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Top tips to safely enjoy Spain’s Camino de Santiago on foot or by bike

The famous pilgrimage was affected by Covid-19 in recent years but as Spain seemingly begins to move on from the pandemic, many people are keen to make the walk, or cycle. The Local has outlined some tips to get the most from the famous pilgrimage by foot or bike.

tips camino de santiago spain
Hikers walk toward the village of Conques, central southern France. The traditional Camino route starts in neighbouring France. (Photo by JOSE TORRES / AFP)

El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage that leads to the shrine of the apostle Saint James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north-western Spain, where many believe his remains are buried.

Having been a Christian pilgrimage from as early as the 10th century, it took until the end of the 15th century for Pope Alexander VI to officially declare the Camino de Santiago as one of “three great pilgrimages of Christendom” along with Jerusalem and Rome.

Nowadays many make the pilgrimage as a form of spiritual healing, as well as religious, and it has become very popular with hikers and cyclists and organised tour groups. Many people now create their own routes that end in Santiago de Compostela, but the traditional pilgrimage route runs from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela, is 765km long and takes most people around one month to complete on foot.

After being cooped up in the house for large portions of the last two years, many people are understandably keen to get out in the open air, enjoy some of the rugged Galician landscapes and make the pilgrimage themselves. See The Local’s top tips to make the famous camino below:

Take your time.

765km is a long way. If the COVID-19 lockdown left you a little out of shape, or perhaps you simply don’t have the time to take a month off work, there’s no reason you have to do the whole thing in one trip. Many people even do sections of the walk and then return the following year to continue where they left off, doing it in spans of months or even years.

Pack for changeable weather.

Northern Spain, and in particular Galicia, is infamous for its rainy and unpredictable weather. Although you can’t pack too much with you, remember to have everything you need to be comfortable while walking. Think about suitable footwear too – for both the walk itself and relaxing in the evenings.

camino de santiago length

It’s up to you whether to choose a very long route or a shorter one, but make sure you walk the last 100km. Photo: Andre_Grunden/Pixabay

Get stamped.

At the start of your pilgrimage, you can buy a ‘pilgrim’s passport’ in which you can collect stamps to track where you’ve been. Stamps can be found inside hostels and guesthouses, at local cafes, and inside churches along the route. They enable you to document your journey, and they’re essential to receive your certificate at the end of the route.

Walk the last 100km to get ‘the Compostela.’

The certificate is known as ‘the Compostela’ and you get it when you arrive in the city of Santiago de Compostela. Not many people know this, but you can get your Compostela whether you walk all the way from France, or just the last 100km from the town of Sarria. Don’t forget your stamps – the authorities can be quite strict about handing out compostelas to people!

How to keep the budget low

Firstly think about how many days or stages you want to do, and budget from there. 

Next, transportation – obviously you’ll be doing the camino itself by foot (or bike, see below) but you’ll have to factor in the travel costs of actually getting to the starting point. Most of the starting points for the route are fairly accessible by train from across Spain, but do think about the cost of flights if you’re travelling from further afield. 

Accommodation is the cost that can vary: en-route there’s a whole host of options ranging from hostels starting at €5 a night, to private hostels, hotels, and rented rural houses – it all depends on what you’re willing to pay.

Likewise, you can save on food costs by using the kitchen facilities in your hostel, if they have them. Of course, if you’re really keen to save money you can stay en route for free: bring a tent and enjoy staying in some of northern Spain’s most spectacular landscapes.

camino de santiago tips

Average daily distances on the Camino de Santiago are 20 km to 25 km. Photo: Jorge Luis Ojeda Flota/Unsplash

Don’t forget about blisters

They’re always forgotten about, but on such a long walk they’re the main health issue on the Camino that can affect anybody regardless of age or fitness level. Blisters can ruin any trip, let alone one where you want to walk anything from 10 to 30km a day. Camino veterans recommend woollen socks, and to stop every few hours and change your socks. Wet feet are more likely to get blisters. If you do get some blisters, keep essentials like antibiotic ointment and blister plasters in your first-aid kit and remember, the best way to avoid blisters is to wear your shoes in before starting the route.

The Camino by bike

More and more people are doing the Camino de Santiago by bike these days, so see a few extra bonus tips on doing it on two wheels instead of two feet:

  • Maintenance. Regular cyclists already know the importance of bicycle maintenance. If you’re a newbie, however, and thought cycling sounded easier than walking the route, consider the type of roads you will travel, and the type of tires you’ll need. Most people go for a mountain bike, and you need to know how to fix a flat tire, and some basic knowledge of gears and brakes will help. Note that there are mechanics along the route and in the towns along the way if you really need a hand.
  • Bags. Less is more. Take the absolute essentials (shorts, helmet, shoes, raincoat, water) and forget everything else. You can always buy stuff along the way, but you won’t thank yourself if, after a few hundred kilometres in the Galician rain, you regret bringing all those extras.
  • The route. There are several cycle options for the Camino de Santiago, and you can choose whichever you want depending on how much time you have, where you’re starting off from, and what kind of route you’d like to take. The main ones are below, with suggested stages and destinations: 
  • The ‘French Way’: 765km in 14 stages from Saint Jean Pied de Port. 
  • Camino Primitivo: 330km in 7 stages starting from Oviedo. 
  • Vía de la Plata: 965 km in 16 stages starting from Seville.  
  • Camino del Norte: 820km in 18 stages, starting in Irún.

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Ten of the most amazing bike routes in Spain

Here are some of the greatest and most beautiful cycling routes across Spain for avid cyclists, from Don Quijote territory to the green north. Saddle up everyone!

Ten of the most amazing bike routes in Spain

Spain is a great country for cycling, so great in fact that it even has several dedicated cycling routes across the country called vías verdes or greenways.

These greenways were built along old disused railway lines and have now become an environmentally friendly way to explore the country (here is a map showing all the greenways).

But there are other cycling routes around Spain that are just as impressive and can be completed by avid low to mid-level cyclists.

Here are ten bike routes in Spain that will take your breath away (at times in both senses of the word).

The TransAndalus, Andalusia

The TransAndalus trail is a 2,000km (1,240 miles) long circuit specifically designed for mountain bikes. It goes through the eight provinces of Andalusia and gives experienced riders a chance to pass through incredible natural sites, such as the Sierra Nevada, Doñana and Cabo de Gata national parks. There are a total of 23 stages, meaning that you can pick and choose which one or ones you do, without having to complete the entire trail. Less experienced cyclists can choose a specific shorter section. Stage one starts in Seville and is a mostly downhill ride to Chiclana de la Frontera.

The TransAndalus passing through some of the region’s most spectacular scenery. Photo: jbdodane / Wikimedia Commons (CC 2.0)

Vía Verde de Ojos Negros, Aragon and Valencia

Running from the town of Ojos Negros, in the province of Teruel to Sagunto, on the Valencian coast, this is Spain’s longest greenway at 160km. It has been divided into two sections, so you can just choose to do one or the other if the whole route is too long. The first part follows the line of the Sierra Menera mining railway, in the Palancia river valley, while the second part descends towards the Valencian orange groves, on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Cycling along the Vía Verde de Ojos Negros. Photo: Pacopac / Wikimedia Commons

Ruta Don Quijote, Castilla-La Mancha 

Lovers of literature, Cervantes and Don Quijote will enjoy this route following in the unlikely hero’s footsteps. The whole route covers 2,500km (1553.4 miles) and runs through all five of the region’s provinces, but it’s split up into 10 sections, making it easy to select which one you want to do. Declared a European Cultural Route, it travels through two National Parks, six natural parks and six nature reserves, running along a combination of cattle trails, historic paths, riverbanks and disused railway lines. 

Windmills Castilla-La Mancha

See the famous windmills of Consuegra along this cycle route. Photo: JamesHose / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Val del Zafán, Aragon and Catalonia

This spectacular route travels alongside the azure blue channels which eventually end up joining the grand Ebro River. It passes through the regions of Bajo Martín, Bajo Aragón, Matarraña, Terra Alta and Baix Ebre. Punctuated by viaducts, tunnels and protected natural spaces, it’s a pretty straight and easy greenway to follow, with some final twists and turns when you reach the Catalan coast at Tortosa near the Ebro Delta at the end. 

Ebro Delta

This route follows parts of the grand Ebro River. Photo: Future75 / Wikimedia Commons

READ ALSO: Cycling in Spain -12 fines you need to watch out for

Camino de Santiago 

Pilgrims on foot are not the only ones who can enjoy this world-famous voyage. Cyclists can choose whether to complete the full 800km (500 miles) French Way or do the minimum 200km required to obtain the precious Pilgrimage Certificate.

READ ALSO: Top tips to safely enjoy Spain’s Camino de Santiago on foot or by bike

Camino de Santiago

You can also do the Camino de Santiago by bike. Photo: Burkard Meyendriesch / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Carrilet, Catalonia

This route runs for 57km (35.4 miles), linking the town of Olot and the Garrotxa Volcanic Naural park with the city of Girona. Following the banks of the Ter, Brugent and Fluvià rivers, it winds its way between fields, forests and bridges, with the towering ancient volcanoes as your backdrop. The route is well signposted and is also suitable for hikers. 

Via verde Olot to Girona

This route begins at the otherworldly Garrotxa volcanic natural park. Photo: Peremagria / Wikimedia Commons

Vía Verde Tajuna, Madrid

This spectacular bike path offers city dwellers the chance to escape the hustle and bustle without planning ahead. Simply get off at the last stop on Metro line 9 (Arganda del Rey) and hop on to your bici. The route runs along the river of the same name and runs for a total of 49km (30.4), passing through the quaint towns of Carabaña, Ambite, Oruco, Tielmes or Perales de Tajuna and Morata. This cycle path is also equipped for hiking and for people with disabilities or reduced mobility.

Via Verde Tajuna Madrid

You can see the ruins of the old station of Tajuna along the way. Photo: Malopez 21 / Wikimedia Commons

Vía Verde de la Sierra, Cádiz, Andalusia 

This 37km (22 mile) vía verde runs from the village of Puerto Serrano in the province of Cádiz to Olvera, a small village north-east of Ronda. It passes through no less than 30 tunnels and over four viaducts, as well as valleys and river banks. Free of traffic and a relatively easy ride overall, it’s ideal for a family day trip – and if the little ones are too tired, taxis with bicycle racks are available for the return journey.

Via Verde Cádiz

The Vía Verde de la Sierra is ideal for the whole family. Photo: El Pantera / Wikimedia Commons.

Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote, Canary Islands 

Go for a ride through the land of volcanoes in Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park. Ideal for mountain bikers, there is even an 8km (5 mile) downhill track through the island’s unique landscapes and lava fields. The archipelago’s mild climate makes it a biking paradise throughout the year.

Lanzarote

Ride through the volcanic landscapes of Timanfaya National Park. Photo: Manfred Zajac / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Plazaola, Navarra and the Basque Country

One of the most beautiful greenways is the 66.5km (41.3 miles) Vía Verde del Plazaola, traversing through the regions of Navarra and the Basque Country, passing through an array of forests and meadows. 41.9km of the route passes through Navarra and 24.6km through Gipuzkoa, so you can choose which section to do. The route also takes you through many tunnels, including the longest tunnel you can cycle through in Spain. The trail takes its name from the abandoned Plazaola mines, you’ll pass along the way. 

Plazaola cycle route

The Vía Verde del Plazaola takes you through many tunnels. Photo: Cherubino / Wikimedia Commons

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