Walking the Camino & Choosing a Way to Santiago.

Before walking the Camino de Santiago in España-Spain, there are seven issues to decide: the attitude towards the challenge of the Way to Santiago,  what path to follow, why walk the Camino, when to make the journey, how much time is needed, the sort of places where to rest and how you will complete the journey. These seven choices are connected and depending on what is most important for the pilgrim, there are many alternatives from which to choose. Because this is a complicated journey and a once in a lifetime opportunity, it is important to jointly consider all of these questions and to carefully plan your pilgrimage. Don’t forget that many pilgrims have been disappointed by a lack of preparation.

THE ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE CHALLENGE OF WALKING ‘THE CAMINO’.

There are two main alternatives: Challenge-enjoyment and Challenge-sacrifice.

  1. CHALLENGE-ENJOYMENT. Those who decide to concentrate in the ‘intrapersonal way’ of nature, art and monument contemplation, in the understanding of the histories and legends about The Camino, in the knowing each other with the ‘people of the Camino’ (hostel managers, priests, villagers…) and other pilgrims from around the world. And those that do it as an spiritual and religious search or as a promise to The Lord (visiting holy places, praying and meditating).
    • They study and/or get advice about all what the Camino can offer. Because the attractions of the way should be known so they can be noticed, appreciated and enjoyed.
    • They prepare to face a physical challenge (cycling, horse riding, sailing or walking the Camino) but facing the hardships in a proportionate way, without adding additional toughness not historically associated to ‘The Camino’s Spirit’ (like making things artificially more difficult). For instance…
      • Walking the Camino in different trips (only covering a part and continue another year) or concentrating in the last 200 or 100 kilometers.
      • Planning each stage depending on the weather, the daily physical condition and the attractives that are found during the route (in some places there are very few things to see and in some cities you should stay more than one day to see all the ‘places of The Camino’). It is not mandatory to do a certain number of kilometers every day.
      • Do not carry a huge back-pack with a sleeping bag if they can avoid it; for instance, you need the sleeping bag only if you are spending the night in the free-low cost public hostels.
      • Rest better in places without mandatory hours of arrival and departure, with intimacy for sleeping; where you can find clean sheets every night and clean premises.
      • Ride horse or bikes, and when walking the Camino use a foot wear designed for concrete and asphalt ways (that is over the 80-90% of the soil). They also wear reflective clothes or jackets so they can be easily identified by the many car drivers that they’ll face.
  2. CHALLENGE-SACRIFICE. Tha great number of young and well physically trained pilgrims that have made walking the Camino a trendy world known challenge have shaped a recent and non-traditional  approach to this experience. They choose to focus in the sportying and superation aspects of a long range walk with all weathers and sleeping in uncomfortable communitary places.
    • As the priority is to arrive as soon as possible to the public low cost albergue and assure the place for the night, they never take detours to interesting places and make stops to see monuments and churches. This saves them the task of researching about the places, histories and legends, how to deal with the ‘peoples of The Camino’, etc.
    • They use similar tactics and wear clothes of trekking and mountain climbing. Specifically,
      • They walk the camino directly from their homes in Europe or from the French Border (when they live overseas).
      • Strictly follow the planned stages despite the weather conditions, people and attractions they encounter; the more hardships included in the plan the more value the experience has for them. Therefore, they do not stop to know well the places in the Camino and never make detours.
      • Carry the back-pack with all what they may need, a large survival kit including sleeping bag, food processing and even camping tents (just in case they not find a place in the public hostel).
      • They only sleep in public albergues; not just for economic reasons, also because they consider that sleeping in a bunk inside a large communitary hall is a key element of the experience. It is a relevant issue to tell friends and family that they were able to survive and make the challenge with the least money expenditure; that is one of the reasons for not spending time visiting museums or monuments. The least money you take with you, the more ‘pure’ pilgrim you are.
      • Wear the ‘Santiago pilgrim style’ that always includes mountaineer boots (despite the absence of climbing and that most of the route is on paved ways) and hiking clothes. Most do not wear reflecting clothes and they consider not enough challenging to ride a horse or a bycicle.

WHICH WAY TO CHOOSE.

There are 22 traditional ways to travel to or from Santiago de Compostela in España-Spain, depending on the place of departure. Here we refer only to three of these paths, two of which share the major part of the journey.

  • The «Primitive Camino» is the first one, because the king Alfonso II travelled on his horse from Oviedo to Santiago. It is the shortest in length but also the most demanding physically because you cross high mountain ports. Click here to go to our page on this Primitive Camino.
  • The Camino de Santiago «north» (or from the coast) is the least known path and was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2015. It is known for having a mild climate, being the most accesible from the starting point (the border crossing at Irún), having a greater amount of alternative places to sleep, and being less steep. Click to see our page of this coastal way
  • The «Camino francés» is the most popular and most well known internationally. It is characterised by having a more extreme climate (hot in the summer and cold in the winter), being easily accesible by foot and bicycle, and having more communal inns (hospederías). Get all the advice for the French Way.
  • The «Camino aragonés» is the first historical path because it has more legends and stories and the oldest archaelogical remains. It is also the most complicated to walk as it is the longest and includes climbing over one of the most difficult steps of the  Pyrenees —Summus Portus, “the highest pass”, or Somport—; also has the least accesible starting point. Needs more planning and determination than the rest. In its favor, however, this path has even motre beautiful monuments, spectacular scenery, and fewer pilgrims in the months during which the Camino Francés is saturated. Here you can get the information about this way.

WHY MAKE THE PILGRIMAGE TO SANTIAGO.

Walking the Camino is a complicated ritual that is usually done once in a life time. You should be conscious of your true motives for doing so in order to complete your expectations. The most common motives for walking the Camino de Santiago are:

  • Religious. Since the Middle Ages, paupers and kings have made the journey as a deliberate and free promise to God. Today there are still many christians who walk the Camino as a spiritual path.
  • Meditative. Responding to the personal need to meditate through the landscape and the encounter with other pilgrims.
  • Cultural. As it has been a travel and trade route that has existed for a millennium, you can find many impressive monuments and beautiful landscapes along these paths.
  • Sport. For many, the Camino is a way to show —themselves as well people they know— that they have the capacity to complete the path in a certain number of days, which is a feat in itself.
  • Convivial. Some families, friend groups, or educational, professional, or associative institutions organise expeditions as a way to strengthen the link between the participants, as walking the Camino provokes thought and dialogue.

WHEN WALKING THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

Each season has both advantages and disadvantages.

  • the winter is for the brave souls. It is less complicated to go through the coast, as the temperatures are milder and there are far less posibilites of encountering snow; however you must be prepared for rain. Camino aragonés is the most difficult option because of the altitude and the climate of Puerto de Somport (Huesca). Naturally, winter is the season with the least pilgrims.
  • the spring, in the months of March or April, may coincide with Easter, where you can find the famous Easter processions in the Spanish villages. The mild temperatures make the spring suitable for all paths, particularly the Camino francés—which has less rain than the north and higher temperatures than the aragonés—. Given that the Camino francés is the most popular and it can be difficult to find places in the lodges during the month of August (especially a jubilee year like 2016) this season may avoid the congestion of pilgrims.
  • summer months the higher temperatures and smaller chance of rain can make the journey more pleasant. In addition, for those who want to see local tradition and entertaining events, there is a higher number of festivities in Spain during the months of August and September, and to a lesser extent in July. The mild temperatures along the coast and the possibility of bathing in the beaches during the journey attracts people to this path. For those crossing the Castilian plateau (caminos francés y aragonés), there are also plenty of water sources available.
  • In autumn the forests of the Pyrenees, the plateau, and Galicia have a special color.  There is still no snow in the Puerto de Somport and the cool temperatures help with walking long distances. For these reasons, the Camino aragonés is especially attractive. The flow of pilgrims is scarce so you can easily find a place to sleep.

HOW MUCH TIME IS NEEDED FOR WALKING THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

If the objective of the journey is not for sport, we advise you to forget about the stages that are strictly outlined by some guides. Converting the camino into a race is not conducive to finding peace or meeting new people. Since the Middle Ages, intelligent pilgrims have known to stop to rest when necessary, especially on hot or rainy days. These days, pilgrims should also consider factors such as the enjoyment of monuments, festivals, culinary, and scenic attractions.

In theory, the French border to Santiago de Compostela can be walked in 31 days for somebody who is in good shape and who has avoided any mishaps along the way. However, it is smart to take a few more days to stop and rest and to enjoy places that you like, making short detours to explore nearby places of interest. It has also become very popular to make an extension or epilogue after arriving in Santiago; to continue walking to the famous Cape Finisterre (the “end of the earth”) and to see the wonderful town and church in Muxia.

Given that walking the Camino is generally a once in a lifetime occurrence, our recommendation is to dedicate 40 or 50 days (especially for the aragonés and costal path). Otherwise, it would be better to walk the path in instalments, doing a part of the journey in one trip and the rest in others. For those who have less time or difficulty with movement, the Camino organisation supports pilgrims who have completed the last four stages, giving them the «Santiago pilgrim’s passport» which validates the pilgrimage.

The goal is to achieve some sort of positive transformation through the pilgrim’s ambience and the landscape; the internal journey should be as pleasant and pure as the external travel. Time should be enough, its noy possible to hurry and skip the great variety of pleasures that are set in the way so the XXI century pilgrim enjoy waht other pilgrims also saw during over a thousand years.

SLEEPING IN THE WAY TO SANTIAGO.

As there are much less places to sleep in the public hostels than youngsters willing to go there, the demand is much larger than the supply, especially in the last 200 kilometers of the French and North Ways. One of the key success factors for finishing the Way to Santiago is maintaining yuorself in a good physical condition, that is why is so important to rest well and as long as you may need. The factor of the opening and closing hours is also relevant. The budget and flexibility of the planning determine the choices.

  1. Albergues or ‘public hostels’ associated to the Santiago Diocesis that has the tutelage over The Camino. Access. There the pilgrim’s accreditation can be sealed and the access is given only to the pilgrims with accreditation in the order of arrival (if a cyclist and a walker arrive at the same time the walker has priority). Cost. They usually were 100% free of charge and every pilgrim was expected to make a donation for sustaining the maintenance costs; increasingly, the authorities order the keepers to establish prices between 3 and 6 euros per night (for paying the keeper). Services. You will not get a dinner nor a breakfast, in some there is a simple kitchen were to prepare food if you bring all the the ingredients, some have beverage vending machines and laundry machines; all have toilets and showers. Quality. Given the large number of persons that sleep and live there and the non-professional status of the keepers the cleanliness and quality of the premises are very variable; you should carry with you a sleeping bag to avoid picking parasites. Horaries. The usually open from 13 to 16 hours and do not admit pilgrims after 8 or 9 pm; usually you should be out of the premises before 9 am.
  2. Private albergues. They are not linked to the Dioceses of Compostela or other organizations so you can’t seal the accreditation there and may have to stop in the church, the official albergue or the town hall. Services, they usually have clean and more complete premises, with very different levels of style,services and facilities. The price range is usually from 25 to 40 euros per night, in some places even higher and may change depending the month of the year. They may offer a dinner and all offer breakfast. Horaries. They have flexible hours of admittance and for leaving the premises. Reservation. You may book the day before by phone and pay thru the internet.
  3. Hotels and bead&breakfast. You have in the Camino some of the best hotels in Spain; former palaces and castles with all sorts of services and extraordinary restaurants. You also may find many small family run hotels and bred & breakfasts with very affordable prices and welcoming owners.

WALKING THE CAMINO TO SANTIAGO? SAILING OR CYCLING? DRIVING & WALKING?

Historically, the pilgrims from the north-european countries arrived by boat to the ports of Galicia and continued by horse, carriage or walking the Camino. Today you can also organize the pilgrimage by boat (link in English). The gentlemen coming from France usually rode horses and the ladies travelled in carriages; those with.out transport means did hiking and walking the Camino. Depending of the weather, transport means, physical conditions of the pilgrim, wars, etc. it may take a few weeks or several months. As many pilgrims were elderly some died during the travel. Those with a lot of penance may make the voluntary voto (promise) to do it walking .

The first decision is whether to go alone or in a group. Those who choose to walk the Camino for personal or spiritual reasons often choose to go solo, as the silence and observation contributes to these motives. Those that go for recreational purposes can enjoy the company of friends, although one of the attractions of the pilgrimage is to meet other pilgrims from around the world and of all different ages throughout the journey.

In addition to walking the Camino, it has become very popular to complete the journey on bicycle. It has the advantage of flexibility, because you can spend more time in the most interesting sites and be able to visit very interesting places located at a short distance of the official way; anothe important advantage is that elderly or handicapped can cover more easily the distance that they choose. It is very common to rent the bicycle in the border, but some other buy the model they prefer and resell it at Santiago. One very entertaining option for small groups is to do the path by horseback; several organisations offer all the support services to feel like a knight  (or lady) doing it in the old fashion. Finally, each year there are pilgrims who make most of their journey by car and complete the last four steps on foot. This option is better for older people, those unable to endure heavy physical exertion, or pilgrims with a small amount of time. In the end, do not forget that the most important part is spirit while walking the Camino.

2016 has been declared a jubilee year which offers those walking the Camino de Santiago a plenary indulgence.

CAUTION ABOUT PHONE LODGING RESERVATIONS WHILE WALKING THE CAMINO. We are receiving a increasing number of notifications by pilgrims that during the high season get a confirmation of a room reservation and later find out that their room has been sold for a higher price to someone else; some inn and hotel owners argue that many times the pilgrims do not appear at the day and hour agreed. We hace been asked to publish the names of the hotels and inns but for legal reasons we can’t do that; we can’t either assure what was said during those conversations. The fact is that during the high season the best strategy is to leave early or to book and pay thru the internet in advance; there is an incresing flow of pilgrims from around the world, some people decide to stay in a place more thatn one night… there are many reasons to assure in advance your room (important in the nicest places close to the beach or key monuments). The inn and lodges owner are overwhelmingly honest they do presonify the Camino’s values; there are some pilgrims that for several reasons may not arrive, generating an economic loss to the owners. Given the importance to rest well, take your time to assure a good place for every night.

Ven a España !!! Visit Spain !!!

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