People embark on the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James for any number of reasons. For many it’s a religious pilgrimage which ends at the tomb of St. James, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. For others, it’s a way to keep fit, an adventure, a desire to try something different or a challenge. And if you look at the Camino de Santiago as a holiday, it will be the cheapest holiday of your life.
The Camino de Santiago is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes that pass by cathedrals, monasteries, churches and other historic buildings and through some idyllic small towns, sprawling vineyards and misty forests. The Way of St. James is a great opportunity for spending some time alone and making new friends.
Many parts of the Camino de Santiago are accessible only to people walking, riding horses or mountain biking, as the route mainly follows country lanes and paths. The cost of the refugios along the route is very low, with most of the refugios basically free but inviting a small donation if you could afford it.
The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987; it was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1993.
Here are five tips any Camino de Santiago traveler should take into consideration before joining the other shoes and boots walking this route for body and soul.
Make sure you’ve worked your shoes in before you leave
Any hiker’s best friends on Camino de Santiago are the shoes he/she are wearing. If you choose to walk the Camino Frances, the most popular of the pilgrimage routes, you will be hiking about 780km in four weeks. To make it even more clear you will be making more than 1,500,000 foot steps. The shoes will be on your feet from dawn till dusk. The distance you will walk each day depends on your personal preferences, fitness, geography of the route and frequency of the refugios. If you are doing all the walking during the summer months, you won’t need waterproof shoes, leather ones are usually the best. The road can be dusty and rocky, and at times, boring. That’s when you will love your shoes the most.
The second most important pieces of advice one can get before starting the Camino de Santiago is to pack light. You don’t need an extensive wardrobe, just the basics. Believe me, the last thing you want is walking around for four weeks with your whole book collection in your backpack, or with ten T-shirts just in case. Cloths can be washed.
Sore knees from carrying too much weight is common between the hikers of the Camino de Santiago, so better avoid any extra excess right from the beginning. However, don’t lighted your bag by leaving behind: sunglasses, sunscreen, mosquito spray, poncho, sleeping bag, flashlight, sharp knife, some blister remedy, a hat, a towel and a camera. You will so need them! But you don’t have to pay for extra luggage on the flight. You can buy all these things upon your arrival in Spain. Depending on your country of origin, these products might be cheaper and you can find them in the local stores and pharmacies. You can always buy suplies on the go, no need to carry ten toilet paper rolls with you, no matter how light they might be. And in case you find yourself with a heavier backpack than expected you can always ship some of your belongins ahead of you; that’s if you don’t want to take the cheaper approach and leave them behind.
Choose your backpack wisely
The best backpack is light and not likely to fall apart before four hard weeks use. Make sure your backpack (full) is no heavier than 10% of your body weight and that its weight sits on your hips, not on your shoulders.
Get a stick
Find a good stick and try not to forget it anywhere. You will find out that you can lean on it, use it to balance the weight of your pack or even stop you from falling over in the mud. But besides that, you can use it to ward off unfriendly dogs.
Ask for advice
One of the most amazing things about the Camino de Santiago will be the people you will meet, both backpackers and locals. Many of the walkers will be happy to talk about their past and present experiences and conversations can last for days and be remembered forever. The walking, and the nothing-to-do-but-walk thing, makes for a gentle, rambling, stream-of-conciousness type conversation that’s precious and unique. Also, don’t be shy and ask the locals for advice whenever advice is needed and locals are around. They might not speak much English, you might not speak much Spanish, but you’ll generally find they don’t mind and it’s quite fun conversing with people using the universal language of charades.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” (Mark Twain)
What other tips do you have for walking the Camino de Santiago?