The first time I walked the Camino De Santiago was in August 2017. Fast forward 6 years, and I was able to walk a section of it with my best friend! Translated, the Camino De Santiago is “The way (or the walk) of St. James.” It’s s a network of pilgrims’ ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition holds that the remains of the apostle are buried. There are dozens of different routes, but in 1993 “The French Way” was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There is something special about walking miles and miles. To explain it all in a blog post is nearly impossible, but I’m here to try it (lol).

photo of crysahna under signs that point every direction.

Important Terms to Know!

  • Pilgrim: Anyone who walks the Way of St. James pilgrimage is called a pilgrim or peregrino/a in Spanish.
  • Pilgrim Passport: also called a credential, this is the official document for walking the Camino de Santiago. You’ll carry this with you to prove you accomplished the pilgrimage on foot.
  • Albergue: a pilgrim’s hostel. These hostels are set up all along the various Camino de Santiago routes to accommodate pilgrims’ needs. They usually have multiple rooms filled with bunk beds. Pilgrims can book one night’s stay in a bunk and use all the Albergue facilities by showing their pilgrim’s passport.
  • Scallop Shell: The main symbol of the Camino; All the lines on it converge at the end representing the idea that pilgrims travel different routes from all over the world. But, all the trails lead to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. It also is a symbol used to navigate through towns and villages!
  • Pilgrim’s Menu: Each evening, you can order a three-course Pilgrims Menu (Menú del Peregrino) at various restaurants along the Camino. Usually, they consist of a starter, main, dessert, bread, and wine.
  • “¡Buen Camino!”: This is the one sentence you will always remember. It is the meet and greet between pilgrims, and between pilgrims and locals.
Symbol of the Camino De Santiago: Scallop shell with arrow pointing to correct direction to walk

Who Walks The Camino De Santiago?

Anyone can walk The Camino De Santiago. There are also options to ride a bike or horseback ride the routes! Although The Camino De Santiago is traditionally a religious pilgrimage, it doesn’t have to be. I’ve met people from all walks of life on the Camino: pastors, families, atheists, those grieving, teachers, students, individuals going through tough times, individuals living the best years of their life… the list goes on. Anyone who has the ability to walk can walk The Camino De Santiago.

I chose to walk with my best friend, Joanna. We planned to walk the entire thing back in 2020, but then the world shut down and life changed. We both got new jobs, moved, and had a lot of life happen. Because of all of this, walking the whole thing in one go was not an option. We decided to cut The Camino De Santiago up into smaller chunks. Finally, we were able to plan out a week to walk the first 154km of the way.

cafe con leche and orange juice

Why The Camino De Santiago?

When I walked my first section of the Camino, the goal was to get from Pamplona to Burgos. Unfortunately, I broke my foot a few days into the walk and was unable to complete the task. Even though I injured myself, I was captivated by the magic of the Camino. There are thousands of people who walk The Camino every year, and I wanted another chance to not only walk across an entire country but to meet people from all over the world

There is a certain culture that exists on the Camino. As my Italian friend Diego said, “The Camino is not real life, but maybe if we are lucky it will have a good impact on our real life.” That is something profound, and I believe Diego is right. Walking the Camino is a step away from everyday life. It gives us an opportunity to change perspectives.

two friends on the spanish/french boarder while walking the camino de santiago

Where does the Camino de Santiago start?

There is no singular starting place for the Camino. There are many different routes, and there are many different starting points. The most popular however is the Camino Frances. This route is also the longest so many pilgrims will start at various points throughout this route. Sarria is one of the top starting points. This is because it is only 100km from Sarria to Santiago. I started my Camino from St. Jean-Pied-De-Port, France. This is another popular starting point. I chose this because my goal is to walk the entire Camino Francis at some point in my life.

Other Camino routes include the Camino Portugués, Camino del Norte, Camino Inglés, and more! All of these have various levels of difficulty and scenery. Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to walk other routes someday too!

My Experience

The Daily Routine

Every day looked pretty similar when walking The Camino De Santiago. Wake up, walk, stop to eat a snack, walk, break, walk, walk some more, and eventually get to that evening’s Albergue. Take a shower, do laundry, eat, drink sangria, sleep. Repeat that again, day after day.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun when written out on paper, but it is! Sometimes walking gets boring, and I got a lot of blisters from walking. But, when you walk, you get to have conversations with strangers. And, those strangers eventually become friends with inside jokes. Those friends become part of this small community, and seeing them at the end of the day is exciting.

man meditating in the wheat field

Daily Walks

Even though the daily routine stays the same, the experience is different. My first day was full of mountains and a lot of incredible views. There were herds of sheep, cows, goats, and horses. The route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles was easily the pretties day. It was also the most physically exhausting. Most of our day was uphill, but the views were worth it!

Pamplona wine

Journal Snippets

I tried to write out a beautiful story of my experience, but it didn’t feel authentic. So, here are a few of my journal entries.

Wine fountain on the camino de santiago

Day 1…

Favorite things of today: The cowbells are so sweet and relaxing, The misty mountain morning , Stopping for breakfast, Allll the animals

My least favorites: My feet hurt and my hip is a b*tch, We got a little off-trail somehow but that’s ok. Around a total of 17 miles. Hope my hip is ok for 6 more days

Day 2…

Things I loved: Country music at the place with 2nd breakfast, A whole family (young kids included) walking the Camino

Things I don’t like: My feet I feel angry… guess I’ll ponder why while walking tomorrow

Dinner at our Albergue was Devine. Not so much because of the food (even though that was fun) but the people. Everyone from all over the world with different native languages is genuinely interested in learning about each other. Irish, Columbian, Korean and 3 French teacher friends. We laughed and drank the night away. They’re all so kind and I’m happy I was able to meet them.

Day 3…

Things I loved: The cutest squish-faced mangy cat went away before I could get a picture, Tapas in Pamplona were so good.

Things I don’t like: Joanna is sick, Worst Airbnb experience.

Day 4…

Started out good for me physically but ended in a really sore ankle.

Things I liked: Wheat fields.. reminded me of Grandpa. What a sweet memory. The first town had good croissants, I really loved recreating the pic from the World Race

Generally enjoyed the first bit and did feel tired until the sun came out

Thinks I didn’t like: How expensive dinner was… €20, Leaving at 7… I wish we could leave early at least one day, Shitty Wi-Fi at Albergue. I really wanted to talk to Allen 

Camino Food truck

Day 5…

Things I like: Picking off fresh green grapes and blackberries, petting dogs at a rest stop, getting to practice mindfulness, showering, shade, the breeze, talking to friends, rest stops

Things I don’t like: Walking everywhere is getting mundane, the heat, the ankle is struggling, blisters 

Day 6…

Things I like: Feeding the goat, the cake at breakfast was one of the better ones I’ve had, taking a nice fat nap

Things I don’t like: My ankle is not ok

Day 7…

I decided to take the bus on the last day. My ankle is swollen, and I don’t know why.

There is this weird part of me that feels like I should be angry at myself, but the more I think about it the more it doesn’t make sense to be angry at myself. Why does it matter that I did not walk the last day? Allen will still love me, Joanna understands and has people to spend her day with, and my friends back home will still think I’m cool (friends thinking I’m cool isn’t the point, anyways)

I can just say 80-something miles in 6 days instead of 90-something in 7. That’s still cool. That is still an accomplishment…

So I took the bus on the last day. I still did the thing, and I’ll come back and do some more of the thing. Taking the bus isn’t shameful and a lot of pilgrims do it. It’s not a problem to do that. What would be a problem would be to take it every single day because I didn’t want the discomfort of walking.

I think that’s where I question myself.. are my knee and ankle actually hurting or am I making it out to be worse than it is because I wanted an excuse to take the bus? That’s where I’m getting caught up in second-guessing my decision. 

Maybe I am a fake who exaggerates pain and looks for excuses to get out of hard things, and maybe that’s a lie I need to learn how to recognize. I’m not sure, but I do know I wish my body was more resilient and able to push through like the hundreds of other people out there.

walking the camino

What Did I learn?

As you can tell from those snippets, there were a lot of things going on. My feet were hurting, and I found a lot of joy in the small things. The Camino may not be for everyone, but I will leave with this final thought:

The Camino is more than a long long walk, it is knowing your body and resting when it tells you too. It’s new friends that you’re not going to see again when it is over, but for those few days, those friends are everything. It’s both mundane and exciting, it’s beautiful and frustrating. I cannot wait to go back and walk again. I cannot wait to make new friends and have the same (but also different) experience again.

Until next time,

Buen Camino!

family walking camino

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