Planning your camino

Because there are frequent questions on the Santiago de Compostela forum about everything related to planning a trip on the camino, here are a few basics, and some links to much more detailed sources.  This page is a wiki, and can be edited by any TA member to add more information or make corrections.

What is “the camino”?

“Camino” means “road” or “way”.  Across Spain (and across much of Europe), ancient pilgrimage routes lead to Santiago de Compostela, to the shrine in honour of St. James.  People who say that they have “done the camino” may be referring to the last 100 kms into Santiago, or they may be referring to something much longer, for example, a trip of more than 2000 kms from northern Europe to Santiago.  BTW, it's NOT "the El Camino"!  "El" means "the".  So it's either "el camino" or "the camino", but not a mash-up of both.

What is a pilgrim, in this context?

A pilgrim (or peregrino in Spanish) is someone who is walking, biking, or horseback riding on a pilgrimage to Santiago.  Pilgrims may be religiously motivated, or they may have other motivations. 

Are there degrees of difficulty?

Absolutely!  Of course, the distance walked is a primary determinant of difficulty.  But there are other factors.  Some pilgrims come on pre-packaged trips, with their packs carried by a van, with a guide, with every meal and comfortable hotel rooms reserved ahead.  Some pilgrims make no prior arrangements, carry everything themselves, and stay only in the pilgrim hostels (albergues).  Heck, some pilgrims walk barefoot!

Should I do the camino?

That’s entirely up to you.  If you have never travelled independently before, and are asking questions such as “where’s the nearest airport?”, “where should I stay when I arrive”, etc., and don’t know how to find those answers for yourself, then a pre-packaged, guided trip might be right for you.  If you are comfortable with doing your own research, coping with change, challenge and ambiguity, if you have experience dealing with weather and trail conditions, and if you have been preparing physically to walk long distances while carrying a heavy pack, then you will be fine on your own.  Don’t believe everything you see in the movies – you can’t step off a golf cart and expect to be able to hike the Pyrenees the next day.

When are the busiest months?

May through September, and Holy Week.  In years when the saint’s day (July 25) falls on a Sunday, it gets busy beyond busy.

Is weather a concern?

Sure is!  Very hot in the summer, lots of rain in the spring (especially in Galicia), and definite potential for life-threatening snowstorms, especially in the Pyrenees (November through April).

Where can I find out more?

The camino forum, with lots of past pilgrims helping future pilgrims with everything from “what to pack” to “how to behave at an albergue”:  www.caminodesantiago.me/board/  Remember to research past forum entries before asking your question – the answer may already be there.

 

A great planning site, with tools to help you plan distances and understand the vertical gain and loss along the trail:  www.godesalco.com

 

The best camino-related online bookstore, with guidebooks, and much more:  www.csj.org.uk

The welcome office for pilgrims in Santiago de Compostela, with information on how to get your compostela (certificate of pilgrimage completion) and much more:  http://www.peregrinossantiago.es/

Google your own country’s pilgrim association or society – search "<your country's name> St. James pilgrim camino" -- that should do it.