camino questions, where, when, how much? - (02)
Welcome to the circle of decision making.
This is a conundrum faced by everyone who
plans a long, linear journey (a trip which has a different start and endpoints).
To help you through this I will plan a theoretical journey and you will have to substitute your details to make it real.
Just so you know, “The Camino” should be thought of as a network of paths leading to Santiago de Compostela. When people talk about “The Camino” they usually mean the most popular route, Camino Frances but really it's just one of many.
Photo: [below] "Where the Way becomes one", a Camino sign in Puenta La Reina
Photo: [above] Standing on the bridge at St. Jean Pied de Port looking through the archway where the Camino begins.
How long will this adventure take?
Travel UK to Biaritz, and the train to St Jean Pied de Port 1 day
Walk the stages of the guidebook 35 days
Spend an extra day in the cities of Burgos, Léon, and Santiago 3 days
Travel from Santiago de Compostela to the UK 1 day
Total 40 days
You can walk quicker, not rest, and trim days off this timetable. Or, you can take your time, or add days on and continue to Finisterre and/or Muxía.
How much will it cost? (very very approximate)
Single flight from London Stansted to Biarritz £ 100
Single bus to Bayonne £ 10
Single train ticket to St Jean Pied de Port £ 20
Over night in SJPdP £ 10
38 days of food and accommodation (£20 x 38) £ 900
Single bus ticket to Santiago de Compostela airport £ 10
Single flight ticket back to London Stansted £ 100
There are ways to cut back on the daily amount of £20, eat less, drink less, sleep in the cheapest albergues, in a ditch, etc but honestly, £20 for a bed and a day's food is about as close to budget as you can get, I did mine on #30 a day. (See a more detailed breakdown of costs later).
When to walk?
Winter (November to February) - I would rather eat my boots
You can expect cold and wet, and some albergues will close due to lack of pilgrims
Summer (late June to August) - queues, crowds and bed bugs, do not sign me up
You can expect long hot days, albergues, bars and the paths will be busy. This is the peak time for Spanish festivals, and north European holidays, it’s just plain old busy.
Spring (late March to mid-June) - very good time, I like this time
Early on you can expect cold mornings but warming up as the sun rises, anything from warm to baking hot days.
Photo: My feet in ankle deep snow just before the snow blizzard hit - Pyrenees, 18th April 2013
However, it’s unpredictable, some cold grey windy days, some light rain, some torrential. Pack for all contingencies. The albergues are open, bars are waiting, traffic on the Camino is less than summer.
Autumn (September to late October) - a very good time, I liked it
Similar to spring but a little more settled, Camino traffic is in decline but the albergues and bars are still mostly open.
Note: It’s northern Spain, it’s close to the Atlantic ocean, the weather can be unpredictable no matter what time of year you decide on. I have experienced many scorching hot days, days of torrential rain, bitingly cold winds, and even snow. So pack for the hot and cold and wet and windy.
Where to start?
This is dependent on how much time and money you have, and which one of the many Camino paths you decide to walk. The Camino Frances can be split into three-fortnight stages, with relatively easy public transport to and from each stage. For example
Biarritz - St Jean to Burgos about 12 days
Burgos to Ponferrada about 12 days
Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela about 9 days
This makes the whole journey possible within ordinary work vacation time but it will of course add up the costs.
For those who don’t have the time, you can fly to Santiago, bus from the airport to Sarria, and complete the last few stages back to Santiago in about five days, roughly 120km. The stages are easy, accommodation is plentiful and you can claim your “Compostela” certificate for completing the Camino. This is the option I walked with my 77-year-old mum.
The next blog - The Routes, an outline of the more popular routes to Santiago.