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.
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. Due to long distances on the Camino blister are a common problem 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 add 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.
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.
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.
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 association
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.
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.
- Maps.me, free offline maps (have to download before using) with walking routes we often use it when we go hiking.
- Google translate, it 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, a great app for currency conversion.
- Netflix app (if you use it), 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.
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 (Corres, Camino Facil, etc.) and keep it in storage till you arrive.
Make a check-list 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 in 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, luggage loss, and medical assistance. Though walking the Camino is not an extreme sport small injuries and traumas are not unusual. If you don’t have an insurance company you work with we can recommend World Nomads. They specialize in covering outdoor activities.
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 in public albergues or in private hotel rooms. 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 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 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 flue) 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.
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 good 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.
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.
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.
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 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 backpack 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), 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 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 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.
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.
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 of 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 only 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.
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.
Many people come to walk the Camino alone for different reasons, some couldn’t find somebody to walk with, some need some lonesome time, 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.