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Our best Camino de Santiago tips for planning & walking

Walking the Camino de Santiago is a unique experience that many people start preparing for a long time beforehand. We have walked seven different Camino de Santiago routes and know how overwhelming it can be to plan the Camino. In this post, we’ve put together tips for planning the pilgrimage and recommendations to follow on the Camino.

A pole marking the route and the distance (254 km) to Santiago on the French Camino
A distance marking pole on the Camino Frances

How to prepare for the pilgrimage?

Training for the Camino

If you’re like us, an outdoor person, and used to hiking with a backpack you don’t need any special training for the Camino. The only important thing to remember is to make sure your shoes are worn and not brand new. Blisters are a common problem on the Camino even for experienced hikers.

Step 1. If walking with a backpack is not something you do often then doing some training is a good idea. Start with doing shorter hikes/walks, 5-10 km (depending on your fitness level). If there are no hiking trails near where you live you can do a weekend trip to the nearest trails, walk in the park or do a couple of rounds around your neighborhood.

If for some reason you can’t walk outdoor walking on a treadmill is a good alternative. It’s better if you start walking in the shoes you’re planning to wear on the Camino to get used to them and make sure you’re comfortable.

Step 2. After a couple of times start increasing your distance adding 2 km at a time. If you feel really comfortable and walking is easy for you you can add 5 km to your distance. Your average walking day on the Camino is about 23 km; some days are shorter but there are longer days as well. Build up your training distance to 23 km. 

Step 3. Walking with a fully loaded backpack is significantly more difficult. You can start training without any extra weight or with a small day pack carrying water and snacks and gradually adding weight. For walking the Camino try to make your backpack as light as possible, 5-6kg is a good weight. 

You can find packing tips for men and women for different seasons in our detailed Camino de Santiago packing list post.

Final result. By the end of your training, you should be able to walk 20-23 km with a 5-6 kg backpack wearing your Camino shoes without any problem. I’d highly recommend walking for two or three consecutive days to imitate your Camino itinerary. Depending on the route you choose you’ll have to walk consecutively for 2-5 weeks. 

Optional. If during the training you realize that walking with a big backpack is too much for you it’s not a problem. There is no need to push and exhaust yourself. You can still walk the Camino and instead of carrying your backpack use a luggage transfer service. On most Camino routes there are companies offering backpack delivery. They pick your backpack up in the morning and drop it off in the afternoon at your next accommodation place. You walk with a small daypack carrying only essentials and water. 

Camino de Santiago tips YouTube thumbnail
Our video on one day of a pilgrim’s life on the Camino

If you want to have more insights into your training process I can highly recommend buying a GPS watch. We use our Garmin Fenix watches a lot for training, hiking, and walking the Camino. They give a lot of information such as distances, total elevation gain/loss, calories used, heart rate, route maps, recovery time, etc. You can use them for walking, running, swimming, cycling, work-outs, etc.

Choosing the right Camino route

There are many Camino routes from the busy Camino Frances to the solitary Via de la Plata. The scenery and the length of different routes vary quite a lot from the coastal scenery on the Camino del Norte to the mountainous landscape of the Camino Primitivo. Which one to choose totally depends on you. If you don’t have enough time to walk the entire route you can walk only the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela on any Camino. When is the best time to complete the Camino will as well depend on the route you choose.

There are several factors that you can base your decision on. 

  • What month are you going to walk?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What scenery do you want to see?
  • Do you want to walk a popular or off-the-beaten-track route? 

To help you to choose the right Camino for you we have a detailed post on the main Camino de Santiago routes with their detailed description, advantages, and drawbacks of walking each of them.

The map with the most popular Camino de Santiago routes in Spain and Portugal
The 5 most popular Camino routes: Camino Frances, Camino Portuguese (Coastal & Central routes), Camino Primitivo, Camino del Norte, Camino Finisterre-Muxia

Camino planning resources

There are many online resources and apps that you can use for planning your Camino de Santiago walk. Most of them are free which makes it easy to arrange the walk on your own without any travel agency or company.

Local Camino associations

Many countries have local Camino associations that can assist you if you have any questions, looking for a company, want to get a Credential, etc. Many associations have special events and meetings dedicated to the Camino where you can discuss different topics, meet people, tell stories, etc. It might be very helpful if you have some worries and concerns regarding the walk. We always get our Credentials at the Confraternity of St.James in South Africa.

Camino associations in different countries

Most associations offer Credentials (pilgrim’s passports) that you purchase, the price is usually 2-3US$. If you can’t get it in your country don’t worry about it you can get it at the start of the most Camino routes at albergues, Cathedrals, or pilgrims’ information offices.

A Credential and some other pilgrim's attributes for the Camino de Santiago
A pilgrim’s package from the Confraternity of Saint James in South Africa. If you have a local Camino association I’d recommend contacting them if you have any questions or concerns

Useful apps for walking the Camino

All the suggested apps are available for Android and iPhone unless other is specified.

  • Camino Pilgrim – Frances. A personal scheduler for the Camino Frances. Free. For Android only.
  • Camino de Santiago companion (Camino Frances). Free.
  • Free Camino de Santiago Guide (Camino Frances). Free.
  • Camino de Santiago Guide (Camino Frances & Camino Finisterre-Muxia). US$3.
  • Way of St.James (Buen Camino) with several Camino routes. Free.
  • Booking.com, a useful app for booking accommodation, many private albergues, and hotels can be booked through this app.
  • Google translate, works well with English-Spanish translation in case you have some communication difficulties or need some help with understanding signs and announcements.
  • XE currency exchange is a great app for currency conversion.
  • Netflix app (if you use it), allows you to download movies on your phone/tablet and watch them later even if you don’t have Internet access.

Recommended Camino books

If you like reading I can suggest buying a Kindle (if you don’t have one yet) for the walk. If you join Amazon Kindle Unlimited Program you’ll be able to download thousands of books and audiobooks on any device (phone, Kindle, or tablet) and always have something to read on the Camino.

Getting to the Camino

Depending on where you’re coming from your international flight might be your biggest expense. If you come from overseas e.g. the US, Australia, Canada, South Africa I’d suggest starting looking for tickets several months before the trip. Use Skyscanner or any other flight search engine to find out the cheapest price and to see what airlines operate between your country/city and Spain, Portugal, or France (depending on the chosen Camino). Subscribe to their newsletter to make sure you won’t miss their special offers and deals.

If you’re going to use local flights with one of the European budget airlines check their luggage allowance. Usually, they’re different for international and local flights. The cheapest local flights usually include only hand luggage if you have check-in luggage you’ll have to pay extra. 

Check the current COVID travel restrictions and requirements to enter your destination country. Entry requirements for Spain you can find HERE. Entry requirements for Portugal HERE. I recommend confirming the rules with your airline as well a couple of days before the departure.

If you have some extra luggage that you won’t need on the Camino but might need later you can send it to Santiago de Compostela with one of the luggage transfer companies (Correos, Camino Facil, etc.) and keep it in storage till you arrive. 

Plan how you are going to get to the starting point of the Camino. For some routes, you’ll have to use local buses or trains. If you’re planning to do the Camino Frances, the most popular route we have a detailed post explaining how to get to St.Jean Pied de Port, the beginning of the French Camino.

Final arrangements

Make a checklist of things you want or have to do before you leave. It helps to keep track and to make sure you won’t forget anything.

Outline your Camino itinerary to have a general idea of your walk. You can change and adjust it later.

Let your bank know that you’re going to use your cards abroad. It depends on your bank sometimes it’s not necessary but I’d recommend making sure before you leave.

Get your bank’s contact number for international calls (sometimes it’s a toll-free number) to be able to contact them if you have any issues with your bank cards.

Make sure your phone is roaming so that you can receive SMS (bank notifications, etc.) and phone calls (if it’s necessary) while abroad. 

Buy travel insurance that covers trip cancellation, delays, and medical assistance. Walking the Camino is not an extreme sport small injuries and traumas are not unusual. It’s recommended to have travel insurance for the Camino.

If you come from the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and some other countries you might need a power adapter. In Spain and Portugal, they have Type F plugs like in most European countries.

Tips for walking the Camino de Santiago

The golden rule of the Camino

The main rule is to walk the Camino the way that suits you the best. There is no right or wrong way. It’s your Camino and only you can decide how to walk it. You can run it in a week or two or take your time and complete the route in two months. You can carry your own backpack or use a luggage transfer service. You can stay at albergues or hotels. Whichever way you feel comfortable is the right way for you.

There is one rule you have to follow if you want to get the Compostela certificate after completing the Camino. You have to walk at least the last 100 km to Santiago (or cycle 200 km) collecting 2 stamps per day. Don’t chase other people’s or guidebooks’ itineraries, walk as far as you want, take rest days, and enjoy the walk. 

Camino health tips

To stay strong and healthy on the Camino listen to your body, rest if you need it, drink enough water, and don’t stress too much about anything.

If you need to buy medicine (for example antibiotics if you get flu) with a prescription you can contact your doctor back home and ask to send the prescription via e-mail. Then you print this prescription and show it to the pharmacist. We did it a couple of times in Spain and Portugal and never had any problem.

Blisters

It’s the main health issue on the Camino that can affect anybody regardless of age or fitness level. As I mentioned above, make sure the shoes you’re going to walk the Camino in are worn, not brand new. 

We find Merino wool socks work really well for protecting your feet and preventing blisters. 

If it’s really hot and your feet sweat it’s recommended to stop every 2-3 hours and change your socks to make sure your feet stay dry. Wet feet are more likely to get blisters.

Some people apply vaseline on their feet before they start walking. We never do it but if you tend to get blisters often it might be a good solution at least in the beginning while your feet are getting used to walking a lot. Another option is to use blister preventive bandages that you can apply to the areas where you usually get blisters to prevent chafing.

In case you do get blisters, make sure to carry in your first-aid kit the necessary items for treating blisters such as antibiotic ointment and blister care plaster cushions.

Accumulated tiredness

Walking the Camino might look like an easy venture but it’s not. It’s physically and psychologically difficult to get up every day, pack your backpack, walk for 5-6 hours on average, check in to a new place, and so on for weeks. Even experienced walkers get tired. If you feel you need rest, take a day off, sleep late, spend a day reading a book, watching movies, etc. Don’t worry about your itinerary even if you start falling behind you can always catch a bus or a train to make up the distance.

Tired legs

Walking every day for hours, especially in hot weather makes your legs very tired. It’s important to let your legs and feet rest and breath. Here are some tips that will help to do it.

Carry a pair of flip flops or any other open comfortable footwear that you can change into after you finish walking. Taking off my shoes and putting on flip flops is one of my highlights after a long day of walking.

Soak your feet in cold water works great for cooling down after a tough walking day. It might be a pool, a bucket with cold water, or just a cold shower.

When you rest try to keep your legs elevated to improve blood flow.

If you walk one of the coastal routes e.g. the Northern Way or the Portuguese Coastal Camino don’t miss the opportunity to walk barefoot on the beach. Soft sand and cool water help a lot if your feet are tired, hot, or swollen.

Pilgrims having dinner at an albergue on the Camino Frances
The Camino is not just a walk, it’s the place where you meet amazing people

Safety tips

Walking the Camino is not any more dangerous than just traveling in Spain or Portugal though there are some issues that might spoil your experience so it’s always better to follow some precautions.

Money & valuables

My main tip here is never to leave your valuable stuff unattended. Always take your wallet, phone, passport, etc. with you or lock it if there is a locker. We’ve never had any issues on the Camino but we met people whose money, phone, or even a Credential were stolen. I always carry a neck bag where I put my passport, money, credit cards, and credential. Even when I go to the bathroom I take it with me unless there is a locker. A pouch or a small bag will work as well. It’s useful to carry a small combination lock. Some albergues have lockers but no locks.

Safety tips for solo female pilgrims

I, personally, have never had any negative experience in Spain that I’ve traveled quite extensively on my own. As for the Camino, I’ve walked only one route alone without Campbell – the Camino Frances. I didn’t have any unpleasant moments on the route.

I’ve read in some Facebook groups about single female pilgrims being bothered by men though it’s not common on the Camino. Usually, those are stocking, inappropriate behavior (Exhibitionistic disorder), and obscene language. Most female pilgrims who have walked the Camino claim they didn’t have any issues. You can read more about the female experience on the Camino forum.

In the peak season on the main Camino routes, it’s very unlikely you’ll be all alone usually you can see pilgrims in front of you or behind which reduces the chances of being molested. If you walk off-season or choose one of the less popular routes and feel concerned I can recommend teaming up with other pilgrims. If you’re two or more people walking together you’ll be 100% fine.

If you’re going to walk alone I can recommend buying a local SIM card. In Spain and Portugal, it’s not expensive, for 15 Euro you get a SIM card with 200 minutes, 2Gb of data, and hundreds of messages valid for 30 days. This way you can always stay connected and call the police or emergency service if needed. The fastest and easiest way is to call 112 in both Spain and Portugal in case of any emergency. The operators speak Spanish/Portuguese and English.

Safety on the road

This tip is more applicable to cyclists though pilgrims on foot sometimes have to walk next to or along the road as well. It’s not a big deal if you walk in the daylight but if you start very early in the morning it’s highly recommended to have reflectors on your clothes and/or backpack so that drivers can see you in the dark.

Three pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago
Even on a misty day like this on the Camino Frances in season, you can see other pilgrims

How to minimize stress on the Camino?

Walking the Camino is supposed to be a liberating experience; when you disconnect from your daily worries and have some time for reflection. Sometimes the pilgrimage might become a stressful experience for several reasons especially if you walk one of the popular routes in the peak season.

Finding accommodation

One of the main concerns for many pilgrims is finding accommodation at the end of the day. I’ve seen this walking the French Camino (the busiest route) at the beginning of September (the peak season). People start walking before 5 am to start walking to make sure they arrive early enough to get a spot in a public albergue. This kind of worry you get only if you walk one of the popular Camino routes such as the Camino Frances or the Camino Portuguese in the peak season (summer months).

I’ve never had a problem not getting a spot at public albergues because I walk fast and usually arrive one of the first but even I was getting tired of the chase. After about 2 weeks into the Camino Frances, I started booking accommodation a couple of days ahead.

You can book private albergues and hotels. Public albergues work on a first come first serve principle but I decided rather spend 3-4 Euro more on accommodation than worrying about finding a place. Most of the private places can be booked online or over the phone. Knowing that you have a place to stay you can take your time, start walking later, stop for lunch, etc. 

Privacy

If you walk one of the longer routes I’d highly recommend from time to time staying in a private room. Staying every day in a dormitory with sharing facilities and occasional snorers can get too much after a while even if you’re an experienced backpacker.

I try to stay at least once a week in private. It’s more expensive than staying in a dormitory but it’s totally worth it especially after spending a couple of nights with a snorer in your room. A budget private room for two people costs 30 Euro, for one person – 25 Euro.

Companionship

Many people come to walk the Camino alone for different reasons, some couldn’t find somebody to walk with, some need some lonesome time, and some just like solitude. It’s easy to find a company on the Camino but if you walk with a person for a day or two it doesn’t mean you have to stick together till the end of the pilgrimage.

I’ve met people that felt obliged to walk with somebody when they actually wanted to be on their own. Don’t be afraid of expressing your needs if you want to be alone just explain it in a nice way. Don’t force yourself, don’t get annoyed, etc. remember the golden rule and walk your Camino the way it suits you the best.

Questions or Comments?

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Allison Wilkins

Thursday 17th of November 2022

I am learning a lot from your website. I hope to walk the del Norte and connect onto the primitivo next July. I will be walking by myself and would like to have my luggage delivered and just carry a day pack. What company do I contact for this? Also I presume I would need to have every accommodation booked previously which is quite a task for around 40 days. Is it still easy to arrive in a town and find accommodation? Thank you Allison

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 17th of November 2022

Hello Allison. Thank you for the comment. Correos (Spanish post) does luggage delivery on both Camino routes. They're a reliable company with many pilgrims using their services every year. Here is the link to their website https://www.elcaminoconcorreos.com/en/. As for booking accommodation, I would strongly recommend doing so for the Camino del Norte. July is the peak season for the area the route goes through some of the most popular beach destinations in Northern Spain. There are not many public albergues on the route so your options will be private hostels or hotels. On the Camino Primitivo, it's easier to find places to stay as there are more public albergues and there are not many tourists besides pilgrims in the area. You don't have to book accommodation for the 40 days just for the first half, especially in the Basque Country in the coastal towns (San Sebastian, Getaria, etc.). You can find a list of places to stay on the Camino del Norte https://stingynomads.com/camino-del-norte-stages/ (in the 4th paragraph) and on the Camino Primitivo https://stingynomads.com/camino-primitivo-stages/ (in the 3rd paragraph). Buen Camino

Mark from Ohio

Thursday 17th of November 2022

Do you recommend walking poles too? If so which model?

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 17th of November 2022

Hello Mark. We use walking poles only when we hike in the mountains e.g. in Nepal or Peru where there are many ascents and descents. The only Camino we walked with the poles was the Camino Primitivo because it's a mountainous route. I would suggest poles with cork handles and an antishock feature. You can find more information on our gear in this post https://stingynomads.com/camino-de-santiago-packing-list/ Buen Camino

Irena

Thursday 27th of October 2022

Great article. I have a hard time figuring out how to reserve the albergue/hotel. If you go to the Camino on April, would you need to reserve lodging, hotel, or accommodation? Or you can just walk in on a place where you'd like to stop. Also, which one is the easiest one, for beginers? Thank you!

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 27th of October 2022

Hello Irena. Thank you for the comment. April is the beginning of the Camino season usually there aren't many pilgrims on any route. If you want to stay in a private room it's better to book in advance as some places have limited private accommodation options only beds in dormitories. Many first-time pilgrims walk the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela from Sarria (Camino Frances) or Tui (Camino Portuguese). If you have never done long-distance walking and want to try the Camino it might be a good option. The last 100 km on both routes has enough places to stay, many bars, and restaurants, and are well-marked. It'll be easy to walk you'll meet other pilgrims even in April. If you want to walk a complete route then the Portuguese Camino from Porto is a good option. It takes 12-14 days to complete. You can combine the Coastal Route and the Central Route. From Porto walk to Caminha (the Coastal Route) and from there walk to Tui and continue on the Central Route. We have detailed posts on both routes https://stingynomads.com/camino-portugues-stages/ and https://stingynomads.com/portuguese-coastal-camino-stages/. At the beginning of each post you can find PDF files with walking stages and places to stay along the routes it'll help you to plan your walk. Buen Camino

Wayne

Monday 8th of August 2022

Good morning:

I am doing the french route in october 2022, I expect to be finished first week of november. If I skip the part of flatlands to make up for time needed to enjoy/sightsee some other places will i stell get the compostado at the end? and would the arburgues have a problem with this if they notice a gap at the start? I could Probably do the 30k a day needed to do the whole route in 30 days, but dont want to rush it or forget to stop and smell the flowers every now and then. thank you so much for posting this info and blog. It was very good for taking some of the stress away over making decision to do this. wishing you and your beautifull family all the best. :)

Wayne

Tuesday 9th of August 2022

@Stingy Nomads,

Thank you.

Stingy Nomads

Monday 8th of August 2022

Hello Wayne. Thank you for the comment. In order to get the Compostela certificate, you have to complete at least the last 100 km to Santiago (the route from Sarria on the Camino Frances). In that part, you can't skip stages. On the rest of the Camino you can skip parts and still be allowed to stay in albergues and get the Compostela. Buen Camino

Casper

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

Hi - which Camino would you recommend for January 2023?

Stingy Nomads

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

Hello Casper. To be honest weatherwise I wouldn't recommend any Camino route. If you really want to walk the Camino in January despite bad weather I can suggest the Central route of the Portuguese Camino from Porto. There are no mountain passes to go over so snow won't be a problem like on the Camino Frances. Plus there are many hotels and guesthouses along the route some albergues close for the offseason but you still will be able to find accommodation. If you want to have better weather you can walk the Camino de Gran Canaria, it's a shorter route on the Canary Islands in Spain. It's the only Camino de Santiago route that doesn't end in Santiago de Compostela. If you want to walk a longer route with beautiful scenery and better weather I can recommend the Fishermen's Trail in the south of Portugal. It has nothing to do with the Camino de Santiago though. Here is more information on the route https://stingynomads.com/fishermens-trail-rota-vicentina-itinerary/ Cheers

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