FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Travel abroad can be complicated, and the uninitiated tend to get nervous just thinking about it. Allow us then, to help you get to the bottom of things by answering as many of the more common questions as we can.
The ways to Santiago
IS THERE ONLY ONE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO?
The Camino de Santiago is a generic description of the numerous routes which lead to Santiago de Compostela. There are many other routes to Santiago de Compostela, from England, France, Germany, Scandinavia, the list goes on… but the Camino Francés or the French Route, has become by far the most popular route to Santiago de Compostela.
WHERE IS THE OFFICIAL STARTING POINT?
Most commonly people start the Camino Francés in St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees or Roncesvalles in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Others start the route in Le Puy-en-Velay in France (part of the GR65, or Grande Randonée from Geneva to Roncesvalles).
From Toulouse following the Via Tolosana (the Arles Route) joining the Camino Aragonésthrough the Aragón region of Spain.
The second most walked trail is the Camino Portuguese and begins in the vibrant city of Lisbon.
The Camino del Norte (the Northern Camino) follows the Cantabrian and Asturian coastlines towards Galicia and starts in the city of Irún, near San Sebastián in the Basque region of Spain.
The route from Canterbury, England to Rome, Italy is known as the Via Francigena. This walk is another one of the principal Christian pilgrimage routes, crossing the English Channel into France, through Switzerland and Italy.
And of course, there are other routes that don’t pass through Santiago de Compostela. The San Salvador ends in Oviedo. Or you could walk to the “End of the World.” This route is called the Finisterre Route which starts in Santiago de Compostela and continues west all the way to the sea.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCALLOP SHELL?
Like many things related to the Camino, myth and legend surround the significance of the scallop shell. Medieval pilgrims to Santiago would, if they survived the journey, have returned home with a scallop shell. These pilgrims would have walked all the way to Finisterre and the Atlantic Ocean. Scallop shells are typically found on the coastline of Galicia. The shell was a medieval souvenir and also proof that the pilgrim had completed their journey. Pilgrims returning from Jerusalem brought a palm branch, and those from Rome would collect the crossed keys of St Peter.
Others say the shell was a practical method for drinking water from streams while on the return trip home. The legend of the scallop shell refers to one of the miracles of St James. According to the story, a knight fell into the sea on his horse and was raised from his watery grave covered in scallop shells.
Whatever the origins of the symbol of the scallop shell, you will see it all along the Camino. Most people wear a scallop shell on their backpack to show they are a pilgrim.
We will provide you with your very own scallop shell when you start your journey!
IS IT A RELIGIOUS PILGRIMAGE?
The origins of the Camino are Christian, and many people still walk the Camino as a religious pilgrimage. However, the majority of people are walking for a variety of reasons, spiritual or otherwise. The Camino is a very tolerant environment, and you will find most people interested in and respectful of the motivations of others.
Packing for a pilgrimage
HOW MUCH CAN I BRING?
We ask that you pack all of your belongings into one suitcase or backpack. We don’t mind the weight but have limited space. If you plan to bring more with you because of other travels we can advise you about bag storage and transport.
WHAT SHOULD I PACK FOR MY TRIP?
Our advice is don´t bring too much as you can buy lots of things when you get here. Also, the less you bring from home, the more room you will have to fill your suitcase full of souvenirs from the Camino!
- It´s best to bring clothes made from quick-drying fabrics, rather than cotton.
- Waterproof jacket.
- Quick-dry short-sleeved tops.
- Quick-dry long-sleeved tops.
- Fleece pullover or jacket.
- Quick-dry walking pants – the ones that zip off to make shorts are a good option.
- Walking socks – make sure that you have tested them out with your footwear!
- Hat – with good sun protection for your face and neck.
- A pair of gloves – for chilly early mornings.
- A pair of walking boots or shoes – the most important decision you will make when packing so make sure it´s the right one!
- A pair of shoes to wear at the end of the day.
- Something casual to wear in the evenings.
- Daypack for daily use – around 20 liters should be more than enough and make sure you test-run it before your trip.
- We recommend a hydration system such as Camelbak or similar. We find these most convenient to ensure you keep hydrated. But, if you prefer, a water bottle is fine.
- Earplugs – just in case of local fiestas, which tend to go on all night…
- Basic First Aid essentials, including blister protection such as Compeed – you can buy more on the trail, but it´s good to bring some just in case.
- Sunscreen – you can always pick up more if you need it.
- Pair of waterproof pants – unless the weather is very cold, it´s usually best to walk in shorts when it´s raining as your skin is the best waterproof device! However, if you can´t stand wet legs, it might be worth bringing some.
WHAT SHOULD I LEAVE AT HOME?
It´s best not to bring valuables. We will be moving around a lot, and it´s very easy to forget things when you are packing your suitcase.
CAN I BRING MY WALKING POLES?
If you would like to bring your walking poles, check with your airline about whether you need to check them in or carry them on. If you need replacement poles or decide you would like to use walking poles once you are on the trail, you can easily pick some up.
DO I NEED TO BUY A GUIDE BOOK OR MAPS?
On most trips, we will provide you with a guide book for the trail you are walking and will also provide you with copies of the daily maps we will be using.
Walking & training
ARE WALKING BOOTS ESSENTIAL?
This is really a personal decision. You will be spending a lot of time on your feet, so the most important thing to consider is comfort. You don´t need rigid mountaineering boots, but if you like to have some ankle support, lightweight waterproof boots are a good option. Otherwise, a good quality waterproof walking shoe with a good grip is fine. In fine weather you can walk most of the trails in running shoes and even walking sandals such as Tevas.
Make sure you do plenty of walking in the boots/shoes you plan to bring in order to check they are suitable!
A good idea is to bring some spare footwear for exploring towns in the evenings, which can also substitute for your normal daily walking shoes if you get wet or get blisters and need to change your footwear. A big advantage of having a support vehicle is that you can leave your spare shoes in there and change if you need to as the day goes on.
WHAT TYPE OF TRAINING DO YOU RECOMMEND?
It´s a good idea to get your legs and feet used to walking several miles at a time. Try to walk 5-10 miles a couple of times before your trip – including some uphill and downhill while carrying your backpack! The longest distance we cover is around 18 miles, but remember we have all day to walk and there are lots of places to stop, rest and refuel! Our experience is that you will quickly develop stamina and become accustomed to walking every day. If you do some walking prior to your trip you will definitely be more prepared and enjoy the experience more.
I´M A VERY FAST/SLOW WALKER – WILL THAT BE A PROBLEM?
We encourage everyone to walk at their own pace – it´s not a race and we want you to enjoy yourself! On days where we drive to our accommodation at the end of the walk faster walkers may have to sit and relax with a glass of something cold while we regroup! Wherever possible we plan our days so that everyone can walk in their own way.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET LOST?
It´s always possible to get lost! However, on the Camino de Santiago routes in Spain it is very difficult to lose your way. The routes are very well-marked and a local or another pilgrim will soon let you know if you get off the trail.
The trail is marked in many different ways. On natural paths you will find stone-markers counting down the kilometers to Santiago de Compostela. In cities, you should look down on the streets as they are often marked with plaques or markings placed directly on the trail. These vary from city to city, so do make sure you bear that in mind. The most popular marking is the yellow area. These are consistent throughout the Camino and will get you to Santiago de Compostela. Be Warned!! Sometimes establishments will paint different color arrows to lead you off the Camino to their bar, Albergue, etc (often not too far). Make sure you follow the yellow arrows unless of course you want a hot drink and a stamp!
On routes that are less well-marked, we will make sure you are on the right trail. One of us will be walking with you and ensuring we all get to our destination! You will have a map every day which we will mark with “checkpoints” where you will see the support vehicle, places to get food and drink, points of interest, information about accommodation etc.
DOES EVERYBODY GET BLISTERS?
No! Blisters are a hazard of walking long distances but are usually a result of not looking after your feet. If you have well-fitting footwear and socks and make sure you stop and deal with developing “hotspots” on your feet, you shouldn´t have a problem.
HOW DO I GET TO THE STARTING POINT FOR THE TRIP?
Options on how to get to the starting point, or on some tours the meeting point, vary from trip to trip. We discuss these options with you during the booking process. Below are a few links to get you started if you want to investigate on your own.
By air… For long distances, flying is a good option. Check the Aena website www.aena.es for destinations within Spain and the Italian Airport Guide for Italy www.italianairportguide.com. For France check www.aeroport.fr.
By bus… For long bus journeys within Spain, book a “Supra” bus – these are very comfortable. You can check routes and prices and book tickets online through the National bus company, Alsa www.alsa.es.
By train… Trains generally take longer than buses, except for the high speed trains such as the “AVE” in Spain which has very high speed links from Madrid to some major Spanish cities. Check the Renfe website for more details.
For France the TGV has high speed links across Europe www.tgv.com.
For links from the UK to France check Eurostar www.eurostar.com.
For Italy check the European TVG network www.tgv-europe.it.
Food and drink
WHAT TIME DO WE NORMALLY HAVE BREAKFAST AND WHAT DOES THAT CONSIST OF?
Usually between 8.00 am and 8.30 am. A normal breakfast in Spain, France, and Italy is very light and consists of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, orange juice and toast or croissants. In some accommodation breakfast is more substantial. Where breakfast is on the light side we make sure we augment it to prepare you for your day of walking!
WHAT ABOUT LUNCH?
Lunch in Spain is eaten between 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm. In Italy and in France at around 1 pm.
When lunch is provided by us (check tour details for how many lunches are included in each trip), we will prepare lunch to eat at a picnic spot on the trail. If the weather is bad, don´t worry, we will find a restaurant to eat our lunch out of the rain!
On days where we don´t provide lunch, you can stop in one of the many bars and restaurants along the way or pick up provisions to make your own picnic. We will let you know about the best places to eat.
Again, dinner is usually late – it is difficult to get dinner before 8.30 pm, especially in Spain and Italy. However, this gives you time to have a shower, relax and recuperate, explore the area and have a glass of wine!
CAN I BUY ENERGY BARS OR SHOULD I BRING THEM?
You can buy granola or cereal bars easily, but if you like a particular brand of energy bar, you can bring some with you. We will provide you with snacks and fruit from our support vehicle.
IS THE WATER SAFE TO DRINK?
Tap water is absolutely fine to drink. There are public water fountains along the trails, but we don´t recommend drinking from them as we can´t guarantee the cleanliness of the water. We will provide you with bottled water while you are walking.
I AM VEGETARIAN/VEGAN – WILL I BE ABLE TO EAT ANYTHING?!
Yes! Although you will find that in Spain and France, vegetarian food is not the norm and options are more limited than you may be used to. In Italy you will find many more options. However, we will ensure that we cater for you when we prepare our picnic lunches and will arrange for a vegetarian/vegan option for dinner. Let us know on your booking form about special dietary needs.
I HAVE FOOD INTOLERANCES/ALLERGIES – WILL YOU BE ABLE TO CATER FOR MY NEEDS?
Let us know about your specific intolerance/allergy and we will plan ahead to make sure we can meet your needs. Make sure you bring any allergy medication you might need.
DO I HAVE TO PAY A SINGLE SUPPLEMENT?
We do have to charge a single supplement as we are charged a single supplement by the hotels we use. We know this is a burden for the single traveller and have tried to keep this charge to a minimum.
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION CAN I EXPECT?
We try to use small rural farmhouses or manor houses wherever possible. These are similar to bed and breakfasts and are usually traditional houses typical of the region, full of character and run by local people. Sometimes we use hotels so you will experience a mix of accommodation types, always of good quality!
IS ALL THE ACCOMMODATION ON THE TRAIL ITSELF?
Sometimes we stay in towns right on the trail, other times we may have a short drive to our accommodation. This is to ensure you have the best accommodation in each area!
WILL I HAVE A BATHTUB IN MY ROOM?
It depends! Rooms vary greatly – some have bathtubs, some showers and some both. We will try and ensure you have a bathtub but we can´t guarantee it.
DO ALL ACCOMMODATIONS HAVE HAIR-DRYERS?
Again, sometimes but not always. We carry a spare hair-dryer in our support vehicle if you need one!
I WANT TO ARRIVE A FEW DAYS EARLY/STAY A FEW DAYS AFTER THE TRIP – SHOULD I RESERVE HOTELS BEFORE I LEAVE?
If you are travelling at a busy time of year it´s best to reserve. For hotels in Santiago de Compostela it´s certainly better to reserve in advance. We can help you out if you need advice or assistance booking a room – just let us know.
Insurance & Health
WHAT SORT OF INSURANCE SHOULD I HAVE?
You should make sure you have full health insurance for any medical emergencies or accidents. You should also ensure you have trip cancellation/interruption insurance and ensure your personal belongings are insured.
If you don´t already have an insurance provider check price comparison websites such as www.squaremouth.com or www.confused.com/travel-insurance.
WHAT IF I GET SICK WHILE I’M ON THE TOUR?
We will of course support you with whatever you need. If you catch a cold or just don´t feel great you can choose to have a day or two off from walking. If you need medical attention we will get you to the nearest clinic or hospital.
I HAVE TO TAKE MEDICATION WHICH NEEDS REFRIGERATION – WILL THIS BE POSSIBLE?
Yes, just let us know and make sure you bring it in a cool bag for transit between accommodations.
Before the walk, we talk
Step 1</h4 >
Complete the form on the right to schedule a phone call. We’re kind of sticklers about this step and promise to make it the best phone call you ever had.
Step 2</h4 >
After we’ve gotten to know each other, we will email you a link to our top-secret and very secure booking page. That of course is why we are asking for your email address in step 1. By the end of this step you will have confirmed your place on your chosen trip, and the places of anybody that will be joining you. This is done by means of a deposit of 300€ or 600€ (dependent on trip length) per person.
Step 3</h4 >
Once your booking is confirmed you will immediately be presented with step 3, which can be completed at any time but at least 1 month prior to the departure date. You will get this link in your booking confirmation in case you are a procrastinator. In step 3 we collect a bit more personal information to make sure that everything on the trip goes smoothly. This includes any medical allergies, old injuries that might give you grief, and lastly your passport number for the sake of expediting our hotel check-ins.