So you want to become a peregrino? If you haven't yet had any experience on the Road, it is the intention of this page to present information about the most basic questions that are probably bouncing around in your head. When should I go? Where should I start and how do I get there? Just what is this passport or credential that I've reading about? What should I carry? We will here attempt to cover some of these basic issues. This is a subset of the material available on the American Pilgrims' FAQ page, which you are encouraged to visit.

Packing list button Packing lists: What should I take?
When to go button When to go: What are the considerations about when to go?
Start button Which route to take : Which route? There are more than one?
How long button How long will it take : How much time should I allocate?
Credential button Credential or passport: What is the pilgrim's credential or passport? Where can I obtain one?
  Have further questions? Have a look at our FAQs page which duplicates this information but which has much more in addition.

What should I take?
Obviously there will be numerous personal variables here and any group of 10 peregrinos will have 12 lists to offer. Such considerations as: How much weight am I capable of carrying or comfortable carrying for an extended period? How much experience do I have camping or backpacking? Just how clean to I really have to be? Do I have special needs or requirements, for example, serious, meaning 'heavy', photographic equipment? We can offer a sample packing list.. An additional suggestion: Take along at least a partial roll of toilet paper—and a plastic bag to carry the used paper until you can properly dispose of it! At some point along the way, you'll probably wish you had it.


•  When should I go?
Perhaps the first question here should really be, “When can I go?” If you are a student or if you work, you may have to go whenever your vacation time allows it. But if you have the freedom to travel when you wish, then there are a couple important of considerations that present themselves: weather and crowding. July and August, even in the north of Spain, are normally HOT. Mid April through June and September through early November can be the most pleasant times of the year to walk. And the cold and wet conditions of the Spanish winter have always presented their own unique challenges to the pilgrim. No matter when you walk, however, if you are on the road for weeks or even months, chances are very good that you will encounter a wide range of weather conditions to keep your journey interesting. See our weather and climate links for detailed information.

In addition to the weather, you may also want to consider how many other pilgrims will be out there walking with you. Overcrowding on the Camino francés is notorious during the months of July and August, when most European students and working people take their long annual vacation. The other Caminos in Spain and throughout Europe do not experience similar multitudes, but since their infrastructures are not designed to handle huge numbers of pilgrims, they may feel crowded. If you would like to examine some graphs that indicate heavily walked years and months as well as some other interesting patterns and trends, we have a page of statistics. (9/2/12)

If you seek the medieval spirit of the pilgrim or if you consider the pilgrimage as a spiritual journey, you may find winter the perfect season to walk. Even on the Camino francés, crowds are nonexistent. Your first and foremost consideration however must be your preparations for the weather. Northern Spain has a true winter! You may find yourself walking in snow at Puente la Reina, freezing fog on the meseta, rain at León and warm sunshine in Galicia. You should consult the climate information we have on our Internet Resources page. On the Camino francés, most pilgrim services such as albergues and restaurants remain open during the winter; on other routes, winter services may be less available.


•  Which route should I take?
There are many routes, many Caminos, to Santiago de Compostela. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims began their pilgrimage from their front door, whether that was in Jaca or Sevilla, Paris or Ostabat, Brussels or Vienna: there were as many routes as there were pilgrims. The best known route today, the one that most people mean then they talk about "the Camino", is the Camino francés, which crosses the north of Spain from the French border through Pamplona, Burgos and León all the way to Santiago. But many other routes have been marked and are available to modern pilgrims, beginning both inside Spain and beyond its borders. Inside Spain, well known Caminos include the Vía de la Plata which begins in Sevilla and passes through Mérida, Cáceres and Salamanca; the Camino primitivo which begins in Oviedo and passes through Lugo before meeting the Camino francés shortly before Santiago; the Camino del Norte which begins in Irún at the French border and follows the northern coast before turning inland near Ribadeo. There are now also recognized and well marked routes in France, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria … almost everywhere in Europe. You are invited to visit our Route Overviews page for further food for thought.


•  How long will it take? The real question here is how far do you want to walk? Actually one must realize that, aside from the cathedral-imposed requirement of having to walk the last, westernmost 100 km or to bicycle the last 200 km in order to receive the compostela, one can start anywhere. Still, many peregrinos choose to start in either St. Jean Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees or in Roncesvalles on the Spanish side. From these starting points the distance is approximately 750 km (~450 mi) and walkers commonly will take about 35 days - perhaps with a range of from four to six weeks. Cyclists should count on about two weeks. From any starting point, about 20 to 25 km/day is a reasonable pace for most walkers. Obviously these numbers will depend on the individual.

There is no simple answer to this question. Whether on foot or bicycle, how long your pilgrimage will take will depend on many variables, such as what kind of terrain you will be crossing, how long you want to travel each day, how many rest days you wish to take during the pilgrimage and, naturally, your physical abilities. The hilly countryside near Le Puy, France, may limit walkers to less than 20 kilometers per day, while the flat expanses of the Spanish meseta may allow some to walk 30 or more kilometers per day. You may choose to finish your day’s walk early in the afternoon, or you may prefer to continue walking until late in the day. The distance you travel in a day will depend on how you pace yourself and on how often you stop to rest, to visit cultural attractions and to talk to people along the road. You may wish to take a day off from time to time, or you may prefer to walk every day.

Most guidebooks for the various pilgrimage routes offer suggested itineraries. For the entire Camino francés, a distance of approximately 750 km (~450 mi), walkers commonly take about 35 days—perhaps with a range of from four to six weeks. Cyclists should count on about two weeks. Other examples would be for the Camino primitivo, 13 to 15 walking days from Oviedo to Santiago; for the French Chemin du Puy, 30 to 34 walking days from Le Puy to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port.; and for the German Münchner Jakobsweg, 10 walking days from Munich to Lindau-Bregenz. Take your pick: the possibilities are nearly endless.


What is the pilgrim's credential or passport?
While walking the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims carry a credential (credencial), a small, folded document in which the pilgrim authenticates his or her progress by obtaining stamps (sellos) along the way. Sellos can be obtained from many sources including many bars, hotels, town halls, museums and churches and from all refugios and albergues.

The credential or 'passport', as it is sometimes called, is not to be confused with an official, government-issued passport. The former is strictly a record of passage along the Camino; the latter is a required document for international travel.

When registering at an albergue, you will be asked to present your credential to verify that you are walking or biking the Road. In addition, upon reaching Santiago de Compostela, at the Oficina de Acogida de Peregrinos (Pilgrims' Office, Rúa do Vilar 1, MapQuest map, Google Earth image), you can present your stamped credential to confirm that you have walked at least the last 100 kilometers or cycled at least the last 200 kilometers, whereupon you will receive a compostela, a wonderful document that certifies your pilgrimage. See the entry immediately below for more about the compostela.

Pilgrim credentials can be obtained from numerous sources—including from American Pilgrims—before setting out on the Camino, or from sites actually on the Camino.


Have further questions that haven't been addressed here? We would encourage you to also look through the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on our site and our Internet Resources page. These may either answer further questions or may suggest other sites where further information is available. If after looking there, you still have questions, you can contact us directly but please be aware that personal responses may take a while to compose.

Rev 01/03/15

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