All You Need to Know About the Camino de Santiago
When I think about Spain, the first things that come to my mind are flamenco dancing, bull-fighting and tapas. Rarely do I imagine lush, rolling meadows, towering snow-capped mountains and…bagpipes?!
Well, as we know, travel is all about surprising ourselves and challenging us to open our minds. Doing the Camino de Santiago through the North of Spain, this is certainly the experience you will get.
Europe is full of amazing hiking opportunities, but nothing compares to the Camino de Santiago.It starts at your front door and ends at the St. James cathedral in the small city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. It can be as easy or as difficult and as long or as short as you
want, but what makes this route special is the people you meet along the way. I am going to walk
you through some of the essential things you need to prepare for a trip-of- a-lifetime like this.
What Exactly is the Camino de Santiago?
I first learned about the Camino, or The Way, as it’s called when I was in Spain. I kept seeing yellow arrows. People had them on their shirts. They were painted on walls. And tourist shops would sell them as souvenir magnets. Always curious, I found out that these arrows are the signature marking for this world famous hiking route.
However, I didn’t stop there. A little research helped me find out that it actually started as a Catholic pilgrimage. Legend has it that the remains of St. James are buried at the magnificent cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, and throughout the Middle Ages, people set out to make this long walk from all over Europe to try to get closer to God. Nowadays, some people still follow this tradition, but I found that most people do it as a way to find themselves, explore the world and enjoy the company of complete strangers.
What Are the Routes?
What I didn’t realize is that in a way I started the Camino the minute I left for Spain.
Traditionally, it starts from the moment you leave your front door, which seemed a little crazy to me if you’re not from Europe. It turns out, though, that there are quite a few established routes, the most popular being those that start in France, Portugal and Madrid.
However, you can also do what I did and just head outside the city a little and do a day-hike to the end. Of course, this doesn’t quite have the same effect as starting hundreds of kilometers away (and I am pretty sure it doesn’t really “count”), but it still feels pretty good.
If you are thinking of doing a longer version of the Camino, the two biggest things to consider are time and fitness. If you’re going to walk all the way across Spain, you need a few months and need to be in pretty good shape. Most people spend a good amount of time training before hand.
Makes sense, no? I was exhausted after just a day!
Where Do People Sleep?
I didn’t have to worry about this because I only hiked for a day, but you’re probably wondering where you can rest along the way. The Camino is quite popular and is lined with hotels, hostels, and albergues, which are tiny, cheap guest houses designed specifically for Camino travelers.
There are options for everyone, though, so if you need a night in luxury, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it.
At first, I thought these albergues were a bit strange and I was unsure what to expect, but the people I talked to told me that this actually ends up being one of the best parts of the trip. You can connect with people who you meet on the trail and get the chance to make some friends.
Most have rules about noise and partying since people on the Camino need their rest, but if you’re looking for this, you will surely be able to find it.
What to Pack?
There really isn’t much more to it; the best part about this type of trip is to not plan too much. However, there are still a few things you will want to make sure to bring.
– Awesome hiking boots: Break them in and love them; they will soon become your best friends. Look for something with ankle support to protect against injuries along the way.
– A travel backpack: This is no trip for suitcases and duffels. You will need something that you can comfortably carry on your back. Pack light since you’ll have to carry everything with you.
– A walking stick: It might seem insignificant, but as your legs get tired, you will want extra support for going downhill or working through tough terrain. You can find these at most outdoors stores.
– A phone or tablet: Resist the urge to disconnect from the world totally. Apart from staying in touch with friends and family, you might need to book hostels in advance in bigger cities. Make sure you take the appropriate steps to protect yourself when using unknown WiFi connections—nothing ruins a trip like waking up to find out someone hacked your bank account.
– Video camera or quality photo camera: You’ll appreciate later the photos you take. You might think your phone is good enough, but you’ll appreciate having something a little nicer when you look back on your photos after the trip.
Now that you know how to prepare yourself for the Camino de Santiago properly, the only thing left to do is go. Take a look at the different routes available and decide which is best for you. Then, find yourself a flight to your starting point, grab whatever gear you need, get ready to take lots of photos, have a blast and enjoy every minute. I am sure it will be a once-in- a-lifetime experience that will stay with you forever.