Walking the Camino de Santiago, A Photo Guide
Hello, friends! I’m here today to share a post that is very near and dear to my heart – Walking the Camino de Santiago, A Photo Guide. Along with my friend Karen, I walked the Camino in the summer of 2014, and it was an experience that changed my entire outlook on life. The post I have compiled below is one that I have poured my heart and soul into. It’s part travel guide, part photo journal. At the top of the post, you’ll find heaps of practical information should you find yourself thinking about walking the Camino. Below that, there are snippets and photos from my own personal Camino journey – which Boyfriend jokes are my memoirs.
I can’t be exactly sure why Karen & I thought walking the Camino de Santiago was within the realms of do-able, but I’m so glad we did it.
Walking the camino: our details
• we settled on walking the traditional route, The French Way. The route is 800km long and starts on the French border in a town called Saint Jean Piet du Port. We mentally prepared for this in two ways: by watching The Way, like, a lot; and by familiarizing ourselves with John Brierley’s guidebook. Although there are a lot of books about the Camino, this is the bible for pilgrims.
• to get to Saint Jean, we flew into Biarritz and shared a group taxi with other pilgrims. There are other options – a bus into town and then a train out to SJ – but this one seemed easiest. The drive took less than an hour, and it was like €20 each – worth it! We got into town kind of late, and most hostels were already booked up for the night. The pilgrim’s office found somewhere for us, but it’s probably a good idea to book in advance.
• in town, you have to go to the pilgrims office to officially register yourself as a pilgrim walking the Camino. This is where you get your very own pilgrim passport and the first official stamp! I still remember the joy I felt!
• physically speaking, we did very little preparation. Admittedly, we were healthy twenty-one years olds, but neither of us could be described as particularly fit or active. We did a few practice walks, but none of them were longer than 3.5-hours. While the physical aspects of walking the Camino are important, we quickly realised the mental aspects were too. More than anything, the way is a mind game.
• we didn’t buy too much equipment for our walk. A good pair of hiking boots, walking socks, a quick drying micro-fiber towel, a half silk+cotton sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, and we shared a set of trekking poles between us. Other than that, I had the bare necessities clothes-wise. I’m pretty sure we even divided up the toothpaste/shampoo etc. so we wouldn’t have duplicates. Space was precious!
walking the camino: things to keep in mind
• we chose to take the cheap route and stay entirely in albergues/hostels during our Camino. The only times we pre-booked beds anywhere were at the albergue in Orisson, and the albergue in Santiago. The rest of the time, we’d just arrive in town and look for a bed anywhere. While this worked out for us, other pilgrims told stories of sleeping semi-rough because there were no beds left anywhere. Just something to keep in mind!
• we carried our backpacks every single day, so we kept the weight low – under 8kg. A lot of pilgrims walking the Camino don’t fancy doing this and have their bags sent ahead. Naturally, this requires knowing where you’ll be staying that night, so some planning is needed. Aside from the odd shoulder/collarbone bruise in the beginning, we didn’t find it too bad carrying our bags the whole way!
• if you choose to walk The French Way, you will have to cross ‘the meseta’. The meseta is a long stretch of very flat and boring land that runs roughly from Burgos to Astorga. Those walking the Camino Frances can expect to walk along the meseta for 9-days straight, and a lot of people dread it. It’s boring and somewhat ugly, but do-able.
• walking the Camino is really just like going orienteering. You walk through all sorts of places – from big cities to tiny villages to expansive fields or parks – looking for tiny shells or yellow arrows. It can actually be quite hard sometimes to find the route! In the bigger cities we lost our way a few times, but locals always pointed us in the right direction eventually. You definitely need to have your eyes peeled.
• most of the restaurants along the Camino offer a ‘pilgrim meal’, which we availed of a lot. Normally, it was €10 for three courses and a bottle of wine/sangria. Of course there are cheaper options, like cooking your own meal etc., but we were too zonked most days to consider making anything!
Details out of the way – let’s get down to it! Below is a detailed breakdown of our day-to-day life walking the Camino: where we stayed, who we met, how I felt.
Walking the Camino de Santiago, A Photo Guide
May 27th, Saint Jean Pied du Port
Karen & I were unusual pilgrims in that we were in no hurry to actually get started. We arrived late on Monday 26th, but decided not to start walking the Camino until Wednesday 28th, giving us Tuesday to explore. The hostel we’d stayed at the night before offered us a private room, so we took it easy. We wandered up to the citadel, walked the city walls, and generally admired the beautiful old town – deliriously laughing all the while. It was here that we experienced our first true pilgrim moment: a cry of “buen Camino!” from a fellow pilgrim setting off on his own journey. It felt extremely special.
Day 1: May 28th, Orisson
Our first official day walking the Camino! There was a wrong start getting out of Saint Jean, lots of rain and mud, and a steeper climb than we’d anticipated. What a great first day! Wanting to ease ourselves into the Camino, we had pre-booked an overnight stay at the Auberge in Orisson, roughly 8km from Saint Jean. This is the last stop before clearing the Pyrenees, and, while a lot of pilgrims just power through and do the whole hog, we were glad to stop here. It’s a great stopping point if you don’t want to do the whole ascent in one day!
Day 2: May 29th, Roncevalles
The next day, we trekked up to the very top of the Pyrenees – and then all the way down to the bottom. It was terrifying. The climb down was insanely steep, and the two of us were shaking with the effort of trying to stay vertical. The day was relatively short – we made it to Roncevalles by 1pm – but we were exhausted and our knees were battered. It was here that we discovered what would get us through the Camino: wine, and sangria. Amen.
Day 3: May 30th, Zubiri
One blister, ten sore toes, one aching knee, two stiff shoulders, and about 22km of walking to Zubiri. Along the way, we made friends with an Oklahoman called Quinn, who was walking the Camino with his family. Quinn was the first of many Camino friends that we’d keep running into over and over again. In town, we indulged in sangria again. Spoiler alert: there was a lot of sangria consumed over the course of our Camino.
Day 4: May 31st, Pamplona
Approx. 24km after Zubiri, we made it to Pamplona, our first city of the Camino. We stayed in a huge hostel that was actually a converted cathedral, which I remember took an age to check-in to. Despite the onset of walking pains, we did our best to explore the city while we were there. We saw the statue of the bulls, ate ice cream, admired the cathedral with Quinn, visited the famous Café Iruña, and joined the elderly pilgrims by purchasing knee braces. It was in Café Iruña that my legs failed to liftoff when we went to leave – sending us both into hysterical laughter. A lot of the day after that was spent laughing at our stiffness, as well as getting laughed at by local youths. Ah, the joys of walking the Camino!
Day 5: June 1st, Puenta la Reina
Pain, everywhere. We made it all the way to Puente la Reina – about 25km – passing the pilgrim sculptures atop Alto del Perdón en route. In Puente la Reina we stayed in a lovely fancy hostel where we did our washing – it was thrilling, truly. While here, we ran into Quinn again, and had a lot more sangria to help with the hobbling. Looking at the photos above, I think you can feel our pain, no?
PS, we snapped the photo below at the famous Puente la Reina bridge on our way out of town! Self-timers, what a wonderful invention!
Day 6: June 2nd, Estella
Completely accidentally, we walked all the way to Estella – around 22km – after stopping at the midway town of Lorca for a café con leche. We hadn’t planned to make it the entire way to Estella, so we were exhausted but pleased by the time we got there. I had my first real injury of walking the Camino on this day: a large bruise/tear along the sole of my foot. It was extremely sore to walk on, so our afternoon exploring was pretty low-key: wine, catching-up with Quinn, and shopping for biscuits. The necessities.
Day 7: June 3rd, Villamayor de Monjardin
Because of my aforementioned foot injury, we had a very easy day for day 7 and only walked 10km to Villamayor de Monjardin. It was a lovely little town and we stayed at a nice Dutch hostel – which, after doing some research online, I believe to be this one. On our way into VdeM, we passed through the town of Irache, famous among pilgrims for the Fountain of Wine. Now, besides the obvious, there is little to look forward to while walking the Camino – but the fountain of wine was something we’d looked forward to since the beginning! In true pilgrim style, we each enjoyed a drink of red wine from our Camino shells.
Day 8: June 4th, Torres del Río
We had a lovely short day, only 20km, to Torres del Río. Reading back over that sentence now is mind boggling to me on so many levels – lovely? short? only 20km?? – but there we have it. Torres del Río is a tiny little village and not a whole lot of pilgrims stop there, but I remember enjoying our day there. We got in quite early and had dinner + a full bottle of wine all before 3pm. The remainder of our day was spent taking tipsy selfies. Judge all you want, but until you find yourself walking the Camino you can’t possibly understand how exhausted you feel – and therefore much more susceptible to tipsiness.
Day 9: June 5th, Logroño
Made it the 21km to Logroño – our second and far nicer city of the Camino. We did our usual: went wandering around and eating. I remember being super nervous during our time in the city because my college results were being released the very next day. As in, I was going to find out if I’d be graduating from college. No biggie.
Day 10: June 6th, Ventosa
On our tenth day of walking the Camino, I received the wonderful news that I’d passed college! To celebrate, we cut our day short and walked just 20km to the tiny town of Ventosa. Here, we met two lovely American friends – Ray and his granddaughter Miranda – whom we celebrated over dinner and a few drinks with. Right when we thought about retiring for the night, we were joined by their friend, Miguel, and ended up staying very late and drinking far too much. Many, many drinks were had – but at least we both got to try calamari for the first time ever. It’s the little things.
Day 11: June 7th, Cirueña
We made it the 25km to Cirueña – a horribly long and extremely hung-over walk in the blazing sunlight. There was no wind or clouds, just sun, burning down on us all day. We both got extremely sun-burned on our calves, which was somehow good and bad. On one had, it was so painful that we couldn’t lie on our backs that night. However, it was a good talking point with other pilgrims – like Bob and Diane from California. Cirueña itself is awful and desolate and I would never recommend it – but we were desperate. The hostel we ended up at was like the real life El Ramon albergue from ‘The Way’, but again, desperate times. Coincidentally, Bob had an El Ramon stamp specially made before walking the Camino and he stamped our passports for us. It was just too fitting – what were the chances?!
Day 12: June 8th, Villamayor del Río
We had a lovely 23km walk to Villamayor del Río, where not many other pilgrims seem to stop. On the way there, I struck up a conversation with Paul, a hobbling Australian using a large branch speared with a half eaten baguette as a walking stick. Now, striking up conversations while walking the Camino wasn’t exactly my forte, but that one was too easy. We walked with him for a few kilometers before deciding to stop with Bob & Diane, while he hobbled on to the next town. We ate dinner early, did some washing, and spent the rest of the day in the garden – reveling in the fact there was no WiFi.
It’s weird to think back on this now, but that chance meeting with Paul shaped the rest of our Camino and we didn’t even know it yet. Wild.
Day 13: June 9th, Villafranca Montes de Oca
A relaxing 17km stroll to Villafranca Montes de Oca, during which nothing of note happened. Unless you count laughing at Karen’s tucked-in leggings and her walking swagger as noteworthy, because apparently I did a lot of that. We ran into Paul again in town, this time with his sister.
Day 14: June 10th, Burgos
Like two crazy stupid people, we accidentally walked 37km to Burgos, our third city. I’m not actually sure how we did it, but I know we were delirious with sun exposure by the time we got there. We walked basically non-stop from 6am-2:30pm, and managed to get the very last beds at the city hostel. They were on two different floors, but they were both bottom bunks and the thought of walking further was too painful. During the day, we explored the city, hobbled around, and visited Burgos Cathedral. At night, we ran into Paul again – it was his 23rd birthday – and made friends with his whole group. Despite our sheer exhaustion, we stayed up late with them, making plans to stay an extra day in Burgos. We hardly needed convincing to take a rest day.
Day 15: June 11th, Burgos
A glorious, restful day with no walking, but plenty of down time and bonding. We joined forces with Paul’s walking cohort and together we moved to a hostel on the other side of Burgos, closer to tomorrow’s starting point. Previously, we had been walking mostly alone, joining a couple of familiar faces along the path for a few kilometers. Suddenly, we were in a group with eight others – a whole new Camino family! There was: Paul and his sisters Franny, Anne, and Tris / Tris’s boyfriend, Chris / Henry, a lone Texan they met along the way / and Finlay + Dave, a Scot + a Liverpudlian who went to college together and had met the Aussies a few days back. A truly lovely group!
Day 16: June 12th, Hornillos del Camino
Walked 21km in the blistering 30+C heat to Hornillos del Camino. Karen and I walked alone together, but we regrouped with everyone in town. Because there were ten of us, we took up a whole room in the local albergue. It was like being in a private room with your family – comforting. This was the day I finally admitted defeat and took a sleeping pill for the first time ever. Between the noises of other sleeping pilgrims and the pain you feel everywhere, sleep on the Camino is an elusive friend.
Day 17: June 13th, Castrojeriz
A nondescript day of walking. We made it to Castrojeriz, about 21km from yesterday’s town. During the course of the walk, we made friends with a lovely girl from Berlin, Marie.
Day 18: June 14th, Boadilla del Camino
Made it the 20km to Boadilla del Camino. We’d read that Albergue En El Camino had a pool and unanimously decided to stop there. During the day I’d walked mostly with Dave and Marie, whom we adopted into the group. For dinner, Karen & I went on a sandwich crawl around town with Dave and Fin. Unfortunately, Boadilla del Camino was, er, somewhat lacking in eateries. There were two places where we found day old sandwiches, and they were dry + flavourless. This drove Fin into an unending rant about Spain and the eternal dryness of their sandwiches. In his thick Scottish accent, it was especially hilarious to us, and it turned an awful situation into a great one. We laughed and laughed for about two hours straight, and to this day I can still hear Finlay complaining in my head. It’s one of my very favourite memories from walking the Camino.
Day 19: June 15th, Carrión de los Condes
Walked 25km to Carrión de los Condes.. The group got split in half due to bed shortages, but Karen and I ended up stopping with Dave, Fin, Marie and Henry at a hostel run by singing nuns. Literally: the singing nuns of the Santa Maria Albergue. Apparently a Camino tourist attraction of sorts – who knew! While in town, we attended our first mass since starting our journey, and we were all individually blessed by the priest. He held each of our heads in turn while he blessed us, and I genuinely remember feeling different afterwards.
Day 20: June 16th, Ledigos
Another long, flat day of walking along the meseta to Ledigos, about 24km. We walked with Dave, Henry + Marie, and listened to Henry telling stories all day long. He had a gift for thinking of long, winding time-passing stories that were both irritating and hilarious. In town, we reunited with the whole group again and it literally felt like a family reunion – I’d actually missed the half we’d been separated from the night before! Again, because of our large number, we had a room at the albergue all to ourselves. This one was fancier than the last, almost cabin-like with lovely wooden beams – which, of course, Dave and Paul swung out of.
Day 21: June 17th, Calzada del Coto
The day we passed the halfway point of the Camino! According to Brierley’s guidebook, the town of Terradillos de los Templarios marks the halfway point and we passed it en route to Calzada del Coto! Our walk to town was about 20km long, and we spent the majority of the day walking with Marie. In town, we regrouped with everyone for the night.
Day 22: June 18th, Reliegos
A looooong day filled with a lot of pain, to a town called Reliegos. Something inside my already damaged foot decided to cause a fuss, and I suffered through our 28km walk at a snail’s pace. I spent most of the time walking with Paul, who was suffering with pain from a gammy knee. Walking along the meseta alone for long stretches at a time is a bad fate, so I was glad to have the company of another wounded pilgrim.
Day 23: June 19th, León
Pain, so much pain. This was the day I had to give up my dreams of being the ultimate pilgrim and accept defeat: I could not walk the 26km to León. It was a decision that killed me, but I could barely walk. Karen was wonderfully supportive and of course stayed with me. We were reluctant to separate from the group, so we decided to get transport to León and meet them there. They had all become such an integral part of walking the Camino to us that we didn’t think twice about this decision. We took a taxi to Mansilla de las Mulas, and a bus from there to León. In León – the last city before Santiago – we regrouped and checked into a hostel together. Later, Karen, Dave, Henry, Fin & I went to Burger King, where we got drunk on Estrella and stuffed our faces – it was hilarious.
Day 24: June 20th, Villar de Mazarife
Before leaving León we got a big group photo outside the albergue (minus Marie, who took the photo), because Chris was heading home already. I’m so glad I have the photo, although something about it reminds me of ‘The Beach’. Karen & I had to bus again – my foot was even more swollen and sore than before – this time to Villar de Mazarife. Although it was sad and annoying, there was no way I could have made it the 35km to town. As it was, most of the group took a wrong turn on the way in and only Marie and David made it to town. Going from eleven down to four, it was a quiet night.
Day 25: June 21st, Astorga
A third and final day of no walking. It really knocked any ideals I had about walking the Camino out of the park. The rest of the group walked 29km and we took two taxis, one to Hospital de Órbigo, then another to Astorga. Astorga marks the end of the long and seemingly unending meseta, and part of me was glad we missed it. I made myself feel better about taking transport for three days by thinking of the people who choose to skip the meseta altogether – at least I walked it for 7-days! I was determined to walk again the next day.
Day 28: June 22nd, Rabanal del Camino
I totally walked! I mean, I totally hobbled – but still! Karen and I set off at 5am and made it the 20km to Rabanal del Camino on my gammy foot! It was Dave’s 19th birthday, so we left little chalk birthday wishes for him along the route. Paul gave each of us a stick of chalk in León so that we could leave messages for each other along the way – it was very handy. For Dave’s birthday, we all stayed up late playing drinking games and generally rambling. I’ve noted in my journal that we stayed up until 11:30pm, which is extraordinarily late for a pilgrim.
Day 27: June 23rd, Molinaseca
A 26km walk to Molinaseca, a little village with a pretty bridge and a lovely hostel. On the way into town, we passed the Cruz de Ferro, an important symbol for all those walking the Camino. Traditionally, this is the place where pilgrims leave the rock they’ve carried with them since the beginning of their journey. Placing a rock at the bottom of the cross is symbolic of everything you’ll let go of after your Camino. Karen & I had been carrying rocks since Saint Jean and we added them to the pile. The atmosphere at the cross was magical – we truly did feel unburdened afterwards. Cruz de Ferro also marks the highest point of the entire French Way.
Day 28: June 24th, Villafranca del Bierzo
My sorest day of walking, definitely. We walked 32km to Villafranca del Bierzo, and as soon as we got there it started lashing rain. I’m talking biblical rainfall. The municipal hostel was perched on top of a steep hill and I nearly died getting there – I was so done by that point. Later, we had to go out for supplies and for some reason scaling the hill back up to the hostel in the lashing rain sent Karen & I into hysterics. Shoeless, fanny-pack out, crazy-eyed hysterics – another of my favourite memories from walking the Camino.
Day 29: June 25th, O’Cebreiro
An awful awful awful day of walking. We somehow made it to O’Cebreiro – our first town in Galicia – without dying, but barely. We spent the day walking on and off with both Fin and Marie, but largely we all walked separately because it was so strenuous. The walk was mostly up an unending death hill of doom, which gave me a lot of time to compile a list of everything I hated. Namely: the death hill of doom, and fit people able to overtake me on said hill. It was by far my least favourite day walking the Camino, but thankfully there were many pit-stops. The sad thing is, O’Cebreiro is so beautiful – but I was in no mood to appreciate it after the walk. This was Marie’s last day, so we took a farewell group photo, in which we tried to look serious but missed the mark.
Day 30: June 26th, Triacastela
After yesterday’s hell walk, the 23km to Triacastela was lovely. It consisted of: Fin & Dave, so much laughter, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstitious’, Torta de Santiago, drink pit-stops, and breathtaking views. Two of the group decided to push on to the next town, which left just six of us behind. So close to Santiago, we could feel the group splintering was inevitable, but we’d decided not to push ourselves too hard.
Day 31: June 27th, Sarria
We walked almost the entire way to Sarria, 19km, with Dave. I don’t seem to have recorded any details of this walk, so it must have passed without issue. All six of us reconvened in town for the night, and Finlay cooked us a lovely family-style meal. Sarria marks the beginning of the last leg of the Camino, with less than 100km to Santiago left. Five days to go!
Day 32: June 28th, Portomarín
On this day it rained a lot. We walked for basically 22km in the lashing rain and it was so enjoyable – it felt almost like home. We stopped for the night in Portomarín with the others, but this was our last night together as one group. The two remaining Australians decided to go catch-up with their siblings, and Dave + Fin decided to walk to the end alone. We made plans to reunite in Santiago, but it was still sad. We spent our last night chatting, drinking and hanging out, it was perfect.
Day 33: June 29th, Palas de Rei
Just like the first few days, we walked the 25km to Palas de Rei by ourselves. It was actually quite nice being alone together again, but we did miss the others. We spent a large portion of time laughing at an incident that happened the night before – something about Karen nearly getting hit with Fin’s jar of mayonnaise? Even though I don’t entirely remember, I’m still chuckling now – mostly because Fin started carrying around his own mayonnaise. We actually ran into Dave + Fin in town; they made it in before us but hung around to chat before moving on – it was so sweet.
Day 34: June 30th, Ribadiso
Our first full day without seeing any of the group – our only communication was a chalk message left by Fin + Dave. We stopped in Ribadiso, about 30km from Palas de Rei, and ~40km from Santiago. We were both walking around like hobbling old ladies at this point, which was hilarious compared with the eager strides of the ‘fake pilgrims’ who started in Sarria. The paths were so busy with said fake pilgrims that we decided to get an earlier start the next day for some peace. To aid us with this, we went to bed in our clothes. The things you do when you’re walking the Camino!
Day 35: July 1st, O Pedrouzo
End point for the day: O Pedrouzo, just 22km walk. Even better: O Pedrouzo is just 18km from Santiago! 18!
Day 36: July 2nd, Santiago de Compostella
We did it! We set off at 4am, made it to Santiago at 9:30am, thus completing our Camino. Honestly, it was anti-climatic – but I think we were in shock that we had actually finished walking the Camino. We met up with Dave shortly after arriving, and the three of us went to the midday pilgrim’s mass – what an experience! The giant incense ball rained down on everyone and it truly brought everything to an end for me. Later, after checking into our hostel – Seminario Menor – we reunited with nearly the whole gang: Dave, Fin, Henry, Paul, Annie, Fran. It was Henry & the Australians’ last night, so we had a big family-style dinner and heaps of alcohol as a farewell party.
July 3rd, Santiago de Compostella
And then there were four: me, Karen, Finlay and Dave. When we stepped outside the hostel we were greeted with a huge chalk message from Annie saying goodbye – it was the sweetest thing. To eat, Finlay hunted down a café that made a mean English breakfast: real bacon, runny eggs, and beans! It was a dream after surviving for so long on dry toast etc. After breakfast, we went back to the cathedral to see the relics of Saint James. They’re in the crypt under the cathedral, and we felt it fitting to visit him before leaving Santiago. This was Fin and Dave’s last day, so the four of us feasted on enchiladas, drank a lot of alcohol, played card games, and stayed up until 2:30am. It was such a perfect last night with them.
July 4th, Santiago de Compostella
I swear, there was wine flowing around my body where there should have been blood on this morning. I felt bloody horrific, but I regret nothing. After bidding Fin & Dave farewell for the last time, we cheered ourselves up by heading to a shopping-centre and buying some real clothes. Initially we had planned to use the days after arriving in Santiago to walk to Finisterre on the coast. It only takes 3-days to get there and seems do-able, but we were done with walking the Camino by then.
July 5th, Santiago de Compostella
Our very last day in Santiago. A quiet day, which we spent basically the entirety of washing every single thing we owned. We cooked dinner together in the hostel, and left to catch a night train to Barcelona, ending our Camino de Santiago.
And there we have it, my epic Guide to Walking the Camino de Santiago! I packed every single piece of knowledge I possess about walking the Camino into it, so I hope you found it helpful! Have you walked the Camino? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comment section below!
PS, I’ve made a little Google Map of all the towns we stopped at during our Camino! If you’re in any way interested, you can click here to see our progress through Spain.
*SHARED TO THE BLOG IN OCTOBER 2021