On Refugios - a
good experience, but unnerving at first. In 2001 at Roncesvalles it was chaotic for us. Some
tolerant and helpful staff eventually found us a spot. However, it is all better now, a different building and assigned beds.. Note: as soon as you arrive in Roncesvalles, make a dinner reservation in one of the two restaurants there. They have limited capacity and fill up.
In refugios with
multiple rooms, sometimes they keep a few rooms locked, and
open them late, for latecomers. If all beds and mattresses are
taken, many refugios will let you sleep on the floor. A
backpack pad is useful for that. On our trip, which was Sept -
Oct 2001 (yes, during 9-11, but that's another story), we would
usually get in around four pm, and never had to sleep on the
floor. In several cases, the refugio was full and there was an
overflow facility available.
are unisex, and in some cases you will find yourself in a
different room than a traveling companion. Many people snore -
earplugs help. Also, many people like to start very early so
they get to the next refugio early. Expect to hear a lot
of noise from people getting up starting around 4:30. (If you do
get up this early, you will miss seeing the beauty of much of
the trail, and stand a good chance of missing a yellow marker
and getting lost). The trail is well marked in the
country, but you need to pay attention. Marks consists of
splashes of yellow paint on rocks, building corners, etc. There
are widely spaced official markers.
There was hot water in all but one refugio, and all bathrooms
had toilet paper. One small refugio had no bathroom - just a
field (we did carry toilet paper). There are public fountains
in almost all of even the small towns, and the water is
perfectly safe to drink. Spain is a first world nation. Your
CFSJ little yellow guidebook will tell where to find the
Where to Start:
Even if you don't have enough time to walk the entire Spanish
path, I recommend starting at St. Jean Pied de Port or
Roncesvalles, and walking to the farthest large town that fits
your schedule (Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, Astorga). The
first part is too beautiful to bypass. Come back another time to
continue. If the weather is likely to be bad, start from
Roncesvalles. Otherwise, take the route Napoleon over the
Pyrenees from St. Jean, and book a reservation at the Orisson
gite, 06-81-49-79-56, about 6 miles out of St. Jean, and half of
the total vertical gain in elevation. The next day will be an
easy walk to Roncesvalles. You should call a couple of days in
advance to be sure of a place at Orisson
You can email Orisson at refuge dot orisson at wanadoo dot fr.
Note: 5 April 2007, a pilgrim died from hypothermia on the route
from St. Jean to Roncesvalles. He was traveling with two
others, but in the intense fog they became separated, and he
went the wrong way - was found lying down in waist deep snow,
alive, but died as he reached the hospital in Pamplona. Rescue
was hampered by fog and snow. Every few years pilgrims die on
this route due to cold and exposure, some in March or April.
Shortly before Obanos there is a detour to Eunate, a few kilometers off the Camino. We missed this the first time, and regretted it for many years, until we were finally able to visit it coming down on the Somport route. Very worthwhile.
Pilgrim Passport or Credential:
You need this document to use the refugios. You can get
the church issued document in Roncesvalles, the pilgrim office in St. Jean, or the cathedral office in the large cities.
You do not have to be Catholic. You will have to designate the purpose of your pilgrimage as religious, spiritual or cultural. If you indicate cultural, you will get a different completion document in Santiago. The guidebooks have detailed info on where to obtain a credential. Each night get
it stamped where you stay. At the moment various organizations issue credentials, but starting in 2009 you will have to use the official church issued credential for admission to church sponsored refugios and to obtain the compestela. In Santiago, show it to the pilgrim
office by the cathedral and if you have satisfied the
requirements for the pilgrimage, they will issue you the Latin
certificate of completion or compestela. The minimum distance to
qualify is walking the last 100 km to Santiago. If you start your pilgrimage near the minimum
distance, you need to get two stamps per day to qualify.
Non church issued credentials can be obtained from various pilgrim societies such as American Pilgrims. Go to
www.americanpilgrims.com - scroll down the home page for the link, and request 6 weeks in advance.
Miles/km per day:
about 12.5 miles per day (20.8km) just counting our walking days
from Roncesvalles to Santiago. Had a layover day in Burgos and
Leon. We were among the slower pilgrims. Others were striving for
something like 30km per day. There are refugios or other
places to stay every 15 to 20 kilometers, so you can go at a
slower pace, and I recommend it. There is much to enjoy if
you aren't focused on getting to the next refugio. If we
do it again, we would have a layover day in each cathedral city.
The big problem with that is the people you have been seeing
My Blog entry on planning for long distance hiking
Elevation Profile of entire Camino, distances, places to stay:
http://www.godesalco.com/iphp/perfil.php This link is so
useful I listed it separately. You can select any two points
between Roncesvalles and Santiago and it will generate a profile
that you can print. In addition the initial display shows
cumulative distances so you can calculate distances between any
two points, and the next display shows distances between each
place with accommodations. This information can be downloaded as
a spreadsheet. Once you have the spreadsheet, you can add
columns converting kilometers to miles.
On holy years there will be many more people on pilgrimage.
Saint James day is July 25th, and if that falls on a Sunday,
that year is a holy year.
Expect some rain, particularly in April-May and mid Sept - Oct.
For example, Pamplona, from the site below, averages 10 days of
rain in April. If crossing the Pyrenees in early or late season,
talk to the pilgrim office in St. Jean re whether taking the
high route or the road route is appropriate.
To see historical weather by month, click on this site: http://www.peterrobins.co.uk/camino/weather.html
ATMs in all
the larger towns - i.e. every 3 days or so. We used one of those
debit cards that can also be used as a VISA card. You will have
a numeric keypad to enter the pin number, so you need a numeric
pin number or know how to enter your alpha pin on a numeric pad.
Many refugios now have internet.
However there are a lot of pilgrims contending for use, and they
are usually Windows xp and the usb ports and/or cd drives may
not be available. There are also internet cafes in the larger
towns, as well as in the library. Uploading photos can be a
for some of the problems. Most places now have Wi-Fi and we have
started carrying a 3rd generation
wireless only ipod to do our email and simple web lookups.
Holy Year you could get a health card that provided free pilgrim
health care on the Camino. That was only for holy year. The
Confraternity of St. James guide reports that Cruz Roja (Red
Cross) centers provide free emergency care for pilgrims. Refugio
hosts and other pilgrims will give you help and advice on caring
for blisters and other typical walker's problems. Check to see
if your current health coverage needs anything special to cover
major medical emergencies while traveling in Spain.
We met very few English speakers the whole trip,
no Americans till Santiago. Didn't hear English for 3 or 4 days,
then met a woman from England, saw her a couple of days. Some
Germans spoke English, crossed paths for several days with a
woman from Santiago who spoke excellent English. A couple
walking from Holland spoke English. We have zero French or
German. Our Spanish is ok for travel but not for extended
conversation, so for example, we traveled quite a few days with
a woman from Brazil who spoke no English, and marginal Spanish.
We became good friends, but had to rely on translators every few
days. We heard more German and French than Spanish for the
first two weeks. Once into Galicia, there were a lot more
Spanish pilgrims. We started out with one of those $30
translators but abandoned it at the 2nd refugio - to slow - our
fractured Spanish worked fine.
Where to stay and what it costs:
If I knew you personally, I would insist that
you get the Confraternity of Saint James publication above, as
your bible of food and shelter location and cost. You can get
this info from the web with a lot of work.
If you are looking for a little broader range of accommodations, we have
found that the James Brierley guide lists more of the little
Accommodations change frequently. To cross check, I google,
using the hotel names that I find in the confraternity guide or
Brierley guide, as well as the city. For example:
Itzalpea, Ramuntcho Hotel des Remparts st Jean Pied de Port
If just google for hotel cityname I get all these commercial
site hits that are usually worthless.
One reference on where to stay I saw recently was published in
PDF form on the ultreya forum. I tracked down the original site:
. It is a list by location of refugios and price. It is in
Spanish, but after the introduction, but the list of refugios is
clear even with minimal or no Spanish. If you want to be
entertained, and get a rough idea of the English translation of
the introduction, go to google and use this exact search term
"refugios y albergues" cpperegrino.
It will give you an exact hit on the page that contains
the list. Then click the google phrase that says
[translate this page]. You will get a computer translation
from Spanish to English.
My 2006 estimate of average cost per day - one person, just
staying in refugios, buying lunch materials and buying supper,
about 30€. This would be 12 for refugio & breakfast, 5 for lunch
material, 10 for supper, 3 for etc. I think absolute minimum
would be 20€. I've seen 10 quoted, but that would mean not
contributing enough to the refugios to cover their cost. A small
hostal (small hotel) room for two will be about 50€.
There has been a problem in 2005 and 2006 with
some of the refugios having bedbugs in late season. I don't have
any tested advice on this. During our Sept-Oct 2006 trip we
stayed in hostals and didn't have any problems, but
hostals are small hotels with fresh sheets when you check in. We
also talked to some pilgrims in Astorga about it, and they had
had one bite between the two of them. You can get a treated bag
liner or sleep sack. If I were going to use the refugios, I
would consider carrying a single fitted sheet that I had treated
ahead of time with Sawyer Permethrin Pump Spray or the
equivalent and cover the mattress with the sheet.
Linda on the GoCamino forum carried a small bottle of
lavender essential oil and sprinkled the refugio mattress and
pillow with a few drops, as well as covering the pillow with a
towel, and didn't have any more bedbug bites.
From Richard on Santiagobis: If you want to buy
a phone that will work in Europe and the US, you can find a used
one on ebay. Search ebay for GSM Phone Quad Band Unlocked - be
sure the charger works for both 110 and 220 - read the fine
print or get email from seller to verify. Charge it and leave it
on a day or so to test it. Once you get to Europe, buy a SIM
card to get a local number and some minutes. You can add minutes
We have an unlocked phone, and for the last three years have
been getting a sim card from
www.rebelfone.com - they bill you after the fact when they
get the charges from the european carriers. So far there has not
been a problem.
iPhones,iPads, GPS Apps
April 2012 note. This is all covered very well
in a thread on Ivar's
April 2013 note. Ed Chandler covers all the details on how to use your iPhone in wireless only mode (free) in this facebook post to the American Pilgrims group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/57453722347/10151472627802348/ - the essence is to set your iPhone to airplane mode, which turns off all 4 of the iPhone radios, including cellular, the one that runs up charges. Then turn back on only wireless.
Getting There and other transportation comments
We flew to Madrid, train to Pamplona, bus to
Roncesvalles. Others taxi from Pamplona to St. Jean. The
St. James website gives this number for a taxi: Francisco
Igoa Martinez (+ 34 649 725951) provides an 8-seater taxi
service from Pamplona to Roncesvalles. One site says taxi rates
to Roncesvalles are 42 euros and St. Jean are 68 euros.
The Pamplona train station is in the Plaza de la Estación (District of San Jorge) Northwest of the city center across the river. From there you can take the Number 9 bus to the city center. The bus station is in the city center. The bus station is at Conde Oliveto 2.
Grant Spangler's page on getting to Pamplona &
Roncesvalles has more taxi numbers but he is moving his website.
It may be complete by the time you click
For checking or booking bus service schedules and rates all over Spain, go to the ALSA bus line site www.alsa.es (an English button is on home page).
"Bus service from Pamplona to Roncesvalles (Montañesa
from Pamplona Bus Station) ... Monday to Friday leaves at 18.00:
Saturday leaves at 9:30 and has the day off on Sunday. Costs
€3.91 payable on the bus to the driver.
Taxis Pamplona to Roncesvalles, Monday to Friday (daytime
.. until 22.00) costs €42. The charges for Saturday/Sunday and
National Holidays (daytime) is €53.
Pamplona to SJPP, Monday to Friday (daytime) will cost
€68. Saturday/Sunday and National Holiday (daytime) the charge
There is no point in going up late as the refugios close at
Backpack45 comment - Fares should be accurate thru 2006 then will probably change by a few euros.
From a Santiagobis posting:
From London, fly
to Bilbao. The bus ride from Bilbao is 4 hours (14E) to
Bayonne, walk across the Bayonne bridge to train station.
Train ride is 1 hour to SJPP 4 times a day in summer.
Plenty of rooms for rent in SJPP. Buy food for your day-hike
over the mountain.
If you start from St. Jean you don't have to go all the way to
Roncesvalles in one day. There is a refugio in Huntto and a few miles after that is a new refugio Auberge
dÓrisson still in France so they are called auberges. If you want to stay there reserve in advance:tel: 06 81 49 79 56 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org .
From Jason's June 2004 Ultreya posting:
Bus. ? departs from outside the airport terminal to Bayonne
SNCF station. Direct bus from Bayonne to St Jean three times a
day. Check link below for schedule..
Bus. Bizkaibus A-3247 departs from outside the airport terminal
to Plaza Moyua (central Bilbao) every 30 mins from 6.00am (6.30
am weekends) to 11.00pm; journey time 40-45 mins; cost 1.00 EUR.
Taxi. Depart from outside the terminal; journey time 20-30 mins;
cost 16-20 EUR.
From Bilbao regular coach service to Hendaye, tickets and bus
stop at Termibus by the Hospital Civil de Basuto, journey to
Hendaye takes 1 hour 50 minutes cost ?7. From Hendaye take train
via Bayonne to St Jean, journey time three and a half hours.
(backpack45 note: Bayonne to St. Jean now by bus - see link
below for times)
Train from Madrid to
St. Jean: The train to Irun leaves from Chamartin station in
Madrid not Atocha. Don't get off the train in Irun, however.
Stay on for another ten minutes until it crosses the border into
France at Hendaye. There, you'll need to get another
train to Bayonne France (about 35 minutes) where there is
a shuttle bus to St Jean Pied de Port. (backpack45 note:
Bayonne to St. Jean now by bus - see link below for times).
I checked the RENFE website for Madrid to Hendaya (that's how
they spell it in Spain). Takes 7 to 8 hours to Hendaye, about 35
euros, maybe another 4 hours to St. Jean ignoring time between
connections, so a long day.
The airport is on the pink line towards the right. Move the mouse and the names will become large enough to read. The Atocha train station is on the blue line a little down to the right from the center.
Camino Statistics on Travelers
Look at the
Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostella for camino statistics by
month, year, age thru 2003. In brief and rounded for 2003: June
8800 - July 16000 - Aug 22000 - Sept 10000 - Oct 4800. Ages 16-20
9300, 21-30 18000, 31-40 14000, 41-50 12000, 51-60 11000,
61-70 6000. I think age distribution is misleading in that
many young people join the Camino in Galicia. The
statistics for Roncesvalles to Leon would show an older set of
pilgrims. Trends of annual totals: 1998: 30000, 1999: 155000,
2000: 55000, 2001: 61000, 2003: 75000. Sex 60% men, 40% women.
Reason for pilgrimage: in 2005, 53% religious, in earlier years
about two thirds religious.
A number of good European sites are
not available in English. I have the Google Toolbar. One of its
optional buttons is Translate. With that, when I am on a foreign
language site, I click Translate this Web Page, and I can
navigate thru the site successfully.
Interactive Sources of Information: Forums and Listservs:
This site in Santiago rents bicycles and will deliver them to
your start point, and you ride back to Santiago to return them.
They also rent bicycle gear. Roughly 320 euros for 2 bikes, 12
days. All this info per email from Steve. We haven't bicycled
The Spanish sound site:
has many sounds, one of the comments posted on the site contains
the sounds of the Cathedral bells, with the sound of water
falling in the
praza de platerías xunto a fonte dos cabalos. To get there: Click and you get a google map. Below
the map are three boxes. Put A Corona in the Province box, then
Santiago in the Comarca box. Put berenguela in the 3rd box and
hit the pesquisar button. That brings you to a bunch of sound
comments. You want the one that says Miguelangel says on Nov 21,
2007 @ 08:01 AM: Right now it is the 3rd comment. Click the play
button. Thanks to GoCamino's Rosina for the heads up about this
You can google for camino de
santiago under the videos tab. Also YouTube has some, including
ours. YouTube video quality is poor, but we put together a 3
minute video that gives you a flavor of the Camino and GR65. For
a high quality presentation, come to our show when it is in your
area. For the YouTube video, click below:
Documentary on six people walking the Camino in
I've listed this link earlier, but am repeating it because it is
http://www.godesalco.com/iphp/perfil.php You can select any two points
between Roncesvalles and Santiago and it will generate a profile that you can
print. In addition the initial display shows cumulative distances so you can
calculate distances between any two points, and the next display shows distances
between each place with accommodations. This information can be downloaded as a
spreadsheet. Once you have the spreadsheet, you can add columns converting
kilometers to miles.
St. James - a good planning resource and the source of must have Camino
guide as well as guides to some of the other routes.
www.pilipalapress.com publishes a
walkers guide to the Camino and also one for Portugal. The Camino guide is
excellent and listed above - haven't seen the Portugal guide. Their website has a number of Camino links, a
series of photos on the Camino, and sample pages from their book.
several Camino books, all by Eyln Aviva - one a story of her Camino journey, and
a couple of novels in the setting of the Camino. I'll put more info in the
books section once I get a chance to read them..
This is a site in English dedicated to providing information on the city of Santiago de Compostela - it's been up since about May 1st, 2004 and so far looks good. (in
2004 was called santiago-today).
Camino site is maintained by Jim and Eleanor Clem, authors of Buen Camino, which
I enjoyed and reviewed earlier. The highlight of this site for me is the
excellent photo section. It also covers the books well.
http://kidsoncamino.com/ - For
those considering walking the Camino with children, this site is based on the
experiences of a couple walking from Leon with their 16 months old daughter.
http://www.robertward.ca/index.html - Robert Ward is the author of two
pilgrimage related books. Virgin Trails is about his search for the holy places
of the Virgin Mary, and All the Good Pilgrims about his Camino tales. Check his
site for more information.
http://onfootinspain.com/ - Nancy Frey
and Jose Placer founded this well regarded walking tour company in 1999. A good
choice if you are looking for a knowledgeable, guided walking tour on the Camino
or other parts of Spain and Portugal.
Check out the
Online Telegraph bookstore - informative
overall Camino web site in English. Not recently updated.
Photo Links: Just enter Camino de Santiago photos into
the Google images page and you can get a lot of
good trip photo links, so I won't duplicate them here. Same thing for alltheweb
images page.Also the caminolinks site above has a good photolinks section.
There is an active society of Canadian Pilgrims. See
http://www.santiago.ca/ for more
information. They are sponsor annual pilgrim gatherings open to all pilgrims. See the website for more information.
Google Earth routes, GPS Points from Le Puy to Santiago:
From Roncesvalles on the yellow path markings are good enough so that a map is not
essential. It does increase the comfort level. From St. Jean to Roncesvalles by
the high route, most of the way is on small paved roads, but near the top you
need to pay close attention, so read the various guidebook instructions, stop at
the pilgrim office in St. Jean, and get their little map, and don't go over in
the dark or heavy fog. You will miss spectacular scenery if you do. The Brierley guide and Davies and Cole have useful maps in an
English language guidebook. The best thing out if you want more than the
guidebook maps is the 2008 Davies and Cole Map booklet in our booklist. We also got Michelin maps but didn't get much use
out of them. There is a flimsy Spanish language map of the Camino that you
can buy in bookstores in major towns along the route. There is also an
good map website for the world, though it doesn't always get down to the street
http://www.calle.com/world/index.html Also, try the University of
Texas public domain maps:
Ediciones Way publishes maps you can buy in bookstores in Spain. Fold to 3 1/2
by 3 1/2 and have distances, altitudes, refugios, etc. There is one that
covers the Camino from SJPP to Burgos, and Somport to Burgos; another from
Burgos to O Cebreiro and another from O Cebreiro to Santiago.
The name of the map series is "El Camino Jacobeo en tu Bolsillo"; ISBN
84-930395-2-7 in Spanish, French, English and German. I've heard they may
be ordered from the publisher: Ediciones Way, S. L.
San Anselmo No. 1
The gear list is a google
spreadsheet. To get an xls file you can save, click on
- on the bottom right of the resulting google spreadsheet is an
edit button. Click that, and you will be able to view it in a
form that can be saved off to your hard drive as an xls file. If
you look at our gear page you can get
more info on the packs we use.
Other Pilgrimage Routes in Spain:
Confraternity of St. James Guides available online for Camino Inglés,
Finisterre and Camino Portugués
Camino del Norte is a less traveled route that was originally
used by pilgrims from England. The Confraternity of St. James has information on
this route and has recently opened a refugio on it: Volunteers run the
Refugio de Peregrinos de Miraz on Spain’s Camino del Norte
There was an excellent diary and other information on this route in
http://www.raunsbjerg.dk/ Based on
reading the diary, this is a difficult but beautiful route, lots of climbs,
scarce accommodations, poorly marked. However, this site is now offline. You can
google for camino frances vs camino del norte, and read the ElCaminoSantiago
entries for some idea.
http://www.peterrobins.co.uk/camino/ for an interactive map of routes from
all over Europe. This is an important map site. You can get various levels and
kinds of maps, such as Google maps, 24k topographic maps, etc. He also has a good summary of significant dates affecting
pilgrimage from the earlier days on. For instance, do you know that Provence was
once governed by Germany (prior to ww2)?
A gps is not needed for Camino Francés. For some of the other
routes it could add some comfort. Ours is an old Garmin Vista C with little
memory, so can't load the detailed topo maps that are available. However, I do
load Europe road map, and that is sometimes useful. If you have a newer gps with
a lot of memory/ and or with a memory card, this site has been recommended by
others for map purchases:
The route from Somport to Puenta de la Reina
This site is in Spanish, but still helpful for those who wish to travel this beautiful and lightly
traveled route: www.jacajacobea.com .
Website of the Association for The Establishment of European Pilgrimage Routes.
Current Project is the pilgrimage to Rome. This association issues pilgrim
identity cards for the Via Francigena
Sil provided all of the following (Nov
The two most active organizations are:
(AIVF) Association International Via Francigena:
www.francigena-international.org (Website in 5 languages)
Based in Rome – started by Adelaide Trezzini in 1994. You can become a friend (AMIS)
by joining the Association. You can buy their accommodation and monument guides
called the Guida Vademecumum – one for Canterbury to Gr St Bernard and the other
from Gr St Bernard to Rome.
They also have maps called Topofrancigena for these two regions. Adelaide
recently provided an excel document called the Dormir-Francigena with additional
information on accommodation. Members receive a `pilgrim passport' to have
stamped along the way and if you walk the last ± 140km from Aquapendente, you
will receive the Testimonium in Rome.
(AEVF) Associazione Europea della Vie Francigene:
(Website in Italian and English)
Founded in Fidenza in 2001. Not yet a membership organisation for pilgrims but
you can register on-line to receive their monthly e-newsletter (Italian).
The website offers Interactive maps, about 300 excellent (1:10) downloadable
maps for Italy, daily stage guides, accommodation information and a downloadable
pilgrim passport free of charge.
They also offer a link to
www.rivistaviafrancigena.it where you can order a copy of the glossy
bi-annual magazine VIA FRANCIGENA in Italian and English. Issue no. 23 is now
There is also Eurovia in Austria (not sure how active they are though). www.via-francigena.com (Web
site in 5 languages)
Started by two Austrian guys they say that "EUROVIA is an association that is
revitalising the pilgrimage culture in Europe under the slogan "Ways for
humans". They offer a useful DVD video of a pilgrim who walked from Lausanne to
Rome called "Via Francigena" (in 5 languages). The site also offers lists of
accommodation, a pilgrim passport (not for free) and a FORUM.
For a slideshow of photos from Aosta to Rome (taken in 2004) look at Jeff
McDonald's excellent site at www.senderos.awswa.com
A good Guide Book (even though it is in Italian) for the Gr St Bernard to Rome
section is the Guida Alle Via Francigena obtainable on line from TERRE DI MEZZO
The latest edition (May 2006) is now available. It has useful strip maps for
each stage which we found invaluable when walking in June/July 2006.
There is an online pdf file guide in French to the Italian routes: