Updated May 2022
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 2007.
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 (a new edition will be released in early 2022), 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.
This guide is mostly aimed at first-time pilgrims, althoug more experienced pilgrims may get something useful out of it too.
It assumes you'll be walking the Camino Francés which is the most popular Camino and the one most first-timers walk.
This information on this page is basically a condensed version of my book Camino de Santiago Practical Preparation and Background.
In Ocotber 2021 I fully updated it to take account of the changes on the Camino in the last few years and especially the most recent changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. It's available from Amazon.
This image should bring you to the book on the Amazon website for your country. If you don't see an image you may need to disable your ad blocker or add this site to its whitelist.
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.
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 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)
Updated September 2022
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. This meant then end of restrictions such as curfews and limits to crossing regional borders.
That meant that it was possible and legal to walk a Camino.
However, some restrictions remain in place for the whole of Spain, the main ones are:
- From April 2022 facemasks are no longer required in most situations. They are still required: on public transport, in any building which dispenses health care (including pharmacies). It’s also still recommended to wear a mask when there are a lot of people around.
- From 28 March 2022 people with mild cases of Covid are no longer required to self isolate. They ARE required to wear a facemask, avoid social contacts as much as possible, avoid vulnerable individuals and work from home if possible. People with severe cases of Covid are still required to self isolate.
Most private accommodation is open and operating normally.
The decision to open municipal albergues depends on the local council. Most of them are now open and operating normally.
To see the latest information on availability of accommadation see our updates page.
Updated Summer 2022
There are no Covid-related restrictions on entering Spain. Up-to-date information is to be found on the official government website: HERE.
Please also check the information provided by your own government!
Covid is no longer much of an issue in Spain and in Europe in general. Life is continuing as normal.
With its very high vaccine rate, good health care system and rational government policies Spain is in a good position to deal with it in the longer term.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 / 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.
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.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question and ultimately it's a very personal decision, but whenever anyone asks me I always recommend people start their Camino adventure by walking the Camino Francés. There are several reasons for this.
There are many things to learn when preparing for and when walking a long distance, multi-day hike, and while resources like this FAQ and reading about other people's experiences will help, the fact is one person's solutions often don't work for someone else. Many of the questions you'll need to find answers to are personal to you and the solutions will be personal to you too. 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. The Camino Francés is a good environment in which to experience this learning curve. By that I mean the following: if, for whatever reason, you need to walk shorter stages than originally planned, on the Camino Francés, it's easy to arrange. Places with pilgrim accommodation are frequent and it's very rarely necessary to walk more than 10km before coming to a place where you can put your feet up and lay your head down. This is a huge advantage if you run into any kind of problem which might require you to slow your pace for a few days (and on your first Camino it's likely you will).
This also applies to other things that could come in handy. You'll rarely need to walk more than 5km between places where you can get fed and watered. This has the advantage that you don't have to carry much food and water with you, cutting down on weight and on planning ahead. Pharmacies are also pretty ubiquitous. Shops, taxis, public transport, baggage transport, doctors, people who speak English, other pilgrims, massages therapists, physiotherapists, information, advice... Just about everything you could possibly need is easily accessible on the Camino Francés. That isn't always true on other Caminos.
The other reason I recommend the Camino Francés is historical: it is the original Camino. Down the centuries it's been the main route for pilgrims from outside the Iberian peninsula to get to Santiago. It was the first Camino to have a dedicated guidebook (the Codex Calixtinus). Its cities and towns, with their stunning array of historic religious buildings bear witness to centuries of history. If you've decided to walk a Camino you're going to participate in a centuries-old tradition, so why not do it in the most traditional way? On the Camino Francés you really get the feeling of walking in the footprints of millions of pilgrims who have gone before you, of sleeping in the same buildings they slept in (maybe even on the same mattress!), eating the same food, drinking the same water and wine, and suffering the same hardships they suffered (OK, maybe not quite as much, but you know what I mean).
There's a third reason to choose the Camino Francés. Whatever your reason for reading these words and for wanting to walk a Camino, in one way or another you're drawn to the Camino. You may already know a lot about it, you may know very little, but whatever you've heard, read or seen, whatever attracts you, the chances are it refers to the Camino Francés. Its scenery, its beautiful historic cities and towns, its welcoming pilgrim hostels, the camaraderie of the road, the spirituality of living life reduced to its most basic and uncomplicated. The chances are, if you're drawn to the experience of walking a Camino then the experience you want is to be found on the Camino Francés.
And in any case, once you've finished the Camino Francés, if you still want more (and you probably will) you can always choose one of the other Caminos to walk next. Maybe even go for a longer, more difficult one next time, what you learned on the Camino Francés is a good preparation for a longer Camino.
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, (A) do long test hikes with your fully packed backpack. If it's too heavy you'll know pretty quickly. (B) 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.
(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.
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.
Walk the last 100km, ie. Sarria to Santiago, and get two at least stamps a day (lots of cafés have stamps, so it won't be a problem).
Generally pilgrim hostels are between 10€ and 15€ to sleep. A menu in a bar or restaurant is usually between 12€ and 15€. Coffee is usually about 1.30€, a snack in a bar (bocadillo, tortilla, etc.) is typically between 3€ and 4€. 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.
Many Municipal and Donativo albergues only accept cash payment. Also, many businesses only accept card payment for a minimum amount (typically 10€), this is to avoid the transaction charges they pay to the banks. Vending machines mostly only accept cash (and sometimes only coins).
So, it's good to have some cash on you, preferably in small denomination notes and some coins, even if you pay mostly with cards.
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.
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.
You might have read online that the summer months are extremely busy. I've walked parts of the Camino in summers 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021 (total about 13 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).
You can see climate information for Pamplona, Léon and Santiago de Compostela here:
Pamplona, Léon and Santiago have been chosen because their climates are largely representative of the climate zones the Camino passes through.
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
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.
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.
The best and most accurate app for weather in Spain is the official Meterological Office (AEMET) app. Search for AEMET on your phone's app store.
Their website is here.
In winter you'll have to bring warm and waterproof clothes, a warm sleeping-bag and good hiking shoes or boots.
Much accommodation will be closed so you'll need to plan your stages to finish in bigger towns and villages.
There's a good website for walking in winter which tells you which albergues are open.
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.
Casa Ivar in Santiago will store luggage while you walk. You just send it to them from any post office. Details from their website
This is a controversial question and if you ask on any Camino forum 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 AlertCops 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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 and how much you pay for roaming in Spain. 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.
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.
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.
There are very few campsites so if you want to camp it'll be wild camping.
Wild camping in Spain is governed by the regions and it is not legal in any of the regions through which the Camino passes.
So, if you're going to wild camp be aware that you're breaking the law and you may be fined and / or moved on.
Your chances of getting into trouble or causing trouble will be reduced if you follow some basic rules: 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, not camping close to national monuments or in national parks, and generally anything which is going to worry / annoy people.
The not lighting fires bit is very important. Lighting fires is never allowed under any circumstances.
Legal information comes from HERE.
A small number of people start walking in Santiago and finished in Saint-Jean (or elsewhere). There's no reason not to do this however bear in mind the following.
The vast majority of people will be walking in the opposite direction so you will only meet them very briefly while walking, or for a few hours in an albergue. This means that you will only have limited opportunity to get to know people better and to have a sense of belonging to a group.
The waymarkings (yellow arrows) will be harder to follow. A GPS trace or mapping app will be useful.
You'll find yourself explaining a lot why you're walking backwards. In busy periods this could mean many times a day. You'll also have to deal with strange reactions from people walking the Camino in the "normal" direction.
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 2022.