Movies, articles, and returning pilgrims may have inadvertently given you the wrong idea that there is only one route called the Camino de Santiago and one approach to walking it, one type of lodging, and that it takes everyone 30 days to walk it. We tell you our favorite ways to personalize your plans to fit your schedule, travel season, budget, and fitness level. We want to help you begin and finish well. At the heart of accomplishing this is your decision to walk the Camino route that attracts you, and set your own pace. We give you realistic guidelines and practical approaches that will help you. What follows are excerpts from our Guidebook to help you begin your plans.
While the most well known route, the Camino Francés, covers 500 miles (790k) from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, there are many other official pilgrimage routes, all through beautiful country, all with wonder and adventure around every corner, all ending in Santiago de Compostela.
Some are shorter and some are longer distances. Of the most popular, five begin in France, four begin in Spain, and two in Portugal. If you have unlimited time, consider starting from farther away or spending extra days to explore cities along the route. If your time is short, choose a shorter route, or a section of a route.
Route choices in 2016
What to Expect During the Season You Choose
Everyone has favorite seasons, type of weather, and temperatures, and you either enjoy being around lots of people, or fewer people. Travel costs and availability of accommodations vary with the seasons .The weather across northern Spain is VERY diverse in every season.
In recent years on the Camino Francés our team has encountered everything from sleet and temperatures in the 20’s (F) crossing the Pyrenees in mid-May, to scorching heat in summer between Burgos and León on the Meseta, to rain so heavy peregrinos had to stop every hour to take off their boots and empty out the water.
As you might expect, weather is one of the main factors affecting the Camino experience in general. Therefore it is also one of the key determiners for the number of pilgrims walking in a given season.
If you want a more peaceful walk in springtime, with fewer pilgrims on the Way and fewer tourists in the cities, March, April and early May might suit you best. Autumn provides a similar peace and fewer crowds, and albergues and hostels are generally open through October. Plus, airfares drop in price before and after the demands of peak summer travel.
If you like hot weather, lots of people, and excitement, then summer will suit you best. The temperatures will be the warmest of the year in July and August, and the demographics of the Camino shift to include an increase of high school and college age students on their summer breaks.
Accommodations may be completo (no vacancy) and even food and water supplies can be strained to accommodate the swell in numbers. May and June are also becoming busier because of the increased numbers during the rest of the summer.
Travel costs are higher in the summer because of the higher demand for flights, train and bus services. If you are limited to travel during the summer, but are hoping for fewer people, consider walking one of the less travelled routes. The Camino Norte and Camino Portugués are becoming new favorites with summertime pilgrims wanting fewer people.
If you like cold weather and solitude you might prefer a winter Camino. Travel costs will be the cheapest of the year, but you will need more gear, and many albergues and other pilgrim-driven services are closed. Plan for less daylight, which means fewer hours of sunlit walking.
"There are many official Camino routes, all through beautiful country, all with wonder and adventure around every corner, all ending in Santiago de Compostela at the grand Cathedral."
The Physical Challenge
Make sure you are in good health for this walk, that is for most of us the longest walk of our lives. Your visits to the dentist and doctor should be up-to-date. Talk with your primary care doctor about doing the Camino. Take good care of yourself before you leave and while you are walking.
Being active and fit for your everyday life at home is good practice anytime, and it will put you in a good position to accomplish the physical part of your walk. So if you are not a very active person, begin taking steps in that direction.
The sooner you begin, the better for your health and your upcoming Camino. The more you can walk as part of your every day life at home, the more you will learn what your capabilities are, so you can determine what your pace and schedule might be. We know an Olympic athlete who pushed herself to tears and minor injuries trying to cross the Pyrenees too fast on the first day.
The Camino experience is a day after day physical walk at its foundations. You need to set your own pace, and set yourself up for time to rest and recover as you go. If you fall behind the itinerary you set for yourself, rather than pushing yourself to injury by walking farther and faster than you can, hop a bus (cheap) or call a taxi to skip ahead and catch up.