Backpacking Spain: Pilgrimage Hike of the Camino de Santiago
Backpacking Spain on the Camino de Santiago is a once in a lifetime experience. This guide will cover the nuts-and-bolts of the Camino, including backpacking tips, preparation and resources to get you started on the most famous pilgrimage hike in the world!
- Pilgrimage Hike in Spain
- Backpacking + Navigating the Camino
- Where To Stay
- Best Time To Walk
- Preparing and Packing for the Camino
Pilgrimage Hike in Spain
The 500 mile Camino is a millennia-old pilgrimage hike through Spain known as El Camino de Santiago, or “The Way of Saint James”. There are over eight routes that traverse through four countries and all converge in the town of Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that St. James is interred under the cathedral in Santiago, the end of the way.
Historically, pilgrims undertook the journey for religious reasons, out of piety or atonement for their sins. However, as time passed, more and more pilgrims have travelled the routes for spiritual and secular reasons alike. Along they way, pilgrims seek and find clarity, healing, physical challenge and rest. While the routes of the Camino have remained fixed for centuries, each pilgrim has a unique camino and experience.
Backpacking Spain: Navigating the Camino
While the Camino is historically a pilgrimage, it’s absolutely a backpacking trip. The route determines the length of time spent of the Camino, and the type of preparation that is required.
Make sure to do research on the chosen route to ensure that you’re well prepared. If you’re starting out on the Camino Frances, check out my essential Packing and Preparation Guide linked here and below.
Where to Stay on the Camino De Santiago
The Camino de Santiago is unique for backpackers, as the way offers its own accommodations in albergues. Albergues are hostels that are dedicated to the Camino. For a nominal daily fee of 5-10 Euros, pilgrims can have a bed and hot shower (and in some cases, even breakfast). There are also a plethora of private albergues, boutique hostels and hotels along the way. One of the most unique features of albergues is that pilgrims can show up the day-of and find lodging- they need only show their credencial (Pilgrim Passport). Due to an increase of pilgrims in recent years, there is sometimes more challenge to finding accommodations the closer one gets to Santiago de Compostela BUT the Camino provides and there are always lodging options in the end.
Best Time to Walk the Camino De Santiago
The best times to walk the Camino De Santiago will differ according the the chosen route and type of experience that backpacker desires. The Camino is open year-round, with different seasons offering different advantages.
Spring (March – May):
Temperatures are cooler, but there are fewer crowds. Heading out in early spring means that there will be fewer pilgrims and more solitude, and also fewer accommodations open.
Summer (June – August):
The summer months are the peak on the camino, and there will be plenty of other pilgrims and new friends to meet along the way (but more demand for accommodations). Warmer temps and longer days are inviting (but it can get uncomfortably hot during the day).
Fall (September – November):
The Fall months are shoulder season on the camino, and you can enjoy cooler temperatures and fewer crowds again. Keep in mind that the days begin to be shorter, so there are times when you’ll be walking in the dark.
Winter (December – March):
The Winter months are challenging for pilgrims. Chart out the route carefully, as certain accommodations may be closed for the season. In addition, consider the added weight of the backpack now including heavier clothing and potentially camping gear.
Preparing and Packing for the Camino
The Camino is hands-down an awesome and feasible backpacking trip through Spain! No matter which route, Pilgrims need to prepare for the long walking days with training hikes. It’s recommended to practice hiking a minimum of 10 miles/ 20 km with a prepped backpack. It’s even better to practice multiple days per week, so that the body can adjust to the frequency and intensity of the walks.
Packing for this backpacking trip is actually quite straightforward, as all you *really need is a simple small backpack, quality hiking shoes and a few other essential items (summed up in this list). Due to the temperate climate and the accessibility of Spain, backpacking through this country is relatively affordable and simple. Make sure to grab a good guidebook (list below) to help you on the adventure!
Backpacking Spain on the Camino de Santiago can be surprisingly affordable! The credencial, or Pilgrim Passport, allows access to the safe, clean and cheap approved albergues on the route. Additionally, many restaurants on the way offer “Pilgrim Menus” which are prix-fix meals at a discounted rate. Finally the credencial often allows for discounts at museums and other establishments along the route. Pilgrims that are on a budget and are sticking to the municipal albergues can expect to spend about 20 euro per day, while those staying in private accommodations or eating out can increase their daily rate.
Resources for your Camino De Santiago
Luckily, the Camino is so accessible and well traveled that it does not require a travel agency or tour guide to complete it. However, you will want to get a good guidebook to help lead your way. Check out the books that I used below for the Camino Frances.
While I HIGHLY recommend self-guided tours of the Camino (all you need is one of the books above), there are private guided tours available. Most offer a few days on the trail, rather than the entire 500 mile journey.
Guide to Backpacking Spain: The Camino de Santiago
So there you have it – the complete guide to backpacking through Spain on the pilgrimage hike of Camino de Santiago. Have extra time or want a different Spanish vacation? Check out these Unique Spanish Destinations for your perfect trip.
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