INTROUDCTION TO THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
WHAT IS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO?
The Camino de Santiago, or The Way of Saint James, is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Europe. Pilgrims came on foot from all over Europe to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in order to receive their plenary indulgence. In 2019, the Pilgrims’ Office reported 40% of all pilgrims walked for religious reasons.
Today, pilgrims walk The Way for many different reasons. Some walk to escape from their busy lives and have time to contemplate. Others walk to explore a new country or to be part of a unique gathering of people from all around the world. Many of the pilgrims see it as an opportunity to take on a physical challenge. Whatever your motivation to set out on foot is, the experience offers all of the above and more.
WHAT/WHERE IS GALICIA?
Galicia is an autonomous region in Spain, located as far northwest you can get in the country. It sits over Portugal and is home to one of the four official languages in Spain: Galician.
Galicia is considered the seventh Celtic nation and has a culture rich in tradition. Galician gaita, or bagpipe, music is still popular today. There also remains the practice of traditional Pagan rituals (as the Queimada).
The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela, which is home to the finishing point of the Camino de Santiago – The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
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.
Over 50% of the pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago do so on the Camino Francés. This is followed by around 20% on the Camino Portuguese. Walking the Last 100 Kilometres of the Camino means that you can request your Compostela, or certificate of completion of the pilgrimage.
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 Aragonés through 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.
DIFFICULTY OF THE WALK
HOW DIFFICULT IS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO?
You don´t need to be super-fit to walk the Camino. However, being in good walking shape does help you enjoy the experience. There are lots of places to stop and rest along the way and we also have a support vehicle (for fully-guided tours) if your legs need a break!
HOW FAR DO WE HIKE EACH DAY AND WHAT IS THE TERRAIN LIKE?
The Camino is very well marked and follows mainly forest trails, paths between villages and some secondary roads. You will find that virtually every guide book, map, and website you read has a different number of kilometres/miles for each stage of the Camino. You will also find that virtually none of those match up to the stone markers you will see on the trail, or to your pedometer if you use one!
We have given our own estimate on mileage and from experience find it is best not to take much notice of exact distances. Obviously, a 20k day feels very different to a 30k day, but so many other factors influence the “level of difficulty” – trail surface, weather and how you are feeling are as much to do with your experience as the distance and number of metres/feet climbed up and down. Just put one foot in the front of the other and enjoy the view!
WHAT ARE THE WALKING STAGES LIKE?
Fully-guided trips – We tend to walk similar “standard” Camino stages like our self-guided trips but because we have the luxury of a support vehicle we can shorten/lengthen/even out the walking stages as required. If it is raining and we want to cut the day shorter, we can return to where we finished the next day.
Self-guided trips – We offer a “standard” itinerary for the whole Camino Francés and the Last 100km which follows the usual stages of the Camino. However, we can tailor-make your walk and adapt the walking stages as you wish to be longer, shorter, add rest days in particular places etc. So, from that point of view, self-guided trips are very flexible! Once we have booked accommodation however, we can ́t change the itinerary.
WHAT SUPPORT WILL I HAVE ON THE TRAIL FROM ANDASPAIN?
Fully-guided trips – All of our fully-guided Camino trips have at least 1, though normally 2 English/Spanish speaking guide/s. Generally, on these trips we aim to have one guide walk along the trail when possible. Although this does not mean the guide will be walking next to you. Our other guide drives our support vehicle doing checkpoints along the trail.
Our guides know the Camino like the back of their hands. Each day they will give you a daily map and overview of the walk ahead. This map will include information such as the daily terrain, checkpoint locations, lunch spots, highlights to see along the way, and other important items such as the best place to get a fun stamp! If you need support with anything, from asking for something in Spanish to getting to a doctor, we will be there to help.
Self-guided trips – We prepare a very thorough and detailed package that you will collect at your first Camino hotel. Included in this package is your Camino guidebook, maps to your hotels, suggested restaurants, information on any pre-booked taxis, taxi numbers should you need and of course the emergency phone number for Andaspain should you need it.
You don ́t have anyone with you walking or in a support vehicle. Having said that the Camino is a pretty friendly, helpful, safe place to be! Knowing you have a place to stay at the end of your day means to can relax and take as long as you like to get there!
IF I HAVE A RECENT INJURY, SURGERY, SPECIAL PHYSICAL REQUIREMENT, CAN I STILL PARTICIPATE?
Absolutely! We will ensure we gather info about your health needs in advance so
We can take any necessary precautions. We are also happy to talk to you 1:1 if you need reassurance about any identified need. We are here to ensure your individual Camino goal is obtained and you can reach Santiago safely.
On our guided trips, if you need to shorten your walking day, our guides can tell you the best part of the trail to walk that day – whether you need to avoid the steep incline/decline, or if you need to stick to softer walking paths. Our guides can also make sure they provide extra checkpoints for you throughout the day.
I´M A VERY FAST/SLOW WALKER – WILL THAT BE A PROBLEM?
This is our MOST important Camino de Santiago information and advice! We encourage everyone to walk at their own pace. The Camino is not a race and you want to enjoy yourself. When you slow down or speed up to walk with others, you find you may have issues with your body and/or feet. We plan our days so that everyone can walk in their own way.
WILL I HAVE TO CARRY ALL MY LUGGAGE?
Fully-guided trips – From the starting point to the ending point in Santiago de Compostela, we take care of all luggage handling and transportation. For the luggage, this means leaving your bags at a designated area in the hotel and starting your walk. Your guides handle the details of getting them into the next hotel room. We also find it handy to keep a small bag in the van with stuff you might need throughout the day.
Self-guided trips – If you do not want to carry your luggage each day, we ensure your bags are moved ahead to your next hotel securely and safely.
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?
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.
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!
On fully-guided trips, 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.
FOOD AND DRINK
WHAT WILL I EAT?
Fully-guided trips – We include all breakfasts and most lunches/dinners including wine. You will have the chance to try great typical Galician food such as pulpo (octopus with paprika), empanada (hearty savory pastry), Spanish tortilla(a potato and egg omelet), Tetilla (cow’s milk cheese in the shape of a woman´s breast), albariño (Galician white wine), Tarta de Santiago(traditional almond cake), and Caldo Gallego (ham broth with chard and potatoes).
We provide gourmet picnic lunches prepared by your Andaspain guides on the Camino. Our picnics include fresh salads and lighter options, all taking into consideration any food allergies or lifestyle choices as vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, etc. We use local products so you are always tasting the typical foods of the area. We also ensure you are discovering any fresh vegetable and/or fruit that are in season at the time of your Camino walk.
Normally on the trail, we have dinner in our accommodation. You get a wide variety of dinners on our guided Camino trips from a family-style dinner from a local organic garden with their homemade wine and liquors, to a home-made dinner prepared by the owners of our Casa Rural of authentic paella, either seafood or vegetarian. One night you may even dine in our Pazo‘s high-end restaurant. On nights we do not eat at our hotel, we take you to our favorite local restaurants. One of our favorite restaurants is owned by pilgrim Pepe who previously was a butcher but opened a restaurant on the Camino to provide organic local cuts prepared on order. (He also serves a wide range of items including fresh fish and vegetarian/vegan options.)
Being big foodies ourselves, we ensure your bellies are full for your walking days!
Self-guided trips – we include breakfast every day. You can easily pick up lunch ingredients for a picnic at a supermarket or find cheap baguettes or set 3-course lunches along the way. Similarly, with dinner, you can find a 3-course “pilgrim ́s set meal” for around 12€.
HOW OFTEN WILL I EAT?
All our hotels serve breakfast before we set off for the trail. A normal breakfast in Spain consists of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, orange juice, and toast or croissants. In all of our accommodation, breakfast is more substantial and provides eggs, cheese, and yogurt. If breakfast is on the lighter side, we make sure we augment it to prepare you for your day of walking (for gully-guided trips)!
Lunch in Spain is normally eaten between 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm. This is the largest meal of the day and can be quite heavy.
Dinner is usually later in Spain. This gives you time to have a shower, relax and recuperate, explore the area and maybe have a glass of wine!
ARE SNACKS PROVIDED OR DO I BRING MY OWN?
Fully-guided trips – Andaspain provides water and snacks at our “checkpoints.” Our snacks consist of fresh local fruit, a variety of granola bars, mixed nuts, delicious pastries, and anything else specific to our group’s needs. Walking with Andaspain also means you do not need to carry lots of water or fill up from the public fountains. (We do not know how often the fountains are treated, thus we do not advise to drink from them.) We provide water at our checkpoints to fill up your water bottle.
WHAT IF I HAVE FOOD INTOLERANCES/ALLERGIES – WILL YOU BE ABLE TO CATER FOR MY NEEDS?
On fully-guided trips, before you set off for Spain, we gather any specific food intolerance/allergies and we will plan ahead to make sure we can meet your needs. This is never a problem in restaurants or for our picnic lunches. Do make sure you bring any allergy medication you might need.
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. On fully-guided trips, 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 Portugal, 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, on fully-guided trips, 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.
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 traveler and have tried to keep this charge to a minimum.
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION CAN I EXPECT?
All our accommodation is carefully chosen for its proximity to the Camino, for its charm and for the quality of service provided. We stay in 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. On some nights, we use hotels so you will experience a mix, always of good quality!
Self-guided trips – we find you good quality but simple accommodation on the Camino itself. We know you don ́t want to walk extra kilometers to find your place to stay! We provide Andaspain maps with address, phone number, photo, Google map, and if needed directions on how to get to your hotel or pension. All the accommodation we book for you will have en suite bathroom facilities. If you would like upgraded hotels or to stay in Casas rurales slightly off the Camino just let us know!
SHOULD I BRING ANYTHING EXTRA FOR THE ACCOMMODATIONS SUCH AS PILLOWS, SLEEPING BAGS, ETC?
We ensure you, all of our accommodations are up to a certain standard! Due to the myriad of hotel classifications in Spain, it’s not as trustworthy to count on the stars as it may be in other parts of the world. All accommodation will provide linens, towels, toiletries, etc. No need to bring anything unless you have a preference for a specific item.
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 (for fully-guided trips)!
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 traveling 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.
MONEY ON THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
WHAT IS THE CURRENCY IN SPAIN?
Spain’s currency is the Euro. We suggest exchanging money in advance to bring with you or you can find money exchanges in the airport when you arrive. It´s a good idea to have some Euros with you – best to have notes of 50€ or 20€. There are notes of 500€, 200€, 100€, 50€, 20€, 10€ and 5€. 500€, 200€ and 100€ are not the best for small purchases as some establishments will not take these notes.
WILL MY CREDIT/DEBIT CARD WORK IN MOST PLACES ON THE TRAIL?
Some bars and restaurants on the Camino don´t accept credit cards. We recommend having a small amount of cash on you during the day for any extra coffees/drinks along the trail. You can use credit cards in most large stores and shops. Make sure you check with your bank that your card is ready to use abroad.
ARE THERE MANY ATMS IN THE REGION?
In most small towns and in all cities, you will find banks with ATM machines. We will let you know about where the next available ATM will be if necessary. Again, make sure your card is authorized to use whilst abroad.
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 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.
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.
This is a phrase you will hear, and hopefully say too, as you walk this beautiful and historic road to Santiago de Compostela. It literally means “Good Way” in Spanish. Local people and other pilgrims will wish you a good journey as you pass through the many hamlets and small market towns that have lined the Camino de Santiago for centuries. If someone says it to you, the reply is ‘Gracias, igualmente’ (Thank you and to you); or you can just say it back, ‘BUEN CAMINO!’