In 2016 over 270,000 walked over 100 kilometres or cycled over 200 kilometres as part of one of many Camino routes which end in the northern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela.
Here are 10 reasons why you could consider completing a Camino.
1 Travel with Purpose – When you walk on a Camino your specific purpose is to find and follow the waymarkers to your destination. You might be looking out for the best café for that first morning coffee stop or that perfect picnic spot for lunch. Whether you are walking a short or longer distance, each day of a Camino provides challenge and purpose with lots of fun along the way.
tip Read as much as you can about different Camino walks before you go. The Spanish website gronze.com has detailed maps and information about all major Camino walks
2 Relax and Unwind – In the old days Camino walks were religious pilgrimages providing pilgrims with time and space to pray and connect with their innermost thoughts. Although the modern peregrino ( walker ) may not be religiously motivated there are opportunities for deep reflection, relaxation and detachment from everyday life stresses. The result? A reinvigorated new you!
tip Consider staying two nights at various destinations along the way so that you can really chill out.
3 Make new Friends – Holidays are always great ways to make new friends. This is particularly true when walking a Camino because you share amazing experiences like losing the way, enjoying hospitality in the homes of local villagers, having impromptu concerts and motivating one another to complete what may be a long and arduous walk. You can meet fellow walkers from a range of different countries. An ideal way to practise speaking another language and to forge new friendships.
tip Be prepared to learn a few words of different languages to speak to your new friends
4 Walk through History – On a Camino you may pass through beautiful large towns like Burgos, Salamanca, Oviedo, Zamora and Ourense and come face to face with Roman bridges, Gothic cathedrals, monuments to El Cid and a variety of UNESCO world heritage sites. But sometimes the thrill comes from stumbling across a Roman ruin near a small village or meandering through the streets where locals live.
tip Keep an eye out for Roman carriage wheel markings in the pathways outside Santiago
5 Eat like the Locals – Having that well deserved celebratory drink or evening meal after a tough day’s walk with new friends is surely a most satisfying part of the Camino experience. You can try smart restaurants in larger towns but unpretentious home cooked fare in smaller villages can be surprisingly appealing. Whether it is pastries, paella or pimientos you can eat up because you can afford to with all that walking!
tip Try pastel de nata tarts while on the Portugese Camino, Padron peppers in tapas on Calle Laurel in Logrono and albarino white wine in Galicia.
6 Spend less Money – Walking a Camino is likely to be more affordable than staying in major cities like Barcelona and Madrid. Whether using the budget option Donativo hostels only for peregrinos (perhaps 8 euro a night) or staying in a 3 or 4 star hotel along the way, prices will be surprisingly reasonable and specific needs of walkers will be catered for.
tip Instead of paying a tour operator to book your accommodation you can make your own bookings direct with booking.com
7 Connect with Nature – Every Camino walk will provide some opportunities to escape urban life and to walk through fields and forests, along rivers, over hills and mountains and next to beautiful trees and flowers. Watch out for dogs and cows and understand that some days your walk will necessarily involve walking along bitumen roads as you navigate larger towns.
tip If one day a Camino route has too much walking on a main road then why not catch a bus or taxi to the next destination
8 Improve your Fitness – If you want to lose weight and improve physical fitness then a Camino walk may help you do just that. People of all ages and fitness levels attempt to walk a Camino. You can walk 10 kilometres or less a day like the elderly Dutch couple I met once or you can walk 30 kilometres or more a day if your fitness allows. Whether you walk a complete Camino of many hundreds of kilometres or simply the last 100 kilometres before Santiago (this is very popular) your physical endurance will improve.
tip Make sure you have a pair of well worn in walking boots before you start
9 Improve your Mental Stamina- No one says that walking a Camino is easy. Quite the opposite. Each day you may be challenged by bad weather conditions, poor way marking, steep inclines, roadwork, foot blisters and more. But as you walk along your resilience and your ability to persevere will increase. Your ability to achieve short and long term goals will improve.
tip If you feel like giving up take a break and don’t over extend yourself
10 Enjoy the Exhilaration of Finishing – It is a euphoric moment for every walker who arrives in Santiago de Compostela. The town is buzzing as walkers queue to receive their compostela certificates for completing 100 kilometres or more of a walk. Most walkers stay in Santiago for a few days on completion of walking to catch up over tapas with all those walkers met along the way and to savour that special feeling of achieving a difficult goal.
tip Go to the mass in the Santiago Cathedral held at 12 noon daily to watch the famous spectacle of the giant botafumeiro of incense being swung across the Cathedral like a giant swing by 8 men.