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Ultimate Camino de Santiago Guide – Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

This is the second part of our ultimate Camino de Santiago Guide. Click HERE for part one for packing advice.


Accommodations

Cassidy: The first question people asked when I told them our plans was, “Where are you going to stay?” The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage route that has been revitalized in the last 20 years. With a resurgence in popularity comes a demand for places to lay your head at night, places to get food on the way, places to buy groceries and medicine, etc. While it may seem crazy, there are hundreds of places to stay throughout the Camino Frances route. With hundreds of thousands of people walking it a year, there has to be!

Cassidy & Katie: Pilgrim hostels are referred to as “albergues”. They are outfitted to accommodate pilgrim travel. While there are different kinds of albergues throughout the Camino, most are fairly simple layouts with bunk beds in large rooms. Some are a bit more quaint and a bit quieter, some just get the job done. If the walk seems crowded, you may want to try to reserve a room at an albergue in the next town. Once you reach Sarria, we would recommend booking ahead. The convergence of many Camino routes and the last 100k mean the paths are more populated from here to Santiago.


The different types of albergues:

Municipal: Run by the town or city that you are in. Typically very large rooms with bunk beds. Not always the most comfortable, but definitely the cheapest option. Most run from 6 to 10 euros for a bed.

Private: Owned by a private citizen. These vary, of course, but we found these to typically be more comfortable than municipal Albergues. They run around 10-12 euros for a bed. I would recommend checking the Buen Camino app (mentioned above) to see what they have been rated by other travelers. The app will also tell you what accommodations each Albergue has. A kitchen, a washing machine, wifi, etc. Private Albergues also usually have smaller rooms, and some cook an evening meal for the guests for around 10 euros. It depends on the Albergue, but the evening meals were some of the best times we had on the Camino. Breaking bread with your fellow travelers is a great way to make friends and memories.

Donativo: These are rare finds on the Camino. If there is a Donativo Albergue in the town you are headed for, I would recommend making that your priority and top choice to stay. They are run by volunteers, and operate off of donations from pilgrims like you and I. We typically left the same as what we would have paid at a private Albergue (10-12 euros), sometimes a bit more as these were our favorite places to stop (15 euros). These were always charming stops with the happiest people. They typically do not take reservations, but we always found a bed at the ones we wanted to stay at.


Food/Water

Cassidy: Second most asked question I received before going on my Camino: “Where do you get water? What about food? HOW WILL YOU SURVIVE?” Due to its resurgence in popularity, the Camino has everything you could need, and almost everything you could want. 

Water

There are public, treated water fountains all along the Camino. The locals drink out of them just as much as the pilgrims. If it is not drinkable, it will be labeled with a large sign saying NO POTABLE. Don’t drink that water. In the smaller towns and villages, they may have a sign on the fountain that says the water hasn’t been treated. This is due to a lack of funding for their public water filtration systems, but the water is still okay to drink. Guide books document where water is, and will tell you if there is a long dry stretch coming up, allowing you to fill up beforehand.

Katie: Make sure you are eating enough salt with your water intake. You body will probably tell you it’s low on these nutrients by craving salty foods, so listen and eat what your body is craving! It’s the same with water – if you are thirsty, drink! Your body knows best. 

Cassidy: You will walk through many different regions (culinary, and otherwise) of Spain during the Camino. Each of these places has dishes and foods they are known for. I recommend trying them all. 

 

Food

There are cafes along the entire Camino. In nearly every town, there will be a bar or cafe to purchase food and drinks. Most of it is quite good too! We came to the conclusion after a week on the trail that you should make it a point to almost always skip the first bar (unless it really is the only option). The second (or third, or fourth) bar typically had better service, prices, and products. In the villages and hamlets, there may not be any food. Again, the guidebook you are using will typically tell you how far you have to walk until a food source is available. I recommend having a salty snack and a sweet snack on you at all times. We also carried fruit quite a bit. This was purchased at grocery stores in the small towns in the evenings, but can also be purchased along the way. I will say that Spain has interesting work hours. Watch out for Sundays and Mondays, as a lot of places will be closed. Also, pay attention to the time, because siestas are a real thing and a hungry pilgrim isn’t a happy pilgrim!

Breakfast

I highly recommend getting on the trail early (6-7am), and walking 5-10kms before stopping for breakfast. The typical (and best) breakfasts we had were Napolitanas (chocolate croissants), cafe con leche, and an orange juice. Spain also has really great toast with an olive oil and tomato spread.

Lunch

We typically ate lunch along the way. This can be made and packed, but we usually just purchased something from a cafe.

Dinner

Menu Del Dias or Peregrino Menus are some of the best things the Camino has to offer, in my opinion. People say all the time that Spanish food is underwhelming. I disagree. Menu Del Dias are very popular across Spain. A Peregrino Meal/Menu is virtually the same thing, but caters to the pilgrim traveler. These meals are typically around 10 euros, and they come with 3 courses. A starter, a main dish, and a dessert. They also include house wine and water. Very economical, usually very good! Sometimes, the Albergue you are staying at will cook a nightly meal. If you get the sense that it is going to be good food (sometimes, you can just tell) then I would highly recommend purchasing and dining with your fellow pilgrims. It’s incredible what breaking bread over a dinner table can lead to: world discussions and lasting friendships! Stay away from the seafood in the middle of the Camino as it is not as fresh and their refrigeration standards are not quite the same as America’s, but all else should be tried at least once! 

Katie: The farther we went, the more we wanted to cook a meal at our Albergue instead of eating out. It was very fun to invite a big group to cook together. Everyone makes a little something and at the end you have a huge meal. These were some of our favorite nights connecting with friends!

 


Favorite Places We Stopped (Or Places to Skip)

Cassidy & Katie: Of course, everyone’s experiences are different. Remember, your Camino is your Camino. Different moods, weather, injuries, etc. can affect how it all plays out for you, but I can tell you where we had some of our best moments. These are in no particular order, but all deserve a mention!

  • Hontanas: Great town in the middle of the Mesetas. Would recommend staying here and eating here, especially eating at the restaurant and hostal Fuentestrella. We had the best time sitting here in the sunshine eating the best food and drinking the best cocktails and making new friends.
  • Rabanal: I would recommend staying at Refugio Gaucelmo. It is an Albergue run by the British confraternity. It is very clean, feels homey upon check in, has an herb garden and serves tea and biscuits in the late afternoon. It also has a lovely porch view of the mountains. I wouldn’t mind staying there for a week or two!
  • El Acebo: Many nice places to stay here! If you are tired at this point in your journey and are unprepared for the steep decent that comes after this town, I recommend staying here. There is a really nice place at the far edge of the town to splurge and get a nice room: Albergue La Casa Del Peregrino.
  • Logrono: Logrono was a very cool town with a younger population. It had a really great restaurant and cafe options, and we enjoyed staying here! We went for a nice dinner at a wine bar here, and it did not disappoint!
  • Vianna: We did not stay in Vianna, but walking through the town made me wish that we had. They were celebrating 1,000 years of the city and its history when we walked through and it seemed like one of the liveliest towns we had walked through up to that point.
  • Boadilla Del Camino: The albergue here is quite lovely to stay at. There is a large green space in the middle to enjoy the sunshine. While the town has virtually nothing else to offer, the Albergue is very popular among pilgrims. We met SO MANY people when we stayed here that we remained close to throughout the Camino. I would recommend this one just because it is a popular place for pilgrims and was a happy experience for us!
  • Los Arcos: We had a terrible experience at our Albergue here. It was one of the worst Albergues we stayed at, and the town did not make up for it. While Los Arcos has a gorgeous church that I would recommend stepping into, I would not stay in the town again. The next town is not much further, and is worth the distance for a better experience. We also heard of people getting cash taken from their wallets in the municipal Albergue here which did not occur at any other time on our Camino.
  • San Juan de Ortega: After a long and miserable and wet day on the Camino, our guidebook had us stopping in San Juan de Ortega. They have a large municipal Albergue here with virtually nothing else to speak of. If we hadn’t have been so cold and wet by the time we arrived, I would have kept going. There were very few places to eat, and the dinner we purchased at the municipal Albergue was less than edible.

Best Piece of Advice

Cassidy: The Camino isn’t easy. It isn’t a beach vacation. It isn’t going to solve all your problems. It’s just a path to follow. It gives you the mental space to think about things deeply. To reconnect with the world around you. It gives you the opportunity to talk to people from around the world, to challenge your ways of thinking, and to remind you that you are just one person in a sea of millions. The Camino is hard, humbling, trying, and in the end, I never wanted it to end. Don’t give up. Don’t get too upset or frustrated when things don’t work out. Immerse yourself in the culture of Spain. Slow down. Look up. Enjoy your time. Every second. You’ll get to the next town when you get to the next town. Stop for a cafe con leche, coca cola, or a cerveza if you want to. There’s no reason to rush. Enjoy your Camino. Its so special. You will be proud to have completed it and sad to walk away from it.

Katie: You’ll never be prepared, so just go anyways. Just keep going. Walking the Camino de Santiago was one of my biggest challenges and proudest accomplishments. I didn’t realize how much stress I was under until I had all of my obligations removed. All I had to do was walk, and it was so freeing. It was hard and there were days I wanted to quit, but now I want to plan my next Camino. There will be days that you rely on the strength of others to keep going, and there will be days that you are the strength for those around you. It seems so long, but it will go by so quickly. Savor it. Take pictures. And as our Camino friend Sebastian would say, “Be a leaf on the river.”


Daily Distance

Cassidy: Depending upon your physical abilities and the time frame you are working around, you can take it as slow or as fast as you want. We averaged around 17 miles a day over the course of 33 days. We did not have time to take any rest days, unfortunately. I think the pace that we set was doable for most. It is challenging, but was the pace that was set by quite a few of our fellow pilgrims. If you are following a guide book, it will set the pace for you if you allow it to. I would recommend following John Brierly’s book loosely, but stopping if you are ready to stop or digging your heels in and walking further if you are prepared to do so!

Katie: I had no idea how far 17 miles was before I started the Camino, and the first few days were an eye opener. We met some professors along the way who lead a Camino for their college almost every summer (Hi, Fordham University!), and they recommend their students go on a walk/hike that is about half the normal daily distance to prepare themselves. It would be a good idea to have some concept of walking this distance before embarking on the Camino. 


Hardest Day

Cassidy: My hardest day was day 1. Crossing Napoleon’s route through the Pyrenees was incredibly challenging. I was still unsure of how to wear my pack. I was breaking in my shoes. It was misting, then it was raining. It was cold, and you couldn’t see anything. I was mentally unprepared for how long the day would be. We didn’t pack snacks. It was HARD. It was a rude awakening, but it also forced me to start reading the guidebook religiously to be better prepared. It cleared my head, and allowed me to focus on the challenges of that specific moment. It was HARD, but we all pushed through. Bad weather conditions are fairly unavoidable. We were lucky and had very little rain during our Camino, but be prepared for some bad weather. The rain, the wind, and the mud will take a toll on you and your attitude. But the sun always comes back out. After all, you are in Spain!

Katie: Day one was tough. It was freezing, we couldn’t see where we were going, and we were slipping in the mud, and we didn’t pack any snacks. Then, a woman flew past me like the terrain was no rougher than a suburban sidewalk and offered me a ‘sweetie.’ I must’ve looked pretty miserable because she ended up giving me her entire pack of candy and it gave me just enough energy to make it down the Pyrenees. This experience echoed most of the Camino for me. There were too many times to count where I was miserable and thought I couldn’t go on, but then a friend would pop up with some encouragement, and I would find the strength to keep going. I wouldn’t have made it past day one without Cassidy and all the friends we made along the way. There were other tough days, but once we conquered Napoleon’s route, we felt like we could conquer anything. 


Language Barrier

Cassidy: If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t fret! Download google translate, download Spanish to English conversion within the app (you may not have cell service at times), get familiar with the app and get comfortable being out of your element. A lot of times, the people in the service industry on the Camino know a little bit of english, but some of your fellow pilgrims may not. It was really fun for us to practice our Spanish and have conversations with people when neither party spoke the other’s native language.

Katie: Make an effort to converse with people from other places! We learned quite a few phrases from other languages and made friends from many parts of the world. 


Where to start?

Cassidy: Our group started in St. Jean-Pied-De-Port. As it is a pilgrimage route that has been traversed for thousands of years, it has seen millions of starting points. First, I would look at how much time you have. If it is a week, start in Sarria. If it is two weeks, start in Leon. If you have three weeks to spend, start in Burgos or Logrono. Four weeks, St. Jean-Pied-De Port or Pamplona! If you would like to skip the Pyrenees but maximize your Camino experience, start in Pamplona. In any other case, choose how much time you want to spend and then pick one of the above options.

Katie: You may want to plan in rest days, but you may lose the group of your friends. We found that most people walk about the same distance every day with a few exceptions. If people planned rest days or extra days in big cities, they typically didn’t catch back up to the group. Depending on your reason for walking the Camino, this could be a good or bad thing. We were very sad to lose friends along the way, but some pilgrims liked to meet a new group or spend more time alone. If you feel like you need a rest day but don’t want to fall behind, there are buses that can take you to the next stop for about 5-10 euros. Cabs are available but are a huge waste of money when buses are readily available. 

Cassidy & Katie: You may also want to plan some extra time in Santiago to celebrate the culmination of all your hard work. Santiago can be sad because it is the end of a huge journey, but we enjoyed seeing tons of familiar faces. Another option is to walk or bus to Finisterre or Muxia from Santiago. We loved our time in Finisterre (LOVED IT!!!!) and wished we had planned enough time at the end to make it to Muxia as well, which we heard was just as beautiful. The days after the Camino can be emotionally overwhelming, so it was nice to sleep in, relax on the beach, and reflect on the past month. 


Shipping packs forward (daily)

Katie: Many peregrinos carry everything they need on their back for the entire Camino, but some choose to ship their packs forward and only carry day packs. In order to do this, you notify the albergue that you are staying at that you would like to ship the pack forward in the morning. You pay about around 8-12 euros, pack up your pack, and leave it either late that night or early the next morning in a designated spot. We chose to ship our packs forward once as it was going to be one of the longest and hottest days. 


Mailing items forward to final destination

Katie: One of the great things we discovered about Spain was their incredible postal service, Los Correos. We had less trouble mailing items in Spain (even with the language barrier) than we do in the States! Peregrinos chose to mail items forward for many reasons. One being, they may be continuing to travel after the Camino and want other clothing and supplies. In that case, you can mail something from your starting point in Spain to your ending point, hopefully Santiago de Compostela! Every post office we went to along the Camino knew exactly how to ship something to a post office in Santiago and have it held for the month it would take to walk there. 

You may also want to mail items forward that you thought you would need but didn’t end up using. For me, this included my extra pair of running shoes, a giant bottle of dry shampoo, and a few other miscellaneous items. It came out to about four pounds, which is a lot when you carry it on your back every day! When we got to Santiago, it was easy to pick up my box from the post office. Everything was clean, well organized, and the staff were very helpful.

When mailing things forward, I would caution you against having a huge suitcase ready for pickup in Santiago. After a month of living off of only what you can carry on your back, a lot of things seem completely unnecessary. Most of the stuff I packed for after the Camino ended up being more of a burden than a blessing. The huge suitcase full of our stuff was the worst part of our trip, hands down. Pack lightly no matter where you may be headed next!

 

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