of St James : Planning
your pilgrimage: some practical tips
page updated by hn on 28/07/2010
Remember that there are no rules, that it's your
pilgrimage, and that in a real sense it begins and
ends at your own front door. Nevertheless, in a
world largely governed by the rhythm of work and
holidays, family commitments, and public transport
schedules - to say nothing of costs - there are
bound to be a number of things you have to take
into account in planning your journey.
There's nothing to stop you making the pilgrimage
in stages, starting as far back as you like, and
taking as many years' worth of holidays as you need.
We know of one family who walked from le Puy
to Santiago over 10 years' summer holidays. 6 or
more years is not uncommon.
However, what follows is based on the assumption
that you'll only go once, that you have limited
time, and that you want to end up in Santiago. Also
- generally - that you're going to walk.
Information for prospective cyclists is included
It is also based largely on the le Puy route and
the Camino Francés - but they're getting very crowded,
and we urge you to consider the Vézelay and Arles
routes in France, and the Via de la Plata or the
Camino del Norte in Spain, as alternatives, even
for your first pilgrimage.
For descriptions of all the routes, click here:
to buy a pamphlet version of these descriptions
called Which Camino?, go to our Bookshop: http://www.csj.org.uk/acatalog/The_CSJ_Bookshop_Practical_Pilgrim_Notes_14.html
See also our FAQs page: http://www.csj.org.uk/faqs.htm
Getting There and Back section of our Links page:
the Pilgrimage to Santiago discussion forum: http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/traveling-to-from-the-camino/
To get up to speed on what's going on in and around
Santiago (including a Google News feed on all pilgrimage-related
topics), visit the home page of the Pilgrimage to
Santiago site: http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/
You may also like to keep an eye on this Spanish-language
website for up-to-the minute developments on the
For advice about when to go, see our FAQs page:
the section on going in winter: and take heed of
what we say about crossing the Pyrenees in snow:
If you have already bought one of our guides, check
here to see whether an update is available: http://www.csj.org.uk/guides.htm
on the Internet
should I start from ?
tip for your return journey
much should I allow each day ?
should I take ?
rhythm of the day
about my pilgrim passport ?
on the Internet
of our members has just added to his site (mainly
devoted to pictures of the Camino) a database which
codes and analyses a number of Camino-related websites
by their content. This is for the serious
researcher ! http://www.santiago-compostela.net/newlinks.html
should I start from ?
out how many days you have available for walking
(taking into account the time it will take to get
to your starting point, the possible need for rest
days, your probable desire to spend a day or two
in Santiago, and the time to get home again), and
the distance you reckon to cover in a day: 20 kms
would be a moderate distance; 25 kms closer to the
average; 30 kms for the stronger and fitter. Multiply
the two: then think in terms of the main places
you can reach by public transport.
helpful rule-of-thumb distances to Santiago:
Le Puy 1,600 km / Conques 1,300 km / Moissac 1,090
km / St Jean-Pied-de-Port 780 km /
Roncesvalles 750 km / Pamplona 700 km / Logroño
612 km / Burgos 500 km / Leon 300 km /
200 km / O Cebreiro 150 km / Sarria 100 km
Jean Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles ?
The Abbey of Roncesvalles, just below the crest
of the Pyrenees, is the great starting point, especially
for Spaniards, but increasing numbers of pilgrims
chose to start from St Jean Pied-de-Port, the last
town on the French side, accepting the steep climb
(1,200m) that this involves on the first day.
To reach St Jean Pied-de-Port: either fly to Biarritz
with Ryanair, take the airport bus to Bayonne
station, then the branch line train (up to 6 per
day in summer) to St Jean. Or take the Eurolines
coach to Bayonne. Or the Eurostar to Lille,
then change onto the TGV which skirts Paris to Bayonne.
To reach Roncesvalles: fly with Easyjet to Bilbao,
take the bus to Pamplona then the Autocares Artiedabus
(18.00 daily not Sun, 1600 Sat) to Roncesvalles.
Francisco Igoa Martinez (+ 34 649 725951) provides
an 8-seater taxi service from Pamplona to Roncesvalles,
and is a mine of useful local information.
NB that Ryanair, Easyjet and Flybe are flying to
more and more places: we'll try to keep you up to
date with the possibilities they offer: http://www.csj.org.uk/other-websites.htm#travel
Additional information on travelling to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
or other starting points, and for getting home again,taken
from the CSJ's Guide to the Camino Francés: http://www.csj.org.uk/camfrantravelnotes.htm
possible starting places
The other main towns are accessible from Bilbao
by RENFE train (infrequent) or ALSA bus (more frequest).
To reach O Cebreiro or Sarria: fly to Santiago and
then take a bus, maybe via Lugo.
And if you do decide to try one of the alternative
routes, make similar calculations to work out your
Click here for our links to the websites of most
of the transport companies you're likely to need:
If you decide to drive to your starting point (or
to leave your vehicle at a strategically-chosen
point from which you can reach both the beginning
and the end of your planned stage), remember that
French campsites will generally look after a parked
car or camper en garage mort for a greatly-reduced
fee. This ensures peace of mind while you walk.
You may be asked to leave your carte grise (registration
document) as a security.
tip for your return journey
Buy single tickets - Ryanair flies back from Santiago.
You can return to Bilbao or Bayonne by bus, or by
the FEVE narrow-gauge railway, or by RENFE (main
As from 11 April 2005, Ryanair will be flying to
and from Santiago every day. In 2008 ryanir will
fly from Birmingham to Biarritz.
much should I allow each day ?
Obviously this depends on where you choose to stay,
and how well you choose to eat. As a minimum
- assuming you stay in the gites d'étape in France
and the refugios in Spain, picnic at lunchtime,
and cook your own evening meal in the gite or refugio
kitchen - allow €25/£22 per head per day in France,
and €20/£17 in Spain. Another calculation suggests
that you should allow, overall, €1 for every 1km.
We'd welcome improvements on these figures, based
on up-to-date experience.
John and Elizabeth Hungerford sent us this account,
based on their experience of the Camino Francés
in early summer 2009:
€5.98 We always stayed in an albergue - and
we always made a donation at the religious ones.
€8.32 We ate the pilgrims menu/menu del dia
every night (except for two occasions when we cooked
in the albergue).
food and drink €7.25 Breakfast and lunch.
Most days we had a coffee/cool drink for morning
tea - and often had a drink at a bar before dinner.
items €3.87 This included internet, chemist
(some innersoles etc), entrance fees, and a poncho
as well as miscellaneous items.
€25.42 per person per day.
should I take ?
Another subjective area, though the basic rule is
always "if in doubt, leave it out." Go
for quick-drying lightweight clothing, and remember
that a few grammes saved here and there soon add
up to an appreciable difference. Some people
advise carrying no more than 10-15% of your own
body weight. Remember to take account of your day's
supplies, especially water (1lt of water weighs
1kg). You should be able to get your base weight
(i.e. without the day's food and water, but including
the rucksack itself) down to 10-12 kg.
Adapt the following basic list to the season, and
your own needs and preferences. You'll find further
advice, and some conflicting opinions, in our leaflet
The Walking Pilgrim, available through the Bookshop.
If you're short of money, the investments that will
really pay off (in this order) are 1. good, well-fitting
boots plus the time needed to break them in and
harden your feet; 2. a well-fitting rucksack; and
3. light-weight, quiick-drying clothing.
Pack everything in one or more heavy-duty plastic
bin-liners as no rucksack is entirely waterproof.
Rucksack: say 35/45 lts capacity for women, 60 lts
for men, but above all adjustable and well-fitted
to your own hips and shoulders: there are different
designs for men and women. Go to a specialist shop
where they will give you good advice, and load it
with the appropriate weight to test it properly.
N.B. it's not the capacity that matters so much
as the weight you put into it.
Water-Resistant Containment/Transportation Bag and
Liner for your Rucksack. Not essential if you pack
everything in plastic bin-liners, as suggested above.
Boots: light, sturdy, offering good ankle support
over the rough stretches. Probably better than trainers,
which though comfortable aren't much use in the
wet. A good shop will allow you to take them home
for a few days to wear around the house, though
not outdoors, and take them back if you're not happy
Lightweight sleeping bag (essential in Spain, but
not in France, where blankets are provided and a
sheet sleeping bag is enough)
Good waterproof gear
Stick: useful as a 3rd point of balance, and for
fending off the odd dog.
3 pairs walking socks, plus one pair for evenings
3 sets underwear (Women: make sure that your bra-adjusters
don't sit under your rucksack straps. Men: avoid
boxer shorts, which can chafe.)
1 pair walking trousers, plus a 2nd pair for evenings
(but for walking if necessary)
1 pair shorts (in summer)
3 shirts (long-sleeved against the sun)
1 tee-shirt (for sleeping - most find a tee-shirt
and pants quite decent enough)
Broad-brimmed hat (summer)/Small knitted hat (winter
- you can lose a lot of heat through the top of
1 pair lightweight shoes/sandals for evenings
We have heard that there are now high-tech shirts
and underwear with silver threads woven into them,
said to absorb body odours for up to three weeks.
We haven't tested these claims, but do know from
experience that washing clothes each day is no problem
- though drying them can be, if you run into wet
Whistle (especially if you are walking alone and/or
on one of the less-frequented routes)
Basic toiletries and medicines (Compeed for blisters,
a length of Elastoplast that you can cut to
the required size for small injuries, insect repellant,
antiseptic cream, sun cream ...). But don't
necessarily start with full tubes of these things;
save weight at the outset, and replace as you go
Small ball of natural sheep's wool (see footcare
Roll toilet paper
Towel (preferably a light-weight sports towel)
Universal bath plug
Water bottle, min 1lt (consider the value of an
aluminium one, which can double as a hot-water bottle)
Swiss Army Knife (corkscrew, scissors, tweezers
all come in handy)
A length of string (clothes-line; emergency boot-lace;
6 nappy pins (much safer than clothes-pegs, especially
if you need to dry your socks etc. on your rucksack
as you walk along)
Universal bath/basin plug
Needle and stout thread (for blisters as much as
anything else - see below)
Small plastic bottle (eg ex-Body Shop) of detergent
for washing your clothes - top it up as and when
you get the chance
12"-18" square of bubble wrap (weighs
nothing and provides a miniature ground sheet for
when you have to sit on wet ground)
Wax for your boots
Very small torch
Watch with alarm
Passport, EHIC card or its equivalent (essential
evidence of entitlement to local health-care for
EU citizens; non-EU pilgrims should arrange private
health insurance), pilgrim record/credencial, credit
cards etc in a waterproof pouch. Make sure
that emergency contact details are recorded in your
passport and/or pilgrim record.
Lightweight New Testament/one paperback (there's
surprisingly little time for reading)
A lightweight tent (the more you pay, the lighter
your tent); quite unnecessary on the le Puy route,
the Camino Francés, and the Via de la Plata, where
there is ample accommodation; but worth considering
if you're taking one of the less well-developed
routes. Even on the developed routes, a tent frees
you from the constraints of the standard stages,
dictated by the availablility of refuges etc.
For the official guide Guia Oficial de Hoteles y
Campings del Camino de Santiago email manuel.jurado*tourspain.es
A small spiral immersion heater (with an appropriate
plug) and a camping mug for making hot drinks if
you don't want to go to the length of carrying -
A small camping gaz stove (go for the standard #C206
190g cylinder type, since the fancier styles aren't
available in Spain), billy can, mug, bowl, spoon,
tea bags, instant coffee in another ex-Body Shop
plastic bottle, powdered milk in ditto: all handy
if you like to brew up while you're walking, and
want to be sure of being able to cook in the less
well-appointed refugios. Being able to do your own
cooking is especially helpful for vegetarians.
Cheap camera; though if you're serious, these days,
take a small digital camera. There are - increasingly
- photo shops along the way which will transfer
your pictures to CD.
A mobile phone: useful in France, where you can
book ahead in the gîtes d'étape (though DON'T book
more places than you need "just in case",
and DO cancel reservations that you can't take up);
less useful in Spain, where you can't book ahead
in the refugios. Nice for keeping in touch with
home, wherever you go, and reassuring in case of
emergency, especially if you're taking one of the
less-frequented routes, or are going out of the
main season. See below for emergency phone numbers.
Electrical adapter(s) for charging the camera and
the phone, and plugging in that heater. French
and Spanish sockets aren't quite the same.
Small quantity of dried fruit (very good for the
slow release of energy: a handful of raisins and
a mouthful of water can keep you going for ages.
Raisins are ideal because they're light, available
in small packets, and on sale in most grocery shops)
A thermal blanket - may be available from French
pharmacies - weighs very little, and could just
come in useful either for yourself or if you were
to come upon an injured pilgrim.
Ear-plugs (boules quies in French) to counter the
inevitable snoring in the dormitories. Their disadvantage
is that you don't hear your alarm if you want to
get up early.
A square of brightly coloured light-weight fabric,
if you are walking during the autumn hunting season
(from 15 August onwards), to wear as a headband.
There have been too many accidents, and the
hunters themselves now break their camouflage with
fluorescent orange caps: we have even seen hunting
dogs with fluorescent orange collars!
Whistle - perhaps especially for women walking alone
- to attract attention in an emergency.
A thin pillowcase: when refugios have pillows they
aren't always clean, and when they don't you can
always stuff it with your clothes to make an adequate
Do also visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum for
the current conversation about equipment: http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/equipment-questions/
A warning : Eurostar won't accept cannisters of
Camping Gaz, and confiscate them at St Pancras International:
reckon to buy your Camping Gaz locally. They now
accept camping knives with blades less than 3"
long, so Swiss Army knives are OK.
Well aware that this is an area we could and probably
should develop: but here's a start - a 30-40 day
selection of readings to accompany your journey:
112 is the Europe-wide emergency number.
works even if you have no money in a pre-paid mobile
phone or even if your supplier has no network.
works 24/7 365 days - and the operators speak many
using a UK mobile, you don't have to dial the national
code for the country you're in first.
The number for the Guardia Civil in Spain is 062.
In Spain you can buy large boxes at the Post Office
and send stuff you don't need to yourself, Lista
de Correos, Santiago de Compostela.
They will keep it there for up to 2 months.
Remember that you're constrained by the location
of the places where you can sleep, so you need to
be able to cover the average distance between gîtes
or refugios with reasonable comfort. Build up to
a minimum of 20 km/12.5 miles a day, 24 km/15 miles
if you can, wearing the right boots, and carrying,
eventually, something close to a fully laden rucksack.
Do this over as long a period as possible
before you set out.
Blisters, tendonitis, sore shoulders, are NOT necessary
parts of the pilgrimage experience. You'll be amazed
how quickly you toughen up, and what a difference
it makes to be reasonably fit before you start.
And nothing spoils your enjoyment of the countyside
like sore feet!
rhythm of the day
Suit yourself, of course, but most people like to
walk early - especially when it's hot, and have
the afternoon to rest and sightsee. Some profit
from the later Spanish lunch-hour to have their
main meal, their day's walk completed, at 2.00 or
In any case - given that drying your clothes is
harder than washing them - we recommend showering
and laudering as soon as you reach the refugio,
get your washing out on the line, then rest, then
enjoy the rest of the day.
If you're so tired that you just must lie down for
a rest as soon as you arrive, cover up - don't risk
losing body heat too quickly.
a small piece of natural sheep's wool - e.g. from
a barbed wire fence during one of your training
walks - and use it to pad any hot spots in your
boots before blisters develop. One pilgrim with
particularly sensitive feet recommends dressing
known hot spots with Elastoplast as a preventive
measure, and using a lubricating cream (such as
NOK from French pharmacies) as well.
If blisters do develop, treat them early. Sterilise
your needle (e.g. in a flame), thread it, pass it
through the blister (this is painless so long as
you're careful not to jab the flesh below!), and
leave the thread behind to act as a wick for any
further accumulation of water. Dress
the blister with Compeed, leaving it in place until
it comes away naturally.
treat your feet to a clean pair of socks, every
yourself and your fellow-pilgrims a favour by rubbing
out your boots with wild fennel or mint whenever
you get the chance.
Still worried about undertaking something so demanding
? Read Robert Louis Stevenson on the delights
of Walking Tours - and the spirit in which to approach
Cemeteries in France are not kept locked, and nearly
all have a tap of drinking water near the gate (in
case anyone is overcome during a funeral). Spanish
cemeteries are kept locked, and probably don't have
a water supply anyway.
Make your broad-brimmed hat a fabric one which you
can dunk in streams: there's nothing to beat the
impromptu shower this gives you.
Chuck your laundry into the shower-base as you undress,
then trample on it while you shampoo and soap. It
will be half-washed by the time you emerge.
If you're cooking for yourself, and find it difficult
to shop for one, look out for what previous pilgrims
have left in the store cupboard, and leave behind
for later comers what you can't carry away.
When you have to walk on the road, keep on the left
so that you face the on-coming traffic, but beware
of cars going the same way, and overtaking - they
can come up behind you very fast, and sometimes
If you're walking westwards on a busy road early
in the morning, remember that the on-coming drivers
have the rising sun in their eyes and may find it
hard to see you: take extra care.
A tip from Derek Coleman for the less-frequented
routes: sellos are reasonably available at Town
Halls/Museums. One trick is to ask the local policia
who always have stamps and they are often open 24/7
– plus, they are amused by someone who would attempt
this and have all kinds of questions. One
would not want a credential filled with police stamps,
but they are useful in filling in the blanks.
The recently-formed association, Les Haltes vers
Compostelle, exists to ensure that pilgrims face
less competition for places to sleep on the French
pilgrim routes, and to promote a friendly and constructive
dialogue between pilgrims and those who put them
up. Membership, which is reviewed each year, depends
on positive feedback from pilgrims. Most members
are on the le Puy route, with three on the Arles
route: the full list is here. Experience so far
suggests that they set a very high standard. Their
website is worth a visit, and the association deserves
all our support. http://www.haltesverscompostelle.fr/
about my pilgrim passport ?
Click here for more information about the pilgrim
passport itself: http://www.csj.org.uk/passport.htm
Remember that the Confraternity issues passports
only to members. If you want a CSJ passport,
please apply first for membership, wait to receive
your Membership Number (2-3 weeks) and then apply
separately for your pilgrim record at another address
which will be sent to you. We try to deal with requests
promptly, but help us to help you by giving us some
Remember if you live in the USA, Canada, Norway,
or Ireland you can obtain pilgrim records from your
home organisations. http://www.csj.org.uk/other-websites.htm
For more general advice on getting a credencial,
click here: http://www.csj.org.uk/how-to-get-a-credencial.htm
We have a very useful booklet in our Practical Pilgrim
Notes series - The Cycling Pilgrim, 2nd ed, February
2007 - which is available in our Bookshop. We hope
it will do something to make up for the emphasis
generally given to walkers.
For a group "geared to those who have ridden,
or who are planning to ride, the Camino de Santiago
pilgrimage route across northern Spain, or any of
the connecting routes. The group is planned to collect
and share information about this tour and act as
a resource for those who are contemplating it. The
list is primarily intended for cyclists who will
be using roads for most of their journey, perhaps
with some short sections on the walking path, but
those who plan to use mountain bikes or hybrids
on the path are also welcome."
And a special warning: the Spanish police are now
enforcing the law introduced a few years ago, obliging
cyclists to wear helmets. One cyclist (not on the
Camino, as it happens) had his front wheel confiscated
when he couldn't pay the €90 fine.
And visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum to join
the current conversation among cyclists: http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/biking-the-camino
à Q.Pratique Généralités