Camino de Santiago FAQ
Earlier his week, I had the super-exciting opportunity to write a post on xoJane about my experience hiking The Camino de Santiago in 2009. There were many sweet messages, some of which asking about how to complete the hike itself. Since my brain has been in Camino mode (and since the wheels are turning to head back there soon), I have written up some basic FAQ information.
This only touches the surface of questions you may have and ones I’ve received. If it’s useful, I will write another own soon — including more abstract questions and tidbits. Please feel free to add your own advice or questions below!
Wait, what is it?
The Camino de Santiago was originally a Catholic Pilgrimage (though it was a Roman trade route before this) that has been maintained by Spain and parts of France up until today. More history can be found here. There are several routes you can take (along the coast, up through Portugal, etc.), most of which are marked out with yellow arrows, but the most popular is known as the Camino Frances, which runs from south-eastern France to north-western Spain. People from all over the world, of all ages, and all religions still hike the Camino.
Where do you sleep?
Though you have the choice to pitch a tent in many areas, most people do not carry one, and instead choose to stay in pilgrim albergues, which are a bit what we consider European hostels. Hostels in Spain are usually closer to an American Bed and Breakfast. We treated ourselves to nights in hostels twice throughout our five-week hike. Sometimes you just need a room and a super-hot shower.
The albergues completely vary from place to place, and some towns even have several choices. There is usually at least one large, public albergue, and several smaller private ones to choose from. The public options tend to be cheaper (or even donation-based) but normally sleep many to a room. Each person has their own bed either way, several showers, and often a place to cook. Though a bed and pillow is provided, we slept in sleeping bags and brought our own pillow cases. Every now and then, there were super cozy blankets, and I took the risk. It was the best.
How long does it take to complete?
Technically, if you go on foot, you only need to walk 100km to receive your certificate from the church when you arrive in Santiago. There is no rush or standard amount you are forced to walk each day. It is only dependent on how spread out the albergues are in each area, but these become very frequent toward the end. Your progress is marked by your “pilgrim passport,” which is stamped in each town to prove your mileage.
The entire Camino Frances, however, is just about 500 miles, over 800 km. This took us 35 days to complete, though I knew people who completed it in on a 30-day plan. To account for injury and rest, we added a much-needed buffer, and I highly recommend this.
How much money does this cost?
Including gear (most of which we borrowed from family and friends), the whole kit and caboodle cost $3,000 in 2009. Since the exchange rate from dollars to euro is a little more in our favor this time around, it may be a bit cheaper, or be balanced out by the flight cost. I spent approximately 23–28 euro a day:
3 for breakfast
5 for lunch
6–10 for dinner (there are specific pilgrim menus — which always includes a bottle of wine for the table)
6–10 for housing
My flight to Toulouse was $360 (I know! It was a crazy deal one random afternoon) and then I took a train to St. Jean Pied de Port for about 60 euro. My flight back was around $500.
I’m in terrible shape, should I stay home?
Nope! I was not an athlete when I left. The majority of my training was walking around my neighborhood in my hiking boots. I upped the amount each day, and I think only made it to about 7 miles in one go. The amount of hiking, especially with a 20–25 pound pack will definitely be rough on your body no matter how much you train. Most days are between 18 and 25 k a day. By the middle of week two, you will feel more like a super-strong beast, and everything will stop hurting so much. In the meantime, there’s wine. Many people who hike the trail are over 60, I even met an 80-year old man who was making his 7thrun. If you’re worried about your health, break the hike up over several trips, or plan for shorter days. There is no shame in this whatsoever. It’s all about you.
What should I pack?
I don’t have the final say here, since I only know my own experience, but this is what I brought:
1 tank top (with full shoulder sleeves for my backpack straps)
1 convertible fleece/raincoat
1 poncho (a must)
1 pair of adjustable hiking pants (the ones that you can turn into capris or shorts)
1 pair of end-of-day/pajama shorts — because you have to wash your pants someday!
1 pair of hiking boots
1 pair of flip flops
2 pairs of hiking socks
2 pairs of sock liners (this is how I avoided blisters)
5 pairs of underwear
1 small tube of toothpaste (sometimes we bought one and traded off on who carried it)
1 small container of Camp Suds for washing everything (Dr. Bronners may work well too)
Needle and thread–for clothing or blisters. Blech.
Cell phone charger
Maps given on day one
Albergue sheet given on day one
Suntan lotion wipes
Bug repellent wipes
All of the wipes!
Nalgene water bottle
Probably a bunch of things I’m forgetting
If you can cut down on ANY of these, I highly recommend it. Every ounce counts.
What types of roads do you walk on?
Oh all types! Highways, fields, dirt paths, middle-of-the-woods trails, city streets, mountains. No you do not need climbing gear, though many people benefitted from walking sticks. I found a branch.
Is this safe?
Though I traveled with a very responsible friend, I would confidently go on my own. I am a huge worrier, and almost never felt unsafe either physically or around groups of people. Though there are rumors of things being stolen, I did not come across this issue. Be smart with your belongings as you would anywhere, and you should be good. You are almost always in some sort of pack, usually with people you get to know. The only time I questioned my safety was while hiking the first day over the Pyrenees in thick sleet. In this case, we should have stopped or turned back, but we were too silly to know this yet. If you feel like nature is telling you to cool your jets, listen to it. It knows better than you.
Alright, I’m to the point where my other questions are getting a bit lofty, so I will hold off on those either for another post, or from suggestions from you! So please, ask away!
Originally published at thenativenavigator.com on April 13, 2016.