The Camino de Santiago is a transformational experience for all who walk it. If you’re looking to go on a life-changing soul journey, this article will explain all the FAQs I get from clients about the Camino.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
In the most basic of terms, the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, is a long-distance walk through Spain, yet it’s also so much more than that! It’s an ancient pilgrimage, a spiritual journey, a cultural experience, an experiential history lesson, and most importantly, it’s what you make it!
What are the origins?
The Camino de Santiago dates back to the Medieval times in the 9th century. Legend has it that when St. James (Santiago in Spanish) died, two disciples transported his body to Galicia, Spain where he was buried in a field. Centuries later, a shepherd in Galicia discovered the saint’s body.
Realizing the importance of having such holy relics found in one’s country, Spanish king Alfonso II commissioned a cathedral to be built. By the year 1078, construction on the Romanesque cathedral began. It’s said that King Alfonso II walked the Camino Primitivo, or the Original Way, during the 9th century.
Throughout the years, more accessible routes and the infrastructure around those routes have grown. Now, you’ll find that the routes have plenty of resources like pilgrim’s accommodations, hospitals, and cafes.
Where does it start and end?
Back in the day, pilgrims started their Camino by walking out their front doors. Nowadays there are several distinct routes. All routes lead to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in the northwestern region of Galicia in Spain. There’s also the option to continue walking once you reach Santiago for about 3 or 4 more days where you’ll reach Finisterre. The translation for Finisterre is “end of the world”. This is the furthest you can walk as it leads to the ocean!
The most popular route by far is the Camino Frances, or the French Way. It’s around 500 miles. It takes about a month to walk and starts in St. Jean-pied-de-port, a picturesque village in the French Pyrenees.
How long is the Camino?
Depends completely on the person and the route! Not to mention, you can choose to walk a portion of it. Most routes take between 2 weeks to a month to walk the full length.
Learn about the different Camino routes here.
Where do you sleep?
Along the Camino de Santiago, there are pilgrim’s hostels, B&Bs, hotels. The quality of these accommodations varies greatly. I’ve seen beautiful, charming bed and breakfasts with spacious gardens. There are also some that are donation based, yet these places are very simple with less, ehm, charm than the others. Certain routes on the Camino have more options than others, so you’ll definitely need to do some research or hire a travel coach (I know a good one!) before you go.
What’s the food like along the Camino de Santiago?
You won’t go hungry along the Camino, that’s for sure! Along the way, you’ll find Spanish markets, restaurants, cafes, and kiosks selling snacks and drinks.
For breakfast, I took a break after about an hour or so of walking to have a coffee and croissant at a cafe. You could also buy fruit or a pastry.
Lunch usually consists of a bocadillo, a sandwich with Spanish cured ham, cheese, and tomatoes. There are many options for lunch, as you can stop at restaurants along the way.
Dinnertime generally consists of a Pilgrim’s Menu at the hostel, or a nearby restaurant. The Pilgrim’s Menu is a 3-course meal specifically for pilgrims. To start, you get a soup, salad, light pasta, or something similar. The second plate is usually a little heavier, with chicken or lasagna. The third plate is a desert, yogurt or fruit. And of course, great Spanish wine for your tired muscles! The menú goes for around 10 -15 euros. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Well…after a week or two, you’ll want to change it up a bit.
That’s where the supermarkets come in handy. Spanish supermarkets are usually easy to find in smaller towns and cities. Eroski, Mercadona, Carrefour, or Día are some of the main grocery stores in Spain. If you’re not much of a chef, the best tip I can give is to make friends with Italians. You’ll eat better than you ever have in your whole life!
Gluten-free pilgrims, you can find gluten-free pasta and other options at the supermarkets. Look for “sin gluten” options. Use a celiac card to help Spanish-speaking waiters understand that you can’t eat gluten.
Do you need to speak Spanish to walk the Camino?
No, but it helps! You can definitely get by without knowing Spanish. Traveling to and from Spain might be a little more difficult not knowing the language. It’s helpful to learn a few key phrases before you go. While you can get by without speaking Spanish, I find it rewarding to be able to get to know locals by speaking the language. It’s a big part of being a conscious traveler!
Read this article to learn the most common phrases you’ll hear on the Spanish Caminos.
Remember, there are many routes on the Camino. Altogether, there are 5 languages spoken along the Camino (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Basque, Gallego), and your fellow pilgrims will be from all over the world. More than likely, you’ll also hear your fair share of Italian and German as well!
English is definitely the common language along the Camino, though.
Is it safe to walk the Camino?
This is a question we get all the time. In my experience, I felt completely safe at all times during the Camino. I am a woman and was 24 years old the first time I walked the Camino Frances. It’s also worth mentioning that I walked the Camino alone and tried not to be in a group most of the time. If you feel worried about this, pretty quickly along, you will most likely meet lovely people who will become your “Camino family”. Stick with them if you are worried about safety. There’s safety in groups!
To reiterate, everyone I’ve ever spoken to about the Camino speaks highly about how safe it is. This is why it’s such a great thing to do as your first solo adventure!
What age group usually walks the Camino?
All ages. I saw a young boy around 10 years old walking with his father. In the same day, I met a 75-year-old man who was walking alongside me.
What is the purpose of walking the Camino de Santiago?
I love this question. To that, I ask: What is the purpose of life?
It’s what you make it! Every single person walking the Camino has a different incentive for walking. The reason could be deeply personal, and many people connect right away from asking the single question, “Why are you walking?” Or maybe you want to walk the Camino and you’re not exactly sure why. The answers will show up along the way.
I walked to prove to myself that I could do it. I met people mourning the loss of their loved ones. There were monks and religious figures walking. Some people are looking to get to know themselves outside of the busy chaos of their lives back home. Whatever your reason, it’s a good one.
Can you walk a pilgrimage even if you’re not religious? YES! Here’s an article all about the rise of spiritual pilgrimage.
How do you start planning a trip like this?
You’re off to a good start already! Research is a great start. Decide which route you want to walk. Then, choose a time of year to go. Buy a guidebook. Get the right gear, which requires more research. Finally, purchase the tickets and go for it!
About Lotus Compass
Lotus Compass is a travel company founded on the notion that conscious, responsible tourism is what the world needs.
If you’ve always wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago, now is your time! With our help, we can guide you through every step of the process as you prepare for this life-changing adventure. From packing guides to training regimens, journaling prompts to first-hand expert advice, we’ve got your back. Are you ready? If not now, when?