag if you’re planning to stay in albergues especially public ones. In summer (July, August) instead of a sleeping bag, you can take a silk liner, it’s usually quite hot. Most albergues have blankets but without a cover. It’s much nicer to put it over your sleeping bag or liner. We always pack small summer sleeping bags though when we walked the Camino in October and November we used both our sleeping bags and blankets sometimes it was very cold (not all albergues have heating).
Can you camp on the Camino?
It’s quite difficult to find designated campsites on the route there are not many and often they’re some distance ways from the Camino route. On this website, you can find campsites for different Camino routes. Staying at campsites often is more expensive than staying in public albergues. From a financial point of view, it’s not really worth carrying camping gear. It is illegal to wild camp in most autonomic communities in Spain specifically on beaches, in squares, parks, etc. If you get caught you’ll pay a fine that can be anything between 60 Euros and 600 Euros.
We met some people carrying a tent and camping gear. At the end out of 30 days, they walked they managed to camp only a couple of times. You end up walking with a heavy backpack packed with camping gear. It’ll make your walk more difficult. We saw very few campsites on the Camino routes we’ve completed so far. There were a couple of campsites on the Camino del Norte and on the Coastal Route of the Portuguese Camino.
It might be worth carrying a tent if you’re going to walk one of the off-the-beaten-track routes with very few places to stay e.g. the Camino Sanabrés.
Can I walk the Camino with my dog?
Surprisingly it’s one of the most frequent questions that we get. Yes, it’s possible though you might have tough times finding dog-friendly accommodations along the Camino. We did meet several people walking with their dogs and all of them confirmed that finding pet-friendly accommodation was often quite problematic. Some people carried a small tent for their dogs to sleep in when there was no other option. As far as I know, public albergues don’t allow dogs. Some private places might allow dogs.
One more thing to consider is transportation unless you’re driving with your own car. Dogs are not allowed on long-distance buses. Only small dogs in carriers are allowed on trains. I don’t want to discourage you completely from taking your dog on the Camino but I’d suggest doing proper research before starting the walk. There is a company that offers packages for pilgrims with a dog that include pet-friendly accommodation for every stage. Their website is in Spanish but you can use Google to translate it to English.