FAQ’s

Q?I want to go to Finisterre – Any advice?
A.

Finisterre is an increasingly popular coastal “add on” to your Camino trip and can be done as a 3 – 4 day, 87 km walk through to the rugged Atlantic coast.  This is also an easy day or overnight bus trip from the local bus station in Santiago and the journey takes between 2 and 2 ½ hrs and leaves up to 6 times per day.   You can purchase tickets from the bus station in Santiago, and the bus will drop you off in the centre of Finisterre and you can return the following day.
Some of the highlights include;

  1. Walking to the Finisterrelighthouse and looking over the Atlantic Ocean. This point was considered to be the “end of the world” by medieval pilgrims.   (Finis Terrae  comes from the latin end of the earth)
  2. Eating wonderfully fresh seafood
  3. The 12thCentury Church of Santa Maria
  4. The 16thCentury Fort San Carlos built to defend Finisterrefrom pirates

You are eligible for a Finisterre passport if you walk from Santiago to Finisterre.

To obtain you Finisterre passport for your compostela, you will need to go to the Galicia tourist office in Santiago prior to you Finisterre walk. Alternatively you can use Page 95 in John Brierleys “Camino Finisterre” guide book, which has space for the cellos/stamps for this section.
Q?What sort of footwear is best for the Camino Trail?
A.

Generally speaking Hiking boots are the best choice for the Camino. BUT the answer may depend to an extent on what month you are walking and which sections. A good fitting, well worn in hiking boot will keep your feet dry in wet & muddy conditions, protect your toes when walking over rough rocky ground and give you good stability when wearing a pack – these factors make a lightweight, waterproof hiking boot the best choice. Vibram soles are highly recommended and becoming a common choice of material among boot makers.

If you are walking in the warmer summer months then you may consider a pair of outdoor trainers as an alternative – though bear in mind that you may not have the same ankle support and stability if you are carrying a full pack. A long days walk in runners may leave you with quite sore feet especially if the ground surface is rough. So although it may be good to have a spare pair of outdoor shoes / runners for hot weather the recommendation is mainly for hiking boots.

Q?When is the Botafumeiro and when is it swung?
A.

The Botafumeiro is one of the largest incense burners in the world and is suspended form the roof of the Santiago Cathedral and swung by 8 men in robes called tiraboleiros. Traditionally (form the 11th century) the thick incense smoke was used to disguise the smell of unwashed pilgrims and it was believed the smoke also had a prophylactic effect against the plague and other epidemics in addition to incense being an important part of the liturgy.

The short answer is not every day! The Botafumeiro is swung on Holy days, when it is paid for by a group and often at the 1200 Pilgrims mass. In January 2017 the Cathedral announced it will no longer be swinging the Botafumeiro at the Friday evenings mass. The use of flash photography is prohibited in the Cathedral at all times including during this ceremony.

Q?How many days should I allow at the start and end of my trip?
A.

If you are coming straight from Australia or new Zealand, it is a good idea to allow a full rest day or 2 nights before you start, especially if you are commencing your walk in St Jean de Pied Port which is a challenging days walk. You should allow 2 nights as a minimum in Santiago, – the day you walk into Santiago, a Full day and then the day you depart. This will give you time to attend the 1200 Pilgrims mass, reunite with other pilgrims you have met and celebrate your achievements. Much of the transport out of Santiago leaves in the mornings on your departure day.

Q?I am a vegetarian – what are my options on the Camino?
A.

Vegetarianism is not well understood in Spain but there are plenty of options.

  1. When ordering the “Pilgrims Menu otr “Menu de dia”, ask for two starters instead of the main which is usually meat laden.  This way you will usually have a combination of a vegetarian soup, pasta and salad with wine and dessert.
  2. Supplement your meals with grocery items like nuts, seeds, nut butters, soy yoghurts, hummus, soup mixes available in the main towns or in sealed packs from Australia.
  3. Look out for health food stores in the larger towns.
  4. Visit the markets for wonderful dried and fresh fruits, and locally grown vegetables.
  5. You may consider bringing some items from home such as protein bars, protein powder and even consider a multivitamin so you don’t get run down.
  6. Try and look for Italian restaurants which usually have a vegetarian option and Indian restaurants who cater to the original vegetarians.  Many places in large town also offer falaffals / kebabs etc.  Most bars in Spain have Tortillas – a vegetarian staple
  7. Consider learning some Spanish Phrases such as
  • Without meat, please. Sin carne, por favor.
  • Do you have any vegetarianmeals? Tiene algún menú para vegetarianos?
  • Does it have meat? Lleva carne?
Q?How much Wifi access is there on the Camino?
A.

If you are staying in the Albergues many will have Wifi acces.

If you book with a tour operator, many of the more comfortable properties have free Wifi access and will provide you with the password when you check in. There is also wifi available in many of the eating places en route.

Q?What are the Casa Rurales like?
A.

The Casa Rurales provide an extra element to your Camino trip. They are usually wonderfully restored family run country houses that offer a real insight into authentic Spanish life. The owners will cook for you, often using home produce for their garden. They are usually a little way off the Camino which is part of their charm, and you will be collected from and returned to the Camino, well rested, the following day. If you are staying at a Casa Rurale they may only accept cash for your stay.

Q?Do I need walking Poles?
A.

Walking Poles can make your life easier, esp. if you are carrying a heavy pack. Many people on the Camino use a wooden staff ( purchased locally) as they are more traditional & perhaps provide that connection to the past. But bear in mind you will find it harder to transport these wooden staffs back to Australia & get them past customs .

Walking poles can be of benefit to many people, especially if you are getting older and not as steady on your feet as you once were or you suffer from knee / hip / ankle strains. Inexperienced walkers may also enjoy the feeling of security  & stability a pair of poles can bring. Some benefits:

  • Reduces risk of injury from falls
  • Reduces wear and tear on joints
  • Reduces back pain and promotes better posture
  • Engage upper body for more exercise benefit
  • Good for warding off dogs or other unwanted attention!

If you are considering using Poles for the first time then we’d recommend reading the excellent free ‘ Australian Bushwalkers guide to trekking poles‘ which tells you everything you need to know about walking poles and how to use them. You can download free from here:

http://www.helinox.com.au/australian-bushwalkers-guide-to-trekking-poles.php

Q?Is it easy to get water and food on the Camino Trail?
A.

Yes, typically there are many places along the each day’s route where you can get food and water. Safe drinking water is freely provided at fountains and pipes in villages. Australian walkers more used to wilderness bushwalks will be pleasantly surprised how civilized and easy it is to get water & supplies –  there are shops and cafes in every village where you can get food or stop for a coffee. The exception would be on some longer days with not many villages, such as on the Meseta ( Burgos to Leon)  where you need to carry sufficient water and snacks between towns.

Q?What happens if you can’t walk each day’s stages?
A.

The answer here depends upon what you have planned for that night’s accommodation. If you have pre-booked accommodation and you find that you are unable to walk that distance it is usually possible to rustle up a taxi if you can walk to the nearest town or village. There may be a bus service or ( more rarely a train)  in some sections between stages. The best option is to pre – plan before you set off that day with  your guidebook which will indicate whether bus services are available in the places you pass through. It’s wise to have a taxi number to carry with you – though sometimes you’ll see stickers for them on gates / posts by enterprising local drivers!

If you do not have pre- booked accommodation and are staying in Albergues  then you need to figure out where the nearest Albergue is and walk there. Fortunately there are many small Albergues all along the way – they are the most common form of accommodation. The potential downside is that if it’s quite late in the day you may find it’s already full in which case you’ll need to walk onto the next one – or call a taxi!

Pre- planning and being realistic about what you are capable of walking each day is the best way to proceed. Don’t plan on walking continuous 25km days if you currently struggle to walk 15km! RAW Travel offers sections from Sarria to Santiago where you can break a 7 day trip into a 10 day trip. This can be harder to do on other sections of the Camino as it depends on locating suitable accommodation.

 

Q?What sort of footwear is best for the Camino Trail?
A.

Generally speaking Hiking boots are the best choice for the Camino. BUT the answer may depend to an extent on what month you are walking and which sections.  A good fitting hiking boot will keep your feet dry in wet  & muddy conditions, protect your toes when walking over rough rocky ground and give you good stability when wearing a pack – these factors make a lightweight, waterproof hiking boot the best choice. Vibram soles are highly recommended and becoming a common choice of material among boot makers.

If you are walking in the warmer summer months then you may consider a pair of outdoor trainers as an alternative – though bear in mind that you may not have the same ankle support and stability if you are carrying a full pack. A long days walk in runners may leave you with quite sore feet especially if the ground surface is rough. So although it may be good to have a spare pair of outdoor shoes / runners for hot weather the recommendation is mainly for hiking boots.

 

Q?What are the walking (cycling) tracks like?
A.

The Camino is incredibly varied along it’s length and is not characterised by any one type of road / path along it’s route ( despite what some negative online commentary would have you believe!). Sometimes you are following a rough unsealed road, other times a shaded woodland track and at other times pounding pavements through a city’s outskirts.

With a route that is almost 800km long you can expect a tremendous variety; at times it is very beautiful with tremendous views  going through the mountains, other times you’ll walk through serene rolling green countryside or empty plains. And yes sometimes it is less than inspiring going through the ugly outskirts of modern cities. But this is usually balanced out by the historic centres of those cities which are often fantastic places with narrow winding streets, great plazas, cathedrals and wonderful cafes and restaurants to revive yourself in! The Camino is very much about the Journey and it is alook into both historic and modern Spain – not a wilderness walk. It is about taking the good with the bad –  fortunately the good parts far outweigh the rest.

Q?Is is it safe to walk the Camino as a single woman?
A.

Yes, it is still a safe experience but in light of  a recently publicized disappearance we advise solo women travellers to walk with or near to other Pilgrims on isolated stretches of the trail. Many women start walking the Camino as a solo traveller and the truth is that you are never alone on the Camino there are always other walkers you’ll be able to walk with or nearby if you feel you want the company or security of other Peregrino’s. The Camino is generally speaking a quite safe experience, but you need to take the same precautions as you would travelling anywhere on your own. Please see the section further down this page for more details on safety.

We have self guided set departures in May and September if you would like to join other women travellers.We can look to pair you up with another walker doing a similar trip at the same time i.e. introduce you prior to your trip. We can also offer you the option to skip any sections you may be concerned about.

Having your accommodation pre-booked with RAW will provide you more certainty and you will not be in the situation of  wandering around looking for accommodation.

In response to the recent disappearance there are now undercover police walking the Camino to ensure Pilgrim’s safety.We also have our local support person on the Camino  in Spain who contacts all our travellers and is available for immeadiate support with any concerns.

 

Q?What is a ‘credencial’? How do you get one?
A.

A Credencial, otherwise known as a Pilgrim’s Passport, allows you to stay at Albergues and get discounted entry into Cathedrals and other place of interest along the Camino. They are available at Albergues in Spain, the Pilgrim’s office in St. Jean de Pied Port or through a local association in Australia or your home country.

A Credencial per person is supplied with each Camino booking with Raw Travel.

Q?Are Dogs a danger on the Camino?
A.

If you read some of the past literature on walking the Camino, it may make you believe that packs of stray Dogs are a problem ( at Foncebaddon in Shirley Maclaine’s book particuarly). Whilst this may have been true in the past it generally no longer the case and you should not expect to be worried by angry stray dogs. Most working Dogs you pass are tied up and more often than not any stray dogs are friendly, so it’s not something you need to be too concerned with.

Q?What is the hardest section of the Camino?
A.

Most people would agree that crossing the Pyrenees and the Montes de Leon ( high points of the Iron Cross & O’Cebreiro) are the most difficult physically, while crossing the Meseta between Burgos and Leon is mentally and emotionally difficult due to the long, open spaces. Pilgrims recommend that  finding a routine and good people to walk with are keys to getting through these stages (or hiring a bike to cross the Meseta!) The descent from the Iron Cross hill down to Molinseca is also noted for being challenging – esp. on the knees.

To see all the different altitude profiles of each stage of the Camino please click on the link below which you can view over two pages as a PDF:

Altitude Profiles of 33 stages of Camino

This was produced by the French friends of the Way of St. Jacques

Camino Fitness Preparation

It is important you review details of your Camino trip in combination with an altitude profile and that you train accordingly. Many of the cycle tracks are more like mountain biking and require “off road” training. Make sure your walking and riding training mimics what you are planning to do on the Camino.

Please also check out our tips on preparation here;
http://www.rawtravel.com/trekking and  http://www.rawtravel.com/bike

Q?Do walkers and cyclists share the same path?
A.

Most often yes, and there is room for both – given a bit of consideration on both parts. The Camino track in all but the very busiest times offers room for cyclists to safely pass walkers and there is also options for cyclists to ride alongside the Camino on some of the ‘autopista‘and other road based sections. Walkers and cyclists amicably share the paths together without any hassle and all that is usually needed is a cheery “Buen Camino” to alert other users of the path to your presence when approaching them.

Q?Is it safe to walk the Camino alone?
A.

Generally speaking yes it is, as during the popular months you will meet people from all over the world and there is a great cameraderie, so as long you are a reasonably sociable person you will not be short on Companions during your walk. There will be many others just like you and hoping to find others to walk with the first few days of their walk. About 43% of Pilgrims arriving in Santiago are women and the most common age group is 30-60 years old ( 57%).

Spanish cities , like cities the world over, tend to have more crime than rural areas  and Pilgrims are not immune to this – usually in the form of opportunistic theft so you need to be mindful of your belongings. But the Camino is relatively safe and there is a tradition in Spain of respecting “Peregrinos” that has been enshrined in law over the centuries and you will find most Spanish people you meet are quite hospitable and respectful towards you.

If you ever feel uncomfortable about walking a stage on the Camino then just wait until you see other Pilgrims coming along and ask if you can join them, you’ll always be welcomed. There is no need to be fearful for your safety on the Camino. Just be cautious if venturing out after dark in large cities and it’s best to walk with companions if you are a  woman late at night.

 

Q?How long does it take to walk the full length of the Camino?
A.

To a degree, this will depend on how much time you have available to do this and your level of physical fitness. The Camino De Santiago is almost 800km long so it really is an epic walk and you should not try to compress it too much unless you are a seasoned long distance walker.

It is possible to walk the full length in 30 days; this would entail an average walk of 28Km a day with no rest days so obviously a moderate to high level of physical fitness would be required. A more leisurely option would be 40 days which would mean averaging 24 km a day with time built in for rest days in the more interesting places and to allow for detours / alternative routes or any vagaries of the weather. For most people you will also not know how your body will respond to day after day of long walks so you should allow some occasional rest and recovery days.

Q?I do not have enough time to walk the full length – is it possible to walk just part of the Camino?
A.

Many people choose this option, whether due to time or physical fitness constraints; some even opt to come back and walk a different section each year until they have completed the full length of the Camino. For shorter walks many choose to walk either the first or last 100km of the Camino and these are popular routes. The length of time taken to complete these walks can be varied to suit your needs; most people opt for either a short 7 day or longer 10 day walk for these sections.

Q?What is the best time of year to walk the Camino?
A.

The cooler months of spring, March – May and then early Autumn, September and early October are a good option. The weather is cooler and the route less busy, although both times can have rainy days and the evenings can be cold these could be considered optimal times for walking. Accommodation is open after the winter break and generally availability is good. June, July and August are hotter and busier and accommodation can fill up quickly in these months so should be booked quite well in advance. The winter months are for fit and experienced walkers; the weather is cold and snow is common particularly on higher ground. Some of the routes in the higher areas are closed in winter weather as they would not be safe, so alternative, sometimes longer, routes have to be taken. Accommodation is scarcer with a lot of the more remote and smaller enterprises closing for the winter season.

Click here to see links to weather forecasts and climate data for various cities along the Camino

Q?I do not speak Spanish – will I be understood or do I need to learn Spanish?
A.

The Camino passes across the top of Spain through mostly rural areas and unlike the Costas of Spain English is not widely spoken. You are more likely to be able to speak and be understood in English in the larger cities you pass through. Although you won’t need to be fluent it is a good idea to have some rudimentary Spanish vocabulary of the type most tourists use to get by when travelling. The guidebook & phrasebook we provide for our travellers lists the most common phrases you will need plus has a guide to pronunciation. As with all travel, being able to speak a few phrases in the local language will enrich your cultural experience!

Q?I am worried about getting lost – how easy is it to find the way?
A.

The Camino is signposted all along the route with the iconic yellows arrows and also the scallop shell symbol, just keep a look out for it and you will not go far wrong. (It also pays to stay mindful when you are walking!) The yellow arrows are often spray painted on kerbs, buildings, roads, walls – so as long as you keep an eye out for them and your fellow pilgrims you will be fine.

It’s advisable to have a good guidebook with clear maps and descriptions for each section. John Brierley’s “Guide to the Camino De Santiago” is the undisputed champion, in the English language at least. Finally if in doubt – just ask (your Spanish vocabulary will come in handy). The local populations know the route very well and they or your fellow pilgrims can direct you.

 

Q?What is the accommodation like?
A.

Traditionally pilgrims stay in Albergues, either government or privately owned hostels that are usually quite basic and sleep anything from 6- 30 people in a dormitory. This is the most traditional way to do the Pilgrimage and involves some sacrifice of personal comfort and space, though there is a great variation in standards between modern & clean Albergues, to rustic but atmospheric or sometimes dirty & abysmal. The Albergues cannot usually be booked in advance and fill up on a ‘first come first served‘ basis, with walkers given priority over cyclists. In the busier months of summer there is almost a race to the next Albergue to ensure that you can find a bed and not be forced to look for the next establishment.

Nowadays the Camino is also attracting walkers, as well as the more traditional Pilgrims and they tend to want a bit more comfort and luxury at the end of a long walk – so the accommodation that tour operators offer reflects this better standard. The accommodation along the Camino varies from beautiful hotels in converted historic buildings and former monasteries to wonderful rural ‘casas’ and family run hotels. It can be quite difficult though to book rural hotels and inns in Spain, some of whose owners do not speak any English or have any websites. So in this respect it makes sense to use the services of a tour operator to book your arrangements unless you have a lot of time on your hands!

Q?I am not sure about my ability to walk the steeper sections of the Camino, is there a way to avoid this?
A.

If you are walking the full length of the Camino then there are several hilly areas to cross. The first of these is when you leave St Jean Pied de Port in France and cross the through the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles in Spain. There are two options here the Napoleon route which goes over the Mountain passes and the Valcarlos route which stays lower and offers the option to break the journey in half at Valcarlos village.

Other steeper sections are after Rabanal to Foncebaddon and Villafranca to O Cebreiro. If you are walking the full camino then plan to do shorter days around these sections and look where you can spend the night.

Shorter walks along the Camino can also be tailored to avoid these sections altogether and the last 100km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela is popular for this reason (amongst others, though there are still hills).  Of course if you have the legs, stamina and will to do so then these steeper sections can be a motivating challenge! Pilgrims of all ages and abilities have been walking these steeper sections for 1000 years after all.

Q?I would like to hire a bike and cycle the Camino, is this possible and how long would it take?
A.

Many people choose to cycle along the Camino and it is an accepted way to become a ‘Peregrino‘ and earn your Compostela alongside the walkers. In fact many walkers are envious of the cyclists who whizz past them on the more monotonous stages of the Meseta plain!

There are option to hire bikes locally or bring your own mountain bike and the hire generally includes panniers and the tools necessary for simple maintenance as you go along. The most popular options are to cycle from Leon or Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela. The length of time, as with walking, will depend upon the time you have available and your fitness level, with most people taking an average of 8-10 days from Leon and 14 -16 days from Pamplona.