The Camino de Santiago was one of the most amazing experiences in my life, and one I wholeheartedly recommend. However, there are still a few things which I definitely would have liked to have known before I left. So, here are the things I wish I knew before I cycled the Camino de Santiago:
Things to know before the Camino de Santiago
1. Albergues get full fast
There might be a lot of albergues on the Camino de Santiago, but there are a lot more pilgrims (Albergues are the pilgrim hostel, roughly €5-10 a night). This means that these hostels fill up very quickly, with some being full as early as 3pm. You should wake up early (6-7am) to beat the crowd and make sure you bag yourself a spot in these highly sought after refuges. This is even more important if you are doing a lesser known trail (e.g. Camino Norte or Camino Primitivo) where these hostel are few and far between. We learned this the hard way and often ended up coughing up to €25 euros each for a shared room because we were too late to the albergue.
2. There are a separate walking and cycling routes
If you’re walking and riding then this doesn’t really apply to you, but if you’re cycling the READ CAREFULLY. At some parts of the Camino de Santiago (mostly the steep bits), there is a separate route for cyclists. This route is mostly on the side roads near the original path, but it saves a lot of effort. Many a time did my friend and I spend hours pushing our bikes up ridiculously steep tracks when we could have just taken the road around it. I know that it seems this is against the point of the Camino, but there are some parts where it really is not advisable to try to take a bike up.
3. Travel light
Too many people think that the Camino de Santiago is like some uncharted wilderness expedition, where they need to pack everything they own into a monster 70l pack. This is not the case. Anything you suddenly might need, you’ll be able to buy out there. I lost my solar panel in the middle of a forest, but I was able to pick one up from a nearby service station within 10 minutes. You will make the trip a lot more enjoyable if you pack as light as possible. Put all of your clothes and money on your bed before you go, then remove half the clothes and double the cash. To be honest with you, all the pilgrims smell pretty whiffy, so they’re not going to notice if you’ve worn the same shirt for the last week! For cyclists, I recommend bike packing bags, not panniers. You can check out What Gear I Took on the Camino de Santiago.
4. Maybe even camp
This is a bit of an odd one, but it relates to number 1 and could have been very useful. Although it can be nice to arrive early at your albergue, and take the whole afternoon to wander around the village, sometimes you just want to power on. A few times we felt restricted by the fact that we had to stop around 4 o’clock every day. When you get into a good rhythm cycling, it can be one of the best feelings in the world, and having to cut that short is tedious. Even though the social aspect of albergues is great, it would have added a nice change to the trip if we camped a few of the nights. We actually met a German pilgrim in Ribadeo who had a tent with him. When we arrived at the albergue and found it full, he just pitched his tent in the garden! He did say that carrying camping equipment was very heavy, so you’d have to take in that negative aspect.
5. You can’t travel U18
This probably doesn’t apply to you, but being both 17 when we did the trip, it definitely applied to us. Basically, it turns out you can’t travel by yourself in Spain if you’re under the age of 18. We found this out when a hotel manager (of a place we tried to get a room at) called the police on us. The police then proceeded to track us down to the restaurant we were eating at and confront us. At first, we thought this was pretty cool, but as soon as they mentioned the word “deportation”, it wasn’t that funny anymore. We were interviewed the next day at the police station, and after an hour os sweet talking from my friend Chalk, we were let free.
6. Bring bruise cream!!
You get bruises everywhere. Literally everywhere. Not much else to say. And if you’re a cyclist then you get a lot of them around the “you know where” area. Bruise cream would have helped a lot. We didn’t have any and we survived to tell the tale. But, the tale might have been a little less sore if we did have some.
7. Don’t worry about deadlines
When we were flying into Spain we decided to plan our route, including the places we’d stay and the number of miles we’d cover every day. However, on the first day, things didn’t quite go to plan and we ended up covering a lot less than we hoped too. This annoyed (and worried us!) at the time, but looking back it didn’t really matter. We ended up staying at this great little albergue in a nearby fishing village and visited this massive castle; we would never have done these things if we hadn’t messed up. Furthermore, on the last few days we almost doubled our mileage and ended up completing the trail a day and a half early! Changes will be made to your route, but don’t worry because it’ll make it a lot more exciting.
If you’d like to read the full story of my trip, check out How I Cycled the Camino de Santiago