The Camino de Santiago (or “Way of Saint James”) is one of the world’s most famous pilgrimages, and has been completed by countless millions of travellers since the Middle Ages. According to legend, the remains of St James were taken by boat from Jerusalem and buried in northern Spain, in a place that later became the coastal city of Santiago de Compostela, the Camino’s final destination.
Walking the Camino is as popular today as it was 900 years ago, and while many do so for religious or spiritual reasons, some do it simply for the challenge, and for the unique experience it offers. The most popular route – known as the “French Way” – takes hikers from the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and across the Pyrenees and Northern Spain. This stretch of the Camino is only a little under 500 miles, and takes the average walker between 4 and 5 weeks to complete, so here are five essential tips for anyone intending to hike the Camino!
There aren’t many luxury hotels along the Camino, and besides, staying in that kind of place really isn’t entering into the spirit of things! It’s more likely you’ll find yourself sleeping in a monastery bunk bed in a room with 60 or 70 others, and trust us… The sound of 60 or 70 snorers is enough to keep anyone awake. Earplugs are your only guarantee of getting a good night’s sleep, and if you’re walking 10-15 miles a day you’ll need it!
And when we say light we mean light. As far as clothing is concerned, you should take only bare essentials: Two t-shirts, two shirts, two pairs of shorts etc. And make sure the clothing you take is quick-drying. Good outdoor gear is a must, so think about investing in a decent pair of walking shoes and a poncho or rain coat. We’d also recommend you take along needle and thread, for any emergency repairs, a multi-purpose knife, sunscreen, a torch and a small first aid kit.
Find a Stick
It may sound crazy, but if you’re walking the Camino alone a stick can become your best friend. You’ll probably even give it a name! But besides the companionship a stick can give you, it’ll also come in very handy, whether you’re hiking up a particularly steep incline or beating your way through chest-high ferns.
Know Why You’re Walking
As we’ve already mentioned, there are many reasons why people walk the Camino, and even if you go with a group there’s every chance you’ll each have your own personal motivation. Walking the Camino is a significant commitment in terms of time and effort, so it helps to have a clear objective before you set out, as this will allow you to keep focus whenever it’s beginning to seem like hard work.
And sometimes it will seem like very hard work indeed! There will be moments along the way when you are tired, thirsty, hungry or just plain moody and when you’ll wonder if it’s worth all the effort. Ask anyone who’s completed the Camino and they’ll tell you they felt exactly the same way, and on more than one occasion, but they’ll also tell you that it’s one of the most incredible – if not the most incredible – experiences they’ve ever had.
Jess Spate is a freelance writer and hiking enthusiast based in Cardiff.