El camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James as it is known in English continues attracting millions of visitors every year. It is a demanding spiritual journey that evolves a sense of encounter with oneself. Pilgrims have been walking this journey for centuries. The way goes through very beautiful villages, mountains and valleys. This is not your typical excursion, it is a challenging experience but one on which many people has experienced a powerful transformation. Here are some general things to consider if you are thinking to undertake the adventure of the Way of St James.
What is it? The journey is actually a collection of trails. In fact many claim that before christianity people were already walking this way as a sign of inner conversion. Christians were the ones who promoted again the journey as a personal pilgrimage to Compostela, where they believe the Basilica guards the remains of one of the apostles of Christ. What it is is true is that not only Christians walk the way, in fact not only religious people, but those looking for a kind of personal retreat and a time of reflection.
The different caminos: There are several different routes, some may take even months. The French way is probably the best known, 780 Km from the Pyrenees all the way to Compostela. The Portuguese way is probably the second best known, it starts in Lisboa, the geography allows it to be less demanding than the French one and summer is not as hot. El Camino Primitivo is one of the most picturesque, it can be demanding but nature is beautiful, it is not as long, it starts in Oviedo.
What to carry: Along the way there are numerous albergues (hostels) public and private. At the beginning of El camino one picks a pilgrim’s passport, with that, one only pays a nominal fee for each night. So there is no need to carry a lot of clothing. It is good to have maps, maybe a GPS, comfortable clothing and sports shoes, protection for rain and a lot of sun screen. There are many affordable restaurants and water is free, safe and abundant along the journey.
How to prepare yourself for the journey: Physical preparation is important, exercise in the previous days is a must. As well one should travel with a good insurance, and be open to adapt to a typical mediterranean diet that is what one will find along the journey.
When is the best time to do el Camino: The best time is normally Summer and Fall. Summer is normally crowded and hot. Fall offers very nice weather. Spring is a time when one can find a lot of rain and winter is cold and can be even dangerous because of the snow.
A different kind of journey: As I said this is not only a journey for deeply spiritual people, but it is indeed not your typical all inclusive tour. It is a pilgrimage that demands one to be open to sleep in hostels with dozens of people, to eat what is served and to walk a lot. Some people claim that it is an overated journey but what is true is that the journey and the experience shared with others have touched many lives. This is one of those trips that everybody should take at least once in a lifetime.