Frequently asked questions about walking the Camino de Santiago

Updated July 2021

My name is Gerald Kelly. I'm the author of several guides to and books about the Caminos de Santiago. I've been walking Caminos since 2004 and have accumulated over 13,000km of walking (or about 500 days).

The guide to walking the Camino can be downloaded from this website. There's a free version with just the basic information and a paid version with more detailed information. There's also a guide to Practical Preparation and Background which was written to help people prepare for their first Camino. You'll get a PDF copy of it and the walking guide if you make a donation, alternatively you can buy both from Amazon. Details from the main page.

The guide is also available in app format for both iPhone and Android phone. See our app website for links to the app stores.

The questions below are based on a comment thread on our Vía de la Plata Facebook group in which people suggested questions they would like to see answered in a FAQ. I've adapted them to be more relevant to the Camino Francés.

The opinions given below are my own. I've walked the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés variety) in its entirety about five times and have walked parts of it on many other occasions since 2011.

If you just arrived here...

After you've read the FAQ have a look at the other resources on the website. There's a free guide available from the Download page, help with the lingo from Camino Spanish, a guide to preparing in Packing and links to other useful websites under (you can probably guess) Useful Links. All in the menu at the top of this page.

Also have a look at our online guide, it has load of practical information about walking the Camino and links to Booking accommodation for each town and village along the way.

Table of Contents

Some background information on the COVID-19 situation in Spain?

What do the current restrictions mean?

Accommodation

Restrictions on entering Spain

To summarise COVID-19...

About the Camino de Santiago / Camino Francés

How well marked is the Camino? Are the yellow arrows easy to follow?

What are the distances you have to walk every day?

Are there lots of places to eat?

Pilgrim menus, what are they?

Are taxis and public transport easily available?

This is my first Camino / long-distance hike, how should I prepare?

Can I just walk the last 100km of the Camino?

How much does it cost to walk the Camino?

When is the best time to walk?

When is the worse time to walk?

Climate data

Climate zone map

Is there a luggage transfer service along the Camino?

Can I send things I don't need for the walk ahead to Santiago?

Do I need a sleeping bag on the Camino?

I only have two weeks, what's the best part to walk?

How many Pilgrim Hostels (Albergues) are there and what are they like?

Is there accommodation like guest houses and hotels?

During busy periods is it necessary / advisable to book ahead?

Do I need to use a tour company or can I just organise everything myself?

I want to do the Camino by bicycle, what do I need to know?

Is the Camino safe to walk (from the point-of-view of crime)?

Is the Camino safe for women (from the point-of-view of sexual harassment and violence)?

Is it worth reporting incidents to the Spanish police?

Are there dangerous animals along the Camino?

Is there or has there been problems with bedbugs on the Camino?

Do I need to speak Spanish?

Do I need a phone?

Do I need a Spanish SIM card or is WiFi widely available?

What historic / UNESCO World Heritage sights are there along the Camino?

What are good places to take a rest day?

What about camping on the Camino?

Spanish Trains


Some background information on the COVID-19 situation in Spain?

Spain was placed in strict national lockdown in March 2020 with only essential services operating. The restrictions began to be lifted in May and were reduced to a minimum over summer 2020. In October rising infections rates led to the reimposition of stricter restrictions. These were eased again over Christmas and then promptly reimposed in the new year in response to another spike in infections.

The situation now (early June 2021) is that these restrictions are being progressively eased throughout Spain.

However, it's important to understand that under Spain's decentralised system of government most decisions about restrictions are made at the regional level (by regional I mean Comunidad Autónoma). This was in part a political decision and a recognition of the facts that restrictions need to be tailored to suit local circumstances and that national lockdowns are too blunt an instrument to be effective.

There are also some restritions which are imposed at the provincial level. A province in Spain is not the same as a region. Most but not all regions contain several provinces, for example, Extremadura has two provinces, Cáceres in the north and Badajoz in the south.

Each regional government decides and manages the restrictions for the area under its control. Furthermore, within regions restrictions are applied differently to local areas depending on the local rate of infection (local areas can mean provinces or municipalities, ie. towns and villages). That means that in the same region neighbouring villages can have totally different levels of restrictions, eg. in one only essential services may be open while in another, a few kilometres away, most services may be operating (more-or-less) normally.

In practice this means that the situation can differ not just from region to region but from town to town and even village to village.

So, basically, different parts of Spain = different restrictions. If you remember that you've got the most important point.

The possible restrictions include:

- limits to opening hours of businesses

- limits to the number of people who can meet together

- limits to the number of customers in a shop at the same time (usually there'll be a sign on the door, Aforo máximo x)

- obligation to wear a mask in enclosed places or where you cannot maintain a distance of 1.5m from other people

- local boundary movement restrictions (ie. you can't cross municipal borders without a valid reason)

- table service in bars (ie. you can't go to the counter to order, the waiter will come to you)

What do the current restrictions mean?

The State of Emergency (Estado de Alarma) law was not renewed when it expired on 9 May 2021. This was the law which allowed for many national restrictions. So, starting on 9 May shops and bars can be open until midnight the other restrictions such as curfews and limits to crossing regional borders have been lifted.

This means that it's now possible and legal to walk a Camino.

However, some restrictions remain in place for the whole of Spain, the main ones are:

- (from 26 June) obligation to wear a mask in enclosed places and anywhere where it is not possible to keep a distance of 1.5m from other people. El Pais has come up with a set of simple graphics which describe when and where a facemask will be needed.

- limits to opening hours of businesses (although, in the case of shops this has basically returned to normal)

- limits to the number of people who can meet together (in Seville this is 4 indoors and 6 outdoors)

- limits to the number of customers in a shop at the same time (sign on the door, Aforo máximo x)

It's also important to remember that you may encounter local restriction in towns and villages based on the local infection rate. These can include lockdowns, limits to business activity and movement restrictions.

These types of local restrictions are unfortunately going to be a permanent feature of life in Spain for another while. So anyone walking will need to keep a close watch on this.

However, this isn't the end of the world because these local restrictions can be worked around. It is permitted to pass through a restricted area, either on foot or by public transport, as long as you don't stop (and I know this doesn't make a lot of sense from the point-of-view of someone walking, this rule was designed with car drivers and users of public transport in mind).

Accommodation

The other issue is availability of accommodation. Many hotels and guesthouses are already operating and catering to local tourists. Some private albergues are doing likewise, others are waiting.

The decision to open municipal albergues depends on the local council. If the experience of 2020 is anything to go by it's likely that the majority of municipal albergues will be remaining closed in 2021, although the situation could improve in the second half of the year.

Association or Donativo albergues also mostly remained closed in 2020 and that is likely to be the case this year too, at least until the second half of the year.

Xunta albergues in Galicia have already made the decision to open as soon as there is enough pilgrims to justify it. What this will mean in practice on the Camino Sanabrés remains to be seen. In 2020 some of them opened while others didn't.

Also, once open, albergues will be subject to restriction on how many people they can put in a dorm. In 2020 this was 50% capacity. It will probably be something similar this year.

To see the latest information on availability of accommadation see our updates page.

Restrictions on entering Spain

Updated 7 June 2021

Currently, to enter Spain from another EU country you must have a negative PCR test and fill in the passenger information form. See HERE for details. Plus, whatever conditions are imposed by your own government.

Spain has formally adopted the EU's Digital Covid Certificate under which it will be possible for EU residents to travel freely as long as they have the Certificate. The Certificate is issued on condition that "the bearer has had Covid-19 over the last six months, has tested negative for the coronavirus via a PCR or antigen test 11 days prior to the emission of the document, and whether or not they have been vaccinated [at least] 14 days previously." See here.

Restrictions from non-EU countries tend to be stricter. However, they are gradually being eased. Details of the current situation are here.

Please check the information provided by your own government!

To summarise COVID-19...

It's possible to walk the Vía again being aware of and respecting any restrictions in place locally or nationally.

However, things remain volatile and there are many factors which could disrupt this.

I will be keeping the information on this site up-to-date regarding the situation in general and specifically regarding accommodation here.

There is a couple of good websites for updates:

- RTVE is the Spanish national broadcaster. Their guide to restrictions is updated daily and covers the whole of Spain. It seems to be the most comprehensive and up-to-date of the different news services. (Spanish only)

- The Our World Data Website brings data together from all over the world and has an easy to use interface for checking trends and doing comparisons. It's a good way to follow the trends without relying on the media.

About the Camino de Santiago / Camino Francés

The Camino de Santiago / Camino Francés starts in the village of Saint-Jean-Pide-de-Port (henceforth referred to as Saint-Jean) in south west France. It follows a mostly straight, westerly path across northern Spain for about 800km until it arrives in Santiago de Compostela.

It's called the Camino Francés or French Camino because it starts in France and many of the pilgrims walking it are French. There are many other Caminos but the Camino Francés is the most famous (having featured in many books and films) and the most frequented.

For simplicity's sake I will refer to the Camino Francés here as the Camino because that's what most people mean when they say the Camino. It's also sometimes referred to as the Way but that name is a Hollywood invention and if you use it you'll sound like some who gets their knowledge of the world from Hollywood movies.

The Caminos de Santiago have existed for about a thousand years. It's an long story and if you know nothing then probably this Wikipedia article is as good a place as any to start.

The Camino have a network of accommodation for pilgrims know as Albergues. On the Camino Francés now albergues are rarely more than 10km apart. To use albergues you must have a Credencial, also known as a Pilgrim Passport, because basically, that's what it is. You can get a Credencial in Saint-Jean or from many albergues, sometimes it's free, sometimes it's about €3.

How well marked is the Camino? Are the yellow arrows easy to follow?

The Camino is mostly well marked with yellow arrows and a variety of other "official" signposting. The few places where there may be a doubt are described in the guide.

If you're bringing a smartphone the app version of the guide includes interactive, offline maps which make it basically impossible to get lost! You can see the apps here. The app is available for both iPhone and Android.

What are the distances you have to walk every day?

The distances between places with pilgrim accommodation are given in the guide. The longest stretch with no accommodation or amenities of any sort of is about 17km. There are several places where you will need to be able to walk about this distance.

In recent years temporary / mobile refreshment stalls have appeared along the Camino. These are not mentioned in the guide for the following reasons: they are temporary and mobile, so the day you're passing they may not be there, hence you should not be relying on them being there (especially outside of peak periods). Many of them appear to be unregulated, ie. they are not legitimate businesses, they do not pay tax, they do not officially employ their employees, they may or may not follow the health and food safety rules normal businesses are required to follow, etc.

Are there lots of places to eat?

Wherever there is accommodation there is nearly always some place to eat. It may be a bar or a restaurant or the pilgrim hostel may do meals or have a kitchen. This information is given in the guide.

Pilgrim menus, what are they?

Pilgrim Menus / Menus de Peregrino are (as their name suggests) fixed menus specifically aimed at the pilgrim market. They usually consist of a starter, a main course and dessert. Wine and bread is also usually included. They're usually available in the evenings starting about 7pm and ending about 9pm, when Spanish people eat.

The starter is often a salad or soup or some kind of basic pasta dish (pasta is a recent arrival in Spain and as such little finesse, expertise or indeed thought goes into its preparation). It is almost exclusively served to tourists / pilgrims.

Pilgrim Menus mostly cost between 10€ and 12€.

The quality varies greatly. The guides contains restaurant recommendations based on my own personal experience and on tips gathered from other pilgrims down the years. (These are real recommendations, not just a random list of restaurants).

Many restaurants also do a Menu del Día from about 2pm until 4pm. Prices are similar to Pilgrim Menus, quality can be better.

Are taxis and public transport easily available?

Local bars generally have the phone numbers for taxis. Public transport is available in some places but by no means everywhere.

The guide does not give recommendations about which parts of the Camino are worth skipping. That's because it's a guide for people who want to walk the Camino, not do it by taxi or public transport. Besides, if you want the experience of walking a Camino (and the fact that you're reading this suggests you do) then walk a Camino.

This is my first Camino / long-distance hike, how should I prepare?

There's a lot of thing that can go wrong on the Camino but there's also a lot you can do to learn from other people's experiences and to avoid making the most common mistakes, which are (from my experience and observations):

(1) Packing too many things. There are are two keys to avoiding this, (1) do long test hikes with your fully packed backpack. If it's too heavy you'll know pretty quickly. (2) understand what you'll really need and what you won't need.

(2) Unsuitable footwear. The "shiny new boots" thing is a classic first-timer mistake, don't attempt a Camino in any footwear that hasn't been thoroughly broken in, by which I mean, you've had them at least 6 months and you've walked relatively long distance in them in different weather conditions. Like the “packing too much" thing, if you arrive on the Camino with unsuitable footwear you'll know pretty quickly, literally within hours. So there really is no excuse for this.

(3) Not heeding warning signals from your body, especially your feet. When something is chafing, a toe nail is too long, stop, take your shoes off, find where the problem is and do something about it. Don't wait 4 or 5 hours (or even one hour) until you arrive somewhere, by then you may have done serious damage which could take days or even weeks to heal.

(4) Trying to go too fast or too far, or just walking at someone else's pace instead of a pace you're comfortable with. Whatever the reason, your friend wants to go faster, you're on a tight schedule, or you're just stupidly optimistic. It doesn't matter why, if the pace is too hard for you you'll manage for a while then the day will come when you can't manage any more, whether it's through exhaustion or accumulation of injuries. The key here, start off slow and easy and when you're used to it you can gradually build up (if you want to, because there's an important lesson here, it's not a race.)

Usually when I meet someone who's in trouble they've fallen foul of one of those four things. Luckily there's lots you can do to avoid falling into one of these traps.

(1) and (2) are things you need to get right BEFORE you go.

How?

(1) Too much stuff... Read about other people's experiences. There's loads of this online (possibly too much). There are also lots of packing lists online. These will give you an idea of what gear is necessary and what isn't. My packing advice page is here.

(2) Unsuitable footwear... The chances are you already own footwear you could do a Camino in, especially if you already hike or do sports. Again, there's lots of advice online. If you're going to have to buy footwear then start as early as possible (at least 6 months but more if possible) so you'll have time to try out several options if necessary, break them in, get your feet ready.

(3) and (4) are things you'll need to remember when you're on the Camino.

(3) Heeding warning signs... Dealing with foot problems immediately is just a habit you'll need to acquire. Most of us learned this the hard way, you get the opportunity to learn it the easy way. When there's a problem do something about it, every massive blister starts off as a tiny blister. If you don't want to stop because your walking companions are keen to burn those kilometres, well see the next paragraph.

(4) Too fast, too far... The cause here is usually a mismatch of expectations between you and your walking companions (either that or it's a mismatch of expectations between you and reality). On the Camino as in life in general we all have different paces. I've met many people who told me they started with a friend and after two weeks they decided to walk separately, these people will often say, “we really should have done it after the first day!" A serious mismatch and an unwillingness to compromise will be obvious pretty quickly. Don't be afraid of the words, “I'll see you in Santiago." You'll be fine and you'll make other friends. If it's you that's the problem, then, well, it's you that's the problem. Deal with it.

If you follow sensible advice and prepare well you should be fine. The Camino is not a good place to learn the ins and outs of long distance hiking so the more practice you get in advance the better.

There are many things to learn when preparing for and walking a long distance, multi-day hike and you will only really start to learn these things when you start doing it. Things like: what equipment to bring, what footwear, what clothes, how far can I comfortably walk in a day and for how many days can I sustain this pace, how much water should I carry, how much food and what kind of food should I carry, how much weight can I carry comfortably, how hot is too hot, how waterproof is my waterproof clothing, etc., etc., etc.

Many of the questions you'll need to find answers to are personal to you, hearing about other people's experiences may help, but ultimately everybody's experience will be different and you will need to find the answers that suit you. That will only start happening when you start walking.

Here's a couple of resources to get you started:

Can I just walk the last 100km of the Camino?

Of course, starting in Sarria. This will qualify you for a Compostela when you get to Santiago. The usual proviso about getting more than one stamp a day applies.

How much does it cost to walk the Camino?

Generally pilgrim hostels are between 10€ and 15€ to sleep. A menu in a bar or restaurant is usually between 10€ and 12€. Coffee is usually about 1.20€, a snack in a bar (bocadillo, tortilla, etc.) is typically between 2€ and 3€. You can lower your costs by buying from shops or supermarkets where they're available. Many places also have hotels and guest houses, typical prices for single rooms is between 20€ and 40€. Add about 50% for a double.

PREPARATION & PLANNING

When is the best time to walk?

Starting in Saint-Jean, from a weather point-of-view the best time to start is between May and September. However, that is also the busy time. Outside that time and the chances of encountering bad weather (cold, rain, wind, snow, etc.) are higher.

When is the worse time to walk?

From the point-of-view of busyness there are two periods which are generally best avoided.

(1) Easter week and the couple of weeks after it.

(2) September.

You might have read online that the summer months are extremely busy. I've walked parts of the Camino in summers 2017, 2018 and 2019 (total about 8 weeks). Every time there were lots of people walking but also lots of spare accommodation of every type.

Horror stories about having to sleep in a ditch during the summer mostly date from about 10 years ago when that actually did happen. Since then two things have changed, (1) there's far more accommodation because so many new albergues and hostels have opened, and (2) people read the horror stories and decided to walk in September, this is why September is now the busy period.

Having said that it's necessary to add a proviso about the last 100km (ie. from Sarria).

The last 100km really will be busy in June, July and August. This is because lots of people just walk the last 100km. However, even in summer on the last 100km it's possible to avoid most of the crowds by (1) not starting from Sarria at the weekend, which is when most people start, and (2) not staying in the big pilgrim towns between Sarria and Santiago (the ones with lots of albergues).

Climate data

You can see climate information for Pamplona, Léon and Santiago de Compostela here:

- Pamplona

- Léon

- Santiago de Compostels

Pamplona, Léon and Santiago have been chosen because their climates are largely representative of the climate zones the Camino passes through.

How to interpret this climate data on Wikipedia

Temperatures given are air temperatures.

Probably the most indicative and useful figures are the Average high and the Average low.

Record high: the maximum air temperature ever recorded during a calendar month

Mean maximum: average of each year's record high for a calendar month

Average high: average daily maximum temperatures for the entire month

Daily mean: average daily air temperature observed during a calendar month

Average low: average daily minimum temperatures for the entire month

Mean minimum: average of each year's record low for a calendar month

Record low: the minimum air temperature ever recorded during a calendar month

Climate zone map

Mountain climate (BROWN) - cooler in summer and colder in winter than surrounding areas with possibility of snow.

Mediterranean climate (GREEN) - hot dry summers, cool winters with lower temperatures and more rainfall as you move north and at higher altitudes.

In the west you come into an oceanic climate area (BLUES) - strongly influenced by the Gulf Stream which moderates temperature all year round and lots of rain.

On this map the Camino is shown as a white line.

Camino de Santiago - Camino Francés

Copyright (C) Wikipedia.

In Galicia and especially at higher altitudes it is considerably cooler, rainfall is abundant and high winds common. On some mountain passes snow is common in winter, however not generally in quantities which would pose a problem for walkers.

Is there a luggage transfer service along the Camino?

The increasing popularity of the Camino has seen the arrival of convenience culture. Whether you avail of it or not is up to you. My own advice to people is always to do it the traditional way and carry your own stuff. This is part of the experience of the Camino, it always has been. If you can't carry you backpack then your backpack is too heavy because you're carrying stuff that you don't need. Instead of getting someone else to carry it for you maybe you should ask yourself why you're carrying stuff that you don't need.

That said, it's your Camino and you walk it your way.

The main luggage transfer service is Jacotrans. You'll see their contact details in most private albergues (and a good few of the public ones too). Lots of people use them and they seem to be pretty good. Their website is a bit coy about prices and post-Covid they may have increased but I know a couple of years ago it cost about 5€ per bag per stage (about 20km). Generally albergues have envelopes you attach to your backpack with its destination (another albergue) written on it and the money inside.

Can I send things I don't need for the walk ahead to Santiago?

Casa Ivar in Santiago will store luggage while you walk. You just send it to them from any post office. Details from their website

Do I need a sleeping bag on the Camino?

This is a controversial question and if you ask on any Camino you'll get as wide variety of answers as there are pilgrims. The below is my opinion based on my experience.

Bringing a sleeping bag is a good idea for several reasons. Some albergues do not provide blankets (and if they do they are very often not clean). Some albergues are not well heated (more an issue for winter walkers).

What kind of sleeping bag depends on the time of year you plan to walk. In summer a two season one is fine (usually recommended for temperatures down to about 8 degrees C). In winter a four season one is recommended (for temperatures down to about freezing).

Some people walk with just a sleeping sheet and swear that it's not a problem. This is a personal choice, obviously some people feel the cold more than other people.

I only have two weeks, what's the best part to walk?

If you've got limited time the most obvious and popular suggestion would be to walk the last 111km from Sarria. If getting a Compostela certificate is important to you, then that's what you should do. If you start in Sarria it's important that you get at least one other stamp, besides the one from the hostel where you slept, each day from a hostel or some other establishment along the route. This is to provide extra proof when you go to the Pilgrims' Office in Santiago that you did actually walk.

However, bear in mind that the Sarria to Santiago stretch can become very crowded in summer. If you're more interested in experiencing the Camino with the intention of one day walking the whole thing and you want to experience a little of the history, solitude, camaraderie and beauty of the Camino, consider one of the following suggestions:

Saint-Jean to Puente la Reina is about five days walking, or six if you break the stage from Saint-Jean to Roncesvalles. It takes in some beautiful and historical villages, the city of Pamplona and some lovely scenery. Alternatively starting in Roncesvalles will avoid that difficult first stage and allow you to finish in Estella.

Pamplona to Logroño is about four days with two more to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Again, beautiful, historic and the city of Logroño is fantastic. Both cities are easily accessible by bus and train.

If you want to experience something of the Meseta, you could start in Burgos and walk about four days to Carrión de los Condes or about ten days to León. The Meseta gets a bad press because there isn't much pretty scenery, but some people consider this flat bit in the middle to be the high point of their experience. On the Meseta, the very lack of things to see is, in itself, something to see.

If you've got about two weeks you could consider starting in León or Astorga and walking to Santiago. Or you could stop in Sarria, which would be about eight or nine days from León.

PILGRIM HOSTELS & OTHER ACCOMMODATION

How many Pilgrim Hostels (Albergues) are there and what are they like?

This information is covered in detail in the guide. This is just a quick overview.

Generally along the Camino every village has at least one pilgrim hostels and many places have more.

The quality of pilgrim hostels varies greatly. Some are modern, purpose-built businesses with all the comforts you'd expect and a price tag to match. Others are reminiscent of the early days of the Camino revival (the 1990s) with basic facilities, no frills and a minimum of house-keeping.

A brief description of each pilgrim hostel is given in the guide.

Is there accommodation like guest houses and hotels?

Most places along the Camino have guest house and / or hotel accommodation. This has been developing nicely during the last few years due to the increase in the number of people walking. The app has links to Booking.com to allow you to book accommodation easily. You can also do this from our online guide.

During busy periods is it necessary / advisable to book ahead?

This really depends on the time of year you're walking and on your own personal preferences. If you're walking during a busy period you may well encounter full hostels. At any time of year if you want to avoid the hassle of having to search around for a place to sleep at the end of a long day's walk then booking ahead may be the option for you. Bear in mind that usually only private hostels and hotels / guest houses accept reservations. Also, it should be enough to book one or two days in advance, you don't need to book your whole Camino before you start walking.

Which brings us to…

Do I need to use a tour company or can I just organise everything myself?

Lots of people walk it without the help of a tour company. So, obviously that answers that question.

After that it's a personal choice. If you want someone to organise everything for you, fancy hostels, airport pickups, luggage transfer, etc. then by all means go for a tour company. Just bear in mind it's perfectly doable on your own and you will save a load of money.

I don't have any recommendations about which of the tour companies is best. If you type camino guided tours into Google you'll see their ads.

CYCLING

I want to do the Camino by bicycle, what do I need to know?

Lots of people cycle the Camino every year although most cyclists are Spanish and most of them do it in groups.

I've never cycled a Camino but from talking to people who have I get the impression that if you're bike-crazy and with a group of friends you'll probably have a great time.

But the experience of cycling a Camino is totally different from walking one in a couple of important ways, the main one being the social experience. As a walker you'll come into contact with other walkers both while walking and in the hostels. Over time you'll get to know people who are walking at the same pace as you and from that you can development a group of friends (or a Camino family if you like) and this, for many people, becomes one of the best things about their Camino, the social aspect of meeting new people, sharing experiences and becoming friends.

On a bike you'll get none of that. You're travelling at a totally different pace to everyone else and you'll rarely see the same person twice. Your Camino will also be over a lot faster (Saint-Jean to Santiago is typically about ten days by bike, and lots of people do it in a week or less.)

It's possible to hire a bicycle from various points along the Camino. I don't have any recommendations for any of the hire companies but if you type “bicycle hire camino de santiago" into Google you'll see their ads.

So, walking / cycling, it often boils down to a personal choice, but it is two quite different experiences.

SAFETY

Is the Camino safe to walk (from the point-of-view of crime)?

There are periodic reports of crime along the Camino, mostly petty theft, plus the occasional social media driven outbreak of online hysteria.

That said, Spain is a very safe country and violent crime is rare. Problems of theft are mostly concentrated in big cities, in areas frequented by tourists and public transport hubs such as railway stations.

Spain's murder rate was 0.62 per 100,000 of population in 2018. This compares to The United States 4.96, Canada 1.76, United Kingdom 1.2, Australia 0.89, Ireland 0.87. Source Wikipedia.

Is the Camino safe for women (from the point-of-view of sexual harassment and violence)?

The issue of violence against women has been the subject of debate in Spain for many years and beginning with the Zapatero government in the early 2000s vigorous efforts have been made to combat violence against women. There are special courts for dealing with these crimes and the police have specially trained units to investigate and support victims of these crimes. The police, together with the judiciary, take incidents of sexual assault very, very seriously. They have well established procedures for dealing with these incidents in which the wellbeing of the victim is central.

In the spring and early summer of 2019 there was a number of incidents of a man exposing himself to female pilgrims north of Baños de Montemayor (On the Vía de la Plata, I cite this case because I am familiar with it having previously researched it for my Frequently Asked Questions About Walking the Vía de la Plata).

The police and the local council were made aware of this situation and took steps to ensure the safety of pilgrims. Despite this the man continued and escalated his activities until an incident in late May when he sexually assaulted a pilgrim. The police were notified and the victim was interviewed and given psychological support. Based on her description of the man the police were able to organise an identity parade for the following day from which the victim identified the perpetrator. He was arrested and placed in custody to appear in court the following day when he was charged with sexual assault. Within days he had appeared in court again under a procedure know as juicio rápido / rapid justice, which is used when it's important to bring a case to a rapid conclusion, such as when the victim is a tourist. He was found guilty and sentenced to prison. The man had a long criminal record, including a conviction for sexual assault on a pilgrim in 2011 and others for crimes of violence (including against the police).

What happened in this case underlines the importance of reporting incidents of sexual harassment to the police (even ones which could be described as trivial). This allows the police to take actions which could prevent a more serious incident involving the same individual.

Is it worth reporting incidents to the Spanish police?

Anyone who tells you it's not worth your trouble reporting things to the police in Spain has clearly never had any dealings with the Spanish police!

The Spanish police are extremely professional and diligent. They take a special interest in crimes involving pilgrims, partially from a desire to protect Spain's economic interests but also because the Caminos are important to Spain historically and Spanish people take great pride from the fact that many thousands of people travel from all over the world every year to do a pilgrimage in Spain.

The Spanish police's AlterCops app has been recommended by people who've had the need to use it. Despite its silly name it is a quick and easy way of alerting the emergency services of a problem or incident. It also helps them to find you easily - this is especially important if you're going to be spending a long time in remote rural areas.

Read more here.

Are there dangerous animals along the Camino?

There are bears and wolves in Spain, mostly in the mountainous north. However, they are rare and incidents of them causing problems for humans seem to be non existent. (Clarification, there was one person slightly injured by a bear in early 2021, this incident did not happen on a Camino.)

BEDBUGS

Is there or has there been problems with bedbugs on the Camino?

There are periodic outbreaks of bedbugs along the Camino. If you notice a problem it's important to tell the hostel owner. Infestations need to be dealt with quickly to prevent them travelling (in pilgrims' cloths or backpacks) to other hostels.

Bedbugs may be disgusting but they're also harmless, so how big of an issue you make out of this is up to you. Personally in 13,000km of Caminos I've been bitten three times.

COMMUNICATIONS

Do I need to speak Spanish?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is some basic knowledge will be a big help. In Spain, away from tourist areas, English speakers are pretty rare. A survival Camino Spanish guide is available from here.

Do I need a phone?

The short answer is no.

However, if you're walking in the quiet season, it may come in handy in case you have to call someone to open a hostel. Some pilgrim hostels have no permanent staff and post a phone number on the door which you'll need to call if you're the first pilgrim to arrive.

Do I need a Spanish SIM card or is WiFi widely available?

Many private hostels and cafés now have WiFi. Whether you need a SIM card or not depends on your own need to be in contact on the internet or by phone. If you need a Spanish SIM one of the best companies for international calls and internet is Lebara. They have lots of pre-paid plans combining internet and international calls.

Mobile coverage along the Camino is generally very good with very few places where the network speed drops below 4G.

SIGHTSEEING

What historic / UNESCO World Heritage sights are there along the Camino?

There's a lot. The golden age of the Camino in the 12th century coincided with an ecclesiastical building boom which saw the construction of countless religious buildings along the path of the Camino. These are described in the guide.

What are good places to take a rest day?

It depends what you want. Most people opt for rest days in cities because there's more to see and do. The most popular places are Pamplona, Burgos, Léon and Astorga.

CAMPING

What about camping on the Camino?

There are very few campsites so if you want to camp it'll be wild camping.

Wild camping in Spain is legal in some regions and under certain circumstances.

Generally, you cannot camp within 200m of the sea, close to military installations or tourist camp sites, in national parks or in areas around national monuments.

Local people in rural Spain tend to be fairly tolerant of tourists / pilgrims camping. That said, how you're viewed will largely be determined by the respect and common sense you show to the locals, especially when it comes to: obeying any local restrictions (ie. No Camping or Private Property signs), not littering, not lighting fires, not staying more than one night, not bothering farm animals (either yourself or, if you've got a dog, your dog), not camping close to buildings which are in use, and generally anything which is going to worry / annoy people.

The not lighting fires bit is important. Lighting fires is never allowed under any circumstances.

There's good information on this site (scroll down for Spain).

Spanish Trains

For more information about using Spanish trains see the Man in Seat 61. I can't really add anything to what he says because he covers everything.


Copyright © Gerald Kelly 2021.