Walking the Camino Pilgrimage as an inner journey

Camino Primitivo Spain

The Way of St. James – also known as the Camino de Santiago – dates back to the 8th century and is the most famous pilgrimage route in all of Europe. The name “Way of St. James” is actually a collective term for all the European pilgrim trails leading to the tomb of the Apostle James in Santiago de Compostela, the capital city of Galicia, Spain. With the revival of the pilgrimage tradition a few years ago, many Camino routes of the Middle Ages were redis­covered, so that the Way of St. James begins prac­tically right at your own front door.

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Sleeping in a large dormitory What you need to know

Public or church-run pilgrims’ hostels are typical for the Camino Francés and are located directly on the trail. The prerequisite for access to these inex­pensive lodgings (€5 to €8) is the presentation of a valid pilgrim’s passport. However, the stay is limited to one night, advance booking is not possible, and the “first come, first serve” rule applies. But there are also a lot of hotels that cater specifically to pilgrims.

The hostels usually open between 2 and 4 p.m., lights out from 10 p.m. They generally offer very basic, large mixed dorm­itories with bunk beds as sleeping quarters.

Furnishings: The dorm furnishings are spartan, with bare mattresses on the bunks. Blankets and bed linen are only available on request, if at all, so it is essential to bring your own sleeping bag with you. It is also good to have a headlamp or torch, not to forget earplugs.

Safety in the hostels: Even on a pilgrimage, it is advisable to maintain a healthy cautiousness and not to become too careless.

A valuables bag for all items that should not be left unat­tended at any time is an absolute must. You can take this bag with you everywhere you go, whether to the kitchen or the bathroom, and stow it next to your body in your sleeping bag at night. An anti-theft backpack protector that can be secured with a combination lock is also a useful piece of equipment.

Protection against bugs: Bed bugs are a problem that affect almost all types of accom­modation, including hotels, from time to time. The risk of coming across them cannot be completely elim­inated, but you can reduce it consid­erably. Here are some tips:

– Take precautions: Spray your sleeping bag with an insecticide containing the active ingredient permethrin before beginning your journey. It remains effective for up to four weeks.

– Check the bed for bugs: Bed bugs are nocturnal and like to hide in cracks, so they are very difficult to detect. Their droppings – small black dots on the mattress or clustered near their hiding place – are warning signs.

– Prevent spreading: Never place backpacks on the bed or against rough, cracked walls.

Self-catering: The tradi­tional hostels on the Way of St. James have communal kitchens. However, they often lack kitchen tools and crockery, so you should limit yourself to simple dishes. It is best to take your own eating utensils with you, such as cutlery, a pocket knife, a large mug and a small plastic cutting board that can be used as a substitute for a plate if necessary.


It is in the main pilgrimage season, when accom­modation becomes scarce, that the warmth of the local people’s “heart for pilgrims” can be truly felt. Emergency accom­modation of all kinds is made available: sometimes the local fire brigade offers its community room, private people their garden shed, or the surf school its storage rooms.

“There never was a pilgrim who did not return to his village with one prejudice less and one new idea more.”

– Thomas Morus, statesman and humanist –

way of St James pilgrim in Santiago of Compostela , Galicia , Spain

A “must-have” for pilgrims What you need to know

The pilgrim’s passport, also known as the “Credencial”, is used to collect the official stamps from the start to the end of the journey. You can get your passport stamped at your accom­modation but, if you forget, you can get stamps in churches, pilgrimage and tourist offices along the way, and also in many bars, cafés and restaurants. One disad­vantage, however, is that not all stamp locations are always open.

To benefit from the inex­pensive accom­modation offered in church and public pilgrims’ hostels on the Camino, pilgrims have to present complete docu­mentation of their pilgrimage journey. Each daily stage must be confirmed with a stamp and – of pivotal importance – the date.

The pilgrim’s certi­ficate is handed out at the final destination in Santiago di Compostela upon presentation of the pilgrim’s passport. This highly coveted souvenir of the pilgrimage is issued at the Oficina de Acogida al Peregrino, which is very close to the cathedral. It is the official certi­fication of the completed pilgrimage.

Where to get the pilgrim’s passport: It is best to obtain the pilgrim’s passport before setting off. It can be ordered directly from Church insti­tutions and authorised societies (e.g. Asso­ci­ations of Friends of the Way – Way of Saint James in Galicia, official website (www.caminode­s­antiago.gal) or by down­loading the relevant forms.

Time required for processing: It can take three to four weeks for the pilgrim’s pass to be issued, espe­cially during peak travel periods, so it is advisable to order well in advance of departure.

Camino del Norte

The Basics A well-main­tained and safe pilgrimage route

The Camino Francés is the best-known pilgrimage route to Santiago di Compostela, and stretches over a length of roughly 770 km from the starting point in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Basque Country where 10% of all pilgrims begin their journey.

The path runs across the north of Spain from east to west, passing through important cities such as Burgos and León as well as four Spanish provinces: Navarra, La Rioja, Castile and León, Galicia. Walking a daily distance of 20 to 25 km, the pilgrim will take four to six weeks on average to complete the route.

Choose the right time of the year to travel: The mild climate in the months of March to June and September to October make these periods a partic­ularly suitable time to do the walk. In the height of the summer the trail is extremely over­crowded due to semester and school holidays.

Walking without a backpack: Many tour operators offer a backpack transport service.