Before walking the Camino de Santiago in España-Spain, there are seven issues to decide: the attitude towards the challenge of the Way to Santiago, what path to follow, why walk the Camino, when to make the journey, how much time is needed, the sort of places where to rest and how you will complete the journey. These seven choices are connected and depending on what is most important for the pilgrim, there are many alternatives from which to choose. Because this is a complicated journey and a once in a lifetime opportunity, it is important to jointly consider all of these questions and to carefully plan your pilgrimage. Don’t forget that many pilgrims have been disappointed by a lack of preparation.
There are two main alternatives: Challenge-enjoyment and Challenge-sacrifice.
There are 22 traditional ways to travel to or from Santiago de Compostela in España-Spain, depending on the place of departure. Here we refer only to three of these paths, two of which share the major part of the journey.
Walking the Camino is a complicated ritual that is usually done once in a life time. You should be conscious of your true motives for doing so in order to complete your expectations. The most common motives for walking the Camino de Santiago are:
Each season has both advantages and disadvantages.
- The winter is for the brave souls. It is less complicated to go through the coast, as the temperatures are milder and there are far less posibilites of encountering snow; however you must be prepared for rain. Camino aragonés is the most difficult option because of the altitude and the climate of Puerto de Somport (Huesca). Naturally, winter is the season with the least pilgrims.
- The spring, in the months of March or April, may coincide with Easter, where you can find the famous Easter processions in the Spanish villages. The mild temperatures make the spring suitable for all paths, particularly the Camino francés—which has less rain than the north and higher temperatures than the aragonés—. Given that the Camino francés is the most popular and it can be difficult to find places in the lodges during the month of August (especially a jubilee year like 2016) this season may avoid the congestion of pilgrims.
- Summer months the higher temperatures and smaller chance of rain can make the journey more pleasant. In addition, for those who want to see local tradition and entertaining events, there is a higher number of festivities in Spain during the months of August and September, and to a lesser extent in July. The mild temperatures along the coast and the possibility of bathing in the beaches during the journey attracts people to this path. For those crossing the Castilian plateau (caminos francés y aragonés), there are also plenty of water sources available.
- In autumn the forests of the Pyrenees, the plateau, and Galicia have a special color. There is still no snow in the Puerto de Somport and the cool temperatures help with walking long distances. For these reasons, the Camino aragonés is especially attractive. The flow of pilgrims is scarce so you can easily find a place to sleep.
If the objective of the journey is not for sport, we advise you to forget about the stages that are strictly outlined by some guides. Converting the camino into a race is not conducive to finding peace or meeting new people. Since the Middle Ages, intelligent pilgrims have known to stop to rest when necessary, especially on hot or rainy days. These days, pilgrims should also consider factors such as the enjoyment of monuments, festivals, culinary, and scenic attractions.
In theory, the French border to Santiago de Compostela can be walked in 31 days for somebody who is in good shape and who has avoided any mishaps along the way. However, it is smart to take a few more days to stop and rest and to enjoy places that you like, making short detours to explore nearby places of interest. It has also become very popular to make an extension or epilogue after arriving in Santiago; to continue walking to the famous Cape Finisterre (the “end of the earth”) and to see the wonderful town and church in Muxia.
Given that walking the Camino is generally a once in a lifetime occurrence, our recommendation is to dedicate 40 or 50 days (especially for the aragonés and costal path). Otherwise, it would be better to walk the path in instalments, doing a part of the journey in one trip and the rest in others. For those who have less time or difficulty with movement, the Camino organisation supports pilgrims who have completed the last four stages, giving them the «Santiago pilgrim’s passport» which validates the pilgrimage.
The goal is to achieve some sort of positive transformation through the pilgrim’s ambience and the landscape; the internal journey should be as pleasant and pure as the external travel. Time should be enough, its noy possible to hurry and skip the great variety of pleasures that are set in the way so the XXI century pilgrim enjoy waht other pilgrims also saw during over a thousand years.
As there are much less places to sleep in the public hostels than youngsters willing to go there, the demand is much larger than the supply, especially in the last 200 kilometers of the French and North Ways. One of the key success factors for finishing the Way to Santiago is maintaining yuorself in a good physical condition, that is why is so important to rest well and as long as you may need. The factor of the opening and closing hours is also relevant. The budget and flexibility of the planning determine the choices.
Historically, the pilgrims from the north-european countries arrived by boat to the ports of Galicia and continued by horse, carriage or walking the Camino. Today you can also organize the pilgrimage by boat (link in English). The gentlemen coming from France usually rode horses and the ladies travelled in carriages; those with.out transport means did hiking and walking the Camino. Depending of the weather, transport means, physical conditions of the pilgrim, wars, etc. it may take a few weeks or several months. As many pilgrims were elderly some died during the travel. Those with a lot of penance may make the voluntary voto (promise) to do it walking .
The first decision is whether to go alone or in a group. Those who choose to walk the Camino for personal or spiritual reasons often choose to go solo, as the silence and observation contributes to these motives. Those that go for recreational purposes can enjoy the company of friends, although one of the attractions of the pilgrimage is to meet other pilgrims from around the world and of all different ages throughout the journey.
In addition to walking the Camino, it has become very popular to complete the journey on bicycle. It has the advantage of flexibility, because you can spend more time in the most interesting sites and be able to visit very interesting places located at a short distance of the official way; anothe important advantage is that elderly or handicapped can cover more easily the distance that they choose. It is very common to rent the bicycle in the border, but some other buy the model they prefer and resell it at Santiago. One very entertaining option for small groups is to do the path by horseback; several organisations offer all the support services to feel like a knight (or lady) doing it in the old fashion. Finally, each year there are pilgrims who make most of their journey by car and complete the last four steps on foot. This option is better for older people, those unable to endure heavy physical exertion, or pilgrims with a small amount of time. In the end, do not forget that the most important part is spirit while walking the Camino.
2021 has been declared a jubilee year which offers those walking the Camino de Santiago a plenary indulgence.
CAUTION ABOUT PHONE LODGING RESERVATIONS WHILE WALKING THE CAMINO. We are receiving a increasing number of notifications by pilgrims that during the high season get a confirmation of a room reservation and later find out that their room has been sold for a higher price to someone else; some inn and hotel owners argue that many times the pilgrims do not appear at the day and hour agreed. We hace been asked to publish the names of the hotels and inns but for legal reasons we can’t do that; we can’t either assure what was said during those conversations. The fact is that during the high season the best strategy is to leave early or to book and pay thru the internet in advance; there is an incresing flow of pilgrims from around the world, some people decide to stay in a place more thatn one night… there are many reasons to assure in advance your room (important in the nicest places close to the beach or key monuments). The inn and lodges owner are overwhelmingly honest they do presonify the Camino’s values; there are some pilgrims that for several reasons may not arrive, generating an economic loss to the owners. Given the importance to rest well, take your time to assure a good place for every night.
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