Every year, thousands of people set out to walk across Spain on the famous Camino de Santiago. These intrepid souls, known on the camino as pilgrims, certainly have their work cut out for them.
The camino– meaning “way” – covers hundreds of kilometres in Spain across a variety of terrain. Hiking it is a grueling test of anybody’s endurance, and requires supreme levels of mental and physical discipline to complete.
If you plan to walk the Camino de Santiago yourself, you’ve no doubt got some questions. So, if you´re wondering when to walk, how to prepare, and what to pack: look no further.
We’ve consulted knowledgeable past pilgrims for their advice on how to survive the process and cross the finish line in style! Discover their words of wisdom in our 11 Top Tips below.
1. Get your gear right
We can’t stress enough how important a good kit is to anyone who walks the Camino de Santiago.
First up: your wardrobe. Image may not be your utmost concern when walking the camino but there’s more at stake than fashion here. You could be hiking in all weathers, so a lightweight waterproof jacket is a must. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got several good pairs of socks.
Our pilgrim sources advise getting your hands on a pair of coolex self-wicking socks, as well as some special, double layered hiking socks. The latter are seamlessly engineered to avoid nicks, tight spots or rubbing points.
Then, there’s your rucksack. This will be an essential piece of kit throughout your camino and you’ll come to regard it as an extension of your body (think of yourself as a snail).
As you´ll be carrying this rucksack on your back for hours every day, it needs to be comfortable. Make sure it’s lightweight and durable with well fitted straps, and lots of pockets.
Last, but CERTAINLY not least: your boots. These are going to protect your feet throughout miles of walking, so choose carefully.
Now’s not the time to bargain hunt. A quality pair of boots is a sound investment and you’ll be kicking yourself for scrimping at a later date (except you won’t, because your feet will be hurting too much).
The good news is, the camino terrain is not too arduous, so you won’t need full ankle support. A low boot or a walking shoe should suffice. Our camino mole recommends Salomon boots as the utmost in quality and comfort.
Word from the wise: DO NOT set off on your camino in boots fresh out of the box, unless you want to be in a world of blister pain by the end of your first day.
If your boots are new, make sure you break them in gradually, at least 2 months before starting your camino.
2. Plan your trip
Wondering when to walk the Camino de Santiago? We’d advise sticking to the spring and autumn months, when the weather is cooler.
DO NOT attempt the camino in the height of summer. The blistering tempers of July and August will make your experience insufferable. Heat stroke is not a good look.
Walking the Camino de Santiago in May is our top tip: chances are the sun will be shining, the temperatures mild, and the blossom coming out on the trees, providing stunning landscapes to walk through.
Alternatively, the months of October and November are also prime camino time. Hiking against a backdrop of blazing orange leaves while being fanned by cool breezes makes for ideal walking conditions, although you might get caught in the occasional shower.
Planning your camino route is another important part of the preparation stages. There’s hundreds of kilometres of camino trails to choose from, so it’s your call how you want to approach it.
While planning, take a number of factors into account. Things to consider are:
- your motivations for walking the camino (religious or personal?),
- how much time you have
- how fit you are
- what landscapes you want to see (mountains or coast?)
- If you’re walking alone, are you seeking a more social experience, with the opportunity to connect with fellow walkers?
If you’re walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain during popular seasons, like spring, remember to book your accommodation well in advance.
Thousands of people hike the camino each year and, as a result, accommodation gets snapped up quickly. Unless you’re planning on trying your luck in the first-come-first-served pilgrim hostels each night, make sure you plan ahead.
You probably won’t want to wind up sleeping in a field after a 10 hour day of hiking.
Planning your personal camino can be fun, and there’s plenty of information out there on good old Google to help you get started.
But, if organization is not your strong point, or you’re short on time, arranging to walk with a specialised tour operator is a good idea. They’ll take care of the logistics for you, so you can focus on enjoying the pilgrim experience.
If you’re planning on walking the Camino de Santiago alone, joining a group trip is also a great way to form connections and make new friends.
TOMA & COE offer a fully guided Camino de Santiago package, with expert guides and a fabulous range of accommodation en route to give your pilgrimage a dash of luxury. Check out the upcoming tour dates for 2019 here.
3. Do your research
Good pilgrims do their homework beforehand, so they know what to expect. There are plenty of fantastic books out there about the Camino de Santiago, where you can learn about the experiences of past walkers and brush up on your camino trivia.
We recommend The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy and Shirley Maclaine´s book – The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit, both available on Amazon.
For interesting insights from former pilgrims, be sure to check out TOMA & COE’s Experiences of Our First Camino blogpost, too.
4. Get training!
This might come as news to you, but you actually have to prepare to walk the Camino de Santiago.
If you rock up on the first day having done no prior training, you’re in for a nasty shock. You’re asking a lot of your body by requiring it to walk such long distances, so ideally your preparation would have started some months in advance.
Gradually build up the distances you are walking in the run-up to your camino, and vary the terrains you hike if you can. It’s a good idea to train with the kit you’ll be carrying, too, so your body begins to adapt to its weight.
And remember: be sure to break those boots in while you’re at it!
You can also take steps to ensure your feet are ready for what awaits them. About four weeks before the start of your camino, begin hardening the skin with surgical spirit.
This toughening-up process should safeguard you against nasty blisters during your pilgrimage. Simply apply surgical spirit to the soles of your feet and underneath your toes before you go to bed every night.
5. Get good trip insurance
Chances are you’re going to have one of the most fantastic experiences of your life on the Camino de Santiago, and go home with memories to last you a lifetime.
But, in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you´ll want to have all your bases covered.
Make sure you take out comprehensive travel insurance before your trip for peace of mind. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
6. Know your route
Google maps isn’t going to help you here: it’s up to you to make sure you know where you’re headed on each day of your camino.
You can prevent yourself from straying off the beaten track by carrying a Camino de Santiago route map with you at all times. Make sure you plan the distances you’ll be walking per day, and the approximate time it will take to cover them.
We also recommend getting an early start each morning, no matter how inviting a lie in might seem. The more famous parts of the camino can get get clogged up with pilgrims as the day progresses, so the early bird definitely gets the worm (or beats the crowds, in this case).
There’s something magical about walking through a breaking dawn, too, which will make the early start worthwhile.
7. Get stamped
Your pilgrim’s passport – otherwise known as a credential – is an important part of walking the Camino de Santiago.
Not only does it provide a wonderful memento from your time on the camino, but the stamps in your passport will also prove you’ve covered the distances you claim (essential for bragging rights at a later date).
Your credential will also entitle you to accommodation at the various albuerges – or pilgrim only hostels- along the route.
Stamps can be obtained in a variety of locations- including bars, churches, museums, city halls and police stations- in most of the towns you pass through.
Your credential will also enable you to receive your pilgrim’s certificate – or Compostela- at the end of the line in Santiago, providing you’ve covered the required 100km and have the stamps to prove it.
US Pilgrims can apply for their credential in advance here
If you’re based in Ireland, you can start the credential process here.
All British pilgrims can request their camino passport here, for a fee of £5.
8. Eat right and stay hydrated
You’re bound to work up an appetite by walking miles every day, so it’s important to keep your body fully fuelled at all times.
We recommend carrying a bag of trail mix – nuts and dried fruit – with you to snack on throughout the day. Nuts are packed with nutrients and are a good source of protein, which will keep your energy levels up while you walk. Make sure you stop for a hearty lunch at one of the restaurants on your route, too.
Many of these offer a menu del día – or set menu- for pilgrims, which will help keep the cost of your Camino de Santiago reasonable.
Hydration is key, too. You should be drinking plenty of water while walking the camino, so keep your bottle topped up at all times.
As tempting as it might be to hit the wine after a long day’s walking, try to keep your alcohol intake to a minimum during your trip. If you think walking with a hangover is no big deal, you’re wrong. Take it from us!
9. Learn how to unwind
Your body isn’t the only thing you need to train in order to walk the Camino de Santiago: your mind needs a look in, too.
You’ll probably find yourself keyed up on adrenaline at the end of a long day’s hiking so, despite being physically exhausted, you still might have trouble getting to sleep.
A good night’s rest is essential during your camio, providing your body with the time it needs to restore and regroup vital energy, so it’s essential you’re getting enough shut eye.
A fantastic way of switching off after a day on the camino is by practicing some meditation or mindfulness. There are plenty of guided meditation apps available to download before your trip, such as Headspace or Calm, both free from the Google Play store.
However, if you’re planning on eschewing technology throughout your pilgrimage, a tour such as the Trilogy Yoga Pilgrimage builds aspects of mindfulness and yoga into its daily schedule.
These guided sessions are led by a US yoga expert, Erin Fleming, and will help you relax and refocus, and get some much needed downtime.
10. Keep a camino journal
An experience as incredible as walking the Camino de Santiago will be one you’ll want to remember.
If you’re walking the camino alone, you’ll appreciate having something to look back on and share with loved ones once normal life has resumed. For this reason, we recommend everyone keeps a camino journal throughout their pilgrimage.
You can fill this notebook with memorabilia from your trip, such as ticket stubs, receipts and postcards,and write a short entry at the end of each day’s walking with observations of what you’ve seen and how you’re feeling.
The camino is a journey of contemplation and enlightenment, so keep note of those trailside epiphanies to revisit at a later date!
11. Treat yourself when it’s over!
So, you’ve walked the Camino de Santiago and finally crossed the finish line. You’re exhausted and elated and pretty sure you’ve had your life changed. So, what now?
Why, you celebrate your amazing achievement, of course! Make sure you plan something truly special for the end of you camino, wherever it happens to be, because you’ll definitely have earned it.
Maybe you fancy a massage, a nice dinner, a night in a luxury hotel, or a well earned glass (or bottle) of wine? Either way, let the good times roll and enjoy some guilt free indulgence. After all, how often do you get to call yourself a pilgrim?
You’re all set for your camino experience, now all that’s left is to get walking!
Here at TOMA & COE, we’re experienced pilgrims ourselves and we’d love a chance to walk beside you, whether it’s your 1st pilgrimage or your 100th.
Our all inclusive Trilogy Yoga Pilgrimage is divided into 3 parts – from Malaga to Santiago- and you can join us at any stage. For more details, and to make an enquiry, click here