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FAQ about  Santiago de Compostela Continued

When should one go?

It depends very much on the time of the year. A Mediterranean-type climate prevails over most of the route, but as with most places the weather is very unpredictable – and every year is different! South Africans are not generally used to cold weather and it does mean carrying more kit, so May through to September are recommended.
As for rain, it can be wet in virtually any season, particularly in Galicia, and suitable rain gear makes the walk that much more bearable in wet and muddy times. If there is any doubt about bad weather, ask questions of the locals and use your own judgement rather than just following other pilgrims – especially when walking over the Pyrenees or in other mountainous sections. Never cross the Pyrenees on the Route Napoleon alone in bad or unstable weather, rather take the low road via Arneguy.

The following descriptions are based on reports from returning pilgrims:

Jan / Feb
Very cold with snow – not advisable
Rainy, windy and moderate to high potential for snow
Variable – warm spring sun, sometimes even hot, rain, sleet and snow around the Pyrenees/Roncesvalles, thunderstorms around Sarria & O Cebreiro
For wildflowers spring or early summer is a good time. It is still fresh, but generally warm, (22 – 23 °C) with some rain and wind around O Cebreiro. It can however also be very cold with snow in the north
Warm to hot, some rain
Generally pretty hot with daily high temperatures on the meseta (Burgos to Léon) up to 40°C. This is the time to be in Santiago for the Feast Day on 25 July. It is also traditional holiday time in Europe, so the route tends to be busiest
Generally warm days and cool early mornings and nights. Rain from around O Cebreiro intermittent, increasing towards Santiago. There are still a few wildflowers in Navarre and La Rioja, and broom blooms in Galicia. The meseta fields are brown and dry and field crops mostly harvested except vineyards around La Rioja and Villafranca del Bierzo
Cooling down and windy, especially around the Pyrenees, O Cebreiro and other high places. It can be chilly early on, with rains, cloud, fog and even snow always possible. This is chestnut season! Dark till around 8am so its not easy to set out early.
Nov / Dec
Very cold with snow – not advisable

What about medical care and emergencies?

Training aside, many people do get blisters and other aches and pains – especially in the beginning. Some get shin splints, tendonitis and muscle strains, particularly if they do too much too soon. Thankfully most refugios have a doctor or clinic on call and treatment is free for most minor ailments. Many also have volunteers offering therapeutic massage treatments which are most welcome. Many pilgrims have also found that helping others along the way gave them a chance to share, provide moral support and demonstrate solidarity.

First Aid kit: most essentials are readily available from pharmacies (farmacias) Look for a sign with a green cross. So it is not necessary to weigh yourself down with medicine for every eventuality. Basics you might consider would be: a good sun protection cream, Disprin (for headaches, sore muscles etc.), Immodium (for diahorrea), Zambuk, Wonder Rub or Arnica Oil (for foot massage, bruising and other uses), thread, needle and mercurochrome (for the blisters).

Foot care: Keep nails trimmed short, and take along clippers or scissors. As blisters are likely to be your main concerns, look out for Compeed products in Spain – excellent plasters, guards and an anti blister stick which you rub on before walking to prevent hot spots. They cover, heal, soothe, take the pressure off a blister and are water-proof. Instructions are often not in English, so remember they have to be soaked to remove them, otherwise you’ll rip the new skin. For blisters – thread a piece of cotton through the blister, using a sterilised needle – it serves to drain the fluid but leaves skin intact. The South African version is available under the trade name “Coloplast” and is imported from Denmark. The product name is “Comfeel: Plus transparent hydrocolloid dressing. It is distributed in SA by: AstraZenica for MDI, 374 Anderson Street, Menlopark. 0081. Tel: 011 802 2943. It is also available through pharmacies. Softigel toe guards from Green Cross shops are also useful.

For muscle strain or tired feet try something like Reparil gel or Deep Heat. Many South Africans also chose good old Zambuk to rub their feet and keep from forming blisters. A regular massage with some sort of ointment is worth the effort. Wonder Rub – a sportsmans rub which contains Arnica, Hypericum, Rhustox, Terebinth, Calendule, Brycnia & Euclyptus – and it is also good for aches and pains. It is available in a 100 ml tube from Renaissance, Herbs from Africa label, PO Box 77, Groot Marico. It is only sold by distributors, Jackie Sinek, 021 855 3500 is the Helderberg agent.

Prescription Medication: carry enough with you from home, and make sure you have a signed copy of your prescriptions to validate carrying large amounts of scheduled drugs. If you have specific medical conditions which need to be known during an emergency, make up a card containing all medical information in English and Spanish including blood group, contact details of your doctor, insurance details etc. and keep it with your passport.

Finally take out good travel insurance before you go to cover for major injuries or illness – just to be safe!

How fit do you have to be?

It is sensible to be relatively walking-fit, so some training beforehand is strongly recommended. For those who are not fit, start your practices with short distances and build up, eventually carrying a backpack up hills with the full weight.

Try to do a couple of consecutive days training, preferably in the shoes, socks and other gear to build up stamina. Other suggestions are to walk up and down flights of stairs, walk barefoot on the beach for ankle and knee strength, do weight training on the upper body and strengthen leg muscles with specific exercises. It is also important to stretch properly before you start walking and afterwards.

Age doesn’t have to be a deterrent. Pilgrims range in age from babes being pushed in prams to octogenarians. However, if you have led a sedentary life it is advisable to train beforehand and have a thorough check up with your medical practitioner before starting out.
Remember that every pilgrim experiences some days of discomfort as the body becomes acclimatised to walking day after day. At times it’s hard to accept and you’ll wonder why you chose to do the pilgrimage. Find consolation in the fact that it does get better – and find your own pace.

What do you take with you?

When people advise you to take the bare minimum, please believe them. Apart from the fact that glamour and variety become totally meaningless on the walk, every gram starts to weigh more as you walk. The general rule is that your backpack should not weigh more than 10% of your bodyweight. Take light, loose clothing that won’t get too creased and dries easily, with options for cold or wet weather. The following list is suitable for spring or autumn where temperatures varied from about 10 – 35°C. Asterisked items could probably be left behind in high summer. Recommended Clothing and Items to take on your trip.

Useful TIPS

Even if you carry a small daypack your sleeping bag can be wrapped in plastic and strapped on the outside
Use a black plastic garbage bag as an inner lining to keep clothes dry

Too much to carry?

We all start off too heavy – don’t despair! Post extra stuff to yourself Poste Restante in Santiago. Pack a nice strong white plastic bag for your unwanted items, sticky tape and put on labels addressed to yourself eg: Mr ‘Joe Soap’, Lista de Correos, 15780 Santiago de Compostela, A Corúna. You can also buy pilgrim boxes, some large enough to take a suitcase, at the Post Office. On arrival, take your parcel ticket and ID/passport to the Post Office (Correos). It is open till about 7pm, and they will keep it there for 30 days.

A “porter” service
Originally started for ailing or handicapped pilgrims is now available if you are really desperate. Contact for details.
Most refuges have electricity but not all have kitchens. Spain uses normal European 220 volt current with round two pin plugs
Loo call
Take a toilet roll, remove cardboard inner and fold it flat – handy when refuges run out of paper or for use along the road. And please respect private property!
You do not really need maps, as the trail is very well way-marked. Some guidebooks have strip maps for each stage.
Public phones
Available all along the route. You can purchase call cards or use cash.
Cell/mobile phones
Take a plug for Spain to recharge. Switch off when in a church, monastery, museum etc. Vodaphone covers all UK and Spain with the same Sim card.

What about security – Theft?

Emergency Telephone numbers
National police
Local police
Medical (insalud)
S.A. Embassy
09 3491 436 3780

Carry passports etc in money belts or in a pouch around your neck, concealed beneath your clothing. There is some petty crime such as pickpockets in the larger towns. Be sensible and you should be fine. It is rare to hear of any theft from the refugios. However it is practical not to leave valuables unattended in your backpack, and sleep with your valuables on, or under your pillow. Most South Africans – and those who live in big cities will be very security conscious, and will in fact find the low crime rates and safe traveling quite liberating!

What about women travelling alone?

Hundreds of women travel alone and have had no problems. But following the sad events of this year on the Camino Francés many pilgrims have been worried about their personal safety. Of course the Camino remains generally very safe and we know that the police have stepped up their presence both in uniform and in plain clothes on the Camino routes. However it is understandable that people are anxious.

Here is a link to the Facebook page called ‘Buddy System for Women on the Camino’, and we have a pdf for Safety Tips with useful and important telephone numbers, and the South African Embassy details for Spain, France and Portugal.


Problem dogs are an urban legend! Most dogs are tied up and the rest seldom cause any problems that can’t be handled with a shake of a walking stick. Pilgrims often take their own pets but they do struggle to find accommodation, as few refugios accept dogs.

Where do you sleep?

The official Camino accommodation (refugios or albergues in Spain or gîte in France) is in simple dormitory-style buildings of various ages and designs. Run by a host of organisations including local municipalities and Friends of the Camino groups, they mostly offer bunks and showers, some with kitchens and living rooms. A few provide pillows and blankets. Bathroom facilities vary quite a lot and if you come late there may be a shortage of hot water. Prepare for the fact that some refugios (mostly the ones in Galicia) have communal facilities for men and women and a few don’t have doors on the showers! Somehow the pilgrims all work this out without too much embarrassment or discomfort!

The accommodation varies in comfort levels but mostly pilgrims are so tired that as long as there is a bed or mat to sleep on, they are happy. Some offer communal evening meals for a small amount, others have kitchens with basic utensils. Most have clothes washing areas and lines. Many have opening times around lunchtime (between 13h00 and 15h00) and curfews of 22h00. All expect you to leave by 8h00 in the morning, and you can’t spend more than one night in a refugio unless there is a serious reason. Preference is given to walkers over cyclists.

Some refuges only open in June and close again in November. It is first come – first served. When you reach a refuge you secure a bed by placing your pack outside the door. Almost every pilgrim refuge is staffed by volunteers for the sole support of pilgrims from all over the world. Refuges are not a right but a privilege and should be treated as such. Help to keep the refuge clean and welcoming for the next influx of pilgrims. Give a generous donation; be gracious and helpful to the hospitaleros.

South Africans tend to have quite well developed ‘personal space’ concept and it takes a bit of getting used to the lack of privacy and space. Persevere, as it gets easier after the first day or two, and staying in the refugios is really part of the whole experience. Remember you’re not looking for five star comforts on a pilgrimage – otherwise you may as well take a nice little hike around South Africa or drive the route and stay in hotels! The other thing to remember is that many Europeans seem to prefer having the windows and the shutters closed – something foreign to most South African – and Australian – pilgrims who are big on fresh air, so try to find a compromise.

For most pilgrims the accommodation becomes incidental and secondary to the wonderful friendships formed, meals shared and support provided by the hospitaleros (hosts) and fellow pilgrims. Also available in most towns are hostals, which are the local equivalent of our B&B’s – but mostly without the breakfast! They provide privacy, a few home comforts and quiet for the pilgrim who needs a break from the refugios. There is a range of basic accommodation offering bed and sometimes private bathrooms (cama con bano or cama combinado) with varying comfort levels.

Prices for refugios and hostals

As with the standard of accommodation, prices for the various refugios and hostals do vary. The least expensive – often the municipal facilities and those run by volunteers – range from “donation based (donativo)” to 4 €. We recommend that at least 3€ be paid as a donation. The private ones range between 6 and 10 €. Some offer breakfast for an additional 3 €. Hostals range from 21 to 54 € for twin bed room with en suite. Some offer breakfast as well. See section What happens when you reach Santiago? for details about accommodation in Santiago.
Camping and alternate accommodation: Rough camping is difficult as there are not many rural places in France or Spain which are public open areas. A guide to accommodation called ‘Guia Oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago’ listing all accommodation, ranking, and prices etc including camping sites is available from Spanish tourist offices or Tourspain in Madrid.

This is a list of the favourite refugios/albergues as reported by pilgrims after their walk of the Camino Frances route in 2005.

Sous un chemin d’étoiles, Rue d’ Epagne 21
05 59 37 20 71
12€ incl continental breakfast

8km from St Jean on the Napoleon route
For dinner, bed and breakfast

Just before Pamplona
good kitchen, nice garden, snoring room!

La Cantare
small private albergue, nice bathroom, use of kitchen, friendly hosts.

Big but comfortable; kitchen, dining room, internet (donativo); do not miss the church/museum; it is definitely worth a visit.

The municipal one is great if you are travelling with someone. Silence and privacy in your own 2 bed little room with hanging space and the kitchen is absolutely pristine and well stocked. The refugio doesn’t look like much from the outside but great on the inside.

Refugio Quatro Cantones, private albergue run by kind people (in the town), nice small garden with fountain and braai (barbeque), kitchen, small pool, good breakfast. (donativo).

Hospitalero Luis (a darling of a man who speaks only Spanish) has evening prayers and everyone sits at table for dinner with him. A very gentle soul and very special.

People who walked on to the new albergue here said that was very nice.

Albergue in the ruins, fairly primitive but great atmosphere. Pilgrims help to prepare supper, wash up (donativo).

A great private one, Maison de Campagne, with a pool, run by a friendly mother (an artist) & son, great stay – with good Castilian food and nice atmosphere.

Smaller rooms, internet, good kitchen with laundry facilities, dining room (donativo).

Tables and chairs outside, good kitchen, a lot of beds on one level. Very well looked after.

Albergue San Miguel (new private albergue) with garden, full of super art, nice kitchen, beautiful showers, salt and vinegar provided for feet etc.

San Xavier private albergue, close to cathedral and Palacio Episcopal, fountain for feet, kitchen, internet, nice bathrooms.
Private refugio San Nicolas

Nuestra Senora del Pilar. Very nice with bar inside, friendly hospitaleros. (5 €)
Albergue del Pilar
Refugio Gaucelmo. Confraternity of Saint James of London

4 people in a room, drinks on arrival, fountain for feet, kitchen, nice garden. (donativo)

Albergue Ave Fenix, next to the famous church as you enter the town, nice communal meals, over 40’s dormitory.

Alberge Nossa Senhora Aparecida do Brazil: share good meals, nice blankets, friendly hospitaleros

A private one called ‘ Aitzenea’ full of sacred paintings & big table to eat at. The lady does your laundry.

Hotel VillaJardin

SAN JULLIAN/ XULIAN ± 65KM FROM SANTIAGO 16 € – dinner and bed
O Abrigadoiro, private one in small town, they cook steaks on their fire in the dining room, comfortable.

SANTA IRENE ± 22KM FROM SANTIAGO 10 € – extra for wine
Private albergue in a private house, sheets and towels, nice garden and very good food

Hotel O’Pino – divine
Refugios and places recommended for good spiritual support

short detour before Obanos on the way to Puenta la Reina
Adjacent to the interesting octagonal church, it is run by a special couple, Jan and Mariluz Melis

A refugio run by a Dutch Evangelical group. Fabulous facilities, home-cooked food and best breakfast you’ll get. Bible readings with dinner.

The priest at the church of Santa Maria is very pilgrim friendly, giving postcards with the blessing in all languages to the pilgrims and talking to them.

Refugio in the bell tower of the church, communal meals, prayers in the choir loft.

Off the camino, go from Silos by bus from Burgos to experience the famous Gregorian chants at the monastery.


Albergue San Esteban – very quiet, lovely spiritual music playing and incense.

Hospital de San Nicolas (about one km from Itero de la Vega). Run by the Italian confraternity, Peruggia Pilgrim Society, the hospitaleros, during my stay, had a ritual of prayer and washing of the pilgrims’ feet before the evening meal. The freshly prepared meal was amazing – pan, French onion soup, tortilla, sheep’s milk cheese, biscuits, vino and cafe. After breakfast in the morning those departing were blessed with a prayer. Donativo.

A very friendly priest who blesses pilgrims at 06h00 in the morning in their rooms, meets with them over a video etc.

Amigos del Peregrino the very special hospitaleros is an energy healer & wise man.

Convento Santa Maria de las Carbajalas, near the Cathedral and in the centre of town. Address c/de Escuria/Plaza de Santa Maria del Camino. The nuns have vespers in the evening and pilgrims are welcome to attend.

For sheer kindness there is no one to beat Alfredo Santos Costa at the albergue.

Where it is possible to stay over with the monks for a couple of days of spiritual strengthening.

I also liked the evening service at the chapel close to the albergue – a lamp was sent round and pilgrims could share prayer requests, a song, a scripture etc.

Albergue Ave Fenix – Jesus Jato is a healer and his family cook, so there is an opportunity for a shared pilgrim’s meal.

Albergue Pequeno Potala – Carlos and family are healers. You can even get a massage or foot rub. Carlos makes an excellent communal meal, good conversation. We woke up to Ave Maria, smells of coffee and breakfast cooking.

Albergue at Fuente del Peregrinos is run by volunteers affiliated to Campus Crusade. They make available booklets on St James, bible verses for every km of the last 100 km, tapes on Jesus etc. Although the albergue is very simple, they provide an evening meal, breakfast, beds with duvets, bathroom with towels etc to demonstrate Christ’s unconditional love and they are very prepared to talk about spiritual matters.
Accommodation on side trips

LUGO Albergue
Well worth the visit and greatly enjoyed walking round the top of the city walls – Roman origin and complete.

BILBAO Aterpetxa Albergue
From Plaza Moyua walk to the Aterpetxa Albergue which is close to the bus station.
Click here visit

PENSION GUREA in the old city Albergue
21 € for a double room with bathroom (2 people), no breakfast
Phone: +34 944 163 299
Bidebarrieta 14, 3rd floor

What is there to eat?

No account of the Camino would be complete without mentioning the food. Most pilgrims travel on limited budgets and so enjoy the availability of the simple traditional food with plenty of fresh produce and breads. Breakfasts generally consist of orange juice, coffee or hot chocolate and croissants, toast, muffins, or churros (a sweet fried dough delicacy) from bakeries or small bars (more like cafeterias than places to consume alcohol) along the way. It is advisable to check the day before to see what time bars open, as not all have hours to suit pilgrim departure times. Those that prefer a more healthy option generally stock up on yoghurt, muesli, fruit etc to prepare in the refugio before leaving in the morning or to eat somewhere along the trail.

Locals tend to have cooked lunches, but pilgrims mostly choose bocadillos (crusty rolls) with cheese, chorizo sausage, sardines or smoked ham (jamon) with fresh fruit, or possibly a tortilla (omelette). Many bars are closed during siesta time (mostly 13h00 to 15h00), so if you plan to arrive somewhere at around that time, stock up beforehand. Picnics in the countryside are always an option when you carry a bit of food with you.

Other readily available treats are almonds and other nuts, good cheeses and some nice packets of biscuits and chips for snacking. The local confectionery shops with their delicious pastries and homemade chocolates are too much to resist, (especially in Astorga – where they also have chocolate factories – and a museum of chocolate!) And of course, in Galicia there is always Santiago Tart (almond tart) for a mid morning boost.

The evening meal is sometimes a communal affair at the refugio with pilgrims sharing their resources and sociability. Some pilgrims choose to cook their own meals such as pasta and salad or cold food. If you chose to cook at the refugios, keep it simple as facilities are minimal, and remember that you will either need to leave surplus behind for following pilgrims or carry loads of leftovers. Some of the refugios have oil and salt available. Many pilgrims take advantage of the special peregrino menus or menu del dia (special of the day) in the local bars.
The pilgrim menus are good honest food but can be repetitive. It usually consists of plate 1: mixed salad, soup or pasta; plate 2: beef or chicken or pork or fish or lamb chops with chips; plate 3: dessert is usually pre-made and is crème caramel (flan), ice cream or yoghurt. Most restaurants offer local specialities and the ever-popular tapas – a variety of delicious appetisers to be enjoyed with the local beer or wine. The Spanish tend to eat dinner late – around 21h00 – but many bars are happy to serve famished pilgrims from around 19h00. Remember that many restaurants charge separately for items such as bread (which is often brought to the table unsolicited). So check before you eat!
Pilgrims mostly choose the very acceptable vino de casa, but the excellent red wines of the Rioja province should definitely be sampled if possible. One of the special experiences along the way is the stop at the Fuente del Vino (fountain of wine) in Irache, where the local red is available free of charge to pilgrims who pass the winery. The beers are great and mostly quite cheap by South African standards – and there were different brews in virtually every town.

The amount of water and method for carrying it are personal choices. However, it is essential to carry water, which can be replenished safely at any drinking fountain in the villages except where you see the sign NON POTABLE . Options for water storage include army-style bottles attached to the outside of the pack, simple plastic cooldrink bottles carried in a side pouch or the “Camelbak(tm)” type system often used by cyclists.

Shopping is very simple. There aren’t a lot of big supermarkets, as we know them in SA; mostly little bakeries or corner stores with a small range. Other pilgrims and the hospitaleros are generally a good source of information for where to shop – many of the shops are in houses and not immediately obvious to the passer-by. Whatever your preferences, you certainly won’t starve!
Restaurants recommended

Alongos 11 Pulperia in Melide for a feast of pulpo (octopus) and delightful restaurateurs

What happens when you reach Santiago?

On arriving at the cathedral in Santiago, there are a number of special rituals which pilgrims choose to perform as part of the ‘closing ceremony’ of their walk. These are all described in detail in many of the publications, and include obtaining the compostela, visiting the cathedral to place a hand in the beautiful carving of the tree of Jesse at the main entrance and hugging the 13th century statue of Santiago before giving thanks at the tomb. The special pilgrim mass is a wonderful spiritual opportunity with hundreds of pilgrims still in their travel stained clothes all gathering to offer prayers, and if lucky to observe the spectacular botafumeiro (huge incenser). Though it’s mostly in Spanish it is a truly moving experience. And of course it’s a chance to reconnect with people met along the way. This is when the celebrating begins as you share the achievements before heading back home to plan your next Camino!
Be aware that after completing the pilgrimage, very often people have a bit of a downer – either exhaustion or a feeling of depression or anti-climax. You’ll just need to be gentle with yourself, and try to ease back into your normal life slowly, enjoying those never ending memories and flashbacks to the Camino.


The following recommendations were received during 2005

Just off the main Cathedral square (at the foot of the stairs off Praza do Obradoiro) and not too expensive. However it is necessary to book in advance or you might not get a room, as they are not strictly geared for pilgrims. Address Avenida de Raxoi 1. Tel: 981 58 27 96
In R.C. Paya – it is attached to the restaurant Zingara which is round the corner in Rua dos Orfas. (32 € per room per night) and the people running it are charming – also it is only about 3 minutes walk from the Cathedral, more or less en route to the refugio

On the outskirts of the Old Town. Very convenient for Cathedral and bus

Ask for the third floor where one can look out over the old city

In Rua Nova. A good, clean room with bathroom across corridor 15 €. Breakfast (6€ for coffee, toast and orange juice) and lunch (12€ or R90 for calamari, salad, water and coffee) in the bar

10 minutes from the old city, are very good and priced around 80€ per night for a double room. The tourist info will give you the addresses or the internet

Often ladies renting out their flats hang around the pilgrim office in Santiago (where you get your certificate) – their flats are cheap, clean and convenient (if in a group)

PENSIONS/HOSTALS Range from 20 – 45€

HOTELS Range from 60 – 120€

In Via Traversa is recommended for meals – but queues at peak times can put one off!
And don’t forget the free meals at Hotel de los Reyes Catolicos for pilgrims who can present a compostela, are an experience not to be missed!! Limited numbers per meal.


There is a bus service from Santiago to Finisterre (Fisterre) every day. Also you could hire a car for the day. It takes about 3 hours by the coastal road to get there and it is a very long walk from the bus to the cape itself. There are two per day from the Bus Station in Santiago.


· Bus (2 € ) or taxi (15 € and takes 20 mins.) to airport near Lavacolla, then Ryanair or GO airlines to Stansted.
· Overnight sleeper train to Madrid leaves at about 10pm and arrives in Madrid at about 7am the next morning – about 50 €.
· Iberia airline to Madrid/Barcelona – they offer pilgrims with Compostela a discount on completion of pilgrimage.
· Easy Jet from La Corunna
· Hire a car from ATESA (cost excluding petrol approx 95€ for a day 400km free travel.) Bookings can be organised through
an agency in Hotel de los Reyes Catolicos
· Bus to Madrid (Tel: 981 542 416)

At the Oficina del Peregrino near the cathedral you can make travel reservations and also get a city map.


· Catch a bus to Ferrol, (overnight accommodation at Hostel Zahara)
· Catch a train at 7.50 am next morning to Santander. (There are hostals close to the station),
· Train to Bilbao. (Or Ferrol to Bilbao by Feve train).
· Ryanair or GO airline to Stansted