Santiago de Compostela in Spain
Since the Middle Ages, millions of people have gone on pilgrimages to different places with unique spiritual significance according to their beliefs and values, and for different reasons. These destinations are sites of interest for lovers of religious tourism, which attract travelers to territories like Mecca or the Holy Land. However, there are also numerous tourists who follow these routes for other motifs like accomplishing a fitness goal or to fulfill their cultural interests.
DINKtravelers interviewed Antonio Soto, a pilgrim who has walked twice to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, a city that’s famous for housing the remains (relics) of the Apostle Saint James the Great, a relevant figure for the Catholics. After his experience as a solo traveler and as a group tour guide, Antonio revealed the main elements that help us understand the meaning and components of a pilgrimage to this destination.
The Route to Santiago de Compostela
There are nine different ways you can take to reach Santiago de Compostela. Each of them covers diverse European territories, mainly of Spain, France and Portugal. If this is the first time you follow the Way of St. James, it’s best to choose the Primitive Way with a total of 252 km divided into 11 easy stages, departing from Oviedo in northern Spain. However, the most popular and recommended route for travelers who like unique landscapes is the French Way, starting in Roncesvalles, France, and covering a total of 760 km divided into 31 stages.
Way of St. James Accomodation
In each of the towns that are considered as part of the Way of St. James, you’ll find lodging options that vary from campsites, for lovers of nature, to private hostels with spacious rooms and restaurants that serve regional wine and typical local food.
Each night you’ll get the chance to share your experiences with other pilgrims that, just like you, will be thrilled to share their anecdotes and tell you about the challenges they overcame throughout that day. Without doubt, it will be a great chance to meet travelers from all over the world and to take, as a souvenir from your trip, a whole bunch of new friends.
The French Way
Even though you can make the Way of St. James all year round, winter is not so advisable because of the cold weather, and particularly if you take the French Way, which goes across the Pyrenees. Also, in autumn, rain makes the walk too exhausting. However, if you travel to this destination in spring, temperatures are not so extreme and you can find lodging quite easily, even without making a reservation. This will allow you to be more spontaneous and to decide where you want to stay depending on how fast you walked on a specific day or how tired you feel.
This document, issued by ecclesiastical authorities, certifies that you completed at least the last 100 km of the Camino on foot, or the last 200 km on a bicycle or on horseback.
At your departure point, don’t forget to buy your Pilgrim Passport (1 to 2 euros). Then, make sure you get it stamped along the way (as if it were a regular passport). Where? In authorized hostels, churches, restaurants and bars.
Finally, when you reach Santiago de Compostela, present your stamped passport at the Pilgrims Office to apply for your Compostela certificate. FYI, if you walked the way
for fitness or touristic reasons rather than spiritual or religious ones, instead of a Compostela you’ll receive a Pilgrim Certificate.
Tips to Make the Way of Saint James
Now that you know the route and requirements to make the Way of St. James, follow these tips by Antonio Soto, sybarite and experienced pilgrim, to make your trip and unforgettable experience.
Guides and references
When you cross the towns or outskirts of the cities that conform the route, don’t worry, you won’t get lost. All along the way you’ll find signage and marks on the ground that are shaped like a scallop shell, a symbol that St. James’ pilgrims that has been used since the Middle Ages. They will point the way.
Packing for the Camino de Santiago
Put your packing skills to practice by taking only the most essential items. Remember you’ll have to carry your backpack throughout the days for endless hours. Make sure you don’t carry the equivalent to more than 10% of your body weight, and remember to pack:
Hiking boots or trekking shoes –Before flying to your departure point, wear down your shoes to a point in which they feel comfortable enough to walk in them for approximately 7 hours or 25km a day (consider leaving the hostel every day at 8 a.m.)
Sandals or flip-flops –They’ll help you rest your legs and refresh your feet while you visit the towns in which you’ll spend each night
2 hiking or trail pants –Preferably, select those that are manufactured with weatherproof materials
Swimsuit –If you travel in summer, you’ll love to swim in the rivers you’ll find along the way
Sweatshirt, rain jacket and hat
2 cotton t-shirts (wear one and pack the other one)
4 clothespins –You’ll love having them when you have to dry your clothes after washing them in the hostel’s bathroom
3 sets of underwear and seamless dri-fit socks
Bath products, repellent, sunblock, clothes detergent and basic meds
Sleeping bag and camping tent (in case you need to sleep outdoors)
Swimming towel –They’re small and light, they’re sold in sports goods stores and they dry in no time
Pocket knife, a small flashlight and a reflective bracelet (especially if you’ll walk until late in the day or before dawn)
Camera, cell phone with charger, ID and Pilgrim Passport
Optional: trekking poles
Tips for Walking the Camino de Santiago
H20 –Carry a bottle of water and stay hydrated by taking small sips every 15 minutes. Refill it at restaurants or hostels
Snacks –Each day pack two healthy snacks (so that you don’t carry extra weight) that are rich in protein, vitamins, healthy fats and complex carbs. These may include apples, a sandwich in whole grains bread or dried fruits. Eat them when you feel your energy levels drop
Every morning before walking, apply Vaseline on your toes, the balls of your feet and your heels to avoid blistering and chafing. But don’t rub it on your whole feet or your pores won’t breathe
Enjoy your pilgrimage!