What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage through the North of Spain that has been walked for over a thousand years. It is said that relics of St. James, an apostle of Jesus Christ, have been buried in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. So for over a millennia, kings, queens, priests, and people of all ages have left their home and possessions to walk the Camino. The most popular way to reach Santiago is near the French/Spanish border, starting from St. Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles, and arriving in Santiago in roughly 30 days. At the very end of the journey you get a Compostela, a certificate of completion. Some people continue from there to the sea, to get a beautiful view of the sunset over the water.

You can travel this pilgrimage on nearly any budget you can stay albergues, camp or stay in 5-star hotels if you want to. You can travel by yourself, or as part of a caravan.  You can eat out every meal, or you can cook your own if you like. However you want to walk it, there’s a way!

I walked the Camino a few months ago, and here are 8 things to expect about the journey from my experience:

1. Albergues

Albergues | Michaela Thomas

These albergues are dorm rooms that sleep usually anywhere from 4-100 persons.  They range in price from donation to roughly 12 Euros/night. Some of these places are inside of an Abbey, or on the side of a church. Some are a part of somebody’s home, others are a government run. Other places will charge more for private rooms, and are kind of like hotels. Some places have beds, others, you sleep on mats on the floor.  Sleeping in these rooms are crazy, but you meet a lot of people this way, and what’s better is that you will be following many people you meet along the whole Camino. The albergues are a place where your friendships can deepen, Spirituality can grow, and where the wine can flow!  Just get ready for an “orchestra of snores” at night and a lingering subtle fear of bedbugs.

2. Waking up early

Walking up | Ryan Bramhall

This is something I’m not very good at usually, but waking up early is a usual along the Camino. I didn’t always wake up early, but my favorite time to wake up was well before sunrise; I’d pack my bag, make a breakfast, have a quick cup of coffee, and then walk in the dark guided entirely by the light of the moon and stars. There’s an air of peace at that time of the day and I reveled in it; walking through the mountains entirely alone made me feel so alive. The brisk air on my face mixed with seeing the sun begin to peak outside the mountains, not a person to be seen anywhere, just you and nature.  Honestly, there’s nothing like it – it was so special.

3. The locals

The locals | Ryan Bramhall

The locals, especially in the villages, were so helpful along the way. They will often talk to you whether or not you know Spanish, and can help guide you if you’re lost. I can only speak minimal Spanish, but I once had some woman beckon me over, and just talked to me for a while. Even when you can’t speak the language, you’d be amazed at how much can be communicated through eyes, smiles and gestures. Another local handed me grapes and some other fruit while I was walking by in the hot sun, a nice way to replenish. Another local gave me a hiking stick he had made just for pilgrims right after I had lost mine. There’s a saying along the Camino that really runs true: the Camino always provides.

4. The Camino always provides

Camino provides | Ryan Bramhall

This brings me to my next point: the Camino always provides. Everyone on the Camino helps others in need. You’ll find if you don’t have something, somebody will have it.  Forgot to pack a needle and thread for a blister that’s killing you? The Camino provides. Need money because you’re out of cash and haven’t seen an ATM in days? The Camino provides. Lost and need directions? The Camino provides. Really, in most cases, if you ask people, you will soon see for yourself –  the Camino provides. But this rule, of course, applies to you too –  you’ll find that someone is missing sunscreen and you have some, you lend it out! Someone needs shampoo? Send it out! This kind of communal energy of the Camino is some of what makes it so special.

5. Conversations with people

Conversations | Ned Reinschell

You have so much time along the way. One of the best things is the conversations with new friends you meet along the way. Walking can naturally bring out depth in our conversations, and you’ll find people really want to listen and help if they can. We’re all walking for one reason or another so talking is the perfect way to just jump into deep conversation – life, politics, personal growth, anything! These conversations can help guide you on your walk to things you can learn about yourself.

6. Walking into random churches

Church | Ryan Bramhall

Though anyone can walk the Camino, it is historically a Christian pilgrimage, so there are churches everywhere. Many of these churches are extraordinary in their size and design. You can usually see the church’s peak far off, as it’s many times the tallest building around. Seeing the church in the distance like a greeting, a poetic welcome into the town.

7. Being out in nature

Nature | Ryan Bramhall

This is one of my favorite aspects of this walk – you’re outside for it. Rain or shine, you are walking and connecting with nature for an extended period of time. This reconnection with nature is great for healing, for growing, for learning, for listening.  While navigating the trail outside, you will find you will begin to navigate the trail inside.

8. Time to reset your life

Reset | Ryan Bramhall

The truth is, thirty days away from your regular routine is a proper break from everything! And accompanied by so many beautiful views, people, culture, nature, while challenging and pushing yourself, you can’t help but view your life’s direction. You start thinking about your life’s positives, its negatives, what’s working, what’s not. This is the deep spiritual part. People walk this Camino for so many different reasons, but nearly everyone has a reason. Get ready, because if you let it, the Camino can be a way to help you re-organize your life. And you can take that re-organization and put it to practice.  Because when you reach Santiago, though you may be done with the Camino, now you’re on the Camino of Life.

It’s difficult to convey in words just how special the Camino is.  Reading about it is nothing like experiencing it. If you ever have any questions, thinking about doing it, or have walked it before, feel free to email me at ryan.bramhall@gmail.com. I’d be happy to give advice or reminisce over wonderful memories.