Why do people do the Camino?

Whereas in the Middle Ages, the Camino was pretty exclusively a penitent pilgrimage to the tomb of St James the Apostle in exchange for absolution from your sins; nowadays it has evolved into something more holistic.

The reasons that people make their Caminos range enormously. Of course, many pilgrims go because of their faith and want to observe the traditional religious practices along the way. There are others who simply see it as a long hike through beautiful countryside and gastronomy. But in fact we find that most modern pilgrims fall somewhere in the middle. 

For us, the Camino is a much-needed opportunity to get away from the busyness and stress of your everyday commitments, where you can clear your head and be with your own thoughts.

Doing the Camino has given me more faith in myself and in my abilities.

People fall in love with the independence, living to your own schedule, often spontaneously, without deadlines or dependants. The traditional pilgrim will refrain from booking their accommodation and even their journey home in advance, offering maximum flexibility and scope for spontaneity. And although at busier times of year and on busier routes it is advisable to book ahead, you can still enjoy make your own itinerary without needing to compromise for the needs or wants of others. 

The opportunity to mix with people from all over the world is also a real draw for modern pilgrims. Of course, this didn't used to be the case until modern times but the social element of the pilgrimage has blossomed in the last few decades, and pilgrims often find friends out on the Camino who they stay in touch with for the rest of their lives! No matter what your background, nationality or beliefts, the Camino attracts all types of person and walking together can be incredibly bonding.

Thirdly, what people love most about the camino is the simplicity. Living out of the contents of your relatively small rucksack for weeks at a time affords a minimalism that most people are not used to, but which is very conducive to a calm mind. The spirituality of the Camino is much talked about among pilgrims, but there is a mysticism to it which makes it difficult to relate to someone who has never done it! Truly, it is an experience to be experienced. To read more about what CSJ members have called the 'Spiritual Dimension,' click here.

If you pilgrimage to Rome, you discover the Pope. If you pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you discover Jesus. If you pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, you discover yourself. 

How many people do it?

The number of pilgrims who have reached Santiago has multiplied in recent years due to increased exposure in the media and popular culture. Its growing popularity has led to improved infrastructure, literature, and accommodation available, particularly on the Camino Francés – which is now becoming increasingly overcrowded. 

In 2018, more than 327,000 pilgrims received the compostela, the personalised Latin certificate from Santiago Cathedral to acknowledge completion of the pilgrimage. Of these, two thirds had come via the Camino Francés. For a full breakdown of the statistics of pilgrims that come into Santiago – click here.

What are the rules?

There are no real rules for doing the camino. Although normal standards of courteous behaviour are expected in the places you stay!

If you want to stay in any pilgrim hostels, you will need the credencial (pilgrim passport) – a small booklet inside which you have your personal details and several pages for sellos (stamps) to collect from hostels, churches and cafes along the way to document your journey.

If you want the compostela from the cathedral in Santiago, you will need to have walked or ridden on horseback the last 100 km of the route you are doing or cycled the last 200 km. You will also need to specify a spiritual or religious motivation when you collect.

Note, there is also the certificado – the certificate for those that specify cultural or sporting motivation. 

The CSJ and similar pilgrim associations throughout the world exist to help the modern pilgrim, by providing advice and information, and issuing the credencial which you can read more about here.

Nothing more rewarding after a hard day’s walking than a warm welcome, a new pilgrim stamp, a decent bed and a meal with pilgrims from literally all over the world.