The Challenges of Hiking the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage
The Camino Frances (or “French Way”) is one of many routes that comprise the Camino de Santiago, which is a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela first completed around the 9th century. CaminoWay.com's Jeremy Perrin recently chatted with us about some of the biggest challenges of the trail. Jeremy has led hiking trips on various parts of the Camino as well as on trails in North and South Africa, Europe, USA and the Middle East.
Is it fair to say that one of the points of a pilgrimage is to learn how to grow through adversity? With that in mind, what are some of the biggest challenges people face on the Camino de Santiago?
In our experience there are multiple challenges that people face: the first is usually making the decision to walk the Camino and then for how long. The main physical challenges are the multiple days walking; even fit people will hit the ‘wall’ at some stage. The hardest day of the Camino is on the first day of the French Way, where you have to cross the great mountain range of the Pyrenees over the Napoleon Pass. You must hike 26km to get to the first stop, but you are awarded with a stay in the stunning monastery town of Roncesvalles and two days later Pamplona.
The other challenging routes are generally on the Coastal Ways, including the Northern Way from San Sebastain to Santander. This route continues onto Gijon finishing in Santiago de Compostela. The Portuguese Coastal Way and the Lighthouse Way offers remote coastal walking with the advantage of finishing in traditional villages in Portugal and Galicia.
What’s the character of the most remote areas and how much time will trekkers spend walking through them? What’s the mileage for big days?
Trekking over consecutive days is challenging as most days are on average 20km. However, due to the location of the towns there are a number of days that can be up to 28km (usually one out of every seven). The terrain is mostly rolling country side; there are no major elevation points other than the crossing of the Pyrenees and the last 100km of the French Way.
What are some of the things pilgrims on this trail are seeking?
All walkers on the Camino de Santiago have their own reasons for taking the challenge of walking some or part of the ‘Way’. Only 30% of people are walking the Camino for religious reasons. The Camino trails are now part of peoples’ bucket list, and the routes attract people of all ages, families and walking groups. The main reasons people cite as to why they are hiking the Camino include: family and friends coming together, a journey for one’s self, a break from working life, and/or an outdoor adventure and immersion into a historical culture. Often walkers train to do the Camino and think about their fitness levels before they go on the journey, but many people are seeking a challenging experience. Even if they have no experience in long-distance walking they will try out the Camino and may do several different routes over the course of their lifetimes.
What’s a typical lightweight pack contain on the trail? What do you recommend people carry?
All you need is your daypack, and its contents must include water, extra snack, spare socks, rain gear, sunscreen, first aid for blisters and a camera. People usually carry too much. You can also find water and meals at small cafes along the way.
In what ways do the lodging and food options enhance the overall spiritual experience for pilgrims?
There are accommodation options on the Camino ranging from hostels to the famous Paradors. Walkers will mostly use hostels and small, family run hotels that are perfectly placed on the routes. The quality is simple and good. Hostels offer a bed and shared facilities, while the hotels and guest houses offer private en suite rooms. Food is traditional fare for the country.