Camino de Santiago – Useful tips for a lifetime adventure

The Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James (Camino walk) is a pilgrimage of Medieval Origin to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in the North West of Spain. It generally starts from the Saint Jean Pied de Port if you choose the Camino Frances.

According to popular legend, the remains of Apostle Saint James the Great were buried here. It was discovered in the 9th century by a shepherd. The city is named after the Apostle – Santiago de Compostela means St James of the Field of Stars. It is truly a unique experience of a lifetime – no wonder the rigorous hike continues to attract thousands from around the world.

Camino de Santiago insights

How to Get to Saint Jean Pied de Port

This medieval village captivates your attention right from the start with its cobbled streets, impressive citadel, and of course, its bridge over the River Nive. It is the last French town that pilgrims see before crossing the Pyrenees and, therefore, the beginning of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It is advisable to get here from Pamplona as it has good connections – it has an airport and several daily train and bus frequencies.

Bus

From March to the beginning of October, the bus company Alsa has numerous connections every day. For the rest of the year, Autocares Artieda has a regular bus line from Monday through Saturday between Pamplona and Roncesvalles, with a duration of 1 hour and 10 minutes. You have to take a taxi from Roncesvalles. 

Taxi

There are several companies that depart from the Pamplona airport, such as Navartrip or Taxi Pirineos.

Train

The only direct line that gets to Saint Jean Pied de Port departs from the French town of Bayonne. The journey takes an hour and 20 minutes. If you want to go from Spain by train, the best option is to catch the Euskotren in San Sebastian that will take you to Irún-Hendaya. From here, you need to take another train that takes you to Saint Jean Pied de Port. This journey takes around 2 and a half hours because you have to change trains.

Airport

The closest airport to Saint Jean Pied de Port is Biarritz. It has connections with the main European cities. You can opt for a taxi or private car – the distance to Saint Jean Pied de Port is 50 kilometers. Another possibility is to get from Biarritz to Saint Jean Pied de Port by train, with three daily connections that involve transferring trains and an estimated duration of 2 hours.

Another portion will be the airport of Pamplona (Spain). It’s not that close, but it has good connections by bus to St.Jean Piet de Port. You can spend an overnight stay in Pamplona if you arrive late. The city is a beauty and defiantly with to spend some time.

Accommodations on the Camino de Santiago walk

While planning a pilgrimage to Compostela, most people are concerned about the type of accommodation available on the Camino de Santiago. Rest assured, you have plenty to pick from, such as hostels, hotels, and shelters. On most of the Camino de Santiago routes, you will find a wide variety of accommodations, from simple public hostels to high-quality hotels. Depending on the way you choose, you will find more than one type of accommodation than others.

Typical shelter with bunk beds on the Spanish Camino. Image by travelfromheart

Shelters

There are two types of shelters (albergues) here – public and private. Take a look:

Public

The public shelters can be further sub-divided into two categories. Those managed by parish churches are called parish shelters, and facilities managed by town councils are referred to as municipal shelters.

Parish Shelters

This type of accommodation works through donations, so they don’t have a fixed price. They are relatively cheap and allow you to enjoy the most Christian part of the pilgrimage. However, they fill up very fast, and prior reservations aren’t permitted. Priority is given to pilgrims journeying on foot, rather than those who are going by bike. 

If you plan to hire a baggage transfer service, you won’t be able to pick it up at the shelter. Instead, you have to use another delivery point. Pets are generally not allowed at parish shelters. Please bear in mind these shelters have an early closing time.

Municipal Shelters

These shelters are scattered throughout the route on the Camino de Santiago. The rates are quite pocket-friendly, and the places are often located in peripheral areas. Here too, prior reservations aren’t allowed, and pilgrims on foot are given higher priority.

Private

These are the private choice of those who wish to avail certain amenities but don’t want to spend oodles of money on accommodation. They are managed by private companies. They are quite economical. There are fewer people per room (mostly 15 to 20 people) compared to public shelters (they often house 50 in one room).

As with public shelters, in most classic end-stages, you will find private shelters. They allow you to reserve beds beforehand, so you can complete each stage of the pilgrimage without worrying about accommodation after arriving at your destination. There are all kinds of private shelters, but some are like small hostels and offer many services.

Hostels and Boarding Houses

The reason for choosing hostels and boarding houses is not just the comfort they provide, but also flexibility and freedom. The difference between a hostel and a boarding house is quite imperceptible. In many cases, they are considered synonymous. However, in most cases, hostels have a more communal feel than boarding houses, with more common spaces in which guests can gather together.

You can get both single and shared rooms. If you are looking for privacy but don’t want to spend a lot of money, this is the best option. There are rooms with private bathrooms as well. Services are of much better quality as compared to shelters. However, pick the place carefully as some of them are a bit pricey. The rate of a single room with a private bathroom in a hostel may be similar to a hotel. Some places don’t allow pets.

Hotels and Cottages

Hotels and cottages are the easiest and most comfortable option for the Camino de Santiago. Both options offer private rooms with attached bathrooms. Needless to say, you can rest more comfortably at the end of each stage since you are allotted your own room. You also get to enjoy a relaxing bath in your private bathroom. The cottages have a homely feeling so staying there is extremely pleasant. The quality of services and facilities is also much butter. 

In most cases, they are places that are located near areas of interest or surrounded by beautiful scenery. You don’t have to bother about getting meals as they offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, you should be ready to shell out a substantial amount of money for hotels and cottages. 

Campsites 

Campsites are places prepared for camping, but many of them have bungalows or small cabins.

Guest Houses

They are a mix between cottages and boarding houses. This type of establishment is not categorized with the star rating system, and their services are usually quite basic. They are the least common type of accommodation found on the Camino de Santiago.

Aparthotels

An aparthotel is like a hotel, but they also have a kitchen included. As is evident from the name, it is a combination of an apartment and a hotel. It is a wise option if you travel with a large group, but these places are not so common on some routes.

Cost of Walking the Camino de Santiago

Accommodations

If you are a budget traveler, you will likely spend €7 a night for accommodation costs. Stay in dorms, so you can take advantage of low prices and switch it up between municipal and private shelters. 

If you want to spend your Camino getting a decent night’s sleep and relaxing in comfortable surroundings, you are looking at €25 a night when traveling with someone else. It goes up to €35 a night if you are going solo. A mid-range traveler will split their budget between the lower and higher ends. They spend four or five nights a week in a dorm room and then splurging in a private room whenever they wish more privacy. You are looking at an average of €15 to €20 a night.

Food

Food is affordable here, and some places ensure you get true value for money as the quantity is quite good! If you grab breakfast from whichever café is open along the way, it will cost you between €2 and €4. Lunch costs around €4 if you are looking for something simple. In case you want a three-course meal with a bottle of wine for dinner, it will run you around €10.

Miscellaneous Items

Pilgrim Passport for the Camino de Santiago

This is an essential item that you need for the Camino de Santiago walk. You can get it in advance online for €10, but there is no need to spend that much. It is easy to get it as little as €2 from the cathedral or a local Albergue when you arrive. You have to make use of your pilgrim passport to stay in albergues and collect stamps from every accommodation you stay in, as well as some cafes and restaurants along the way.

Pilgrims passport of the Author. Image by travelfromheart

Laundry

You can always choose to do your laundry by hand, but there comes a time when you have to use a laundry service. Washing and drying will cost you around €6 in an Albergue, but in hotels, hostels, or boarding houses, the prices are higher.

Luggage Transfer

If you are struggling with your backpack’s weight, there are luggage transfer companies that pick up your baggage and transfer it to the next Albergue on the walk. You should know exactly where you are heading that day in order to use the service, and it costs about €5 per day to do so.

Cash Money

Ideally, it is better to pay in cash, but nowadays, many restaurants and cafes are accepting card payments too. ATMs can be found in any major town or city, so take the time to stock up whenever you see one.

It is always better to be safe than sorry, so get travel insurance before beginning the Camino walk. 

So how much does it cost to walk the Camino de Santiago?

Budget Travel

It has a budget of €22 a day. Spend around €7 a day for accommodation, and leave €15 to spend on food. If your budget is very tight with no wiggle room, bring down the amount you spend on food to around €7 a day by buying groceries and cooking in Albergue kitchens. Wash your laundry by hand.

Mid-range Travel

In this case, your budget is €35 per day. You spend most of the time in dorms in shelters but can splurge on private rooms every 3 to 4 days. Accommodation costs €15 a night, while food is €20 a day. You have to get clothes laundered every couple of weeks.

High-end Travel

If room sharing isn’t your cup of tea, go for this option with your eyes closed. Sure it costs more than €40 a day, but you get to sleep in private rooms and access to clean bathrooms. Higher-end travelers average €30 a night for accommodation if they are by themselves or €20 a night if they travel with a partner. Spend €20 on food, and get clothes washed and dried every 3 to 4 days.

What is the Best Time to Walk the Camino de Santiago?

July and August are the most popular months, though they can be unpleasantly hot, with scorched vegetation. May to June and September are the best time to walk the Camino de Santiago. The weather is lovely, downpours less likely, and you also have plenty of company along the way (without being overly crowded. Easter can be a busy time, too. Group tours tend to run from April to October. If you are fond of hiking and trekking in adverse situations, you can come here during fall and winter when it gets chilly, and there is snowfall as well. Be careful in the Pyrenees. The path from St.Jean Piet de Port to Roncesvalles might be closed because it’s too dangerous. You can get lost or fall off a cliff easily.

Why Walk the Camino Trail?

The popularity of the Camino walk has increased as time has passed. According to CaminoWays.com, 277,913 certificates of completion of the Camino pilgrimage were handed out in 2018, and 347, 578 handed out in 2019. So why do people choose to undertake this pilgrimage, sometimes even hiking in pain? Take a look:

  • People undertake this walk for religious and spiritual reasons.
  • Some are looking to get away from the hullabaloo of their daily life and seek some peace and solitude. The trek offers a fantastic experience. It is great when it comes to self-reflection.
  • People often want to explore new avenues and challenge themselves both mentally and physically. 
  • Some wish to get more culturally enhanced. The pilgrimage is also a social experience where you get to meet and interact with people from around the world, admire historic sites and monuments, and sample varied cuisines too.
  • A certain section of people walks the trail specifically for health and exercise purposes.

The Camino de Santiago is a network of different routes – it is essential to choose the right one to make the most of this trip. 

Camino Frances

This is the most famous Camino de Santiago trail, featuring in movies and books such as The Way with Martin Sheen and The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. More than half of the pilgrims travel by this route. It is 800 km long and takes around 5 weeks to complete if you start from St Jean Pied de Port.

Bridge in Puente la Reina. Image by travelfromheart

Camino Portugués

This route was the traditional trail to Santiago de Compostela taken by Portuguese pilgrims. It takes around a month to complete this trek, walking the full length from Lisbon, but Porto is also a frequent starting point.

Portuguese Coastal Camino walk

The Portuguese Coastal Camino is another extremely popular Camino route. It is an excellent alternative to the Camino Francés or the classic Camino Portugués. The walk takes you along the coastline North of Porto in Portugal into Spain – you get to check out beautiful fishing towns and scenery. The seafood along the route is exceptionally delicious, with fresh produce served in most restaurants.

Camino del Norte 

It starts in San Sebastian, which is well-known for its culinary wonders. It takes pilgrims along the coastal villages and towns of “Green Spain.” You will cross the Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias before heading inland towards Santiago. This Camino walk will take pilgrims on a more off the beaten track trail to Santiago.

Camino Ingles

This Camino route has two starting points – Ferrol and A Coruña. It is the shortest Camino route as well. 

Camino Primitivo

The oldest of the Camino routes, it begins in Oviedo in North-Eastern Spain. The city of Lugo is a major attraction and considered the best place to eat in Galicia.

One last thing

The best part about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is that it is the same Camino walk for everyone, but it is also unique, and every pilgrim has her/his own story. You can pick from various routes, and each of them will be a lifetime adventure for you. However, do bear in mind that if you wish to receive a Compostela pilgrim certificate, you have to walk at least the last 100 km into the Compostela or cycle the remaining 200 km. So what are you waiting for? Get ready to undertake this thrilling experience!

If you are interested in my personal Camino de Santiago story, please be invited to have a look at my book. It´s written from the heart with honest feelings, struggles, and moments of happiness. The book is available on all international Amazon markets, and the link will direct you to your local one.

 mybook.to/500-miles-to-myself

book cover image

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