Shell on St James

Camino de Santiago

camino-de-santiago-st-james-way

Much more than a journey

An interest in culture, a personal challenge, contact with nature, a spiritual journey… There are as many reasons for taking the Way as there are pilgrims. Whatever the reason, it’s sure to be an unusual and different experience, worth doing at least once in your life. Thousands of people each year discover the diversity of Spain on St James’ Way. Many of them come back and do it again. The Jacobean pilgrimage route is a fascinating journey to Santiago de Compostela, with the opportunity to admire imposing heritage buildings, explore varied landscapes, enjoy delicious local cuisine, and visit cities and destinations steeped in history. The are different ways to do it: on foot, by bicycle, on horseback… Choose your option and enjoy the experience in the way that best suits you.

The routes of St James’ Way

French RouteThe most popular route on St James’ Way starts in the Pyrenees. You can begin in Roncesvalles (Navarre) or Somport (Aragon), on a path that crosses the territories of La Rioja and Castilla y León on the way to Galicia.Distance: around 800 km.On foot: about 32 stages.By bicycle: usually 14 stages.

Map of St James

Northern RouteThis route begins in Irún and runs through northern Spain, crossing the regions of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. The landscape is a major attraction, as a large part of the route runs along the coastline, between the mountains and the Cantabrian Sea.Distance: 827 km.On foot: about 35 stages.By bicycle: usually 18 stages.

Pilgrim on the Way of Saint James

Primitive RouteThis itinerary recreates the route taken by King Alfonso II the Chaste in the 9th century, when the tomb of James the Apostle was first discovered. It starts in the city of Oviedo, and passes through the woods and valleys of Asturias, to link up with the French Route in Palas de Rei.Distance: 321 km.On foot: about 13 stages.By bicycle: usually 7 stages.

Advice if you’re walking

Training. A few months before you start the Camino, it’s a good idea to start taking longer walks every day, wearing the footwear you plan to wear on the Way. This helps you prepare physically.Planning. The Camino is not a single route - there are variants like the French Way (inland), the Northern Way (along the coast), etc. It’s best to decide first which route you’re going to take and from there, plan your starting point and stages according to the number of days you want to spend. Most people walk 20 to 30 kilometres a day, and it’s advisable to allow for a few rest days. Another way to prepare for the journey is to read books on the history of the Camino, or watch films like “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen.

Pilgrim walking at sunset

Footwear. Footwear is key, as you’ll be wearing it for many kilometres. Wear water-resistant hiking boots that fit you well (they should be half a size larger than your normal size), and if possible, they should be already worn in. If they’re new, be sure to walk in them at home as much as possible before you start your journey.Backpack.  This should be ergonomic and not weigh more than 7 kilos when full, or 10% of your bodyweight. You’ll be carrying it on your back for many kilometres until you get to Santiago de Compostela. Don’t be tempted to bring things “just in case”, because all along the way you’ll find supermarkets, pharmacies, and other shops where you can buy whatever you need.First-aid kit. If you don’t want minor problems like blisters or headaches to halt your progress, you should carry aspirin or another painkiller, sticking plasters, bandages and gauze, hypodermic needles, muscle liniment, and mosquito repellent.

Abandoned boot on a sign for St James

Advice if you’re cycling

Training. Before you start, it’s a good idea to practice - it’s quite different cycling with your bike loaded up with packs.Planning. You should know that there are routes and stages with variants for people cycling the Camino. Some stretches are on roads. They are usually well signposted, but you can also find them in specific guide-books.Bicycle. If you can, ride a mountain bike.  Don’t forget to check your bike is in good working order, especially the brakes, gears, and tyres.

Bicycle in the countryside at sunset

Equipment. You should have a helmet, cycling clothes, a rain cape, gloves, and suitable shoes. And of course, bring a puncture kit and basic tools in case of breakdowns.Hostels. If you’re staying at pilgrims’ hostels, try to choose the largest ones, because until 8 pm their priority is providing accommodation for pilgrims travelling on foot.In Santiago. If you need it when you get to Santiago de Compostela, the Pilgrim’s Office (Rúa do Vilar) has a left-luggage service for backpacks and bicycles.

Bicycle on St James Way

Advice if you’re riding a horse

Preparations. Following the Camino on horseback requires more planning ahead for the stages and more preparation. As well as training the horse to carry baggage for a few months in advance, you will have to take it to the vet’s, get it vaccinated, and take out insurance. Stages. You should study the stages carefully while planning, taking into account climbs and descents, technical difficulties, your accommodation and stabling for your horse. Stabling and feeding. It’s advisable to arrange the places where the horse will spend the night in advance and prepare the sacks of feed it will eat along the route.  Documentation. Always carry all the horse’s documents. It’s also advisable to have some basic training in veterinary first aid and shoeing, in case of unexpected incidents. Arriving in Santiago. You must notify the local police several days in advance before entering Santiago de Compostela on horseback (by telephone on 092), so they can tell you the permitted time and route. They will also give you a permit to enter the Plaza del Obradoiro square and stop briefly in front of the Cathedral.

Roman Bridge on St James

Equipment and documentation

Credential and Compostela. Pilgrim’s credentials should be stamped at each stage, and entitle you to sleep in pilgrims’ hostels. They can be obtained at the International Pilgrim Reception Office, or from religious confraternities, pilgrim hostels, and associations of friends of St James’ Way in several different countries. The credential is not the same as the “Compostela”, which is given to people taking a religious or spiritual pilgrimage, and who have travelled at least the last 100 kilometres to Santiago walking or on horseback, or the last 200 kilometres by bicycle.Documentation. Don’t forget your documentation (ID card, passport, or other identification document) and your health card. If travelling on horseback, you should also carry the horse’s documents, including its insurance. 

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at dusk

Basic equipment. You should always carry a water bottle, a hat or cap, sunglasses, sun cream, and a waterproof poncho in case it rains. As well as toiletries, take a towel, flip-flops for the shower, toilet paper, detergent for washing your clothes, and clothespegs for hanging them to dry. If you’re going to sleep in hostels, a sleeping bag and mat are essential. Clothes. Your clothes will depend largely on the time of year. Make sure your clothes are comfortable and breathable. Bring at least one pair of trousers, T-shirts, cotton socks, and comfortable footwear for rest periods. Also, something warm like a sweater or hoodie for the evenings.First-aid kit. A basic first-aid kit, including at least scissors, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, gauze and bandages is always a good idea.

Pilgrim shells in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Accommodation and food

Food. It’s a good idea to start the day with a big breakfast. Sweets, nuts and dried fruit are very handy for topping up your energy over the course of a stage. You should also make sure you drink plenty of water on your day’s travel - don’t wait until you’re thirsty. You’ll find plenty of springs and fountains along the way where you can refill your water bottle or flask.Pilgrim’s Menu. For lunch and dinner, there are all kinds of restaurants, cafés and bars, giving you the opportunity to try the traditional dishes of each location. Some establishments offer reasonably priced set lunches for pilgrims, the “menú del peregrino”.Choosing Your Accommodation. All along the route, you’ll find different types of accommodation to suit your preferences and needs: pilgrims’ hostels, country guest houses, hotels, Paradores de Turismo, hostels, campsites, etc. Sometimes other options are more suitable than pilgrims’ hostels, such as when you are travelling in a large group, or with a support vehicle. You can also use these other options if you want to stay a day or two more in a place you particularly like, or to enjoy a local fiesta or other event, or simply for a rest.

Pilgrims near a hostel on St James

Pilgrims’ Hostels Some public pilgrims’ hostels are free and others require a small donation to cover cleaning and maintenance costs. There are also private hostels which cost a little more. The public ones usually fill up first. Hostels cannot be booked in advance, and places are filled in order of arrival. Pilgrims who arrive on foot have priority, followed by those on horseback, and finally, cyclists.Times. Unless you are ill, you can only stay one night in a pilgrims’ hostel. They usually open at midday. At night, from 9 or 10 pm, guests are expected to avoid making noise so that people can sleep. You have to leave by 8 or 9 am the next morning so the hostel can be prepared for the next day’s intake of pilgrims. Some hostels also include breakfast.Alternative Accommodation. When there is high demand, in summer and in Xacobeo Holy Years, if all the hostels are full, other spaces are sometimes made available for pilgrims to spend the night, such as sports centres and churches.

Tips and recommendations

The stages. The established stages usually cover journeys of 20 to 30 kilometres a day by foot, and 60 to 70 kilometres by bicycle. However, each person can plan their route according to their age, walking speed and physical condition, choosing longer or shorter stages as appropriate.

Signposting. Always follow the yellow arrows. Keep an eye out for them, because you’ll find them in a lot of places: on walls, on the ground, on trees, stones, posts, etc. If you get lost or have any questions, just ask - people will be happy to show you the way. It’s also a good idea to carry a guidebook or a mobile app.

“Buen Camino!” Have a good Way! This is how pilgrims on the Way usually greet each other. That’s another important part of the Camino: making contact with other people, connecting with the nature around you and with yourself, forming part of Europe’s oldest pilgrimage. 

When to go on the route

Any time from spring to autumn is a good time to start out, but July and August can be very hot, and these are also the months with the most people.