Today we are bringing a series of Camino de Santiago tips and recommendations. If you have been thinking about taking on this adventure for a while now, you have probably read some blogs, books, and seen documentaries and experiences on Youtube. And, of course, the movie “The Way”. The are many different information sources, sometimes a bit disperse. That is why we have compiled the most important Camino de Santiago tips on this short guide. So you can experience the best Camino de Santiago.
Finally you have made your decision. You have your dates, routes, and you are starting to be mentally ready for this adventure that is about to start. Once you are all set, there are some things that you should take into account before starting the journey. At Galiwonders we want to assist you by making the most of this experience. Let’s start with some Camino de Santiago tips & recommendations.
Camino de Santiago tips: before you start
We are dividing this guide in three sections. First of all, recommendations we must consider before starting the journey, during the previous months when we plan everything. Then, tips while you are walking the Camino. And finally, after the trip is over. Let’s start with the first decision to be taken: which is the best Camino de Santiago route for me?
Choose the best Camino de Santiago route for you
We strongly believe that the Camino de Santiago is a journey to be enjoyed. For this reason, we recommend to review all the routes available, and choose the best for you. You must consider, not only the amount of time you have available for the Camino, but also the level of difficulty of each route, and the kind of experience you are looking for. This is not a race, and being to ambitious does not really have much sense from our point of view.
Also, we recommend to be moderate. Don’t start with a big challenge. We recommend to increase the difficulty of each stretch progressively, day by day. Here you have so questions to ask yourself before you start:
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How many days to I have to walk the Camino de Santiago?
Choosing one Camino de Santiago route will depend on your objectives or the amount of time you have available. If you only have one week available and you want to get your Compostela (Pilgrim Certificate) we would recommend you to choose the last 100 km of any of the official Camino de Santiago route: the French Camino, the Portuguese Camino, the English Camino, the Primitive Camino…
On the contrary, if you have more time to walk the Camino de Santiago (even more than a month!) we would recommend you a full route, like the French Way from Saint-Jean-de-Pied-de-Port, or the Portuguese Way from Lisbon. If you are not really worried about getting the Pilgrim Certificate, you can choose any section in between (from Porto to Baiona for example).
We would recommend you to take some time to think about all the possibilities, as this would really make a difference on your experience on the Camino de Santiago.
What is your physical condition?
Do you have previous hiking experience? Or are you an inactive person? Are you looking for an extreme challenge on this adventure? Each Camino de Santiago involves its own characteristics, which make them more or less suitable for each kind of pilgrim.
“We would recommend you one Camino de Santiago route or another, depending on your level of fitness.
For example, the Primitive Way is an stunning route in terms of landscape. However, the terrain poses some challenges that are not suitable for all pilgrims. Large slopes, ups and downs, irregular terrain, isolation… If you don’t have previous hiking experience, we would not recommend this route.
Nevertheless, the French Way is a more popular route, that can be adapted to almost all walkers. There are many facilities along the way, it is possible to split walking days in two… which makes it more accessible for pilgrims with physical limitations. But, if you are looking for some quietness and solitude, we would not recommend this route, as it is the most bustling one.
What kind of experience am I looking for on the Camino de Santiago?
As we were mentioning before, each Camino de Santiago route involves its own features, that make them unique. There are some characteristics that could be really appealing for some kind of pilgrims and, at the same time, there characteristics could back out other walkers. Let’s get some examples:
If you are looking for a sociable experience, we would recommend you the French Camino. It is the most walked and popular route. But these popularity could prevent other pilgrims to come, as they understand “their camino” as a journey of solitude and silence. In this case, we would recommend a different route, like the Primitive Camino or the Northern Camino.
Pilgrims from the United Kingdom or Ireland, tend to be fascinated by the English Way (or Camino Inglés) as soon as they know about this route. They understand it as a way to connect with their Celt origins, and emulate this journey accomplished by their ancestors. There is clear cultural motivation, related to tradition.
The fact is that, as we always say, that the are as many motivations as pilgrims walking the Camino. Each route offers a different kind of experience, that could be more or less appealing depending on what we are looking for on our Camino.
If you still have some doubts about this, please do not hesitate to do our “Camino de Santiago Test: one route for each pilgrim”.
Should I prepare myself physically?
While it is true that we all walk in our day to day life, we must understand that each stage of the Way involves walking a minimum of 15 kilometers in almost all its variants. And although in Galiwonders we offer you the opportunity to customize your itinerary so it adapts to your necessities, the reality is that even in the Easy options you will have to wander distances of at least 9 kilometers from stage to stage. It is an effort that requires patience and mental stimulation from your side to get to your destination.
If you’re not a particularly active person, we suggest you start to prepare yourself in a gradual manner. Start looking for a calm space in your city, like a park that offers different routes and slight unevenness. Work through your stamina and breath work as you go, make it a routine at least 1 month prior to your start in the Way. Your body will get used to it and it will allow you to adapt better to the demands of each route.
That said, there are a lot of people from different ages and lifestyles that get to the Way and make it to the end. So this is not a question made to discourage us, but to ensure that we understand that the pilgrimage is a challenge and a haven equally. Connect with your environment, enjoy the nature and the people surrounding it and remember: you must follow your own way. Don’t force yourself to follow a rhythm that doesn’t bring you happiness just to reach somebody else’s expectations.
Should I prepare mentaly?
And mentally? We need to be aware beforehand that, whether you are traveling solo or with company, the only person that can get to the end of this journey is yourself. Your motivation is essential, whether it is religious, personal, physical, but so it is your attitude facing obstacles and little wins in the Way. Feet will hurt, backpack will feel heavy, but the Way happens within yourself as well as in your environment. Enjoy the freedom of walking with all your personal belongings in your back to tune in with your mind and body.
Try not to feel defeated whenever you feel like it’s getting tougher than what you initially felt it would be. There are resources that can help you, and the most important one is probably our pilgrim community. Share your concerns and happiness with your travel companions, they are experiencing the same doubts and can help you clear up your mind.
Connect with your environment, enjoy the nature and the people surrounding it and remember: you must follow your own way. Don’t force yourself to follow a rhythm that doesn’t bring you happiness just to reach somebody else’s expectations. As important as being prepared physically, so it is to rest. Relaxing, nourishing yourself with a nice meal and sleeping are part of your daily routine as much as walking in the Way.
Am I empathic enough?
The Way is a journey that awakens many emotions: tolerance, frustration, vulnerability, compassion. In yourself as well as in others. It’s easy to let one mishap ruin a wonderful experience but you must not let this drag you down. Make optimism a way of life. Be kind to yourself and the others around you, and they will give back that kindness. The intricate network of hostels, restaurants, locals and foreigners that conform the different jacobian routes are participants of the Way as much as yourself. Be collaborative and respectful of nature and your fellow pilgrims and you will make sure to receive the same help in return.
Am I able to adapt to my environment?
The Way can imply a challenge in so many ways: the weather, the culture, the linguistic barrier, not knowing the routes beforehand. Many question marks without a proper answer till we finally face it.
Galicia’s community is known as the queen of rain, and it can dazzle us at any moment, even in the hottest of seasons. That’s why we always recommend you to be prepared to encounter any type of weather and pack a light rain poncho that can shelter your backpack and yourself (nobody likes the smell of damp clothes!). Likewise, to make sure the sun never bothers us, carry any kind of hat that can protect you, as well as some good old fashioned SPF. If you’re in the Way during summer season, we should avoid wearing sleeveless shirts that leave our shoulders exposed, to make sure we avoid those uncomfortable rashes with our backpack grips. Your body will thank you later!
Don’t break down if some locals don’t speak your language, practice empathy and try to integrate as best you can in the local culture, it’s part of the experience and what makes the Way a borderless experience after all. Besides, there are so many resources nowadays that will ease a fluent communication with the unknown and the best way to learn about the world surrounding us!
Training before your Camino de Santiago
It is important to have a minimum level of fitness, at least to face long walks for a couple of days in a row, with its ups and downs, and unstable weather conditions. This is not a extreme challenge just for professionals (the Camino stands out because of its “popularity”) but it is always good to get physically ready. Particularly those who are not used to practise any kind of sports. If this is your case, here you have the best advice you could have to walk the Camino and “survive” it: train! Because if you are thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago, you must be ready for walking!
“You don’t have to be a professional to walk the Camino de Santiago, but you must be ready for the challenge.”
Walking days are usually an average of 20 km per day, and some stretches can be more strenuous than others. In general, all pilgrims, even with different physical conditions and rhythms, can finish the Camino with no mayor issues.
The level of the route is moderate, and pilgrims of all ages and levels of fitness arrive into Santiago with no previous professional experience. However, we believe it is important to highlight that, if you choose one of the longest itineraries (like the full Portuguese Way of the French Way) the level of difficulty will be higher. This because we are all ready to face one day of effort and sacrifice, and walk more than usual. But it would be more difficult is this effort is extended to next day, and the day after… with no rest.
At Galiwonders, we want you to walk at your own speed, that is why we have designed some itineraries that are more manageable than the traditional ones, like the French Way Easy, or the Portuguese Coastal Way Easy.
Clothing & footwear on the Camino de Santiago
It doesn’t really matter if you are planning to carry your backpack on the Camino de Santiago, or if you prefer to use the luggage transfer services; regardless the type of pilgrim you are, we would strongly recommend you to keep reading. In both cases, planning to bring with you, will require some time.
If you are thinking about carrying your backpack during the walk, it shouldn’t exceed 10% of your weight (which means that you will have to leave a lot of things at home). On the other hand, even if you are planning to use luggage transfers, you luggage won’t be with you during the walk (you will probably walk with a small bag, just with the basics). For this reason, you’ll have to think in advance what you are going to bring with you everyday during the walk, and you’ll have to wait until the next stop to get what you need from your luggage.
Nowadays, there is a wide range of technical clothing, great for those who are used to practice any kind of activity outdoors. These clothes are usually lighter and cooler, which makes easer for them to be cleaned a dried quickly enough. During the walk, we could experience some unexpected rain, our clothes could get wet, and we wouldn’t be able to change until the next stop. Having this special clothing, would make this kind of inconveniences a bit easier to deal with.
We won’t go through all the items to wear on the backpack or luggage when walking the Camino de Santiago, because there is a specific article about the packing list. But there are some basics we would like to highlight:
Do not wear your footwear for the first time
As we always try to highlight, one of the main issues pilgrims can experience during the walk, is related to their feet. It is not usual to walk so many hours for so many days in a row. For this reason, your footwear can turn into the most valuable item you have during your Camino de Santiago. Be careful when it comes to choose your walking shoes!
In this regards, our main advice to walk the Camino de Santiago and avoid blisters, it that you should not wear your walking shoes for the first time. It doesn’t really matter if you prefer walking shoes, boots, sandals, trainers… but please note that your footwear must be very comfortable, as your feet are the main “tool” for the walk. It takes some time for footwear to be adjusted to your feet, so we would strongly recommend you to use them before you start the Camino de Santiago.
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Weigh your backpack
As we have previously mentioned, it is very important to feel comfortable during the walk. And a heavy backpack can turn into a nightmare. If it’s overloaded, it can cause back pain, and make your Camino really uncomfortable (for no reason!). Just bring the basics, as you won’t need anything else for the walk.
Bring a raincoat
Weather conditions in Northern Spain (particularly Galicia region) tend to be quite unstable. A raincoat is a must. Even during the hottest months, like August, there are chances of rain. A light raincoat can be stored easily, and and it’s very manageable.
Camino de Santiago tips: during the journey
In this section, we are giving some advice about walking the Camino de Santiago, to be taken into account once the route has started. On the previous paragraph, we talking about the planning process, what to considering during the previous months, weeks or days. Now, let’s face what could happen “on the way”.
Choose the best time to walk
The most popular months to walk the Camino de Santiago are usually the softest in terms of weather. In other words: from April to October. Because of the peculiarities of the weather in Northern Spain, there are some aspects to take into account.
On the one hand, we must advise again, particularly to international pilgrim who are not so familiar with Galicia region, that weather in the area is unstable. Normally, when we think about Spain, we associate our country with sun, dry atmosphere, and high temperatures. However, Galicia is considered an exception. Even if we do have summer season (when temperatures can raise up to 35ºC) there are real chances of rain all year round.
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On the other hand, even if temperatures are usually softer than the rest of Spain, it doesn’t mean that it is cold all the time. As we were previously mentioning, there could be some days during the summer season in which we could walk with a temperature of 35ºC, average. For this reason, we must follow the usual recommendation give to those that practice hiking or trekking. If you are planning to walk the Camino de Santiago in July or August, we would recommend you to bring a hat, to hydrate during the walk, and to start early in the morning (when temperature is usually lower).
Check out the weather forecast before you leave
Nowadays, there are different tools to check the weather forecast, that are quite precise (apps or websites). We would recommend you to make use of them, so you what to bring with you during the day, and what to expect. The journey will be very different if it’s a sunny day, compared to rainy one. As we were previously mentioning, weather in the North can be unstable and variable. For this reason, we recommend to be mentally ready for unpleasant climate circumstances.
Bring a snack on your backpack
Being hydrated is fundamental, as it will avoid heatstrokes, and it will help your body to be in shape. You have probably heard about the physical breakdown that could happen during the Camino, nothing like a snack to get rid of this! There are routes like the French Camino that are really well set up in terms of facilities along the way. You can stop and get something to eat. But there are other walks that are more isolated. For example, some stretches of the Vía de la Plata or the Northern Way. If this is your case, we would recommend you to be foresighted: get something the day before at the supermarket, just in case!
Get your time
To live a unique experience, a lot of pilgrims decide to walk on their own. Our recommendation to experience a genuine Camino de Santiago, is to walk at your own speed. It is not a race, it is about enjoying your own way.
It is always great to get the most out of the way: get some rest, contemplate a landscape, a forest, a river… It will also help to experience an unforgettable journey, to devote time and energy to others. We want to remind you that you can walk slower. Get away from the crowds, the routine, the traffic, the noice from the city and the stress from work. Get this time for you and for your own personal adventure.
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Be open minded
Besides having a positive attitude, that is always recommended, we would suggest you to be open to all kind of situations you could experience during your Camino de Santiago. This advice could seem to be the less practical one, but it isn’t!
In addition to weather conditions, that can’t be controlled really, you will probably have to face many other circumstances that you did not expect. But that’s the good thing about traveling, isn’t it?
If you are used to have lunch or dinner quite early in your country, this could be different in Spain. This is a great chance to meet the locals at the restaurant, for example. You will discover how they enjoy the “tapas” at the end of the evening, a special moment to relax and hang out with friends before dinner.
Do not expect anything
At last but not least, we strongly believe that you will enjoy a deeper experience, if you don’t expect anything from the adventure. This attitude will allow you to appreciate more all the things that will happen during the walk, and understand them as a gift.
Observe, try, listen… be ready to get back home being a bit different. Each journey makes us change, somehow. It only depends on our own ability to understand it, while it’s happening.
Camino de Santiago tips: after the experience
The Camino de Santiago is not a typical holiday, it is a very different journey. There are some pilgrims who take on this adventure for religious reasons, spiritual, culture… regardless the motivations, what can’t be denied, is that this experience leaves a mark on those who live it.
The writer Karin Kiser, who is a Camino de Santiago lover, wrote about guidebook focused on the transformation that this experience causes in our lives. More than tips to walk the Camino de Santiago, it has to do with how we incorporate this change to our daily lives, after the Camino. She understands the walk as a learning experience, a way to assimilate some vital lessons. We will be able to benefit from them if we have them into account in our daily lives.
This short guide, that compresses a lot of reflections in just a couple of pages, is called “After the Camino”. The best person to talk about it is the author herself, and you’ll be able to read an interview here.
We hope these Camino de Santiago tips have been useful. There are many other recommendations that we did not compile on this short post, that is why we would really appreciate if you could leave all your questions at the Comment Section. ¡Buen Camino!
If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will get back to you in less than 24 business hours.