Adventure Travel, Featured, Q&A, Spain

Camino de Santiago FAQ’s

39 Comments 12 June 2012

Trail leading into Santo Domingo

Trail leading into Santo Domingo

All of your basic questions about walking the Camino de Santiago answered! And if you have a questions about the hiking the Camino Frances, that I didn’t cover – please leave it in the comments and I will add it to this list periodically.

Where do you sleep?

There are many choices and you do not have to carry camping gear unless you choose to sleep outside.

Albergues are the cheapest option ranging 4 to 10 Euro a night for a dorm bed. There are municipal ones and private ones where the private albergues normally have a bit nicer conditions. You can be in a room of 10 people or 60 – you never know what to expect. Everyone shares a bathroom/showers and there is normally a kitchen for you to use. Once you get used to sleeping with a crowd, they aren’t bad and you can’t beat the price.

A typcial albergue bedroom

A typical albergue 'bedroom'

In most villages there are also options to stay in a more traditional ‘hotel’ rooms with private baths such as a pension, a hostal, casa rural, or high end hotel or historical building.  Basically a hostal and pension is the same – a budget hotel room (some have shared bathrooms) which is normally privately owned and small.  A hotel is owned by a larger business and operate on the 5 star system which also means they are a bit more expensive.  A posada is normally a historical building that has been refurbished like this one I stayed at in Astorga called Casa de Tepa.

Is it physically hard to do?

Not really. There are certainly hard times, and you can be caught in the elements – but this is not a technical hike, it’s more about endurance than it is about physical strenuous demands. However endurance is not easy and to get up and walk (no matter how flat the trail is) every day – day after day for 5 weeks does take it’s toll on your feet and back. Most days I woke up very sore.

Do you need to know Spanish?

I did not know any Spanish when I started, however I was able to learn a few key vocabulary words for food and how to reserve a bed. Surprisingly most shop keepers and albergue owners did not speak much English at all. But through the few words I knew I was able to get by. Plus, everyone on the trail speaks English and you can normally find someone to translate for you if you really find yourself in a bind. It was never really an issue.

And if you don’t have it – for goodness sake, put Google Translate app on your phone…it’s a lifesaver!

What/Where did you eat?

Breakfast – most albergues offer a breakfast for around 3 Euros – this consists of toast with jam and a coffee. That’s it. You can also stop at any Bar along in the village and always get coffee and you’ll normally find croissants or other simple baked goods there.

Note—-A ‘Bar’ in Spain is like a café. Yes, there is alcohol there, but they also have coffee and food normally. It’s where the Spanish go to have a snack.

Lunch – You can stop at grocery stores and carry snacks with you – my favorite was nuts, tuna from a can, some bread, and fruit. Or you can stop at a restaurant in a village and have a big ‘Spanish’ lunch with 3 courses and wine.

Dinner – Every village where there are albergues or lodging options have a Pilgrim Menu for 7 to 10 Euro. The menu is a choice of starter (salad, spaghetti, etc), a main course (meat/fish and fries), and a dessert (flan, piece of fruit) – plus very generous portions of wine throughout the meal. These Pilgrim Menus are normally very simple and the food is normally just food to fuel. There were a few places that stood out to me which really put out good quality food, but most of the food was quite basic and after 5 weeks of it I was quite tired of it! My favorite by far was the Italian restaurant in Saria called Matias Locanda Italiana – homemade pasta!

Meals on the trail

A typical dinner meal on the trail

There is ample food along the way with grocery stores if you want to cook yourself or restaurants. Most little shops along the route will also have fruit and bread that you can easily buy each day instead of packing a lot and carrying it. As you walk into different regions you will find different specialties of the area.

Did you cook your own meals?

No, but I could have if I wanted. Many people got groceries and made meals at the albergues. If they were solo travelers they would generally bond together with others and a group of people would split the cost and cook.

What hiking gear do you need?

A good pack with a waist band that transfers all of the weight to your hips instead of your shoulders.
Hiking poles are optional – but many used them – personal preference
Wool socks – I prefer these as they dry overnight and they don’t hold odor. You can get different weights and even use wool in the summer.
Dry fit everything – in order to do laundry and get things dry overnight (because you don’t want to carry many clothes at all!), you need to bring dry fit or quick dry clothing.
Clothespins or a travel laundry line that doesn’t need clothepins
Hiking pants which will dry quickly and can zip off into various lengths.
A good water solution. I used a ‘camelbak’ type solution and carried a ‘bag’ of water in my pack and the straw came around to the front so that I could easily get water without having to stop and take out my bottle.
Sunglasses
Floppy Hat – or hat with big enough brim that it will also cover the back of your neck
Rain gear – whatever your preference is – I used a big poncho
Gators – many people use them – they are quite useful for mud and rainy days
Sandals – Comfortable sandals for at the albergues but they should also be ones that you could walk in if your boots/shoes are bothering you at times.
First aid kit
Headlamp/Flashlight
Quick dry travel towel
Sleep sheet
Ear plugs (silicon ones are the best in my opinion

Can you walk it in tennis shoes?

Yes you can – I did the whole thing in trail running shoes. However there are days when the weather is bad where tennis shoes can be frustrating. When it rained I had a lot of issues in keeping my feet dry and wished I had hiking boots, however most days – I was pretty happy with my lightweight trail runners. Personal preference – but know that the level of hiking is not hard core – most of the time you are on even surfaces and you aren’t crossing rivers and hiking boots are quite frankly overkill.

My my muddy trail shoes

Trail shoes had one big nemesis...mud

How much does it cost?

I met people who were doing the walk on as little as 15 to 20 euro a day for lodging and food – they were cooking their own meals in the albergues.

However on average – I would say if you stay in albergues most days with an pension/hostal one day a week and eat one pilgrim menu a day you can easily stick to a budget of 30 Euro per day.  Of course if you want to do nicer lodging, it’s always possible to spend more.

The break down of costs are albergue lodging – 4 to 12 Euros
Food – 15 to 17 Euro a day if you eat a breakfast and pilgrim meal and maybe a snack
The rest is all extra.

Do note that I spent quite a bit on pharmacy shopping! So – be prepared for incidentals.

Do you need to plan/reserve in advance for lodging?

No plan is necessary at all – that’s the beauty of it. Each day you can walk to where you want to stop and if you are staying in albergues and are not overly picky about where you sleep, then you can find a place to sleep when you get tired of walking – no reservations necessary. However, most days I would make a plan for that day and then call ahead and tell them I wanted a bed – it wasn’t necessary, but since my larger backpack was being transported I needed to tell them where to leave the bag so it made me do daily planning.

Do note – if you are walking in the summer months – June thru August – you the trail will be much busier, and space may be filled on some days. So – doing some planning and reserving ahead may be necessary. Check the Camino forums to get advice there.

If you do like to have a plan and know where you are sleeping every night – then that option is fine too. You can figure it all out yourself and plan it out or work with companies like Rayo Travel to book the route for you – or portions of the route. If you want to leave some of the days up to chance and have some planned – they can help you with that. I personally enjoyed staying in albergues, but about every 4th night I checked myself into a hotel just for my sleeping and privacy sanity. Rayo could help you organize such an itinerary if you’d like.

Can you have your bag transported?

Yes – there are a variety of options for this. I used JacoTrans which is the only company who transports along the COMPLETE route of Camino Frances. It was worth it to me to work with one company for the complete time. It cost 7 Euro a day to transport the bag. You simply called them the night before and told them where you were and where you were going. Then each albergue/hostal has a JacoTrans envelope that you attach to your bag with this delivery information and put 7 Euro in the envelope. When you arrive at your destination the next day – there’s your bag. You can do this on a daily basis whenever you want to lighten your load – many people did it when climbing over the high passes.

If the walk if part of a bigger trip and you don’t need everything in your pack, You can also transport your bag or items from the beginning directly to Santiago to be stored until you arrive.  Here’s a good forum conversation about a few options for transporting luggage to Santiago.

What do you carry each day?

A general rule of thumb was that your pack should be no more than 10% of your body weight.  Since I had my bigger bag transported daily by JacoTrans, I had to decide what I would carry with me each day in my day pack. Here’s what I carried:

  • 2 pairs of extra socks (you always want dry socks)
  • Sandals
  • First aid kit
  • Water
  • Ipod
  • Buff
  • Mittens
  • Poncho
  • Backpack rain cover
  • Pull over/Jumper
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera/Phone
  • Backup drive (yes, I know this is unique to me, but my laptop was being transported daily, so I wanted my backup drive with me)
  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamp
  • Plastic ziploc bags (these are like gold – you never know when you will need them)
  • snacks (fruit, trail mix, bars, tuna, etc)
Backpacks lined up at a cafe on the Camino trail

Backpacks should be small!

How do you do laundry?

Hostals and Pensions will normally do laundry for you for around 5 to 7 Euro for a load.

Albergues all have washing machines for a couple of Euro and then you can hang your clothes out to dry. Some have drying machines too.

The sink. Many times I washed things out in the sink with some shampoo and then hung to dry overnight.

The less you carry (and trust me, you want to carry as little as possible), then the more you have to do laundry. Most people would arrive at their albergues around 2 or 3PM and the first thing they did was laundry so that they could get their socks and clothes drying so they could wear them again the next day.

Where do you go to the bathroom on the trail?

There are plenty of bars, restaurants, stores along the way that you can use their facilities. However do try to purchase something at those places if you are using their toilet – Spain needs the business…trust me.

However, you can go to the bathroom on the trail anywhere you feel comfortable – behind a bush, in a field, or behind a building. If you are using toilet paper – it’s a good idea to have a plastic bag where you can store it and throw it away properly. If doing #2, then bury it. Be kind, be smart.

Is there internet access?

Partially. Many of the private albergues offer wifi – as well as most lodging in bigger cities. The municple albergues rarely offered wifi. However most albergues did have a computer in which you could pay to get on the internet in some way shape or form.

I used this good Camino Info site to find albergues with wifi options or internet – I found it was pretty accurate.

I also carried an unlocked iphone and bought a Spanish SIM card that had a data plan and that allowed me to check my email and upload phone photos to facebook and twitter. I had coverage for this about 75% of the time.

Can I walk it alone or do it solo?

YES! I was quite surprised by how many solo walkers there were. Maybe it’s the pilgrimage that lends itself to solo reflection – I’m not sure. You will only be ‘alone’ if you want to be. You don’t have to socialize with anyone if you don’t want to. However if you want to do this alone and are nervous that you won’t have people to hang out with…don’t worry – there will be plenty of people you will meet and be able to walk with. I generally walked alone most of the day and socialized at night.

Don’t let being solo stop you from this walk!

I have limited time to plan, can someone just book everything for me?

Absolute – people are always happy to do that for a price! I recommend Rayo Travel as they can book an entire walk or portions of the walk for you at an average budget. They can’t book albergues as those can’t be reserved, but it you want the slight step up and want to stay in hostals – then they can do that.  They will also provide their electronic guide and loan you an iphone or ipad to use on the trail to keep in touch.

What I loved about Rayo is that they have people in Spain who live there and are fluent in Spanish and English and can help you with anything along the way. It was crucial to me to have a ‘team’ of people who could speak the language and understand the culture to help me through any difficult situations. Many travel agencies will book your trip – but that’s it, you never really hear from them again. Ken from Rayo called me at least once a week to see how things were going and if I needed anything – it was lovely.

Is the trail well marked?

YES!  There are yellow arrows and scallop shells everywhere.  The ‘markers’ are sometimes signs, arrow, spray paint, scallop shells, sidewalk designs, and even flowers.  You don’t even need a map at all, just follow all of the markers (some official and some that people just added along the way).

camino de santiago trail marker

Just follow the yellow arrows all the way across Spain

Is there a guidebook you recommend for planning?

Most people on the trail were using this one – A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean * Roncesvalles * Santiago by
John Brierley

However I used an electronic one (much lighter!) provided by Rayo Travel. The electronic Camino guide was great as it was on my phone (or they will loan you a phone to use on the trail and you can drop it off to their rep in Santiago when done)

Do you have to do the whole thing at once?

No, many people just come and do a week or two at a time and then revisit it again in a year starting where they left off.  This is really easy to do if you make your starting and ending points larger cities as the transportation options to/from the cities is greater.

What if you get sick or hurt?

Then you simply don’t walk that day if you don’t feel like it.  Or you can take a bus or taxi to the next point if you have to keep on a strict schedule.  There are plenty of options and no one says that you have to walk the whole thing, many people take buses in/out of large cities as they don’t like walking through the industrial area.

If you fall ill or need to see a doctor – you can take a bus or taxi to get to the nearest city with medical facilities – they aren’t far away.

Can you charge your electronics?

Yes – all of the albergues have electric plugs – but they are a hot commodity since more and more people are traveling with phones and other contraptions. The newer and private albergues have designed this with the need in mind and many have plugs right by the bunk bed.

As you stop for lunch, or breaks at bars you can also ask the owners to charge your phone behind the bar – or look for a plug that you can use.

Bring an adapter with you for European plugs.

Is theft a problem in Albergues?

I didn’t encounter any, however I’m sure it does exist. In the more rural areas, I was a bit more lax with leaving my electronics out of my camera on my bunk bed. However in bigger cities or towns I always locked my camera and phone up or took it with me. Generally- things left out are pretty safe though as you are on a pilgrimage after all and everyone is sort of in the same boat and you all watch out for each other. But having said that – don’t take un-needed risks and trust your gut.

Do you have to be religious to walk it or get anything out of it?

Absolutely not!  People walk it for many different reasons – and if you are not religious or catholic, it’s not a problem.

 

Want to see what the Camino Frances trail looks like…then check out my Camino de Santiago Photography. Or check out my Camino de Santiago Pinterest board.

Your Comments

39 Comments so far

  1. Hey Sherrie: You know how you can tell when someone from the U.S.has been on the road a loooooong time? When we start to call sweaters jumpers or pullovers :-)

  2. Brian Setzer says:

    I would add something in about preparing for siesta time and that almost nothing is open on Sundays. Sometimes you will come across a store to get food, but often not. It’s best to actually get what you want for lunch before 12:00 and buy for Sunday on Saturday. None of the stores post hours and even most of the grocery stores close in the afternoon for a few hours.

    • Sherry says:

      Hey Brian – I don’t know if it was the economic woes or what – but I was all braced for things being closed on Sundays – but I never ran into that problem once in the 5 weeks. Even little villages had one or two stores or a bar open on Sundays. I’m not sure what’s going on…maybe they realized they needed the money! However – you do make a good point – I always had something just in case things were closed…as the moment you start depending on something being open it won’t be!

  3. Fantastic round-up, Sherry – wish I’d had this before I set out on the Camino :) I agree with you about theft – I definitely worried a lot less about it than I expected to. I brought a bicycle lock with me to keep my backpack safe, but ended up only using it a few times in bigger albergues. I’m so glad you had a great time!

  4. Linda says:

    I’m curious about the SIM card you bought. I live in Spain, so I have my opinions about different companies, but just wondering which one you found had the best offer and how reliable the connection was, please?

    Oh, and I enjoyed following your journey so much, thanks for sharing it!

    • Sherry says:

      Hi LInda, thanks for following my camino journey! I used a sim card from Vodaphone and it worked the majority of the time on the trail. Hope that helps!

  5. Kristin says:

    Excellent run-down of the trail!

  6. lara dunston says:

    Wow. What comprehensive advice. Great stuff!

  7. Jarmo says:

    Great advice Sherry. Reading your articles about the camino, have definitely gotten me more and more interested in the hike. I did not know you could get your pack shipped along the route, but it does make sense.

  8. I had never heard of this until I saw the movie “The Way”. Looks like an amazing trip. Maybe next year!

  9. Will Peach says:

    Neat little write-up Sherry. My mother wouldn’t be best please if I dragged in shoes as muddy as those. I do hope you managed to hose them down.

  10. Mark H says:

    Very comprehensive writeup. I am so keen to make this journey and your writing makes it more and more mouthwatering. It is still a few years away for me however.

  11. Drew Meyers says:

    One of my best friends did this this year for a few days and loved it. It’s certainly classified as a must do at some point in my life. Just not sure when it’ll happen at this stage, but it’s only a matter of time :)

  12. Tom says:

    I walked the full Camino May/June 2012. I disagree strongly with the shoe advice. It rains and the trail gets slippery. There are baseball sized rocks on steep narrow slopes, dangerous in any weather. Tennis type shoes led to slips and ankle twists. When wet they promote blisters and infection. There were a number of folks mostly younger, visiting doctors because of nonsupporting and/or wet footwear. Get ankle supporting, waterproof (Goretex or similar) footwear. It will save you pain and grief.

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for your input Tom. I actually walked the whole way in trail running shoes and through the rain and mud – and I survived. But it’s a personal choice for everyone. I couldn’t afford to have the extra weight for the remainder of my travels in Europe – so I did the trail shoes. And I feel like people get inured and have foot problems for many different reasons…it’s not only because of shoes. The main thing is to test it out before hand the best you can and know that if you have to change your mind even after you start walking – you can. There are plenty of places that sell various types of shoes along the way!

      • Jon Pitts says:

        I also would recommend hiking boots rather than trainers, especially if you are carrying your own pack. I would also disagree that the Camino is not physically demanding. It can be quite demanding, as it was for me and my experienced hiker friends. It’s always best to overprepare.

        • Sherry says:

          Thanks for your input Jon! Hiking boots vs trail running shoes (more stabile and durable than regular trainers) are personal preference – I survived with mine – but that’s becuase it was all I had at the time and I wanted to stay light 80% of the time they worked great for me. Yes – I agree – the hike is demanding in many ways – mentally AND physically. In my head I just categorize it as more of a long distance hiking challenge rather than a pure hiking/scrambling/navigating challenge. Obviously everyone will look at it differently based on their personal experiences – but thanks for providing your feedback as it will be helpful to others reading this!

  13. Information packed post. There is a variant of the Camino starting in Brussels and I come across other variants while hiking in Belgium. I’m always tempted to keep walking whenever I’m on the trail.

    Can you give me more details on the Spanish SIM card for 3G? How much does it cost for 100mb data?

    • Sherry says:

      I got the initial data plan for about $50 and that data lasted me the entire time. However I had to continue to top up my account each week so that I could still use my cell phone. All in all – I probably spent about $110 for my 5 weeks of connectivity. However I’m sure that with a little more research you can probably do this cheaper. I initially had someone get me the original sim – and I think if I had been aware of the various plans and how it worked – I might have chose differently – but I had to work with what I was given. Just make a stop in at Vodafone – and tell them what you are trying to do and for how long and I’m sure they can provide you with various options. It was totally worth it for me to stay connected and blog the entire way.

  14. Avriane says:

    I have to decide between taking a smallish pocket type camera and a good one. Worthwhile carrying the extra weight of a good camera or not?

    • Sherry says:

      It’s a very personal decision for each person. For me, because photography is my love and I wanted to have the ability to manipulate and control my exposures manually – I chose to take my photography equipment (SLR and lenses). If you don’t know how to use your SLR manually- then I would say don’t bother as if you are going to shoot auto anyway – then just take a smaller camera. The small cameras are very good for quality of photos. For me however- it was absolutely worth the extra weight.

  15. Great post! I’ve always wondered about doing the trail, but I’ve never been a serious hiker (however I do enjoy walking) – good to see that it’s not that strenuous! This is super useful Sherry, so thanks for sharing :)

  16. Nida says:

    Those shoes look like they’ve seen better days. Thanks for the detailed post. It was fun to read.

  17. John David says:

    My son, a good friend, and myself are heading to the Camino 5/13. I’m finding it difficult to decide on how we are going to get to St. Jean Pied De Port and how we are going to get home. I’ve read that most travelers from the US fly into Paris and take the train but that seems out of the way since we have to make it back to Paris to fly home. Have any advice? Thank you in advance! :)

    • Sherry says:

      Hi John – how exciting that you are doing the Camino with your son! I wish I could have taken my dad with me. Unfortunately I did not actually start in SJPDP – I started in Pamplona as it was easier to get to and I had a limited time of when I had to finish…so I cut 3 days off the beginning. HOwever I had heard of people taking the train from Barcelona as far as they could go and then doing a taxi or car or bus the rest of the way. Have you checked out the forums – they normally have great advice there. Also – tomorrow actually I’m heading to a friend’s place whom I met along the trail to see him again and I know he started there so I will ask him and see how he did it and get back to you if it’s useful!

  18. John David says:

    Thank you! ;) I’ve been checking the forums and most fly into Paris or Madrid, there is a connecting flight into Pamplona and I’m not sure why most hikers don’t take advantage of that? Happy trails!

    • Sherry says:

      My friend suggested to fly to Madrid and take the bus directly there. Check to see if that’s possible as he said there was a direct bus!

  19. John David says:

    Thank you both.

  20. Catherine Clarke says:

    Everything is booked for our trip at the end of July 2013. I’m going with my daughter. Thanks for the info on the phones – that clears up one question. The other I had was about the availability of ATMs. I’m guessing in the larger cities this is not a big deal, but I need a comfort level on this subject.
    Thanks,

    • Sherry says:

      I never had an issue with finding an ATM. The bigger villages def. had them and just get enough to last you about 3 or 4 days at a time and you’ll be fine. Let me know how it goes! I’d love to be on the Camino about now!

  21. Stephen Whaley says:

    Enjoyed your thoughts! I will be biking the camino from SJPP because I have a prosthetic leg. I have read that some albeurges only take walkers. Did you note if there was a difficulty in storing cycles? How were cyclists received by other pilgrims?

    • Sherry says:

      I didn’t notice any difficulty with people storing bikes – but I can’t say for sure. As far as how they were received by other pilgrims – it’s a really different feel since bikers are just a flash in the ‘life of a walking pilgrim’ – so they are welcomed – but it’s next to impossible to form the types of friendships and commradery that you get when you are all sort of going the same pace. I think that’s just the reality of the pace of travel. Best of luck! Let me know how it goes!!

  22. Nev says:

    Very informative and well-written!

    Buen Camino!

    Nev :-)

  23. kalavati says:

    Thank you so much for this!! I had a “Knowingness” to do this walk. So spring or fall, I’ll see.
    Incredible photo journey! WOW!!!

  24. kristen nealon says:

    Planning on future trip with my husband. How do we plan,how long does it take, what time of year should we go, and what is the cost?…help

    • Sherry says:

      Those are some meaty questions – I can give you some quick answers – but I suggest that you read my other posts too for some more info. Time of year – I suggest spring or fall – the trail isn’t as busy. Not a lot of planning is needed honestly – you don’t have to book a thing in advance – you just start walking. If you go in the spring or fall – you’ll always find a place to sleep at a albergue – it is simple lodging – but no reservations are really required. How long it takes depends on where you start – if you start at the beginning of the Way of St. James trail – then it will take about 5 weeks. I started in Pamplona because it was easier for me to get to and it also took about 5 weeks – but that’s becuase I took a rest day every week. The cost can be very cheap is you stay in albergues (about $10 to 12 Euro a night for a simple bunkbed). Food is also cheap in the villages. You could probably plan for $30 US a day if you were ok with staying in albergues.

  25. Shirley says:

    Sherry I want to do the camino as a solo female. I would like to have some aspects of it planned mostly to alleviate my worried mind(but most of all my worrying family). I am wondering how your experience was with Rayo travel was. Also if you were staying at an accommodation that was booked with rayo would you still have the bag transfer option available?

    • Sherry says:

      The bag transfer is available to anyone doing any style of travel. It’s a separate company. Regarding Rayo – I didn’t use them to book accommodations really – I simply used their phone app which helped me easily make lodging arrangements while hiking. My experience with them though was very good for what I utilized them for. Not sure if that answers your question or not?


Share your view

Post a comment

Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
New here? Then Start Here.

Where am I and Where am I going?

NYC -> TBEX in Cancun

Receive Ottsworld Updates via Email

green line
green line

green line