Camino de Santiago – how to prepare, what to take
Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James, is the name of the pilgrimage route to the tomb of St. James, which is located in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in the northwest Spain. It is, together with Rome and Jerusalem, one of the three greatest destinations for Catholic pilgrimages. Although the Way of St. James is a religious pilgrimage by origin, it is the Camino (or From the Spanish Way) for everyone, regardless of faith or religion.
In this post I would like to dispel doubts and answer questions that may arise when the idea comes to our mind – or maybe to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela! What’s the deal with this Camino? Which route to choose? Can I handle it? What to bring for a few weeks of hiking? Where to stay?
My experience with the Camino de Santiago
I started my adventure with the Camino in August 2020,when I walked one of the oldest routes of the Camino de Santiago – Camino Primitivo from Oviedo. After reaching Santiago de Compostela, I decided to continue my journey to Muxia and Fisterra. Then I walked the Route Camino Portugues de la Costa over the Atlantic Ocean, only in the opposite direction – to Porto in Portugal.
In 2021, in mid-August, I set off again to Santiago de Compostela,this time along the Camino Francés route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees.
Choosing a route on the Camino de Santiago
There are many routes to Santiago and surely everyone will find something for themselves. When choosing one for ourselves, we must determine the range of time we have at our disposal, the month or time of year in which we plan the pilgrimage (it is another thing to go in July Camino Francés and in December Camino Primitivo) and assess our physical condition, which will allow us to achieve our goal.
The trails to Santiago are marked with a yellow arrow and a shell – the symbol of St. Jacob. It is good to set out with an intention that will strengthen us during the more difficult moments.
- The most famous and most popular Camino Francés, i.e. the French road, leads from the Pyrenees, from the Spanish-French border from the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Its length is about 779 kilometers, for the passage of which we need 30-33 days. The Camino runs through the central part of Spain through the provinces of Navarre, La Rioja, Castile and Leon and Galicia. In the summer, we can expect heat and a large number of pilgrims there. The route starts in the mountains, then runs along the plateau – the Meseta desert, and at the end again to mountainous and green Galicia.
Camino del Norte
- Another very famous and more demanding is the Camino del Norte, that is, the northern road It is a route that runs along the northern coast of Spain from the Basque Country through Cantabrian, Asturias and Galicia. The route starts at the Spanish-French border in Irún and measures about 930 kilometers. For its passage we need to book about 33-35 days. However, it is a more demanding hike due to the variability of the climate and a much larger number of sections passing through nature, mountains and hills. The advantage here is the constant presence of the sea on the route.
- Camino Primitivo is a trail running from Oviedo – the capital of Asturias. The route is 315 kilometers long and runs through the mountains, forests, fields of Asturias and Galicia. It is a picturesque trail and not very popular. We can enjoy peace there, without thousands of pilgrims following the same path. However, the weather in the north of Spain can be changeable, so let’s prepare for any eventuality – rain and heat. For the passage of the Camino Primitivo we need about 14 days.
Camino de Fisterra i Muxía
- Camino de Fisterra and Muxía – this is an extension of the Camino de Santiago to its less official end on the Atlantic Ocean. We can choose two variants: a 3-day route for 90 kilometers directly to Fisterra or extend it by one day and visit the beautiful and much less popular Muxia. In Fisterra there is a lighthouse where pilgrims celebrate the passage of the Camino by watching the sunset. Route description of the Camino de Fisterra and Camino de Muxia in this post.
- Camino Portugués or Portuguese road. It has several variants, and the most popular ones start in Porto or Lisbon. Pilgrims departing from Porto have about 240 kilometers to walk, and from Lisbon 615 kilometers. It takes from about 10 days from Porto to 26 days from Lisbon to walk this route.
Camino Portugués de la Costa
- In recent years, a path running along the Ocean coast – Camino Portugués de la Costa– has been created from Porto. I went the opposite way – setting off from Santiago (first hitchhiking to Bayonna, and then on foot to Porto) and heading towards Portugal. Great adventure, the route is quite easy and pleasant – flat and most of the time we walk along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. However, a large part of the route is an asphalt road, which we overcome next to the street. We need about 10-11 days to cross the Camino Portugués de la Costa.
There are also other routes such as Vía de la Plata from Seville or Camino Inglés from Ferrol. In addition, almost every Camino for different offs and variants, thanks to which we can adjust the route to our liking. We can also start the hike anywhere, for example in one of the cities on the main route. Tradition even speaks of going to Santiago from the door of your own home. And as they say on the Camino: cada peregrino tiene su camino… (every pilgrim has his own way…) .
Pilgrim’s Passport and Credencial
The accommodation base on the Camino de Santiago is quite well organized. Pilgrims are provided with the so-called albergues, i.e. pilgrims’ houses – public or private, as well as hotels and hostels. To sleep in the albergue we are entitled to the so-called Pilgrim’s Passport, or Credencial. In each facility at check-in we collect another stamp. Such a beautifully supplemented Credencial is a great souvenir and additionally entitles us to receive Compostelana, i.e. the certificate of passage of the Camino de Santiago.
Prices for basic accommodation on the Camino de Santiago range between 5 euros (public) and 15 euros (private). Some are even based on voluntary donations, the so-called donativos. Individual albergues can be called, for example, the day before or on the same day to book accommodation. In some cases, it is possible to book through booking.com. It is also possible to sleep in guesthouses in 1-, 2-, 3-bed rooms or in hotels. Some people like to plan all accommodation in advance, but my advice is to open up to what the Camino will bring us and possibly book accommodation already on the trail. We never know what will happen on the route. It may happen that one day we have a lot of strength and we go a few kilometers further than we planned or, for example, we take a day off because we need it.
For route planning and accommodation I recommend the Gronze.comwebsite. We will find there a list of shelters along with phone numbers and all news (in 2020, unfortunately, these were news about temporary closure due to the epidemiological situation). The site is only in Spanish, but it is quite easy to use. It is also the best database of information about each variant of the Camino de Santiago route. If you have any questions, please contact me, I will be happy to help.
Another source of information worth recommending is the Buen Caminoapplication. There we can choose the route we are interested in and update the planned sections on an ongoing basis. In the application we will find out what (and if they are available at all) albergues are in a given town. In addition, the application shows the availability of stores, pharmacies, bars and restaurants. The application is available in several languages.
Life on the Camino
Every day on the Camino de Santiago seemingly looks very similar and simple. We wake up before sunrise, most often thanks to the sounds of other packing peregrinos. Some eat breakfast in the albergues, others in the bar, which in Spain can be found in almost every village we pass. We move through fields, meadows, forests to the next town. On the route we observe life in Spanish villages (in Asturias and Galicia, for example, there is a lot of cattle breeding). Passing peregrinos greet each other saying: Buen Camino,which means Good Way.
In the afternoon we reach the place of accommodation. The earlier we get up and set off, the less we will be exposed to hiking in the scorching sun (in summer). Now waiting for us check-in in the albergue, shower and cooking lunch or waiting for dinner if we want to eat in the restaurant. This is one of those inconveniences of Spain to which you have to get used to – horarios, that is, periodic opening hours of restaurants. They are usually open in the afternoon for lunch (13-16) and in the evening for dinner (19-22). Full, tired, we go to bed, because tomorrow morning it’s time for a hike again.
It is best to prepare for the Camino through frequent walks. It is best if we start walking a few months before the planned trip, gradually increasingthe distance and time of walks . It is also good to test the shoesin advance in which we are going to go. Light trekking shoes for any type of surface (in summer) will work perfectly.
Camino de Santiago – how to pack
On the Camino there is one rule regarding luggage – the less the better. I went with luggage of about 12 kilograms and it was too much. If we are going only on the Camino, let’s try to get a backpack of a maximum of 7-8 kilograms. We really don’t need much. Our equipment will change depending on the choice of route and time of year. However, the basic equipment for the summer includes:
- Tourist equipment
- mini backpack / bag
- light sleeping bag (we can also take a tourist sheet, but already in September the nights get cold)
- trekking poles
- quick-drying towel
- flip-flops or sandals
- rain jacket
- t-shirts x3
- T-shirt and shorts for sleeping / light tracksuits (when we go to colder areas)
- trekking pants (preferably with unbuttoned legs)
- socks x3
- panties x3
- sports bra
- charging cable
- mini cosmetics
- basic first aid kit
- corn patches
- bottle 1l
- massage ball
There are also luggage taxi services on the Camino. That is, we can send our backpack to the next accommodation point. Such a service costs about 4-5 euros per stage.
Can I go without knowing Spanish?
Another challenge may be how to get along with people. I will not hide that it will be easiest for us with Spanish – there are a lot of Spaniards traveling on the trail and it will simply be easier for us to make friends, book accommodation or order food in a restaurant. However, it is a tourist trail, also even with a basic knowledge of English we should be able to do it. And I would encourage you to learn at least a few basic sentences in Spanish – it will certainly make our journey through Spain easier and more pleasant. It is thanks to the knowledge of the language that we can get closer to the culture prevailing there.
General impressions after the Camino
Camino de Santiago is one of the biggest adventures of my life. Probably one of the most amazing values of the Camino is that we will meet there various people from different countries, going faster, slower, older, younger, but there is one common goal of all peregrinos – Santiago de Compostela.
I recommend everyone to walk this wonderful pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
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