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What is the Camino de Santiago? 27 frequently asked questions

What is the Camino de Santiago, how does it work, where does it start and where does it begin? These are some of the most frequently asked questions for people who are starting out on this adventure. Here we answer these and some more. 

Before you start

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Way of St. James is a pilgrimage route that, since the 10th century, has connected the whole of Europe with the city of Santiago de Compostela. According to Christian tradition, the remains of the apostle St. James the Greater, one of the twelve disciples of Christ, are found there. 

Due to the popularity of the French Way, nowadays many people believe that the Way of Saint James begins in Roncesvalles or Saint Jean Pied-de-Port. The reality is that there are different recognised routes and that every few years new routes that had been lost are recovered. If you want to do the Camino de Santiago, the first thing to do is to choose your route. Here is more complete information on this.

For the Catholic Church, the end of the Way is in Santiago de Compostela, in the Cathedral where the remains of the apostle St. James the Greater are kept. However, in recent times, a pre-Christian tradition has been revived that considers Fisterra as the end point, as it is traditionally considered the End of the World.

Rather than talking about the Camino de Santiago, we should talk about "Caminos". There are several officially recognised routes, and others that had been lost are being recovered. At present, the routes with the best infrastructures and signposting are the French, Portuguese, English, Northern, Primitive, Winter and Via de la Plata. Which one to choose? We tell you here.

Again, this question depends on the route you choose and your starting point. In any case, you can consider as a general approximation that, if you do it on foot, the most usual is to walk 20 to 25 km each day. Cycling is usually around 70 km. per stage. You should also count the day of arrival at the starting point and the day of arrival in Santiago.

If you decide to do the Camino with us, we will adapt to your needs and your availability of days. Ask us without obligation.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions. Often people who call us want to do the Camino from Roncesvalles, from Oporto or from San Sebastian, but do not have enough days to do it. The truth is that the Camino can be split into several sections, making the pilgrimage at different times, even in different years. In fact, nowadays this is the most common way of doing it. The only requirement is that the stamps on the credential are ordered chronologically and geographically. Do you want to talk about your Camino?

The answer to this question will depend very much on the Camino you choose. However, it is generally best to avoid the winter months and the middle months of summer to avoid extreme cold, rain or heat. Most people tend to prefer the months of April and May and September and October. However, for this reason, these periods tend to be busier and some routes, such as the French route, can become overcrowded. Moreover, this can vary depending on the section you choose. In Galicia, summers tend to be mild. In Castile, on the other hand, they are more extreme. If you tell us when you want to do it and how many days you have available, we can make a route for you..

In general terms, the Jacobean routes are very safe, both for walkers and cyclists. The signposting on the main paths is abundant and is revised from time to time to avoid problems, and alternative itineraries have been marked on the stretches that are dangerous for bicycles. Even so, it is sometimes necessary to walk along the shoulder of the road and caution should be exercised.

The pilgrim's credential is the document that, like a passport, you must fill in with the stamps of the places you pass through. It should be stamped at least twice a day: at the beginning of the stage and at the end.

On arrival in Santiago, this credential is checked at the Pilgrim's Office and, if everything is correct - the stamps are in order and the distances between them are plausible - the office itself issues the Compostela.

Credentials can be purchased in some parishes and through associations of friends of the Camino. If you contract your experience with us, we will send you the corresponding credentials as part of the documentation that we will send you.

The Compostela is the document that accredits the pilgrimage along the Pilgrims' Route to Santiago de Compostela. It is a religious certificate issued by the chapter of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela after verifying by means of the stamps on the credential that the Pilgrim's Way has been completed correctly. You must also mark "religious or spiritual reasons" on the application form. Here you can consult more information on the Camino documents

This is the million-dollar question, no doubt. The answer varies depending on whether you do the Camino in summer or winter. However, we can guide you with what not to bring: everything you can do without will be discounted kilos off your back.

There is an unwritten rule that the backpack should not exceed 10% of our body weight, but the truth is that it is difficult to achieve. For this reason, backpack and luggage transport is one of the most requested services on the Camino, and is included in all our programmes, from accommodation to accommodation. This will allow you to focus on what is really important: to live the essence of the Camino and discover all it has to offer without worrying about excess weight.

Another million-dollar question. Keep in mind that the Camino runs on dirt tracks, trails, asphalt and uneven areas. The combination of different surfaces means that the preconceived idea of wearing hiking boots is not the best option. Our recommendation is to wear the lightest possible hiking shoe or trekking boot.

The important thing is that the foot is ventilated to prevent overheating and the dreaded blisters from appearing as the kilometres go by. And a tip: never wear new shoes on the Camino. If you don't have them, buy them in advance and do training routes with them to soften them and adapt them to the way you walk.

This is a very reasonable doubt. There are many factors to be taken into account, so we recommend you to read this text where we explain it in detail.

During the Camino

The Camino de Santiago is generally well signposted. You will see indicators with the scallop shell, yellow arrows, Santiago crosses, etc. These signs appear at every junction or fork in the road, and there are many of them.

The Camino is done regardless of the weather. So you walk even if it rains or hails, or even if it is very hot. But don't worry. If you have contracted your route with us and at any time you can't or don't want to continue walking, call us and we will help you with the transfer to the next accommodation.

The Camino is made up of hundreds of kilometres of very varied terrain, which also changes with the weather. In general, it is not a difficult route (except for the distance to be covered) and the gradients are not very steep, with the exception of a few specific points.

You will find all kinds of terrain: country roads, packed dirt tracks, paths with sand and loose stones, secondary roads with hardly any traffic and sometimes you even have to walk on verges or parallel to roads with traffic, where we recommend that you take extreme caution.

The stages of all the Caminos are designed to cover an average of 20 to 25 km per day. A person with normal physical preparation can cover around 4 km per hour. To this we must add the stops we make, so that, in general, it can be done without great effort. Leaving early in the morning, you can reach the end of the stage at midday to enjoy the local gastronomy and complementary activities in the afternoon. Or simply to rest.

About the services
on the Camino

The quick answer is yes. However, this varies depending on the Path you choose.

On the French Route, which is the busiest, you will find an endless number of towns with pharmacies, health centres, cash machines, tourist offices, food shops, etc.

On the Camino del Norte you will find towns with services every 5-10 km, and the end of the stage always coincides with a town of a certain size, where you can find everything you need.

The Portuguese Way is much more urban than the rest, but most of them are small towns or villages with limited services. You can find towns with most services every 8-10 km. The same for the Arousa Sea Route.

On the Primitive, English, Winter, Fisterra and Muxía routes or on the Via de la Plata there are far fewer services and they are usually at the end of the stage, so we recommend that you always take some food and water with you.

The different routes have all kinds of accommodation. If you book with us, we will put at your disposal rural tourism houses, charming hotels, pazos, hostels, etc. In some of our programmes you will see, in fact, three prices indicated (depending on the category of accommodation), which reflect the variety of options and our effort to adapt to all circumstances.

In Proguías we offer you a Camino package petfriendly. If you have a different route in mind, or do it differently, it is best that you contact us and we will advise you directly, because not all accommodations allow pets.

We include a baggage transfer service in our programmes, with a limit of 1 piece of luggage up to 15 kg. There is the option to increase the number of items, but this is not usually necessary. In addition, we will provide you with tags so that you can leave your backpack with the accommodation staff, properly identified, for them to collect it. It is important to do this before 8am, so that our team can take it to the next accommodation before you arrive.

In addition, if you plan to travel with more luggage than the Camino, we can also transport the luggage you are not going to use to your last accommodation, so that you can continue your journey.

Here you can find more detailed information about this service. 

In Santiago

If you have arrived in Santiago and your credential is correctly covered (here you can see the requirements), you can pick up your Compostela at the Pilgrim's Office, in Rúa das Carretas, just a few metres from the Obradoiro square.

Here are our contact details:

Rúa Carretas, nº33.
15705 Santiago de Compostela
Tlf.: +34 981 568 846
oficinadelperegrino@catedraldesantiago.es
botafumeiro@catedraldesantiago.es
credencialesperegrinos@catedraldesantiago.es

The Botafumeiro is probably the main symbol of Santiago Cathedral. It is a giant censer that hangs from the dome of the Cathedral's transept. It weighs 53 kilograms and is 1.5 metres high.

The Botafumeiro has no liturgical function, but its use to purify the atmosphere inside the temple is very old and today it is possible to see it in operation if individuals or groups of pilgrims have requested it (at a cost).

The Pilgrim's Mass is a religious celebration that takes place in the Cathedral of Santiago, at the main altar. These masses are usually held at 12h00 and 19h30.

As a sign of welcome, pilgrims who have obtained their Compostela on the previous day are greeted at the beginning of the pilgrimage. Their nationality or origin and the Camino they have completed are also indicated.

It is customary among pilgrims for religious reasons to dedicate a time of prayer to thank the apostle for the experiences they have had on the Camino.

Yes, the Cathedral can be visited freely without a guide or by prior reservation with a guide. The guides must be Official Guides and must be duly accredited by the Archbishopric.

The guided tour booking allows you to visit, in addition to the church, the impressive cathedral museum, the stony choir of Maestro Mateo, the treasury, the library, the cloister and the Royal Pantheon.

It is also possible to visit the Pórtico de la Gloria, the archive or the Palace of Xelmírez (see)

Since the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago has been associated with the granting of plenary indulgences and forgiveness of sins. Pilgrims who visited the basilica of the apostle, prayed and received the sacraments of confession and communion obtained the Jubilee.

Since the 15th century, the granting of plenary indulgences has been limited to Holy Years, whenever 25 July (St. James' Day) falls on a Sunday. This occurs every six, five, six and eleven years. The year 2021 was a Holy Year. Exceptionally (in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic), 2022 was also a Holy Year. The next natural Holy Year will be in 2027. 

These indulgences can also be obtained in any year on 25 July, 21 April (day of the dedication of the Cathedral) and 30 December (date of the Translation of the Apostle).

The Holy Door is an access to the cathedral that opens onto the Praza da Quintana and is always sealed, except in Holy Years. The door is opened on the last day of the previous year and remains open for 12 months.