FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS - About the Camino de Santiago
Remember though, that the Camino is not a competition. Be true to yourself and your ideals. Each pilgrim must choose his own options, and walk what she/he can with the right intentions.
What is the Camino Route like?
Very varied both in terms of scenery and terrain. It includes mountain passes, ranges of hills, farmlands and wooded areas, wheat fields and vineyards, fruit orchards and industrial estates as well as open plains and green, lush countryside. The Camino Francés route varies in altitude and gradient all along the way from 400m to the highest point at 1517m near Manjarin and after that, there is virtually an up for every down through Galicia.
A good tourist map of Northern Spain from the Spanish embassy, tourism board or a travel agent suffices in most cases. Some books also carry maps, but it really is not essential as the Camino Francés route is well signposted with waymarkers bearing the scallop shell, which is the symbol of St James, or with yellow arrows.
Signs are found on walls, stones, special boards, all over. Most of the paths have been specially maintained for pilgrims – some brick, some stony, some muddy, some shaded and others open to the bright Spanish sunshine. A few sections next to freeways can be noisy and one needs to be very alert to the speeding traffic.
The open sections through industrial areas and places without the shade of trees can be very hot around midday – even in the autumn. At some points there are route alternatives giving the pilgrim the choice of a shorter road route and a more scenic (sometimes longer) option. See Route alternatives.
A useful tip is to spend some time checking out the start of the route the day before so that you know the way out in the morning. It’s not difficult but it may be dark – or very busy – when you start out, so a recce will help to point you in the right direction.
How do you get from South Africa to the Camino in Spain? (Visa Applications)
The main international flights from Cape Town or Johannesburg which go directly to Spain are with Iberia. Major airlines which have connecting flights to Spain are Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), British Airways (via London), Air France (via Paris) or South African Airlines (via London or Paris). Air Namibia usually offers very reasonable flights to Frankfurt via Windhoek.
From England and Germany in particular there are budget flights available to Spain. See section Where can I find out more about the Camino? for airline links. Do not expect any frills or home comforts on these airlines, but they are cheap, efficient and get you to some ideal towns for Camino purposes. Ryanair flies out of Stansted but this is connected by coach to Heathrow and likewise in Germany they fly out of Hahn, a coach ride from Frankfurt airport. The earlier you book the more chance you have of a cheaper flight and the midweek flights are usually cheaper than the weekends for holiday destinations.
Arrival points from other countries in Europe are generally Biarritz in France, or Bilbao, Madrid, Pamplona, Seville, Valladolid, Santiago or Barcelona, depending on where you wish to start walking. See the section How does one get to the starting point? for further details.
From London it is also possible to take a coach and ferry option (main disembarkation points are Santander and Bilbao) but although it may be reasonably priced it will take a couple of days to co-ordinate timing of the various modes of transport.
Visa Applications for South Africans: If you are travelling on a South African passport, you will need to apply for a Schengen Visa which is valid in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, The Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. You should obtain your visa from the embassy/consulate of the country in which you will be staying the longest – not necessarily the country into which you first arrive.
If the duration of your stay in Spain is longer than in any of the other countries, then apply for the visa from the Consulate General of Spain, 37 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town 8001 Tel: (021) 4222415 – Fax (021) 4222328 Office Hours: Monday to Friday 08h30 – 13h30
(for submissions & collections) Telephone enquiries until 15h30. You can also apply through the Consulate in Pretoria.
How does one get to the starting point?
(Prices and transport schedules are subject to change)
To start from Le Puy, France
From Lyons: Take a train to St Etienne, then another to Le Puy. (this is possible in 1 day)
To Start from St. Jean Pied de Port, France
From Paris: Take a train from Paris/Montparnasse to Bayonne, then the high-speed train south to Bayonne or Biarritz.
From Pau: Take a train to Bayonne.
From Madrid: There are various options: (a) There is a Renfe (train) booking station at the airport. Take the underground (from the airport or other point in Madrid) to the RENFE station, then take a train to Irún (Spanish side)/Hendaye (French side) There are two connections per day. (b) Take a plane or bus to Bilbao (c) take a train (underground from airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx 9h00 & 17h00 (5 hours), or bus (5 hours) or plane to Pamplona
From Bilbao: From the airport (good help at tourist office there) take a bus to Plaza Moyua (1,15 €) and it takes about 15 minutes. (a) Take an ALSA bus (reportedly 6h30, costing 16.50 €) from the terminus at St Mamos (can get there by tram or metro) to Bayonne(duration 3 hours) (b) coach service to Hendaye – ticket and bus stop at Termibus by the Hospital Civile de Basuto. 1hr 50mins €7. (c) take a train to Irún, and walk over the French border to Hendaye. (d) To go via Pamplona or Roncesvalles, take the 6h00 bus to San Sebastian (1 hour), and the 10h00 train to Pamplona (2 hours) and the 18h00 bus to Roncesvalles.
From Irún/Hendaye: take a train to Bayonne (about 1 ½ hours). There are many options. Or take a bus to Bayonne – the bus stop is just after the board at the French Railway station.
From Biarritz: It is possible to fly into Biarritz: (www.biarritz.aéroport.fr) – the airport is close to Bayonne. You can catch a bus or a train to Bayonne station. Another option is to take a half hour taxi ride to St. Jean (about €54 for four people)
From Bayonne: A 1½ hour train journey to St. Jean (three trains per day at approx 9h00, 15h00 and 18h00, only 15h00 on Saturdays – may not run on Sundays) The train fare is 7.70 €. It’s a slow train through lovely scenery, and usually only used by pilgrims – so you can start making your first Camino friends! If you want to explore Bayonne while waiting for the train, leave your pack at the Bayonne tourist bureau office. On Saturdays there is a lovely market in the town.
From Pamplona: There are a few options: (a) take the Autocares Artieda (formerly Lamontanesa) bus (18h00) to Roncesvalles (4.35 €) Tel. 948 330 581 Mon-Fri at 18h00 Sat: 14h00 (Not on Sunday) (b) take a taxi to St. Jean (reported 20 € per person – need to share with others). From the airport it takes 2 hours. Luzaide/Valcarlos: Andoni 636191423; From Garralda: Angel Mª 609411449; From Espinal: Francisco 649725951 (c) Contact Express Bourricot taxi service (see details below under Roncesvalles)
From Roncesvalles: take a taxi to St. Jean (Contact: Caroline Aphessetche of Express Bourricot, St Michaelmas road, 64220 Çaro. She is based in St. Jean Pied de Port. Tel: 06-61-96-04-76
(9 € per person). She also arranges luggage transfers – See Website for details.
From Barcelona: Take a train to Bayonne (10 ¾ hours)
Tips about starting at St. Jean Pied de Port:
The Route Napolean from St. Jean to Roncesvalles traverses 163m – 1440m in 27kms. If you are unfit, consider taking the Road Route, or breaking this stage out of St. Jean by staying at Hunto (7km) or Orisson (10km). For Orisson, it is advisable to book ahead at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 06-81-49-79-56 or 06-86-99-82-03: This route should not be done in winter or in bad weather.
To start from Roncesvalles
From Pamplona: take a taxi or bus.
From St. Jean: take a taxi.
To start from Pamplona
From Madrid: Choose from: (a) There is a Renfe (train) booking station at the airport. Take the underground (from the airport or other point in Madrid) to the RENFE station, then take a train take a train (underground from airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx 9h00 and 17h00 (takes 5 hours) (b) take a bus (takes 5 hours) (c) take a plane.
To start from Burgos
(a) Catch the underground to Avenue America, then Bus (Continental Auto) (takes 3 hours)
(b) You can fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km from both Burgos, and then catch a bus.
(c) Catch a train
To start from Leon
From Madrid: Options: (a) catch a train (4 hours) (b) catch a bus (c) Fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km from Leon, and then catch a bus (d) Fly to Leon with Iberia (40 mins) and then bus from the airport (which is at Virgen del Camino on the Camino route) into the city.
To start from Ponferrada
From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus: 07h45 (7 hours) €28,55 or take a train: 9h15 (6½ hours) €29,00
From Madrid: Take a bus.
To start from O’Cebreiro
From Madrid: Take an Alsa coach to Piedrafita (5km from O’Cebreiro): 10h00 or 23h59 (5½ hours) €25.48
From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus to Piedrafita (5km from O’Cebreiro): 7h45 (8 hours) €31.51
To start from Sarria
From Madrid: Catch an ALSA bus to Lugo, then a local bus to Sarria.
What about language?
It is always useful to speak the language when visiting a country, but never let this put you off the Camino – you will always get by! A basic knowledge of Spanish, via evening classes or home-study tapes, will, however, add enormously to your enjoyment. English is not spoken in rural Spain and is rarely spoken in towns – even in tourist offices.
Make an effort to communicate in Spanish and you will be surprised at the progress you make – especially if you carry a small dictionary. Once you reach Galicia you may find that people answer you in Galician (‘Gallego’) which is related to Portuguese. And of course sign language can be hilarious and a good way to break down barriers! Download pdf for our Spanish Guidelines