Some thoughts on the pilgrim life …
Our accommodations always include breakfast and often dinner. We get the “Pilgrims Menu”. Maybe it’s because we are used to France but we find the food to be rather bland. Too much meat and not enough seasoning.
The wine, on the other hand, is quite nice. A bottle of the local vino tinto is usually included with our meal and we usually have no trouble at all finishing it off. A lot of the hotels have their own label.
Meal times are later in Spain than we are used to. They look at you funny if you try to eat lunch before 1:30 and most restaurants don’t open for dinner till 8:00. This makes it tough for early hikers (and early hiking is important to avoid the heat)
Unlike a lot of peregrinos we are not staying in albergues (hostels) but in hotels. They range from 2-4 star hotels and we have been very happy with them. We always have a private room with a bath. The albergues are usually 10-15 euros (but can be less than 10), so they are a very economical choice for many people. We used a service (FollowTheCamino) to book all of our hotels . This is both good and bad. We never worry about getting a room but we are on a fixed schedule.
We have only stayed in one hotel with a guest laundry (and we took advantage of it). This is an advantage of the albergues as the almost always have a guest laundry. One of our hotels had an 11€ laundry service (one bag). Most of the time we just wash our hiking clothes in the sink and hang them out a window to dry.
They vary … a lot. We have hiked on dirt paths, paved roads and everything in between. A good deal of the Camino is on gravel roads and the shoulders of paved roads. This is completely different from the trails in the US. It has the advantage of not needing to carry a lot of water or food but it is also not quite as bucolic. But overall we have really enjoyed the trails.
We all carry a “Pilgrims Passport” (Credencial del Peregrino) to document our progress as we proceed along the trail. You get the passport at the Pilgrims Office at the start and collect stamps (at least one a day) at various places (churches, albergues, hotels, etc.) you pass. The person stamping your passport usually signs and dates it. To receive the “Compostela” in Santiago you must…
…collect the stamps on the “Credencial del Peregrino” from the places you pass through to certify that you have been there. Stamps from churches, hostels, monasteries, cathedrals and all places related to the Way are preferred, but if not they can also be stamped in other institutions: town halls, cafés, etc. You have to stamp the Credencial twice a day at least on the last 100 km (for pilgrims on foot or on horseback) or on the last 200 km (for cyclists pilgrims)..
“Facilities” along the Camino are few and far between so, in that respect, the Camino is no different than a wilderness trail. One of the disappointments has been the amount of toilet paper strewn in every likely pee spot. Obviously, the “no trace” ethic has not arrived on the Camino.
The longest stretch with no potable water has been about 10 miles so there is no need to bring water treatment equipment (filters, pills). After 20 days we have never had to carry more than 1-2L of water. The local water is good, cold and tasty!
What to bring
Below are my recommendations for what you do/don’t need based on our hike. If you elect to do the hike without using a bag transfer service (which can be pricey) you can easily keep your total pack weight under 20 lbs and 15 lbs is doable. The beauty of European hiking over wilderness hiking in the USA is that you have a lot of options for sleeping and food that can make your pack very light.
You DON’T need to bring or carry:
- Sleeping bag (though some people bring them) or pad. The albergues (hostels) almost always provide clean bedding.
- Water treatment (filters, pills, etc.). The water is abundant and good.
- Food (except for snacks and sometimes lunch). There are places to eat all along the way.
- Thermal underwear (at least not in the fall). The coldest temperatures we have seen have been in the low 40’s.
- Bug juice. We did not have any mosquito issues. The flies were sometimes annoying near cows.
What you DO need to bring:
- Medium lightweight backpack (40-50L is more than enough). Should not weigh more than ~2lbs.
- Hiking footwear. I wear crocs. Lots of people wear trail runners. Some people hike in sandals. I saw a lot of people with hiking boots. Remember, you will be lifting each foot over 500,000 times if you do this hike. Think about that before you select footwear that puts 2 lbs on each foot.
- Rain coat (and a pack cover). It does rain in Spain and not always on the plain.
- Warm layer (micro-puff or fleece).
- One set of town clothes.
- Hiking poles (though lots of people don’t use them – this is a personal choice).
- Two sets of hiking clothes (shorts/pants, socks, shirt).
- Buff, wool hat and lightweight gloves.
- Suntan lotion. Sunglasses.
- A minimum toiletry kit.
- First aid kit (analgesics, moleskin, antiseptic cream, bandaids, etc.)
- Smartphone (with the FarOut app and maps downloaded), and 220V adapter/charger.
- Couple of light water bottles or a hydration pack (2L is more than enough).
- Headlamp (if you like to hike before sunrise).