28 Jun Essential Guide for the Camino de Santiago
Hiking the Camino de Santiago is an amazing experience that will elevate you in many ways: physical and spiritual, but not only! I did it myself this year for the first time and I didn’t expect it to be so extraordinary! In this Essential Guide for the Camino de Santiago, you will get everything you need to know about walking the Camino! I’m also sharing with you my travel tips to help you prepare for the hike.
So, if like thousands of people you decided to jump on board of the Camino adventure, this guide is for you! And if you are still hesitating, it should reassure you and motivate you!
There are a lot of reasons why you should do the Camino de Santiago and I discovered more of them as I was doing it myself!
If pilgrims started to walk the Camino for religious purposes, many people don’t do it for that reason nowadays and I didn’t either. Read the list below and find out your whys! Remembering this will help you a lot to stay motivated in your difficult moments during the hike, that’s why I’m starting my Guide for the Camino with it.
To enjoy nature
You will get the opportunity to walk in nature every day of your Camino and it’s very pleasing and relaxing! Enchanting forests, quiet countryside areas, hills, rivers, waterfalls, will be your environment for your everyday hikes. On top of that, you will meet many animals: cows, horses, cats, dogs and more! So, if you need to connect with nature and resource yourself, the Camino is the perfect way to do it!
For the challenge
Walking the Camino is an intense workout! You will walk on average 20km a day, which is way more than our daily average, and this will be for several days in a row. The type of terrain and the difference in heights will also add to the difficulty. Besides that, the weather might be on your side, or not: too much sun or rain can have an important impact on your days on the Camino.
So, if you are willing to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, the Camino is for you! And if you want to spice it up, the distance and the number of days you will choose to walk will increase the challenge!
To discover some hidden gems in Galicia
I haven’t visited the region of Galicia before, and it was so nice to discover it on way to Santiago! Walking the Camino will allow you to explore the region in detail. And you will stumble on hidden gems on your way: charming villages, impressive monasteries, pretty churches, beautiful rivers and waterfalls, stunning bridges, … Doing the Camino is the best way to do some sightseeing in Galicia!
To make friends on the way (and more!)
As you will walk to Santiago you will meet people on the way or in the places where you will spend the night. And because you are all walking in the same direction, this means you are likely to meet these people several times!
The fact that we are all experiencing the same challenge and we all decided to walk the Camino implies that we have a lot in common. Therefore, take the opportunity to talk to them, introduce yourself and you will see that it can lead to great friendships, or more! Many people have actually found love on the Camino 🙂 !
If this is important for you, remember to choose a popular route so that you multiply your chances of meeting like-minded people! I have a dedicated paragraph about that further below in this Guide for the Camino.
To taste the local gastronomy
Most of us think we will get fit doing the Camino and lose weight… Well, truth be told, the biggest secret of the Camino is that you might actually gain some weight, as the food is very good! Yes, I’m really spilling the tea in this guide for the Camino de Santiago!
You can taste it at one of the numerous restaurants on the way to or in Santiago. And you will also enjoy some delicious homemade cuisine in the Casas where you will spend the night!
You should try these yummy Galician dishes: empanada Gallega (Galician Meat Pie), mejillones al vapor (steamed mussels), merluza a la Gallega (Galician Style Hake), pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-Style Octopus), Caldo Gallego (Galician broth) or the pimientos de Padron (fried green peppers). Besides that, Galicia offers some very good bread (pan Gallego) and cheese (queso Tetilla). Some say it’s the best region of Spain for bread and cheese! And you shouldn’t miss the famous Tarta de Santagio for dessert: it’s a delicious almond cake with a cross of St James on top of it. It dates back from the Middle-Ages!
For religious or spiritual reasons
Originally pilgrims were walking the Camino de Santiago to see the relics of Saint James the Apostle, believed to be buried in Santiago’s cathedral. Therefore, nowadays like before, you can walk the Camino for religious reasons: to implore God for a grace or a miracle, as an act if devotion, or to atone your sins and make penance. But doing the Camino is a way to elevate your spirituality whatever your religion and beliefs! And you may have your own spiritual reasons for doing it.
To surpass yourself
I talked to you about the challenges in one of the previous paragraphs… Well, the best is when you overcome them! The feeling that you get once you arrived in front of the Cathedral in Santiago is extraordinary! I was relieved it was over and to be finally arrived after all these kilometers of walk. But I mostly felt very proud of myself for doing it! I also felt super happy to have shared this experience with my friends and we hugged each other warmly!
Besides that, I was quite impressed when I saw all the other people around us coming from different countries, of all ages and physical shape. Most of them hiked way more kilometers than me! The atmosphere in front of the cathedral in Santiago was vibrant and joyful! You could hear people cheering from all around the square, talking to their friends and family on the phone, filming some video, screaming of happiness, jumping in each other arms as they would recognize someone, they met on the way… It’s full of positive energy!
This general feeling is so intense that it’s motivating you to do the Camino another time even if you didn’t even recover from the first one yet!
What to pack for the Camino
What to pack for the Camino is probably one of the main questions you’re asking yourself before starting this experience! Obviously, I had to include it in this Essential guide for the Camino! This is indeed a sensitive information as many of you will carry everything on your back during the Camino.
Firstly, one of the things you need to know before I tell you what is important to bring with you, is that nowadays you can use the services of an agency to carry your luggage from one place to another. This means you won’t have to worry that much about the weight of your bag 🙂 . I used the services of Gali Wonders, but a few other agencies are doing the same kind of job. FYI these agencies can also help you organize your Camino and book places to stay and get a picnic lunch every day.
And another important info: many of the Albergues, Casa or hotels on the Camino offer laundry services if needed for a few euros (I have seen places where it was less than 5€).
That being said, here below are the essentials you need for the Camino.
What to wear to walk the Camino
Here are the things you need to pack to walk the Camino. Take clothes that dry quickly and are lightweight. The best is to supply everything in a sporting good retailer like Decathlon. They usually provide a great range of prices for everyone.
- T-shirts with short or long sleeves depending on the season, with moisture wicking fabric
- Sweaters or fleeces
- Shorts if the weather is very hot
- A waterproof hiking jacket
- Waterproof hiking shoes, preferably mid-high to protect your ankles
- Hiking socks
- A cap or a hat
- A rain cape or a rain poncho (perfect to protect you and your backpack at the same time)
- Hiking poles (1 or 2)
What to wear after the walk / in the evening
Here are the things you need to pack for the evening after walking the Camino, or for the days you will stay in Santiago.
Keep in mind that you don’t need anything fancy. And as you wear these clothes a very short amount of time a day, you don’t need to bring too many of these as they won’t get dirty. I brought too many clothes and I regretted it!
- Comfy sneakers
- Pants or Jeans
- T-shirts with short or long sleeves depending on the season
Your other essentials to pack for the Camino
Here are the other essentials you must pack for the Camino:
- Vaseline to prevent blisters or an anti-friction cream to reduce chafing and irritations. You can use it on your feet but also on the neck, armpits, thighs, nipples…
- Toiletries (I recommend buying them in travel size)
- Bed bug spray if you are sleeping in hostels
- Phone charger
- Power bank (you won’t be able to charge your phone during all the time you are walking, and you might need it to look for directions, take some photos and videos, or communicate with others)
- Camera and lenses if you want to capture the beautiful nature and the stunning landmarks you will find on the way :). As I did the Camino as a content creator, I also brought my tripod.
- and I brought my computer as I needed to work after the hike every day. All the places where I stayed had decent wifi, so I could work efficiently.
How to train for the Camino and keep on walking during it
As I explained earlier, walking the Camino is quite a challenge. So, it’s great if you come a bit prepared. As a reference you will walk around 5h a day (more or less depending on your physical conditions, the weather, the type of terrain and the incline of each route).
Therefore, any cardio and legs workout will be appreciated. You can go running or take the time to do long walks for example.
Let me share with you my experience in this guide for the Camino. I didn’t do any specific training before the Camino. As I’m used to workout 3 times a week, I thought it would be enough. But to be honest the hike wasn’t easy (especially when the way was going up). My muscles were sore and the sole of my feet was getting painful, both especially on the last day (day 5 for me). I don’t know if I would have been able to walk several more days after that.
I did (and you will obviously) take a few breaks on the way: that will help you to recharge your batteries and keep on walking.
One tip that I followed and found useful: rinsing my legs and feet with cold water after the hike in the evening and before the hike in the morning. You can also massage them with essential oils.
Lastly, try to sleep as many hours as possible during the night.
Which route to choose for the Camino
You can take 9 different routes to reach Santiago de Compostela. In this essential guide for the Camino, I am giving out a summary of each of them, so that you can decide which one is the best for you!
- Camino Frances, aka the French Way. Starting in France in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, it’s the most popular route with more than 60% of the pilgrims walking it. You will pass by the famous cities of Pamplona, Leon and Burgos. Type of terrain: some parts are flat, some are mountainous.
- Camino Portugues, aka the Portuguese Way. Starting in Lisbon, it’s the 2nd most popular route (more than 20% of pilgrims). You will pass by Porto. Type of terrain: coastlines and sandy beaches.
- Camino Portugues Coastal is a variant of the Camino Portuguese and it’s the 3rd most popular route. You will pass by Vigo after Porto. Type of terrain: more coastlines and flatter than the Camino Portuguese.
- Camino del Norte, aka the Northern Way. Starting in San Sebastian, it goes through the Basque Country. You will pass by Bilbao, Santander and Oviedo. It’s joining the Camino Primitivo for its last part before Santiago. Type of terrain: coastline and beaches, forests, medieval towns and many Michelin Star restaurants.
- Camino Primitivo, aka the Original Way. Starting in Oviedo, it’s used to be the 1st pilgrimage route to Santiago. Type of terrain: valleys and mountains, woods. It’s one of the most challenging one with steep ascents. Because it’s less popular, there are less amenities.
- Via de la Plata, aka the Silver Way. Starting in Sevilla, it’s the longest pilgrim route. You will pass by Caceres, Salamanca and Ourenze. Type of terrain: rather flat with forests, countryside, some hills, and woods. Because it’s less popular, there are less amenities.
- Via Podiensis, aka Le Puy Camino. Starting from Le Puy en Velay in Auvergne in France, it has many steep ascents. Type of terrain: hills, pine groves, vineyards. It’s joining the Camino Frances on its last part.
- Camino Finisterre, aka Muxia Way. On the contrary to the others, this route is starting in Santiago in the direction of the Atlantic Coast and the village of Finisterre (aka Fisterra in Galician). This place used to be called the “End of the World” by the Romans as they thought it was the most Western point of Spain. Type of terrain: pine groves, hills, coastline, and medieval villages.
- Camino Ingles, aka the English Way. Starting from in A Coruna or Ferrol, it was used by people coming from Ireland, Scotland, or Scandinavia. Type of terrain: coastlines, beaches, green countryside, and woods.
All of them offers different kinds of landscapes and some stunning landmarks. They are all worth the walk and will charm you in their own way! Nevertheless, I recommend you choose wisely depending on the distance, the terrain and ascents, the popularity of the route, and the amenities you are expecting on the way!
You can decide to walk only a part of the route or all the route from the beginning to the end depending on how much time you have available and how much you want to challenge yourself.
Via de la Plata
I decided to include a dedicated paragraph about Via de la Plata in this Guide for the Camino because this is the route I experienced. I walked 106 km between Ourense and Santiago in 5 days.
I did appreciate the fact that this Camino route is less popular, as I heard that the French Way is pretty packed and touristy. For sure here we had the nature to ourselves! Nevertheless, the downside of it is that, if you are looking to meet and connect with new people on the way, it will be more complicated. We only met a dozen of people during the 5 days of the hike.
Some of the highlights of Via de la Plata:
- The Ponte Vella and the hot springs in Ourense
- The Monastery of Santa María de Oseira
- The waterfall Fervenza do Toxa, technically not on the Camino, but it’s worth the detour
- The bridge Ponte Tabadoa, dating from 950
- Many horreos, some typical granaries from the northwest of Spain
- Some interesting deserted villages and abandoned houses (if dark tourism is your thing).
Best places to stay on Via de la Plata
Here are some of the best places to stay on Via de la Plata:
Casa Casarellos: this beautiful property with many stone buildings offers some beautiful big rooms and a large pool in a big garden. From here you have a beautiful view on the valley and can even admire the cows grazing in the nearby meadows. They will prepare a delicious homemade dinner and breakfast for you. located in the village of Casarellos. Book it here.
Hotel Spa Norat Torre do Deza: this modern 4-star hotel located in Lalìn offers big room with huge beds. It also features a fitness center and a spa with sauna and Turkish baths. And you get massages and treatments if needed. The perfect way to relax during the Camino! They have a restaurant if you want to dine without leaving the hotel. Book it here.
Casa Goris: this rustic style casa will charm you with its ancient architecture, wooden floor, and stone walls. You will feel like you are stepping back in time, but all the amenities are modern. It’s located in Reboredo, not far from from the Toxa Waterfalls. You can get a homemade dinner and breakfast at the casa. Book it here.
Casa da Botica: this big casa offers many pretty rooms, a large garden, a few tables on the terrace and a covered pool. The homemade food prepared by Susanna the owner for dinner and breakfast was amazing! It’s located in Os Casares. Book it here.
How to get your Compostela
The Compostela is the official certificate that proves that you completed the Camino. In this guide for the Camino de Santiago, I will tell you in details how you can get the Compostela.
The first thing you need to know is that you can get the Compostela only in Santiago de Compostela.
To earn the Compostela, you must walk at least 100 km on the Camino (or cycle 200 km), on any of the Camino routes. And to prove that you did it, you must stamp your Camino passport at least twice a day in the last 100 km of the Camino (200km if you cycle). You can stamp your Camino passport (“credencial del Peregrino”) in albergues, town halls, bars, Correos offices (post offices), hotels, churches, monasteries in any of the cities, towns, and villages you will pass by. It’s called “sellos” in Spanish, in case you have to ask a local where to find it.
Once you arrived in Santiago de Compostela, you can head to the Pilgrims office, Oficina de Acogida del Peregrino in Spanish. It’s only a few minutes’ walk from the Cathedral in Santiago. From here you will have to scan a QR code to fill in a form online. They have big posters in front of the office with the QR code. You will have to answer a few questions about your Camino: from where you started it, your name and personal contact info… You will then receive a SMS and an email to confirm your registration. Once you got it, you can enter the Pilgrims office and get in line to get your official paper.
A member of the staff will check the stamps on your Camino passport and finally approve it by giving you the last official stamp for Santiago de Compostela. Then they will write your name (in Latin) on the Compostela paper and hand it over to you.
The Compostela is free.
You can also get a Certificate of Distance that indicates the number of kilometres that you have traveled. This one costs 3 € and is printed on parchment paper.
Location: Oficina de acogida del peregrino