FAQ

Is there a minimum distance ?

To qualify for the Compostela, pilgrims must walk at least the last 100km into Santiago.  The distance required for horseriders is 100km and cyclists 200km.  Pilgrims should remember to obtain 2 stamps per day in their credencial or pilgrim record over the final 100/200 km distance.

A certificado is available for those who arrive at Santiago as pilgrims, but not meeting the Cathedral’s requirements for the compostela i.e. pilgrims without religious or spiritual motivation.

In addition to the Compostela or certificado, the pilgrim office in Santiago now also issues an additional Certificate of Distance to those pilgrims who would like this. It costs 3€ and records the route which the pilgrim walked, the starting point, the amount of kilometres and the date of arrival in Santiago.  .

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I have limited time, how can that work?

Pick a starting point at a minimum distance from Santiago, like Ferrol or Sarria.  Or walk a longer distance in stages, taking several years to complete it.  Just be sure that your final stage is a minimum of 100km for walkers and horseriders and 200km for cyclists, to ensure that you qualify for the Compostela or certificado.

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What is the path like?

All the routes are varied, from footpath to metalled highway.  Some of the footpaths are gravelled, some remain deep mud, some are strewn with boulders. Some road stretches remain (though local authorities along the Camino francés have recently made big efforts to create separate pilgrim footpaths alongside the highway).

The pass over the Pyrenees from St Jean-Pied-de-Port reaches 1,400 m, as do the Montes de León and the pass at O Cebreiro.  For the height profiles of the le Puy route, the Paris route, the Camino Francés, and the Via de la Plata, click here.

Click here for information on the Camino Francés (in Spanish) between O Cebreiro and Santiago, showing maps and photos as well as a detailed description of the path.

The southern part of the Via de la Plata follows the old roman road from Seville to Astorga. Many sections of it are exposed; you cross several roman bridges, and the many of the roman mile-stones are still visible.

The standard waymarks on all the Spanish routes are yellow arrows, painted on walls, trees, telegraph poles and rocks. They are generally plentiful, and it’s hard to get lost.  Sometimes you will see the standard Camino de Santiago shell symbol as a sign or tile, or local variants of this.

Image showing Marker of the Way of St James

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What is the weather like?

The weather is unpredictable most of the year, so you should be prepared for rain (particularly in Galicia), day-time heat and cold nights, especially in the Pyrenees, and the high passes in Galicia.

The summer months can be extremely hot, especially on the meseta, the high and very exposed plain between Burgos and León on the Camino Francés, and on the more southerly sections of the Via de la Plata.  Seville is especially hot, with summertime temperatures in the 30’s and regularly reaching the high 20s in May and October.

See above What about going in winter?” for advice on crossing the mountains in winter weather.

One of our members, Peter Robins, provides links from his website (mainly devoted to an account of the currently practicable European routes to Santiago) to the 5-day weather forecasts, and 30-year averages, for several places along the Camino. Click here

See also: http://www.xacobeo.es for the weather in Galicia.

and – for a truly formidable array of weather information covering most of Europe, though especially Spain –http://web.archive.org/web/20080312184613/groups.msn.com/ElCaminoSantiago/weather.msnw  

And visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum for up-to-the-minute exchanges about the weather.

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What about going in winter ?

If you are thinking of going in winter, remember that the meseta is on average 800m above sea level, and that the passes over the Pyrenees, the Montes de León and O Cebreiro on the Camino francés, and the passes of A Canda and Padornelo on the Via de la Plata all reach about 1,400m. It can be very cold, foggy, wet, and windy, and you can meet deep snow.

Accommodation may be less plentiful, since not all the albergues operate in the winter.  Those that are open may have little or no heating so a good sleeping bag is essential.

However, with sensible planning and precautions, winter pilgrimage is feasible. Please follow these guidelines:

  • ALWAYS take local advice about weather conditions; disregard it at your peril.  We cannot emphasise too strongly: MOUNTAINS ARE DANGEROUS and LOCAL PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT.  We know of four pilgrims who have died while attempting to cross the Pyrenees in bad weather and there are more who have run into severe difficulties in sudden blizzards or fog.
  • Avoid going alone if you possibly can.
  • Take warm/waterproof clothing and boots and equipment appropriate for the conditions, bearing in mind these can change abruptly and without warning.  Wearing a reflective vest is a legal requirement for cycling or road walking in dark or poor visibility conditions.
  • Take a compass and mobile phone.
  • Tell people what your plans are, arranging for them to call the emergency services if you haven’t phoned by an agreed time to report your safe arrival.

If you are starting at St Jean Pied de Port, ask for advice about weather and conditions at Acceuil Saint-Jacques but remember not all volunteers here are local and check the local weather websites:

Meteo France for St Jean Pied de Port

Aemet.es for Roncesvalles

If in any doubt at St Jean Pied de Port, always go by the lower road, it is less attractive than the higher-level route, but since it follows along the road in many places and goes through villages, much safer in bad weather.

Click here for an interview with a pilgrim who walked from Roncesvalles to Santiago November – December 2009 and here for another winter 2009 pilgrimage blog with lots of pictures.

Click here for a 1996 article “Winter Pilgrim” by Alison Raju.

The Confraternity also has a booklet Winter Pilgrim, also by Alison Raju and filled with practical advice, available in the shop.

PLEASE NOTE: The Route Napoléon which passes over the Pyrénées between St Jean-Pied-de-Port and Roncesvalles is closed until 31 March 2016.  All pilgrims will need to take the lower Valcarlos route, and even that can be difficult in foggy, windy or snowy weather. Take local advice before setting out on this route.

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What about going in a Holy Year ?

Numbers arriving at Santiago have been rising steadily since 1986, with peaks in Holy Years (years in which St James’s Day, 25 July, falls on a Sunday).

See Pilgrim Numbers for details of compostelas granted each year to give you an idea of the additional pilgrims walking in Holy Years:

On the whole, and unless you have a strong reason for going in a Holy Year, we would advise you against it.

2021 will be the next Holy Year.

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What about going in Holy Week?

If you are on pilgrimage in Holy Week you may see some famous processions::

Camino Francés

Burgos

  • Holy Monday: Via Crucis.
  • Maundy Thursday: meeting of Jesús con la Cruz a Cuestas and Nuestra Senora de los Dolores in Plaza del Rey San Fernando.

Sahagún

  • Holy Saturday morning: Before Procession of Los Pasos visitors are carried shoulder-high to knock on door of the chapel where the religious floats are stored.
  • Good Friday afternoon: Procession of El Santo Entierro.

León

  • Religious brotherhoods are known as ‘papones’. Processions date from the 16th century.
  • Maundy Thursday: musical procession of El dulce nombre de Jesús Nazareno.
  • Good Friday:  The Procession of Los Pasos. 9am Meeting of La Dolorosa and San Juan in Plaza Mayor.
  • Holy Saturday: El Desenclavo; afternoon opposite Puerta del Perdón in San Isidoro.
  • Links: www.semanasantaleon.org , www.aytoleon.es

Astorga

  • Processions each day, especially Maundy Thursday night El Silencio and Good Friday, some in the early hours of Friday morning.
  • Race of San Juanin in Plaza Mayor – the race of the image of St John hurrying to tell Our Lady Of Sorrows of the death of her Son.
  • Links: www.semanasanta-astorga.com, www.ayuntamientodeastorga.com.

Ponferrada

  • Easter Saturday after dark: Salve to Virgen de la Soledad in front of San Andrés
  • Easter Sunday: procession of the sacrament accompanied by the women of the town.

Via de la Plata

Salamanca

  • Maundy Thursday: Procession of the Brotherhood of El Cristo del Amor y de la Pazincludes prayers in front of New Cathedral.
  • Good Friday: Descent from the Cross in Patio Chico.

Zamora

  • Holy Monday: Procession of Penitential Brotherhood of El Santísimo Cristo de la Buena Muerte departs from church of San Lazaro, accompanied by singing of motetJerusalén, Jerusalén by Miguel Manzano.
  • Maundy Thursday: midnight, El Canto del Miserere, Plaza de Viriato – flaming torches line the street , singing of Jesús Yacente.

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Cycling the Camino

The Confraternity produces a very useful booklet in our Practical Pilgrim Notes series – The Cycling Pilgrim on the Camino Francés, 2013 edition – which is available here in our Shop.     This contains information on bikes, kit, transport and touring routes away from walking pilgrims, also a Spanish glossary covering the words for all parts of a bike.

Pilgrimage by bicycle is a different experience to a walking camino.  Cycling pilgrims, or bicigrinos as they are nicknamed in Spanish, travel further and faster than their walking counterparts.  They often travel on roads and tracks away from the main pilgrimage route and are more able to make detours to interesting sites.  The downsides to a cycling camino are that the speed of the journey gives less time for quiet and reflection, and less opportunities to meet fellow pilgrims.  Some albergues give preference to walking pilgrims, particularly in the busy summer season.  Transporting your bike and kit is more arduous and expensive than just taking a rucksack.

Helmets are compulsory in Spain in inter-urban areas and for under-18s in urban areas. Other laws regarding restrictions on bike trailers, children on roads and using right side of road are being considered.

Please visit our Cycling Links for details of how to transport your bike, camino cycling information websites, bicigrino forums and European bike legislation,

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Isn’t the pilgrimage just for religious people ?

Not at all.  People undertake the pilgrimage for all sorts of reasons. Some will have an expressly religious/catholic motivation, some will be drawn by a more general sense of the spiritual.  Many pilgrims are at a crossroads in their life, looking for a temporary escape from the world while they make sense of major life events like bereavement, divorce, retirement or redundancy.  Others are primarily attracted by the walking and the landscape, others by the language, architecture, culture or history.

Precisely because it is so broadly defined, it attracts seekers of many different kinds who, almost invariably, will be willing to exchange their life-stories for yours.  Moreover, you’ll come face-to-face with people from all over the world, whose approach to the pilgrimage may be radically different from yours.

The Pilgrim Office in Santiago issues Certificados rather than Compostelas to those who complete the basic requirement of walking 100km but who state that they have no spiritual motivation for their journey.   However, it is very few pilgrims (less than 6% in 2013, according to the Pilgrim Office statistics) who state that they have no spiritual motivation at all.

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Personal safety and travelling alone

The Camino is statistically very safe, hundreds of thousands of people walk and cycle the routes every year, most of whom experience no problems at all. However you should always be sensible and take care of yourself and your possessions as you would anywhere in the world. Your kit – rucksack, boots, stick – identify you immediately as a pilgrim, and the local people still respect the pilgrims’ motivation and are generally happy to assist you whether it be in an emergency or if you just want directions.

The incident in 2015 of the disappearance of a female pilgrim along the Camino francés, and the subsequent discovery of a body and arrest of a suspect, is highly unusual and has led to greater vigilance and monitoring of the camino by the Guardia Civil, particularly in the summer months. You are encouraged to take note of any safety warnings being made on particular stretches and to act accordingly.

If you have concerns about safety, or about walking alone, here are some tips to help you stay safe:

Walk with other pilgrims or within sight of others If you are nervous about walking solo, or you are an inexperienced walker, choose a busier route like the le Puy route or the Camino francés, on these you are rarely completely alone: there is a great sense of community among the pilgrims, and there are usually others close by to help you if you need it, and to walk with if you choose.

Stay alert.  Be aware of where you are and who you are with.  If any strangers, including other pilgrims, do or say things that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, trust your instincts and seek assistance from other pilgrims, hospitaleros or local people, or from the police if matters are serious.

Carry a mobile phone. The universal European emergency number is 112 which will work in all EU countries even if your phone is out of credit (further numbers are listed below).

We also suggest that you take important contact numbers of your own, such as:

  • your government’s nearest embassy or consulate in the country you are visiting (see our Embassies page for some useful links)
  • bank or credit card companies for reporting lost or stolen cards
  • mobile phone company
  • travel insurers
  • airlines and other travel providers/agents

Click here for a template of emergency numbers to download.  This is in Word format so you can customise it by adding additional contact numbers to suit your own needs. Print off and carry somewhere separate from your wallet or purse.

Always be careful with valuables.  Keep them safe in large cities and don’t leave money, cameras, phones, passports etc unattended at any time.  Use a securely-waterproof bag to protect such items when you shower.

Choose safe accommodation. There’s generally safety in numbers since, in the albergues, everyone shares a large common dormitory, and there are usually hospitaleros on duty who often sleep in the building overnight.  If however you find yourself as sole occupant of an albergue with no hospitalero in attendance, seeking more secure overnight accommodation, such as a small hotel, would be advisable.

Wear a reflective vest.  Not just a sensible thing to do, but it is a legal requirement in Spain to wear one if walking on a road or close to traffic before first light, or after sunset.  They are lightweight and cheap to buy, either before you leave, or from garages or supermarkets in Spain.

Insurance.  Always buy appropriate travel insurance which covers health care, emergency repatriation and rescue.   British citizens (and EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK) should also carry an EHIC card, see here for details of how to get one.

Keep copies  – of passport, travel insurance and any other important documents, carry away from your purse or wallet and consider leaving a set of copies with relatives or friends at home.

If something happens.  Do not hesitate to call the authorities for assistance in an emergency, or to report crimes such as theft or flashing, both of which occur very occasionally.  You will be helping other pilgrims by reporting all such incidents to the nearest hospitalero and the Guardia Civil.  The main emergency number in Europe is a universal 112, but please see below a list of additional emergency numbers. If you need consular assistance please see our Embassies page for useful links.

Spain Additional Numbers:

062 – The Guardia Civil   091 – National Police     092 – Local Police

Each of these services has their own areas of responsibility. However they advise that when in doubt simply phone them and they will decide which force should best respond.

061 – Health Emergencies         080 –  Fire Service

Victims of Crime   There is a dedicated an English-language telephone number for victims of crimes who wish to make a police report but do not speak Spanish. The number is (34)-902-102-112. It operates from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. daily.

France Additional Numbers:

15 – Health Emergencies    17 – Police     18 –  Fire Service

Finally, the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum run by Ivar Rekve has a discussion thread on crime on the camino, with particular reference to this topic.

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Do you organise tours or group pilgrimages?

No.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of companies offering tours, walks and group pilgrimages and we are unable to give recommendations as to which offer the best services or value for money.   We list a few companies offering tours on our Links page.  We suggest that you look for up-to-date reliable reviews, or contact a reputable travel agent and if possible choose a company that is ABTA/ATOL registered in the UK, or if an overseas company, registered to similar associations in its home country.  Also check out Ivar Rekve’s Pilgrim forum for recent recommendations for tour operators.

We are always happy to include in our Bulletin messages from CSJ members or members of other pilgrim associations looking for companions for all or part of the journey: please contact the Editor – details on the Bulletin page.

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Can I get help with transporting my luggage?

Yes, but please bear in mind that if you make use of a support vehicle you may have difficulty in gaining access to some albergues.   In many cases places are strictly reserved for those carrying their own packs.  In recent years there has been an increasing number of companies and individuals offering luggage transport and we are unable to give guidance as to which offer the best services or value for money.  We list a few in our Links page, also advertisements for luggage services are often found displayed in albergues.

Furthermore, full details for planning a luggage-assisted trip can be found in the “Slackpacking the Camino” book available in our shop.

Also check out Ivar Rekve’s Pilgrim forum for recent recommendations for luggage services.

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What guidebooks, maps, apps or GPS do I need?

The Camino Francés is well way-marked so you could manage without any maps or books but a guidebook would helpful, in particular for locating accommodation and appreciating historical and cultural aspects of the pilgrimage.  There are a variety of guidebooks and maps available and we stock the most popular ones in our online shop.

There are also several websites that break down the routes into stages and provide information about the route (such as elevation maps) and accommodation.  Examples of these are

http://www.mundicamino.com/los-caminos/

http://www.gronze.com/

http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/

Please see the Pilgrim Forum run by Ivar Rekve for various threads on GPS.

There are lots of apps available now.  These can be found at the Apple and Android app stores, or at websites like these:

http://wisepilgrim.com/  – various routes, updates and news here: http://www.caminoapp.com/

caminoways.com – free app

http://www.caminocommunityguide.com/camino-smartphone-app.html

http://www.keithfoskett.com/walking-el-camino-year-camino-companion-smartphone-app/  – free app

https://caminopilgrimapp.blogspot.co.uk/

This list is simply to indicate a selection of what is available. We haven’t used or reviewed any of these apps so can’t recommend any one in particular.

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Fitness training for your Camino

The suggestions here are very generalised; if you have any medical conditions or have any concerns at all about your health or fitness, please speak to your doctor or to a physiotherapist or a qualified personal trainer, as appropriate, to obtain professional individual advice.  If you are not an experienced walker we would suggest:

  • Start with short distances (just a few km) on the flat.
  • Add longer distances, hills and, if possible, different types of path, as your fitness improves.  The aim is to be able to walk a daily distance of 20km or more on the Camino over varied terrain.
  • Walk regularly, but do not try to do too much too soon or forget to have rest days.  The last thing you want to do is injure yourself training.
  • Don’t forget to drink enough water while you are training.
  • Learn to stretch your leg, hip, back and shoulder muscles safely, both before and after walking.
  • Break in new boots or walking shoes and socks before you go.   Practice doing at least a few walks while carrying your loaded rucksack too, since carrying a pack affects gait and the way our feet strike the ground.  If you are planning to use walking poles make sure you have practiced with these too.
  • If you are training in a gym, don’t just train on a treadmill or hill climber, but remember to train for stepping downhill too.  Ask a qualified trainer to help you with exercises to strengthen and train your body for all elements of hiking.

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Do I need travel or health insurance?

Citizens of the EU, European Economic Area and Switzerland should carry a European Health Insurance Card – EHIC – which entitles you to basic healthcare in all member states. Beware of unofficial websites charging for the EHIC, this is free of charge from the NHS for British citizens, and EU/EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK. For more information about the EHIC go to:

http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/EHIC/Pages/about-the-ehic.aspx

Under this system most medical care in Spain is free at the point of delivery, although some items, like prescriptions, are not. More details here:

http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/Pages/healthcareinSpain.aspx

In France you have to pay up front, then reclaim what you have spent from either the French or the UK authorities.  More details here:

http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/Pages/healthcareinFrance.aspx

In Portugal most healthcare is state-funded. Please see here for more details:

http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/Pages/healthcareinPortugal.aspx

The EHIC card does not cover the cost of things like any private treatment, mountain rescue or emergency repatriation and we strongly advise that in addition to carrying the EHIC you also take out a comprehensive travel policy including private medical expenses.

It is essential that non-EEA citizens have private medical cover, and again, we recommend that you consider a comprehensive travel policy to cover emergencies like mountain rescue.

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Common ailments on the Camino

Pilgrims unfortunately suffer the same coughs, colds and stomach upsets as anyone else.  There are pharmacies in all the towns and in most of the larger villages for advice and medicines for minor ailments.  If you feel very unwell please ask the hospitalero or pharmacist to direct you to the local clinic or hospital.  In case of emergency call 112.

We offer suggestions for a basic first aid and medicine kit in the Packing List section.

Please note the advice here is very general, if you have specific medical conditions that need special management or are allergic to or cannot take any of the over-the-counter medicines mentioned or have any concerns at all about your health, this advice may not be suitable for you and you should take professional advice from your doctor before starting your camino.

The main pilgrim-specific ailments are:

Blisters  Please see our footcare section on preventing and managing blisters.

Dehydration and Sunburn  Use sunscreen, wear a sunhat and cover the back of your neck with a scarf or shirt collar.  Sunglasses and UVA resistant clothing also help.  Try to avoid walking in the hottest part of the day.  Drink water before you leave in the morning, keep drinking regularly throughout the day, don’t wait until you feel thirsty.  Avoid alcohol. If you start to feel tired and headachey and begin to pass smaller amounts of more concentrated urine, stop walking, rest somewhere cool and shady and rehydrate with water and if possible an electrolyte drink or oral rehydration salts.  If you start to feel very unwell, urgent medical advice should be sought.

Sprains  Wearing boots with suitable ankle support should help prevent the most common sprains i.e. twisted ankles.  If you do suffer anything other than a very minor injury it is wise to seek medical attention.

Tendonitis Correctly fitted boots, proper hydration and stretching before and after exercise help to prevent muscle and tendon strains.  Also, try not to push yourself too hard in the first few days, most pilgrims with tendonitis develop this after their first week of walking because they are going too far, too fast.   If you develop aches and pains that you cannot easily shake off you should get this checked out by a medical professional.  Please note there are various physiotherapists and other practitioners offering sports massage along the Camino Francés.

Insect bites Hydrocortisone cream should soothe itchy bites, if you have an allergic reaction to bites antihistamine tablets may help, a pharmacist will be able to advise you on suitable treatment.  If you suspect you have been bitten by bedbugs, please see our section on Bed bugs on the Camino for advice about what to do. If you feel very unwell seek medical advice.

For more information on the above topics, or any topic not covered in our FAQ, further information and discussion can be found on the Pilgrim Forum, an independent website run by Ivar Rekve:

http://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/forums/medical-issues-on-the-pilgrimage.32/

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Footcare

Your feet need proper care and attention every day to keep you walking comfortably.

You should prepare your footcare regime before you set out on pilgrimage.  Choose well-fitting boots or walking shoes and break them in.  Decide what type of socks or combination of sock layers you will wear and try them out before your camino.  Also decide whether you want to coat your feet with silicon-based preparations, vaseline or sports products like Bodyglide to prevent friction.

Don’t have a pedicure just before a camino as soft feet may be more prone to blisters.

Wash your feet well every day, dry thoroughly and try to leave them exposed to the air as much as possible in the evening.  Keep your nails trimmed and treat any fungal infections like athlete’s foot.  Wearing flip flops or crocs in the showers will limit your exposure to such infections.

Don’t walk with wet feet.  If your feet get wet, dry out your boots as best you can and change into dry socks before continuing.

Some people air their feet and change socks when they stop for a rest. Do what works for you.

If you do develop hotspots, gel dressings like Compeed, lambswool or zinc oxide tape work very well at protecting the sore areas.

The general medical consensus seems to be that blisters should be left alone (since the unbroken skin acts as a barrier to infection) and simply covered with a protective dressing before you start walking again.  Larger blisters may have to be padded with a cushioned dressing of some sort that is taped in place.

Very painful blisters that prevent you from walking may have to be drained with a sterile needle, cleaned and treated with antiseptic and dressed.  This may be best left to a medical professional in order to avoid risk of infection.  Dressings for broken blisters should be changed daily.  If you have diabetes you should always seek medical advice for foot injuries of any sort.

If you do develop very painful blisters, a rest day can work wonders.

There are as many different opinions on types of boots, socks, anti-friction methods and dressings as there are reasons for going on camino.  Good outdoor shops should be able to advise you or come to one of our Practical Pilgrim days or visit the office to talk to experienced pilgrims.  You can also check out Ivar Rekve’s Pilgrim Forum for footcare discussions.

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Diabetes & the Camino

We would strongly recommend that anyone suffering from diabetes consults their doctor before embarking on a pilgrimage.

Further discussion can be found on the Pilgrim Forum, an independent website run by Ivar Rekve:

http://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/forums/medical-issues-on-the-pilgrimage.32/

Two pilgrims share their personal experiences of walking and cycling with diabetes (many thanks to James Windle for his comments on walking) :

Walking with diabetes

To walk the Camino to Santiago is an incredible experience.  For some years I have wanted to participate but I was concerned that my diabetes would make it difficult.  I am a 61 year old who has been dependant on insulin since 1997.  I normally inject Humalog Mix 25 three times per day.  After deciding to follow the Camino Francés I had difficulty finding specific advice so I agreed to record my experiences for the Confraternity journal.  I am not medically trained and I cannot stress too strongly the importance of discussing your plans with your doctor: Don’t assume this article will cover your circumstances.  I am fairly fit and normally aware if my sugar level goes low and I would imagine the risks are much greater for a diabetic who is sometimes taken by surprise by a low test result.

I started on 19th May 2009 and walked from St Jean to Santiago in 33 days, a total of 500 miles.  My daughter (33) walked with me for the first week.  At 10:30 on the difficult first day, after four hours of hard walking and steady climbing, I rather suddenly felt very feeble and a test showed that my blood sugar was low.  Food and a short rest put me back on my feet but I was very tired by the time we reached Roncesvalles (as are most people!).  From then on I started to test regularly to pre-empt low sugar levels.  I had no further significant problems but during the following days I found it necessary to reduce my insulin dose considerably.  I have no idea if this reduction in insulin needs would be typical for other diabetics.  I suggest you get an opinion about this from your doctor.

For emergency food I started out with oatcakes from England but could not find them in Spain.  When necessary, I found that dried apricots were a good quick pick-me-up.  I carried digestive and savoury biscuits, cheese, dried fruit and nuts (cashews and almonds) and a few cereal bars as my emergency rations.  Normally I was able to get breakfast consisting of coffee, fresh orange juice and bread and jam or a croissant either before starting out or within an hour of doing so.  Lunch was a ‘bocadillo’, a length of French bread and either ham or cheese and a piece of fruit.  Bocadillos are available from many cafes and they will usually add tomato if you ask.  Supper was normally the big meal of the day.  Often the ‘pilgrims menu’ included spaghetti and then meat and potatoes or something similar.  It was nourishing, if short on green vegetables.  At the end of the walk my weight had dropped from 90kg to 82kg.  This weight loss is not unusual for walkers on the Camino.

Before I left I received lots of conflicting advice about footwear.  During the Camino I met one very experienced walker (not a diabetic) who always walks in trainers.  I used walking boots and I am still not sure they were the best choice.  My feet have high arches and the skin on the soles of my feet is dry and prone to cracking.  I always use a urea based cream and during the walk I applied it twice daily.  I had relatively little trouble with my feet: Just minor blisters.

See a diabetic consultant and carefully consider his advice.  If you decide to go ahead the guidelines I would suggest are:

  • Test your blood sugar very regularly and adjust your insulin dose as needed.
  • Carry at least a day’s supply of food at all times for emergencies.
  • Make sure your food and test kit are easily available (or you might be tempted not to bother).
  • Consider going with someone who knows you well and recognises your sugar low symptoms.
  • Eat as regularly as possible.
  • Look after your insulin and carry a spare pen.
  • Drink plenty of water.  (Of course this does not only apply to diabetics.)
  • Be very careful of your feet. Change your footwear (shoes and socks) as soon as the day’s walking is done.

Everyone says that a pilgrim should prepare by doing regular walks with a loaded rucksack.  I agree but I met very few people who had done so.  However, depending on the time of year, Spain will be hotter but in other respects it is possible to see how you will cope by doing a three-day walking trip with a fully loaded rucksack.  Do this even if it means walking from home and returning each night.  Aim to walk at least 15 miles each day as a fair test.  At the end of that you will know whether you would be able to cope.

Before I left I discussed the walk with my diabetic consultant and I did so again after returning.  His opinion was that the risk was not justified and he would advise me not to do the walk again.  His main concern was the effect on my feet and the risk of ulceration in the feet and legs.  If you are a diabetic and you decide to walk the Camino I think you should have a medical examination with a diabetic specialist and carefully consider his advice before committing yourself.  It is then a matter of balancing the risk against the opportunity.  For me the walk was a fantastic experience.  The greatest pleasure came from deep discussions with the pilgrims I met.  Conversations started during the day would continue into the evening over a meal.  Others were most moved by the scenery or a particular church or the arrival in Santiago: Everyone gets a different outcome but the massive sense of achievement is impossible to describe.

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Cycling with Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin Dependent Diabetes and Cycling the Camino.

Exercising with  Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) gives me hypoglycemia (hypos). Reducing my  insulin or eating more carbohydrates (carbs) prevents these hypos. Outlined below is the  management, outcomes and problems of my approach to this problem over 14 days of hard exercise. These notes are not a how to guide or instructions for anyone else. This is not ‘ Medical advice’. You should not make any changes to your treatment without appropriate consultation and advice from professionals who manage diabetes. We are all different. What worked for me might not for you.

My Camino took 14 continuous  days of cycling or walking and covered 800km or more. The walking track was used  except between  Palas de Rei and Amenal. This is a 55km section close to Santiago de Compostela. Here the Camino was crowded with walkers and often runs for long sections alongside the sealed highway. The bike was a front suspension Hybrid (not a mountain bike) with 700C *35 wheels and road tyres. It weighed 14kg unloaded.

Personal background: Two yrs ago age 58years, ‘out of the blue’ developed  DKA ( Diabetic Keto Acidosis).  My BMI is 23. HbA1c, ranges 6.8. to 7.2. Insulin:carbs ratio is 1unit of  short acting insulin to 20gm carbs. Treatments: Lantus at night and carbohydrate (carbs) counting to calculate short acting insulin dose whenever I eat. Frequent Bgl monitoring, averaging  2 to 3 times day.

Pre Camino: Bike rides of 60 to 70 km showed that after the first 1 to 1.5 hours I needed about 30gm of carbs per hour to keep going and avoid exercise induced hypos. Soft drinks (most have 10 to 12 gm carbs per 100ml ) were the easiest way to manage for these short periods of exercise. For the first 4 to 6 hours after I  reduce or omit the  short acting insulin dose, depending on the amount of carbs in the meal. Next day back to normal management.

Early Camino:

Day 1. Started badly with a mild hypo (see table). I had made the mistake of not getting enough food when travelling to the starting point,  St Jean Pied Port,  the day before. In addition, that night “without thinking” I took a 100% Lantus dose.  These mistakes were not repeated!

I left St Jean Pied at 9.30am I with two loaves of bread, 750ml of coke, large chocolate bar and muesli bars. Crossing the Pyrenees was very hard exercise, essentially pushing the bike and kit up the Route Napoleon trail. Hypos were avoided by eating bread (100gm bread is generally 45gm carbs) on an hourly basis, all day  with no  short acting insulin dose at all. I was too busy getting over the mountain in reasonable time to do any testing until evening. After arriving in Roncevalles continued to nibble bread up to the evening meal which was about 120 gm carbs. ( The meal has to booked by the way) .

The 15.0mmol was two hrs p.p. (after the meal) .No corrective dose of insulin was taken. As, I did not want a nocturnal hypo in a large dormitory, filled with strangers. This turned out to be the correct decision ( see morning Bgl day 2). That night reduced usual Lantus by 30%.

Day 2.

The morning Bgl was 3.7 and no breakfast available. So did my hypo package. This is 15gm of fast acting ( in this case 150 ml of coke) followed by 30 gm of slower acting ( bread) carbs. To cover the cycling an extra  80gm carbs (dry bread left over from the previous day) was eaten.

Every 1.5 to 2 hours I ate  about 40 gm carbs, never with a dose of insulin. At 4pm, in the rain I got behind with the carbs eating and another  hypo (3.3mmol ) occurred. Treated in the usual fashion. Not feeling too great after the hypo was compounded by  the municipal Auberge not letting me or any other cyclist, stay. Not up to cycling far I found a nearby private pension, thankfully with food. On the second night reduced the Lantus by 40% of the regular dose.

Day 3.

Started low again. Treated it in the usual fashion. The provided breakfast helped start a better but wet day..

From here on the amount and frequency of carbs intake was varied with the severity of the exercise. Always testing in the morning, night,  mostly 2 hrs after an evening meal (p.p.)  and thru the day if ever felt hypo. That night Lantus was reduced to 50% of my normal evening dose, where it remain  as no further morning hypos occurred

Over the next 10 days only 3 small correctional doses of  short acting insulin were taken in the evening when 2 hour evening pp bsl were above 11.5 mol. Also on two occasions after discovering particularly attractive and sizable cakes a much reduced dose of  short acting insulin was taken. Mostly just ate whatever I wanted and carried on biking. Chocolate croissants proved to be particularly hard to cycle past, and never needed a dose!

 

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol
6.30 3.7 6.30 3.7 6.30 3.7 6.30 5.4 6.30 7.4 5.30 4.6 6.30 9.1
20.30 15 12.00 4.1 15.30 8.8 13.00 5.4 11.00 5.7 12.00 3.8 9.00 3.2
    16.00 3.3 17.30 7.9 17.00 6.4 18.00 7.5 19.00 5.8 21.30 12
    23.50 6.3 22.00 11 21.00 6.8 22.00 11 22.00 8.2    
No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food
Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus
Reduced From usual evening dose

30%

Reduced From usual evening dose 40% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50%
                             
Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12 Day 13 Day 14
Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol
6.30 5.9 7.00 5.2 7.00 6 7.00 5.7 7.00 5.2 7.00 6.5 7.00 6.2
12.00 3.5 17.00 9.3 18.30 7.1 21.00 7.7 18.00 6.4 17.30 6.6 18.00 5.7
17.00 4.3 19.30 3.9 21.30 11     21.00 9.4 22.00 5.5 22.00 9
21.00 13 22.00 11                    
No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food No short acting insulin with food
Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus
Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 50% Reduced From usual evening dose 20%

 

After my Camino finished: I returned to the usual management  as follows. On the last night the Lantus dose was increased from a 50% reduction to an a 20% reduction of the usual evening dose. On the first recovery day the evening Lantus was returned to 100%. Full  short acting insulin dose was started on day 2. No weight change occurred during the trip and after the trip no change in correctional dose to mmol Bgl reduction was apparent.

 

Recovery  Day 1 Recovery  Day 2 Recovery

Day 3

Hrs mmol Hrs mmol Hrs mmol
8.00 5.4 8.30 5.4 6.00 4.7
11.00 14 11.00 13 11.30 6.2
17.30 5.3 20.00 11 23.00 5.9
22.00 17^ 22.00 7.4    
23.50 6.8        
           
Re Start partial short acting insulin dose Start full short acting insulin dose Back to usual  short acting insulin dose
Evening Lantus Evening Lantus Evening Lantus
100% 100% 100%
^ correctional dose used

I hope this information is useful to other T1D who get involved in daily heavy exercise.

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Travelling with a CPAP machine for Sleep Apnoea

The main problem with this is the extra weight to carry, at least a few kg, plus the need to securely wrap the machine each day to keep it dry. You should carry an extension lead as not all beds will be near a socket and remember a plug adaptor if needed.   Do also bear in mind that a few of the most basic refuges will have limited electricity or do not have power at all.

This text (supplied by a New Zealand pilgrim) may be helpful in convincing Spanish-speaking hospitaleros (and pilgrims who want to charge their phones overnight!) of the need for you to be near, and have sole use of, a power point, the small amount of electricity used and the quietness of the machine:

Senor <my name> sufre de Apnea y requiere la ayuda de un aparato
respiratorio para dormir.  Esto significa que <Sr. xxx> necesita acceso a
una toma electrica durante la noche.  La cantidad de electricidad usada es
minima, pero es esencial para su confort y salud.  El enchufe debe estar en
un radio de 12 metros de donde duerme el <Sr. xxx>.  Muchas gracias por su
ayuda.

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Pilgrimage for people with disabilities

To qualify for a Certificado or Compostela you must complete at least the last 100km in a wheelchair, walking or riding (200km cycling). The Cathedral is neutral about other assistance such as carrying luggage or support vehicles, and will consider giving a Compostela to pilgrims using motorised chairs if they have collected sellos in a credencial and demonstrate motivation and effort.   Each case is considered on its own merits; CSJ members with concerns should ask us for a letter of introduction and (if possible) have the CSJ tell the Cathedral Pilgrim Office by email shortly before you arrive.

In 2014 the Cathedral Pilgrim Office recorded 98 wheelchair users arriving in Santiago. Please note the Cathedral Pilgrim Office has recently moved to new premises which are more accessible to people with disabilities.

Many albergues are very basic and may not be fully accessible, although newer private albergues tend to be better equipped and may allow booking ahead. Local hotels are likely to offer more extensive facilities.

Please also note that many refuges do not admit pilgrims who are having their luggage transported or any non-walking helpers.  Whilst this policy does seem very harsh on pilgrims with disabilities, it is in place to ensure that tired pilgrims who have carried backpacks all day have a bed for the night and that bunk spaces are not filled up early by able-bodied pilgrims using a luggage transport service.  Since many disabilities are not readily apparent it is not fair to expect busy hospitaleros to have to make judgements about which assisted walker is genuinely in need of a bed.   We would strongly advise contacting places directly where you intend to stay to check admission policy, whether the facilities are suitable for you and whether booking ahead is possible.  The local tourist offices should be able to assist with your planning if you are unable to locate suitable accommodation via a web search.

General advice on the Camino Francés and information on accessible buildings:

http://www.ibermutuamur.es/camino_santiago/inicio/inicial.htm

For basic profile maps on all routes:

http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/

For detailed terrain information between O Cebreiro to Santiago : http://accesible.xacobeo.es/etapas-accesibles/o-cebreiro-triacastela

French website with details on two methods of transport for those with disability: the joëlette and the randoline

Please note that the Confraternity of Saint James has the St Christopher Fund to help with expenses for a companion to travel with elderly or frail pilgrims who need this kind of support.  Contact us for more details if you think that this may help you.

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I have difficulty with hills…

There is no route which completely avoids hills, if you really are unable to manage any kind of elevation then seriously consider not trying the pilgrimage. If you can climb a little, start the Camino Francés at Roncesvalles to avoid the long trek over the Pyrenees, and take buses or taxis over the mountains of León and O Cebreiro. You MUST walk all of the last 100km to qualify for a Certificado or Compostela.

For basic profile maps on all routes:
http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/

For detailed terrain information between O Cebreiro to Santiago http://accesible.xacobeo.es/etapas-accesibles/o-cebreiro-triacastela

Please note that the Confraternity of Saint James has the St Christopher Fund to help with expenses for a companion to travel with elderly or frail pilgrims who need this kind of support. Contact us for more details if you think that this may help you.

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Children on the Camino

There are an increasing number of children walking the camino with their parents, although it is unusual to see family groups outside the school holidays. There are often school and scout parties of teenagers walking the last 100km from Sarria. Most refuges will accept children and some will be able to accommodate families in separate rooms if these are available.

Babies and toddlers can be carried in robust buggies or prams, or in adapted backbacks, although you will have to consider the possibility of local detours to avoid areas of difficult terrain and plan for the extra energy required to push or carry children and the limits this may place on your daily mileage.  We would not recommend cycling with a child in a trailer behind you, since they are very exposed to fast-moving traffic and exhaust fumes.  The heat may also restrict the time you can spend walking with a child.  In remoter areas the availability of babyfood and nappies might be limited.

Older children can walk or cycle, although the distance they can cover each day may be quite restricted, depending on their age and energy levels, and by the heat and terrain.  They may also be bored by lack of activities and the fact that they are unlikely to meet other children of their own age.

The best advice we can offer is to try some walking or biking with your children, starting with day-trips, then a weekend or a week while camping or hostelling, at a cooler time of year, nearer home.  Then you can decide if your family is ready to tackle the Camino.

See these links for some detailed accounts of walking with children and a 1 yr old.

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Taking my service or pet dog

We would strongly advise against taking your pet dog on Camino. Dogs are prohibited from most restaurants, bars, albergues and some public transport in Spain. Some breeds are restricted or have to be muzzled.

Most people who take dogs are camping, those that aren’t may have to leave their dogs outside the albergue overnight, in all weathers. Dogs do not acclimatise to warmer or cooler weather as easily as humans and can become very stressed at the constant changes and separation from their owners.

Aside from the difficulty in eating out and finding accommodation, there is the issue of buying and carrying dog food, sore paws, finding a vet if your dog gets ill or injured and the potential danger of conflict with other dogs as you walk through their “territories”.

By law service dogs have much greater access to areas forbidden to pet dogs, including albergues, so it is possible to go on pilgrimage with your working companion. You must carry your dog’s service certification documentation,and it would be wise to have a brief Spanish and/or French translation to ensure hospitaleros or restaurant owners understand that you have a service dog with you. It is worthwhile to try and contact any Spanish association for similar service dogs to see what advice or assistance they can offer.

All dogs must have the requisite pet passport or official third country veterinary certificate, be vaccinated against rabies, treated for tapeworm and microchipped.

UK government advice on pet travel

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association Travel Advice

Spanish Association of Assistance & Therapy Dogs

There is another Spanish Association of Assistance Dogs based in Bilbao, Madrid and Catalonia.

Rules on Restricted Breeds in Spain

Threats and diseases for pets in Spain

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I’d like to go on horseback, or maybe take a donkey

Again, we would generally not recommend taking animals on camino. However if you are interested in finding out more about this we suggest the following:

In our bookshop you can find books with information on, or accounts of, riding the Camino.

Your Camino: on foot, bicycle or horseback in France and Spain

Three Saint’s Way: Winchester to Mont-Saint-Michel

Three Saints’ Way: Mont Saint-Michel to St-Jean d’Angély

Riding the Milky Way: a journey of Discovery to Santiago

http://www.elcaminoacaballo.com/ has a horseriding guide to buy together with various links.

http://www.chemindecompostelle.com (in French) has lots of advice on horseriding.

See our tour operators section under links for details of companies offering horseback tours and pilgrimage.

 http://www.chemindecompostelle.com  has information (in French) on taking a donkey and a recent interview of a pilgrim with a donkey

There are various organisations which offer donkey or horse hire, planned itineraries with donkeys or organised horseback pilgrimage and we include some details in our Links page.. We regret we are unable to recommend any in particular as we have no knowledge of the quality of services they provide.

Hiking with donkey

English page of the website of Jacques Clouteau (author of Il est un beau chemin semé d’épines et d’étoiles) for all you could possibly want to know about walking with a donkey, including lists of donkey hire companies.  Mainly in French.

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Do I need to speak Spanish or French?

It is possible to get by without, but on less frequented routes where there is little pilgrim-specific accommodation it is better to have at least basic Spanish.

On the busier routes you will meet various non-French and non-Spanish pilgrims who generally will speak some English, but you should not expect to meet many English-speaking Spaniards, pilgrim or otherwise.

Your enjoyment of France and Spain and the people you meet will be greatly enhanced if you can find the time to learn some basic French or Spanish (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, enough vocabulary to use in shops and restaurants and to ask for a bed or room for the night). We strongly suggest investing in an evening class, or a teach-yourself book/audio course, or trying one of the many free online learning resources, such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/. You may wish consider buying a small lightweight phrasebook too.

We offer the book Camino Lingo in our online shop.

The Instituto Cervantes, 102 Eaton Square, London SW1W 9AN (020 7245 0621) offers Spanish language classes. Their website is londres.cervantes.es/en/default.shtm

Or how about a Spanish language course at the University of Santiago itself? The University also offers Spanish-language courses which include a week on the Camino or Spanish-language courses for hospitaleros.

The City Hall School of Languages in Léon offers a one-week Spanish for Pilgrims course.

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Water: Is it safe to drink tap water and how much water should I carry?

On most sections of the Camino Francés you are unlikely to need carry more than 1 litre of water at any time because there are many places along the route to refill your bottle or buy drinks.  However, on remoter routes, or in very warm weather, or on stretches of the Francés where there are longer gaps between water supplies, such as crossing the Pyrenees or the meseta, it is advisable to carry 2 litres.  Always check in your guidebook prior to setting out each day to see what water refill points are available.

Tap water in France is generally safe to drink, however a few smaller communities are not connected to the mains.  You will find public taps, drinking fountains and bars/cafes on the way where you can refill your water bottles. Many pilgrim guides also state that all French cemeteries have a tap which is safe to drink from but recent reports suggest that such water has caused illness.   If in any doubt you should ask.

L’eau (du robinet) est-elle potable?  Is the (tap) water drinkable?

Tap water in Spain is generally safe to drink in the major cities, indeed some places, such as Madrid and Granada, pride themselves on the exceptional quality of their water supply.  Elsewhere the quality of water may vary. Some coastal areas rely on desalinated water which can taste quite unpleasant .   Other areas rely on underground tanks for water if the mains supply gets interrupted.  In more remote areas it is best to stick to bottled water unless you are sure the tap water is safe.

¿Es potable el agua (del grifo)?  – Is the (tap) water drinkable?

As in France, you will find drinking fountains and bars where you can refill your water bottle.  If a fountain is for human consumption it should have a sign saying Agua Potable, if not drinkable No Potable or Sin Purificación.

¿Es potable el agua (de la fuente)?  – Is the (fountain) water drinkable?

Please don’t drink out of rivers or streams, however temptingly cool and clear they look, since many harbour bacteria or parasites that can cause stomach upsets.

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What is the food like on Camino?

If you stay in albergues you will usually eat in bars or restaurants, although a few albergues offer a communal breakfast or dinner.  Use a guidebook to plan ahead for places to eat or shop for food.  Don’t forget bars often don’t open until 8 or 9 am and shops will be closed from lunchtime until late afternoon.  It is best to carry a small quantity of food that doesn’t need refrigeration – choose from fresh or dried fruit, nuts, cereal bars, bread, cheese, tinned sardines – to eat as snacks or as a makeshift breakfast or picnic lunch in case bars or shops are closed when you walk past.

Some albergues have kitchens open to pilgrims but can be poorly equipped with utensils; it is best to check the facilities before planning what to cook and shopping for ingredients.  Also you may discover items left by other pilgrims which you can use, like open packets of rice or pasta.  There are supermarkets in the larger towns, but in the villages the shops will have a much more limited choice of foodstuffs.

You are likely to find variants on the following in the bars and restaurants along the Camino Francés:

Breakfast  – Bread/toast with jam, pastries, churros (long fried doughnuts), coffee, tea, hot chocolate, fruit juice.

Lunch/snacks – Tortilla (egg and potato flan), salad, bocadillos (baguette-style rolls with various fillings, usually cheese or ham), soup, empanada (a square piece of a large pie, usually filled with tuna or cod in tomato sauce).  Or if you are very hungry, have the 3 course menú del día available from 2 pm onwards.

Dinner – Menú del Peregrino – 3 course set meal, very similar to menú del día. Here we give an idea of what choices you may be offered, sometimes there is a choice of dishes, sometimes not.

  • Starters: Soup (lentil, garlic, bean), mixed salad, pasta with tomato sauce, vegetables which can include menestra de verduras (a sort of stew or thick soup), green beans or peas with garlic and ham or chorizo, vegetables in season, such as asparagus..
  • Mains: Meat (Chicken, beef – usually stew, pork, meatballs, sausage, chorizo, lamb, rabbit), eggs, fish (trout, hake, salmon, tuna), usually served with chips or sometimes boiled potatoes.
  • Desserts: Yoghurt, various custard-style desserts (cuajada, natillas, flan), ice cream, fresh or tinned fruit, rice pudding, cakes, cheesecake,

The menú del peregrino usually includes bread and either wine or water, and is served from around 7pm to ensure tired pilgrims can be back in their bunks for 10pm lights out.

If you are having a rest day, staying somewhere other than a refugio, you can treat yourself to dinner or tapas at the more conventional 9pm onwards and enjoy a wider selection of food.

There are a lot of traditional local dishes to try if you get the opportunity:

Pamplona & Navarra – pimientos de piquillo (long red peppers), white beans, chistorra sausage, trout, cuajada (sweetened creamy cheese traditionally made from ewe’s milk), pacharán (fruit/anise liqueur).

Logroňo – famous for tapas bars, Rioja wine.

Burgos – morcilla blood sausage

Astorga and La Maragatería region – cocido maragato (a stew of many different pork cuts, traditionally separated after cooking and served meat first, followed by vegetable and chickpeas and finally noodle soup made from the broth). Astorga is famous for its chocolate.

Galicia – caldo gallego (a filling stew/soup of greens, potato and meat), tarta santiago almond cake, pulpo a la gallega (octopus served on potatoes with paprika), creamy white cheeses, pimientos de padrón (small green peppers served fried),some sweet and some fiery, bacalao (salt cod), steaks, cider.

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I’m vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/coeliac…

Unfortunately vegetarian options are not so plentiful in Spain, although an increasing number of place are starting to offer them.  If you are a very strict vegetarian or vegan it is probably best to cook for yourself or try to stay at albergues or other establishments that specifically offer vegetarian catering.  There are also some vegetarian restaurants en-route, particularly in the larger cities.

If you are self-catering, make sure your albergue has a kitchen available (and sufficient kitchen equipment) before shopping for ingredients.  Before you go on camino write down or save on your phone several pasta/rice/potato/pulse based recipes that are simple and can be adapted to a variety of ingredients.

If you do eat out in ordinary bars and restaurants you can ask for salad to be served without the ever-present dollop of tinned tuna but be aware that many lentil or vegetable soups will be cooked with meat stock and that pastries and cakes may contain egg or animal fats.

We hope you will find the following links helpful:

Comments and advice from a vegan pilgrim

A list of vegetarian albergues/restaurants.

Happy Cow has a list of vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants and stores in Spain (and worldwide).

More advice on vegetarian places to eat or stay and helpful phrases.

Red de Albergues Alternativos has a list of albergues/restaurants that may offer vegetarian options.

Travel help for coeliacs,including a downloadable card in Spanish or French to show in restaurants.

Gluten-free eating out in Spain and gluten-free food shopping in Spain.

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What does it cost, and how do I get money?

Probably €30 is a good daily figure to budget for, you can spend less if you look for the cheapest accommodation, assemble your own picnic lunches and self-cater, or you can spend rather more if you eat out all the time, treat yourself to regular nights in a hotel or casa rural and pay to have your luggage carried.

Albergues usually vary between €5 – €15 per person per night, hostals, pensiones, casa rurales, hotels €20 plus per person per night, depending on the quality of the establishment and whether you have a single or shared room.

But what about this free accommodation people talk about? Well, there are indeed some free municipal albergues on the Vía de la Plata. There are many other albergues, usually those run by pilgrim assocations or religious groups, which do not charge a fixed price but are run on a voluntary contribution basis (aportación voluntaria)  This does not mean they should be regarded as free, as is sometimes stated in various online forum comments, rather that they rely on voluntary donations to keep open and that it is up to you to ensure you pay a fair contribution for your stay.

The pilgrim menu is anything between €9 and €15, breakfast maybe €3 and lunch maybe another €5.

Don’t forget to include in your budget extra purchases such as drinks, various toiletries and pharmacy products and to have access to an emergency fund to cover unexpected events such as extra rest days in a hotel, or replacing lost or damaged kit.

There are banks and cashpoints in all of the cities and towns, also some of the larger villages. Tell your bank and credit card company that you will be away.  Consider getting a currency card which can be preloaded with a set amount of cash for a fixed exchange rate and then topped up by text, phone or internet as often as you need.  Here is some information on currency cards to explain where to get them and how they work.

Finally – use ATMs when the bank is open, if possible.  If your card is “eaten” by the machine you should be able to get it back quickly….

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Telephones and Internet

Spain has good mobile coverage, so it is easy to stay in touch via phone.  Don’t forget to make sure your phone will work overseas – you will need a GSM phone which can operate on Spanish frequency bands.  All phones in the UK, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa operate on the same GSM  frequencies as Spain, and new handsets in UK are at least dual band which is necessary for them to work in Spain.  If in any doubt about your handset, please check with the store or manufacturer.

You can either use the phone via roaming on your current network (you will need to activate roaming on your phone at least a week before you go – contact your mobile phone provider for details) or via a prepaid Global SIM card or via a Spanish SIM card to save on costs.  The most cost-effective option will depend on whether you will make a lot of local calls (local SIM is probably better) or international calls (Global SIM or roaming will probably be cheaper). You will need to have your phone unlocked to enable you to change SIM cards, please check with your mobile phone provider regarding unlocking fees.

Some phones from various USA (Sprint and Verizon) and Canadian networks may well be CDMA only so incompatible with the European GSM networks, please check with your mobile phone provider.

There are an increasing amount of internet or WiFi availability in bars and albergues throughout Spain, particularly on the Camino Francés.  Keeping in touch via email, or Skype or WhatsApp may be cheaper than texting or calling.

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Postal services and sending items ahead

Don’t forget the good old-fashioned postal service to send letters or postcards back home.   Stamps are usually available from tobacconists in Spain, you don’t need to go to the Post Office (Correos).  The tobacconist (estanco) has a burgundy and yellow sign. Post boxes are yellow, marked Correos with the Spanish Postal Service emblem of a posthorn and crown.

You can also receive mail from home if you wish or send on heavy items that you decide not to carry, or to receive something that is unsuitable for airline hand luggage, like a Swiss army knife.

In France, items should be addressed to you Poste Restante, in Spain Lista de Correos. In each case, the surname should be first, in capitals. When you go to collect mail, take your passport as ID; and to be sure, ask them to check under your first name as well as your surname.  In France, you’ll be charged the cost of a standard stamp per item that you collect from Poste Restante. Collection in Spain is free.  Please note that items not collected within 2 weeks will be returned to sender.

Please see below for details of places along the le Puy route and the Camino Francés, with postal codes, 2 or three days apart.

Poste Restante
Lista de Correos
43000 le Puy-en-Velay 31080 Pamplona (Navarra)
48120 St Alban-sur Limagnole 31100 Puenta la Reina (Navarra)
48260 Nasbinals 26080 Logroño (Navarra)
12190 Estaing 09080 Burgos
12320 Conques 24080 León
46100 Figeac 24700 Astorga (León)
46160 Marcilhac-sur-Célé 24400 Ponferrada (León)
46000 Cahors 27600 Sarria (Lugo)
82200 Moissac 15780 Santiago de Compostela (A Coruña)*
32700 Lectoure
32100 Condom
40800 Aire-sur-l’Adour
64190 Navarrenx
64220 St Jean Pied-de-Port

We are often asked if  the Accueil de St Jacques in St Jean Pied de Port can look after parcels being forwarded for collection by pilgrims; unfortunately it cannot provide this service.

Ivar Rekve in Santiago offers a parcel storage service for up to 60 days for €15 – €25, depending on size. http://www.caminodesantiago.me/luggage-storage-in-santiago-de-compostela/

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Are there places which offer a specifically Christian welcome?

For French routes, you can obtain a list of Christian places to stay from webcompostella.com (you will need to complete a form and send them an SAE).

For Spain there is the ACC (Acogida Cristiana en el Camino) http://www.acogidacristianaenelcamino.es/ (in Spanish but with English option). They have a map and details for all the albergues of Christian welcome along the various Spanish routes, together with a map for churches (with mass times) .

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Mass times and translations

For information on mass times in France: http://egliseinfo.catholique.fr/

For information on mass times on Spanish routes:  http://www.acogidacristianaenelcamino.es/

For information on mass times all over Spain:  http://www.misas.org/

We sell a Spanish-English prayerbook in our online shop which contains:

  • Basic Prayers
  • Our Father
  • Hail Mary
  • Glory be
  • Apostles’ Creed
  • The Order of Mass
  • Common Prayers
  • Angel of God

This and a French-English version is also available from the Catholic Truth Society.

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What is a typical day like on Camino?

Most people like to walk early – especially when it’s hot, and arrive at the albergue from early afternoon onwards. They can shower, do their laundry and hang their washing on the line, then have a rest ready to go out later, maybe sightseeing followed by mass and a meal in the cool of the early evening. Some prefer to use the later Spanish lunch-hour to have their main meal, their day’s walk completed, at 2.00 or 3.00 p.m and have a snack in the evening.

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Bed bugs on the Camino

Since 2006, there have been infestations of bed bugs along the Camino Francés.  All albergues are now well aware of the problem and most have procedures in place to deal with outbreaks and to assist pilgrims who have come into contact with bedbugs. Please do not be deterred from embarking on pilgrimage by the thought of bedbugs, most pilgrims report having no contact with them at all during their journey.  Bedbugs are not a unique feature of the camino, but are found the world over, from the lowliest hostel to the most luxurious hotels.  They are not a sign of poor cleanliness but are simply an unwelcome consequence of the enormous rise in global travel in recent years.

Here are some bedbug facts to arm yourself with before you go.

  • Bedbugs are small, flat, apple-pip shaped insects that feed on human or animal blood.  They tend to hide away in dark areas during daytime but come out at night to feed, attracted by the carbon dioxide emitted by sleeping humans.  They are not restricted to beds but can infest furniture and fixtures too.
  • Bedbugs are not known to transmit diseases in temperate climates, but for some people their bites leave painful and itchy welts. Occasionally people have more severe allergic reactions to bites and need medical attention.  Bites are often in a distinctive line or zig zag pattern.
  • Bedbugs can crawl into bags, luggage, sleeping bags or clothing while you sleep, thereby hitching a lift to the next hostel.

So, what can you do to minimise your risks?

Before you go:

  • You can buy undersheets or sleeping bags that have been chemically treated to repel bedbugs.  Some people recommend silk liners as insects find it hard to penetrate silk, others spray their sleeping bags and rucksacks with insecticide.  In most cases the chemical treatments are permethrin-based.   Please take advice from the retailer and always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions if you decide to spray any kit, since permethrin is very toxic to cats and aquatic creatures , and can be toxic in liquid form to humans by skin contact or inhalation.
  • Pack a small torch and consider bringing anti-histamine pills if you normally use these at home for insect bites.

On Camino:

  • When you arrive at an albergue, examine the bunk frame, mattress and any pillows, paying particular attention to cracks, joints and seams.  Use your torch if necessary. You are looking for spots of blood, clusters of black specks, cast-off skins and live bedbugs.   Also check any cracks in nearby walls or other furniture for tell-tale signs.
  • If  you find anything untoward, please inform the hospitalero discreetly.  If you cannot be moved into another room then you should go to another albergue.  Don’t spray chemicals in the albergue to try to deal with it yourself.
  • Don’t put your rucksack on or under or against the bed.   Keep your rucksack tightly closed when you are not unpacking or packing.  Consider sealing it in a plastic bag overnight.
  • Try to keep covered up in bed since bedbugs usually feed on exposed skin.
  • Shake out your sleeping bag thoroughly in the morning before packing it.

If you have been bitten:

  • Try not to scratch itchy bites. Get advice and treatment from the local pharmacy, or if you feel unwell, seek medical attention.
  • Tell the hospitalero discreetly.  If you do not notice the bites until you have walked on, please tell the hospitalero at the next albergue that you stay at.  They should be able to assist you with washing and treating your pack and possessions and may put you in a segregated room to avoid further spread of bugs.
  • If you don’t have hospitalero assistance, wash all your clothes in hot water and if available, use a dryer on a hot setting.   Outdoors, take everything out of your rucksack, turn it inside out and open all pockets and leave in the sun for a few hours.  You can spray your pack with insecticide (only use according to instructions and keep away from food stuffs and eating utensils, water sources and animals) before leaving in the sun.
  • When you get home, do not bring your rucksack indoors, but keep sealed in a plastic bag in a shed or garage.  Wash and tumble dry all your clothes at high temperature, carefully check other items, spray with insecticide if necessary. Alternatively, wrap whole bag in plastic and leave in a freezer at -17.8C (0F) for 4 days.

You can see pictures and information on bedbugs and signs of infestation here and bites here. Please remember, this is likely to be the closest you will ever get to them!

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Are there dangerous dogs?

Most dogs along the more popular camino routes are well-used to seeing pilgrims and rarely take much notice of them.  Those which are specifically used as house guard dogs are usually either behind fences or chained up. However in rural areas dogs are routinely used to protect flocks or farms and it is wise to check that you do not inadvertently walk between the dogs and their flock. Use common sense and do not approach unfamiliar dogs unless their owner indicates that it is safe to do so.  Give a wide berth to loose dogs; dogs perceive a direct approach as more threatening than walking around them in a wide arc.

In the unlikely event of meeting an unfriendly dog, remain calm and do not run as this triggers the instinct to chase prey. Avoid direct eye contact which can be seen as a challenge.  If you call for help do so calmly but don’t shout or scream or wave your arms or stick at the dog.  Stand still or if safe to do so walk or back away slowly keeping the dog in your peripheral vision.

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