What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino is a series of pilgrimage walking routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain

How much time do I need to walk the Camino Frances?

To walk the classic route from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela, most people require between 4-6 weeks, however, the time needed depends on your daily mileage and whether you take any rest days.  To complete the trail in four weeks, you would need to average 29km/18 miles a day without any rest days.  To complete the trail in six week, you would need to average 19km/12 miles per day.  Our guidebook divides the route into 31 stages, averaging about 25km/15.5 miles, but we encourage you to extend this by taking one rest day per week or by amending the daily stages to meet your daily mileage goals.

If you don’t have time to walk the entire route in one trip, consider breaking the trip up into two shorter trips, or several week-long trips. Read more about Sample Itineraries, When to Go, and Daily Routines.

What do I need to pack to walk the Camino?

Not very much! Because of the many resources available along the camino, hikers are free to carry very minimal gear with them.  You don’t need to carry a tent or other camping gear. You can purchase food every day so don’t need to weigh down your pack with food supplies.  There are places to wash your clothes (by hand or machine) every day so you don’t need to take more than two outfits. Read much more in How to Pack for the Camino and our Camino Gear Guide.

We suggest bringing a backpack of 25-40 liters:

  • 2 pairs of hiking pants/shorts
  • 3 hiking shirts (2 short-sleeve, 1 long-sleeve)
  • 3-4 pairs of underwear
  • 1 light fleece
  • 1 rain jacket or poncho
  • rain cover for your backpack
  • travel size toiletries
  • ear plugs
  • a small container of laundry detergent
  • small first aid kit with blister treatments
  • sun hat
  • travel wallet with passport, ATM card, credit card and some cash

Optional

  • Hiking poles can be helpful, especially for those with joint pain.
  • A camera, don’t forget the charger and enough memory cards
  • Mobile phone, an unlocked phone can be used with a Spanish SIM card for local calls and international texts
  • iPod, tablet or other internet-ready device, wifi is fairly frequent along the Camino

What if my pack is too heavy? What if I can’t carry it?

If your pack is too heavy, you have three main options.

  1. Give away or leave behind some heavy items that you don’t need.
  2. Mail the items you don’t need either home (expensive to North America) or mail them ahead to collect in Santiago using the Poste Restante system.
  3. Use a luggage transfer service. This is a service that transports your bag by vehicle from accommodation to accommodation, using costing €3-10 per day.

Do I need to be a Christian to hike the Camino? Do I need to be religious?

Camino walkers come from all walks of life, many are not religious or practice a non-Christian religion.  Many consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” One 12th-c. text identifies a Christian pilgrim guesthouse by saying:

“The doors are open to the sick and well
to Catholics as well as to pagans,
Jews, heretics, beggars and the indigent,
and it embraces all like brothers.”

Where can I sleep on the Camino?  Do I have to camp? Can I find private rooms?

One of the best aspects of the Camino Francés is that there is a great system of pilgrim hostels or albergues (pronounced al-BAIR-gays) that offer simple dormitory accommodations for an average of €5-10 per night.  Very few people camp along the camino as there are more albergues than campsites and no need to carry a heavy tent. Many albergues have kitchens where you can prepare your own food, as well as other amenities such as washing machines and dryers, meals, internet, etc.  If you prefer private accommodations, there are a variety of rooms from simple pensiónes to 4-star hotels.  See Accommodation, Albergues (pilgrim hostels), Hotels & Pensions, and Camping.

Should I walk the camino by myself, or find friends or family to join me?

Both options can be very rewarding, so it depends on your goals for walking the Camino. If you want an introspective time of reflection, it may be better to walk the trail by yourself. If you walk alone you have more freedom to choose your own pace and schedule. If you are walking with others, think about what you will do if your paces are quite different, if one wants to take a rest day and the other does not, or if one of you would become injured and need to stop walking, etc.

How much should I budget to hike the Camino?

Your budget depends on what level of comfort and style of travel you choose.  On the low end of the budget, if you stay in municipal and parroquial albergues and prepare your own simple food from grocery stores, you can walk the Camino Francés for €15-25 per day.

Most people walk with a medium budget of more like €30-50 per day.  With this budget you can stay at private albergues and occasional budget private rooms, and eat a meal or two in restaurants each day.  This budget could also include daily luggage transfer if needed.

It you prefer to stay in mid-range to high private accommodations, eat each meal out, have your luggage transported, etc., the sky is the limit on the possible budget. See our page about budgeting for more details.

How do I get Euros?

Can I use credit cards? The best way to get euros is to use an ATM/debit card at a bank in Spain. It’s best to have two different cards in case one is lost or you have any issues with one of your accounts. Check with your bank to see if there are any fees for using your card outside the USA. Charles Schwab accounts refund any fees for using foreign ATMS. Travelers checks are no longer used and extremely difficult to cash. You may wish to carry something $50-100 cash in US dollars just in case you have any issues with your ATM/debit card, which can be found at all major airports. Airport cash exchange rates tend to be the most expensive.

Am I fit enough to walk the Camino?

Only you can determine the answer to that question!  The terrain of the Camino Francés is not particularly challenging with much of it being flat or with minimal elevation change.  The best way to determine your fitness is to load up your pack and hit the trail in your home country.  Start with a short hike and work your way up to the average mileage you would like to achieve on the Camino (for most people this is between 20 and 30 kilometers per day). The most common injuries on the Camino are blisters (painful and can get infected), shin splints, stress fractures, and joint pain. Proper footwear, a light pack (12kg or under), and conservative daily distances all help to protect your joints, bones and muscles from injury and fatigue.

I am 50/60/70/80/90/100 years old– am I too old to walk the Camino?

People of all ages walk the Camino de Santiago! The average age of walkers is probably closer to 60 than it is to 20! If you are in good overall health and able to walk on uneven surface, you will most likely be able to walk the Camino, or at least certain sections.

While many hikers average 20-30 kilometers per day, you can always do shorter days and take rest days to do the Camino at an appropriate pace for your needs. It’s a great idea to get a check-up with your doctor before you hit the trail to be aware of any health problems that could be an issue.

How much water should I carry on the Camino?

There are many places to refill water, so you normally won’t need more than 1 liter.  However, each day check where your next water source may be.  If there is a space of longer than 5km/3mi between water points, consider carrying 2 liters.  In the heat of summer, you may wish to always have 2 liters of water. Never refill your bottle from fountains marked “non-potable”- that means the water is not treated for drinking and may make you sick.

Do I need to speak Spanish to hike the Camino?

Many pilgrims do not speak Spanish.  You will likely hear a lot of German, Italian, and other European languages as well.  While it is not necessary to be fluent in Spanish to walk the Camino, locals will appreciate it if you learn a few key phrases and make an effort to greet people in Spanish. Spanish is actually a second language for many locals, as Euskara (the Basque language) and Galician as well as other local dialects are very common along the trail! One Spanish phrase you must know is “Buen Camino” which is a greeting to other pilgrims (literally “good trail”).

Do I need a guidebook or maps?

The Francés route is so well-marked that it would be possible to walk without a guidebook or maps.  However, a guidebook with good maps can deepen the experience and help you to plan each stage for maximum enjoyment and safety.  You can also learn more about what you are seeing around you! If you are very concerned with weight, consider bringing an e-book on an e-reader or cut out the planning pages and any pages for stages you are not walking.

What airport should I fly to?

That depends on your starting point.  Biarritz is the closest airport for starting at St-Jean or Roncesvalles.  You can bus or train to the start point.  Paris, Madrid and Barcelona are all popular cities to fly into, then a bus or train can take you to your start-point.

To return home, the simplest option is to fly on a budget airline from Santiago airport back to the airport you flew into.  Domestic flights to Madrid or across the border to Paris are quite affordable.  See www.skyscanner.com to check for discount flights. Remember that any checked luggage is generally not included in the price of discount flights, only a very limited carry-on bag of maximum 8 or 10 kg (17-22lb). If you need to check a bag, the fee is generally €20-25 ($25-30). There are also buses, check the schedule at alsa.es, and trains, check the schedule at www.renfe.com.

Where should I start walking?

This depends, mostly on how much time you have, how far you plan to walk, and whether reaching Santiago is an important goal to you.  The classic starting point of the Camino Francés in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, just across the border in France in the Pyrenees mountains.  Roncesvalles, one day’s walk from St Jean, is also a popular beginning point.   Perhaps the best method is to determine how much time you have, how much distance you would like to cover each day, multiply those two numbers and track back from Santiago approximately that many kilometers.  For example, if you have three weeks and want to walk 25 km per day with 4 rest days, then 25 km X 6 days a week X 3 weeks = 450 km.  About 450 km from Santiago lies Carrion de los Condes, a great town to start your Camino pilgrimage!

Popular starting points include:

  • Pamplona (~700km to Santiago)
  • Logroño (~600km to Santiago)
  • Burgos (~500km to Santiago)
  • Frómista (~400km to Santiag)
  • León (~300km to Santiago)
  • Astorga (~250km to Santiago)
  • Sarria (~110km to Santiago) Perhaps the most popular starting point at just over 100 km from Santiago, many pilgrims begin in Sarria in order to do the minimum 100km to receive a Compostela certificate in Santiago.  If you plan to start here in high season, be prepared for crowds!

I’m a woman, is it dangerous for me to walk the Camino by myself?

As long as you walk during a reasonably popular season on a popular route, you will be guaranteed to have other people to walk with. The Camino is overall very safe for women, though there have been a few incidents reported over the years of women being flashed or otherwise inappropriately approached.  In 2015, there was a particularly tragic case when American pilgrim Denise Thiem was murdered near Astorga. The perpetrator has been apprehended, and the case seems to have been an anomaly.  Always be aware of your surroundings and stay within earshot of other walkers. Carry a whistle that you can use to alert other walkers in an emergency situation. Three sharp blasts is a universal distress symbol.

Carrying a mobile phone may help to increase confidence in case of an incident. In remote areas of the Camino, police often patrol to keep pilgrims safe. If you are so unfortunate as to experience any inappropriate behavior, please report the incident to authorities. Tourism is an important industry in Spain, and local authorities are keen to keep tourists safe and happy.