I know winter is just beginning, but it’s the perfect time to start planning your el Camino hike! May is a lovely time to go, and this gives you a few months to plan the month off work or post-semester trip you desperately need.
Here are 8 reasons to hike the el Camino de Santiago (as if you needed convincing)…
#1 – No maps needed
Shells, arrows, and blazes guide you every step, plus there are usually other pilgrims nearby. The Camino has been a pilgrimage since before the 10th century, so the route is pretty well-defined!
If you want a little bit of guidance, such as the location and cost of albergues and markets, or a map of some of the bigger cities to navigate, guidebooks and apps are available. I used the Camino de Santiago Guide app ($3.49 in Google Play). Many people brought along the John Brierley Camino Pilgram guide, but the app served me well and didn’t weigh me down.
#2 – Super light pack (<12 lbs/5.5 kilos)
A stark change from my Appalachian Trail thruhike, a sojourn on el Camino requires very little. Here’s a complete list of everything I packed, and I could have cut that down. (In fact, there are a few items in the table picture that I ended up leaving at home.)
#3 – Albergues
The main reason your pack can be so light is because you stay every night in albergues (hostels). Much of the Camino winds through private land, and you aren’t allowed to camp along it. The albergues are nice, clean, super affordable, and reserved only for pilgrims. At the beginning of your trek, you get a “pilgrim passport” that is stamped every time you stay at an albergue (other places, like restaurants and cathedrals, also have stamps). No passport, no stay.
You get to know other pilgrims, and often the albergues serve meals for a few euros more. You stay in old castles, farmhouses, inns, and even convents and monasteries.
#4 – The food
My goodness, the food. Where to begin? I walked more than 500 miles in 24 days and I GAINED four pounds. It was not muscle. Ah, the food…
There was a tortilla-size hole in my heart that I didn’t know existed until I had tortilla. (Spanish tortilla, not Mexican tortilla.) I started every morning with tortilla and a cafe con leche. Bocadillos ended up having their own song (songwriter: Camino buddy Romain). The pulpo in Galicia is world-famous. The majority of my happy memories involve food…
#5 – The wine
… and wine.
Guys, the Camino has a WINE FOUNTAIN. This is a thing. And the Camino goes across the north of Spain, which is amazing wine country; you walk through Rioja. A glass can be had for around 1€, and some entire bottles are 3€. It’s a beautiful journey, and a great way to make friends!
#6 – The water
One of the biggest concerns you have on any backpacking adventure or long trek is where you’re going to get water. The Camino passes through a town every 10 km or so, sometimes fewer, and most of them have amazing public fountains with delicious water. No need to carry water treatment of any kind – just enjoy!
#7 – Beautiful, friendly villages
The Camino is miles of walking through fields of vibrant red poppies, vineyards, pastures, and some of the prettiest scenery I’ve seen. The sun is shining, there’s a nice breeze, and you stroll into a lovely, friendly village where most of the homes and buildings are older than your home country. You stop at a restaurant for lunch or some tapas, swing into a little shop, enter a quiet, cool, shaded cathedral, chat with people in the village who want to direct you to the hostel, or the best bowl of caldo gallego.
#8 – Meditation
Even though el Camino is technically a Catholic pilgrimage, you don’t need to be religious in order to appreciate the opportunities for thought and meditation this trail provides. The terrain is easy, and your pack is light. You walk. You think. I’m not religious, but I was drawn to the cool, quiet dark and the beautiful art of a cathedral’s sanctuary. I carried a rock from home and placed it at the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross), symbolizing letting go of the burdens I no longer want to carry – something pilgrims on the Camino have been doing since the 11th century. Enjoy your pilgrimage, and take time to appreciate why you’re walking it in the first place, even if it’s just because you love to go for very, very long walks, like I do.
Whatever the reason is for you, go. Add el Camino to your bucket list. Start your savings fund. Bank up that PTO. Do what it takes – you won’t regret it.
And ¡Buen Camino!