This is probably my favourite out of all the articles in my series on How to Survive El Camino de Santiago, a 780km walk across Spain and how I did it as a single female traveller in only 25 days. This brief guide is an FAQ covering all sorts such as; Why donation based albergues and sleeping in Teepees is awesome; Why you need to eat everything you see; The actual essentials you need aka embrace your natural beauty and leave the hair straightener at home. Let’s go!
Also, there is a handy printable checklist at the end![line]
Where do you stay on the Camino?
The most common accommodation are the special hostels for El Camino Pilgrims called ‘albergues’, sometimes also called refugios’. They are either ‘municipal’ or privately run. Your Pilgrims Passport (as explained in part 1) grants to access to these and they are in nearly every town along the way.[line]
How much is accommodation on the Camino?
Albergues cost between €5-10 euros or up to €17 in bigger towns and some are even donativo (donation based). Albergues can sleep anywhere from 6 to 400 people. You can’t / don’t need to book – first in first served – June is kind of busy and hot so I heard it is more competitive then. Although you will be given a physical print out of a full list when you pick up your Pilgrims Passport, I found a full an up to date list of all Allergies on Camino Francés here. This list includes all info such as address, phone number, website, how many each sleeps, price of each albergue as well as other helpful information.[line]
Do I have to sleep in an albergue?
Of course not.. A lot of people, especially older people who are not on a budget and who want to walk the Camino but end each day in comfort, opt to stay in hotels. There are many along the way and range from expensive to sharing a private room. In fact, in both Santiago and in Finisterre we treated ourselves to a hotel – you will never appreciate white fluffy towels and cotton sheets after using microfiber towels and sleeping on disposable sheets more in your life! Other than that, we wanted to keep to the spirit of the Camino and do it like everyone else – in an albergue. It’s only for a short period of time, is super cheap and is apart of the experience, which makes it great fun![line]
Are all albergues the same?
No way, there are some really cool and different ones. The thing is you never really know what they will be like until you are there – some are pretty standard and crappy then others are a beautiful soul enhancing experience. Here are some of my favourites:
Villarmentero de Campos
In a lil old town called Villarmentero there is an albergue called Bar Amanecer which we fondly referred to as Camp Anarchy. The rules there are more or less: there are no rules.
Unlike the other albergues, you can stay more than one day, go to bed and wake up when you like and basically use it as a place to chill for a few days. There are people who live and work there full time who will tell you stories or make you cute woven bracelets using bone and crystal beads. There is an optional communal dinner which was an amazing array of chickpeas, lentils and other vegetarian based dishes which was one of the best meals I had on the Camino. The included breakfast was also amazing with homemade muesli, toast, fruit coffee and tea.
Additionally, there are a lot of animals on the property such as ducks, dogs, sheet, horses and goats. Other activities include table tennis, hanging out at bar or exploring the very small but quaint village.
Oh.. and I nearly forgot to mention, you can sleep in the most unusual places there. As well as the normal bunks, you can also choose to sleep out in one of their teepees or in the old converted barrels. The whole place only sleeps 32, making it nice and quiet, and in 2015 it was only €6. It is awesome.
Albergue Acacio y Orietta,
Viloria de Rioja
Another of the highlights was Acacio y Orietta. A tiny 10 bed albergue run by a couple, Acacio da Paz & Orietta Prendin, who walked the Camino themselves and decided to give back to the community.
A beautiful old converted farmhouse made of clay and stone. The inside dorm is a small room that fits about 10. The lounge is cosy and has a beautiful old fire place and books. Breakfast and dinner are mandatory communal donation based meals which the wife cooks. Once again, the wife’s cooking is amazing and sitting around hearing everyone’s stories is a beautiful experience. The whole place feels very relaxing. The coolest part about this albergue, is that Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist is good friends with the owners and actually sponsors the albergue. As one of my favourite writers, it was so nice to know what a small world we actually live in.
Albergue San Miguel,
Hospital de Órbigo
Probably my favourite out of all the albergues I stayed in (not only as it has my last name!). I stumbled across this place a few days after my long-ass 56.4km walk from Leon to Sahagun. It was a rainy day and I knew I needed a to have a rest day either that day or the next. This is where the Camino is great and provides what you need. Another couple based operation, Albergue San Miguel is run by two Venezuelan pilgrims, Piera and Arthur, who used to run a guided travel business before settling there.
A beautiful two level converted farmhouse is made from wood and stone cozy home and has only 32 beds. The full service kitchen was great for making epic meals and the long wooden communal table with heaps of plugs meant I could get a lot of work done planning flights home etc while I rested. The beautiful and warm fireplace was perfect for drying wet gear and making the place seem homely.
The village itself is so so so cute. Often Piera would bring apples from her tree which were free for guests. I didn’t have to check in and out again which was amazing and all round they were lovely to be around.
Hospital de San Nicholás,
Itero del Castillo
One place I didn’t stay but wish I did was an albergue in a church between Between Itero del Castillo & de la Vega that was run by nuns that had no power. This meant the communal dinner was held by candlelight. The nuns also gave optional food rubs. It is on my list for next time!
If you have a decent sleeping bag and can handle it, try and sleep under the stars![line]
FOOD AND WATER
What do you eat and drink on the Camino?
There are lots of drinking fountains all around Europe and especially Spain and on the Camino so all you need is a drink bottle. Look for the “potable” signs. “agua no potable” means don’t drink the water!
You have to remember there is a whole community there to support Pilgrims so of course there is food and water along the way. I suggest you make sure to carry some food and water as well as sometimes there is a fair way between stops or you miss one for whatever reason. Then there are surprise and delight situations where something unexpected like this fruit truck came out of nowhere and saved the day. I was starving and there was nothing for a few hours and I was lucky to buy fruit off the back of the truck to keep me going!
Most of the villages along the Camino only have one or two restaurants, which are there pretty much to support Pilgrims. Either way, most of them have cheap menus call “Menu del Dia” or menu of the day. Usually about €10, you get an entrée, main, dessert, bread and wine or drink, which makes a great dinner! During the day most places have cheap sandwiches called bocadillos, paella, tortilla (potato omelet) and other traditional dishes.
To be honest, the food is quite same same at most small villages with more variety in the bigger towns. It is near impossible to follow a gluten free / dairy free diet on the Camino as most of the time that’s literally all they have and you need to eat.
Saying that, as I am not severally allergic to either, and I just avoid them to make room for other nutrient dense food. I was happy to be relaxed about it as I knew it is only for a short time and the high amount of exercise needs a lot of fuel behind it. To make things cheaper, you can buy baguettes and meat at shops and make your own sandwiches. I often did this and carried dark chocolate, nuts and a lot of fruit. Fruit is so cheap and fresh there so I was pretty happy. Also, I made and carried my own zip lock muesli which was my favourite. Almond milk doesn’t really exist so often I would have it with plain water! No sugar – just fruit.
As mentioned, a lot of albergues have cooking facilities so a cheap and great way to eat is everyone chipping in a few dollars to make a great meal. For the first five days I was travelling with an Italian chef who worked at a Michelin Star restaurant in London. Life was good that week!
Once in Galicia, the food got a bit more exciting with lentil soup and Galician soup – made from chickpeas potatoes and silverbeet. Both are amazing so if you see these have it!
After the Camino I visited my grandparents in A Coruna, and was immediately offered a jamón bocadillo – and all I could say was “no mas jamón bocadillos!” I was spent.[line]
What do you carry?
They say the ideal bag is 10% of your body weight.. Mine was around 8kg but I am obviously not 80kg! The lighter the better for obvious reasons – you have to carry everything!
You will need:
Make sure it is either waterproof or has a waterproof cover. One that opens right up is easier. You want it as light as possible so no wheels or anything gimmicky. Ideally there will be side pockets for drink bottles and easy snack storage. Mine was around 45 liters.
2 sets of clothes
The concept is basic – walk in one outfit, shower at night and put on the second, wash the first outfit, let it dry overnight or on your backpack during the day. So literally:
o Two pairs of pants – I had ¾ tights from Lululemon. Walking shorts or cutoffs where also worn by others.
o Two tops – I had one singlet from Lululemon and one basic tank from ASOS
o Two sets of undies / bras
o Something to sleep in – I had light PJs!
o Two pairs of socks – it is worth having good quality socks with padding to help ward against blisters
o A light jumper and a wool jumper
o I also packed a light raincoat from Lululemon and a more waterproof one from Kathmandu as when I walked it was a bit rainy but not always rainy enough to warrant the full waterproof one and I get hot so the lighter one was ideal.
Walking shoes, boots, or sports sandals
I have good ankles and it was good weather so I wore my Nike Frees. I hate hiking boots and get hot feet so I was happy to take the risk of rolling my ankle – which never happened! To be honest, they were fine and it meant I was agile and didn’t find any difficulty wearing them, but obviously this is up to each persons needs, what time of year it is etc. Most of the path’s terrain is well established and even which made it not so bad.
I carried jandles / thongs / Havianas for wearing around the albergue to give my feet some air.
Beware: Tan lines and blisters!
Note: Bad quality socks can lead to them wearing out fast and also cause blisters! These will heel / go away in a month or so though, so if you can’t help it then don’t worry! My cure was Bali ^__^.
The bare essentials to prevent you from feeling gross: toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, a bar of soap, a bar of soap for washing clothes, painkillers, plasters, Vaseline, moisturizer, sunscreen, shampoo – I didn’t even use conditioner. As few as possible! The only make up I bought was lip-gloss, bronzer, mascara and eyeliner as there are some big cities where I wanted to go out in. Also.. another handy extra is safety pins for pinning clothing to your backpack while it dries.
Ideally with Spotify / music on it and headphones!
A small bag or bum bag
I carried a little bag full of my credit cards, money, passports etc. so I could dump my big pack at the albergue when I was looking around the towns / cities.
Some people had a full size and a face size, I coped with only having a full size one. Absolutely don’t carry a cotton towel as they take far too long to dry and are heavy. You can pin / tie this to your backpack to dry during the day.
Obviously as light as possible but depends on time of year you go. In summer some people get away with sleeping bag inserts. Most albergues also provide blankets but I found this essential. Albergues don’t always have the nicest linen, so it is good to have you own sleeping gear!
Earplugs & sleeping mask
Good quality earplugs and black out sleeping mask helps so so much when people are turning on lights, coming in late or waking up earlier than you.
Food, water & money
So although there are plenty of stops along the way sometimes there is quite a bit of distance between towns. I liked to have snacks such as fruit, dark chocolate, bread and muesli on be at all times just in case. Water in a 1-2 litre drink bottle – you don’t want it too big as it is heavy but you don’t want to be dehydrated either!
Zip lock bags / packing cells
Stay organised and make things easy for yourself by purchasing some packing cells / cubes. I got mine from Kathmandu and that meant I could get away with a top opening backpack. It also meant things were fast and easy to take in and our of my bag without taking everything out and packing each time. Zip lock bags come in handy for small amenities, carrying lip lock muesli or dirty clothes.
Walking sticks? (optional)
I didn’t have those walking stick things.. But lots of people did. I personally think it is better to let your body muscle build up without them as you will get fitter quicker and it will make the overall journey easier. That said, if you get injured or are older, these do take the weight off your legs and enable your arms to propel you along. To me, they were just another thing to carry so I didn’t want them.
You won’t need..
Leave your hair dryer, straightener and anything else ridiculous at home. You’re in Camino territory now, let it all loose and enjoy the freedom; everyone else is in the same boat! If you really need to look good for a dinner at Santiago or something, just go to a hairdresser for a €10 blow wave. Basically I put my hair in two braids every morning because it is so thick and unruly and this meant I could get away with no straightening. You’ll be surprised just how beautiful you are naturally.. trust me. Also.. the tanning, being outside and having not much access to junk food all does wonders for the skin.[line]
Do I need a tent or cooking equipment on the Camino?
Not really… some people camped to save money or for other reasons so they carried full camping equipment and found places to pitch each night. I would recommend investing in lightweight stuff if this is the case, but generally this is more expensive so perhaps a moot point. Most albergues have adequate cooking facilities or as mentioned, restaurants are cheap enough to eat at.[line]
But I don’t wanna carry all my stuff ☹
Yeah.. I get that.. If you’re a pussy, injured, old or lazy there are shuttle services that carry your luggage each day meaning you can walk with only a daypack of food, water, sunscreen etc. Obviously you will need to plan where you are going and stick to it ahead of time and pay the costs. This is a good option if you need to keep walking but are injured and need to give your body a rest. A good guide is here.
The Camino is only part of my travels.. What do I do with the rest of my things?
I was lucky as I have grandparents who live an hour away from Santiago in A Coruna so I couriered my original 65litre Kathmandu backpack to them there. It wasn’t that expensive, less than 100Euro. If you’re not as lucky as me, you can send your excess luggage to either a Correo (post office) for 15 days, or to Santiago for up to 60 days. There are usually good rates for Pilgrims if you show your passport. More info on luggage forwarding here.
Even after sending stuff back to my grandparents, my bag was actually still too heavy at approx. 11kg. So I stopped at another correo about 12 days in and I couriered 3kg of inappropriate things, including my laptop, to my grandmother’s house in A Coruna. I had to let go of the fact that blogging during this time was impossible!!![line]
- Backpack - waterproof or has a waterproof cover.
- 2 sets of clothes
- Two pairs of pants / walking shorts
- Two tops / tanks / t-shirts
- Two sets of undies / bras
- Two pairs of good quality socks
- Something to sleep in – I had light PJs!
- A light jumper and a wool jumper
- Light raincoat
- Walking shoes, boots, or sports sandals
- Casual shoes or jandles / thongs / Havianas
- Simple amenities
- A bar of soap or body wash
- A bar of soap for washing clothes
- Smart Phone with Spotify / music on it and headphones
- A small bag or bum bag
- Pilgrims passport
- Microfiber towel
- Lightweight sleeping bag
- Sleeping mask
- Food & water
- Packing cells
- Ziplock bags
- Pack everything neatly into the packing cells. I put like things with each other so I always knew where everything was.
- Pack cells into your backpack.
- Ideally your final packed backpack is only 10% of your body weight.
- Decorate with a shell purchased or found on the Camino.
- Bien Camino!
Getting to the end – what do now and why you should go to the end of the world. Find out why you should walk an extra 180km to see both Finisterre, previously thought to be the end of the world, as well as Muxia. These quaint sea-side villages are a beautiful way to end your Camino.