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.
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!
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.
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
Quick dry travel towel
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.
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)
- First aid kit
- Backpack rain cover
- Pull over/Jumper
- 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)
- Plastic ziploc bags (these are like gold – you never know when you will need them)
- snacks (fruit, trail mix, bars, tuna, etc)
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).
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
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.