Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Photo credit:  Tour Spain
If you are concerned about overcrowding on the camino next year, you could book all, or some of your rooms ahead of time.  You can do it yourself, via a hotel chain website, or through a tour operator.
Many tour operators that normally only provide complete packages – guided or non-guided tours, luggage transfer, accommodation and food on the camino trails – are prepared to help pilgrims in 2010 by offering to book their accommodation on the camino. Regular package services are also available. (For a more comprehensive list of tour operators, including art tours, coach tours, cycle, fly-drive-paradors etc., visit the CSJ of UK website here. )

Here are a few operators that you can contact to book all or some of your accommodation for you next year:


Camino Travel Centre

The Camino Travel Centre in Santiago will help you book rooms along your camino route and can help with reserving bus, train or flight tickets. They also provide 60 days storage facilities for excess baggage. You can contact them at: or or visit their website at:

Follow The Camino

They specialise in walking and cycling holidays along the many different routes of the Way of St James. They select hotels and guesthouses based on their comfort, character, facilities and convenience to the Camino. For further information, you can contact them by phone on +353 1 443 3972 or by email See website for information on our trips, news and special offers:

Fresco Tours:

They have been working on the Camino since 1999 and are very familiar with all the hotels and providers along the trail. They would be delighted to assist any pilgrims with their travel needs! For more information on their scheduled, full service guided tours of the Camino, please contact them:

Frontier Holidays:

Guiding and helping folk to independently walk the Camino for a decade. Affordable family run accommodation. Luggage transfers, maps, route notes and useful tips. Tailor made self guided and Guided holidays can be seen at:

Iberian Adventures:

They provide an accommodation booking service, as well as help planning itineraries, arranging transfer of luggage from overnight stop to overnight stop or even taxis to get to and from lodgings if need be. They can arrange a range of accommodations, from some private albergues all the way up to the most luxurious lodgings available along the way.

Outdoor Travel Pty Ltd
Australian based walking holiday travel specialists Outdoor Travel Pty Ltd has been helping pilgrims, walkers or cyclists to secure accommodation & assistance with luggage transfers on the Camino for over 8-years. The staff have experienced the Camino first hand and offer several routes from Le Puy in France to Santiago (the French route), the Camino Portuguese, the Primitivo & Norte & the route to Finisterre.  For information & assistance see the website or email :  You can also call to talk to them personally on +61 (03) 57501441.
Spanish Adventures:

Camino de Santiago, Self guided. I am an Australian living in Santiago de Compostela and have been working as a guide on the Camino since early 2003. As well as guided trips, I offer self guided trips on the various caminos, organizing your accommodation (with dinners usually provided in the smaller towns), and bag transfers so you only need to carry a small day pack. Stages are worked out according to your requirements and experience, and accommodation is selected according to your budget, in general using good quality local accommodation. I provide maps and suggestions on places for lunches and coffee breaks, and labels for your bags each day to ensure your bags arrive at your accommodation. See my website for more info. Contact Garry at

Totally Spain

Totally Spain is an established and reputable Spain Travel Agent dedicated to planning and organising quality, customised travel and tours in Spain for independent travellers and groups since 1999.
We provide an accommodation booking service along the camino in hotels and B&B´s.

Iacobus Bono (In Galicia)
A tourist service designed specifically for the Camino de Santiago spending each night in a different rural home. The price includes accommodation, dinners, breakfasts and car transportation from the rural settlements to the beginning and end of each stage. Also available, as an optional service, is a picnic lunch, luggage transfer and accommodation in Santiago de Compostela.
All cottages cooperating in Iacobus Bonus offer excellent accommodation with a family welcome and outstanding gastronomy, and are very close to the points of arrival of each stage. The Bono Iacobus can be purchased throughout the year except during the month of August and Easter.


Turespana’s Guide to Accommodation:

In 2004 the tourism institute of Spain - Turespana - published an official guide of hostals, pensions, hotels, and camping sites on the Camino called "Guia Oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago". It is available in French, German, Spanish and English and lists all accommodation authorized by the appropriate municipal and national tourism authorities. Obtainable free of charge in any tourist office or from TOURSPAIN :  E-mail:

Top Tour of Spain
Their website provides a link to inns, hostels, pensions, hotels, paradors, monasteries and apartments, which they believe offer the best rates going.

Hotel Asturias: 
Visit our website for making reservations on the Internet for all our hotels with the best price available, because there is no middleman and we don't charge a commission. This may be very useful for all pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela this year, especially as many of our hotels have launched special rates and services for pilgrims. 

Find accommodation in Guide books:

The CSJ (Confraternity of St James) in the UK sells excellent, annually up-dated Pilgrim Guides for all the routes, which are good value at ± £5 and light enough to carry:

A more comprehensive guide to the Camino Frances, Caminho Portugues and Fininsterre routes are the John Brierley guides. Available online at and through Amazon.

These and other guide books offer names and contact details for ‘other accommodation’ in the towns and villages including inns, hotels, casa rurals etc.

Camino websites with lists of alternative accommodation:   In German but with lots of accommodation on the camino Frances.  Click on Lodging Links to hotels in all regions

Lists of Albergues

Private albergues  (Many private albergues can also be booked in advanced)
Free, download leaflet with all the albergues on the Camino Frances including the Private albergues that can be reserved ahead.  One can also have baggage transported to most of the private albergues.

If any of these companies do not offer to book beds ahead, please let me know so that I can remove their details from this post.
Disclaimer:  I do not endorse, nor am I in any way connected with the companies listed above.  This post is merely a resource for people who might want to reserve some or all of their accommodation next year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


A year ago, I wrote a post titled 'Back to the Past' where I challenged the idea that the camino was being spoiled by becoming too popular. 

The road to Santiago was one of the most popular Christian pilgrimage destinations for hundreds of years. It suffered during the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, the Napoleonic Wars and after the industrial revolution. It is now slowly clawing its way back to its former glory years.

El Pais reports that the camino is returning more and more to its medieval past and villages, towns, municipalities and individuals are vying for a slice of the lucrative pilgrimage pie. (This post is a translation of that article with a few comments by me in brackets).

"We take bags to the next hostel for two euros," reads a sign on the door of a bar in Triacastela.

In another block nearby, the owner has removed his animals and has replaced them with a half-dozen vending machines offering sandwiches and hot coffee and dressings for blisters.

Sarria, in Lugo, now holds the record in Galicia with 8 pilgrim refuges  (not quite as many as the 32 shelters that once floursihed in Burgos)

Some places will charge you $5 for a breakfast of muffins packed in industiral plastic or $25 to sleep in a room in a private home, and you will be grateful because 500 people seeking to stay in a village of 100 inhabitants is common, especially in summer.

The rise of the pilgrimage to Compostela has brought back a new golden age to the Camino de Santiago and, as it did in the Middle Ages, the populations through which it transits are being transformed.

As there was in the past, there is a big fuss about this opportunism.
As far back as 1133 the authorities of Compostela admonished traders after finding pilgrim money was being paid over to residents. A few years later, the bishop instructed Gelmírez to channel water to a source in the northern facade of the cathedral to stop the greed of the landlords who attempted to charge pilgrims for water.

Yellow Arrows
Today the signs of the French Way are well established, but at the beginning of this boom there were some who diverted the yellow arrows so that the  'Jacobean Mana' would pass the front door of their bar or hotel.
The truth is that there are more people wandering in the wilds of the steppes of Castile, with unique names such as El Burgo Ranero or Hermanillos Calzadilla, than there are people entering the route to Santiago on the National Road.
In Rabanal del Camino, a tiny town in the mountains of Leon, there are four hostels for pilgrims, two hotels and a country house.
Take the paradigmatic case of Foncebadón, a town of Leon abandoned and in disrepair for at least a century, which has already opened three shelters, an inn and a restaurant with a medieval letter.
All this has resulted in extra comfort for the pilgrim. A few years ago the daily walking itinerary had to be carefully planned because the stages were far apart and places to eat and stay overnight were scarce. Today, the number of pilgrim hostels scattered throughout the French Way numbers 254.

If there is anything that identifies the Camino de Santiago and makes it unlike any other route it is the hiker's world of exclusive network of shelters for pilgrims. This is a legacy of that tradition of hospitality which allowed medieval travelers to get around the world.  Only those pilgrims on foot, bicycle or horse who hold the credential of a pilgrim (a kind of passport issued by churches, associations and even their own shelters) allowing them to sleep in these shelters.  Authenticated by the owners of the shelter they avoid being overun by sneak vacationers in search of cheaper accommodation.

But even here the road has changed. The shelters started off being managed by the Church, municipalities and associations of Friends of the Way and were mainly 'donativo.   But there are very few donativo left shelters and some pilgrims even take advantage of the donation box (and leave nothing for its upkeep).
Like the sign put up by a priest (in Granon) which says "Pilgrim, give what you can, take what you need" - these are now just a nostalgic memory. Typically, shelters now vask for a fixed price (three to five euros) except a few honorable cases, such as shelters run by the Federation of Friends of the Camino de Santiago, who remain faithful to the donation system.

Private shelters

Given the massive influx of pilgrims and the shortage of places in these public shelters a new class of establishment has emerged - the private hostel. They are pseudo-shelters with services for the walker, gradually being regulated by law, which offer accommodation in bunk beds, heating, hot water and various services at a fixed price, which typically ranges between seven and ten euros. Most offer the same spirit of welcome to the piglrims, in areas where there was none before, and are good value for money. But there are also those who see pilgrims as business travelers, without room for hospitality. A private hostel in Hospital de Órbigo denied entry to a pilgrim at seven pm on a winter's night because he could not pay the stipulated seven euros.

Compostella or certificate of welcome

Pilgrims who arrived in Santiago and demonstrate by producing the stamped credential that they have completed the last 100 kms on foot (200kms on horseback or by bike) are awarded the Compostela a document of completiton in Latin. The precurser to the Compostela was a scallop shell which could only be purchased in Santiago but a rudimentary certification system of letters of proof evolved over the centuries. With the current flood of heterodoxy, the Church wants to bring back the religious character of the pilgrimage. Now, on arrival at the reception office of the cathedral, the pilgrim is asked about motivation. If you are religious, you are granted the Compostela. If you are otherwise, you are given a certificate of welcome in Spanish.

The yellow arrow

Marking each and every one of the crossings and detours along nearly 800 kms of route with yellow arrows seems impossible. But it has been acheived. It started in the eighties with D. Elias Valiña, parish priest of O Cebreiro who, with a bucket of yellow paint and a brush, painted arrows on the mountain. This was taken up and continued by administrations and volunteers of associations of Friends of the Way. Today you can walk from Roncesvalles to Santiago without fear of getting lost. From the 2004 Jacobean Holy Year detours were etablished to avoid those sections that remained along the side of roads.

Other Routes
All this happens in the most famous French route, the busiest since antiquity. It starts in Roncesvalles (Somport in Aragonese ) and passes through Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and Leon before crossing O Cebreiro into Galicia. But there are many other ways that have improved significantly since the 2004 Xacobeo. Historic routes, used formerley by medieval travelers and now, in the slipstream of the success of French, are being put in use.

Camino Portuguese
Chief among these is the Camino Portuguese where the first yellow arrow is found on the facade of the Cathedral of Lisbon. It is a unique opportunity to learn a different Portugal, on foot or by cycle paths, historic sites and remote villages off limits to those traveling by car. From the Tagus to Lisbon Santarém back and then continues to the great monastery of Tomar, Coimbra, Porto and Vila do Conde, to enter Galicia at Tuy. It is also marked, but has the same shortage of shelters on the Portuguese side as in the last Xacobeo - only three.

Camino del Norte

The next in number of pilgrims, the Camino del Norte, a favorite to do in summer. It starts at Irun and follows the Cantabrian coast, the sea to the right and the green mountains on the left. A delight, passing through San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Oviedo where it divides into two:.  The Coast continues to Gijón, Avilés and Ribadeo, and the Primitivo goes inland to Grandas, Asturias and Lugo. It is very well marked and the number of shelters has grown dramatically since 2004.
Via de la Plata

The Via de la Plata traces several ancient Roman roads that connected with Seville via Astorga, Extremadura and Castilla y Leon. It has also greatly improved its layout and signage since 2004.
The English Way (A Coruña- or Ferrol to Santiago), the Camino de Finisterre, and from Cape Finisterre to visit the Santo Cristo de Fisterra, and the sanctuary of A Barca, in Muxía, the Camino de Alava, the Camino de Madrid, Soria, the Ebro Valley ..

Monday, December 14, 2009

1.25 million pilgrims walking the Camino in the Holy Year?

2010 is the 84th Compostela Holy Year
(or the 118th depending on who you prefer to believe! See: )

If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of people who are planning to walk a camino route next year you might be a little concerned about over-crowding and about the possibility of not finding accommodation.  The heaviest traffic will be in Spain and although there is bound to be an increase in the number of pilgrims on the French routes as well, this post is aimed mainly at those planning to walk the camino routes in Spain.

How many pilgrims will there be?
It has been estimated that 250 000 pilgrims will earn the Compostela next year.  This does not take into account the many, many thousands of pilgrims who will walk parts of the caminos with no intention of reaching Santiago. 
The Sociology department of the Cathedral estimates the number of pilgrims on the Camino at any one time by using the registration in albergues, the data given when the credential is obtained, and other sources, such as the tourist information offices throughout the Camino.  They estimate that only 1-out- of-5 pilgrims actually receives the Compostela.  Theoretically, this means that there could be 1.25 million pilgrims walking a camino next year!!  The biggest headache for the authorities is where to accommodate all the Holy Year pilgrims.

Where will they all sleep?
Most Regions have been busy making plans since the last Holy Year in 2004.  Sports halls will be utilised and tent towns will be erected in busy areas.  The army is being enlisted to help.  Hundreds of thousands of euros are being spent on rehabilitation of paths and on way markers and other signage.  The busiest region will be Galicia where, historically, the largest numbers of pilgrims will start walking in order to earn a Compostela.  Xacobeo has a new Blog which is keeping people informed about preparations in Galicia.
Although most of us prefer to sling our backpack on our backs and start walking, stopping when we are tired, happy to queue up outside an albergue for a bed, this might not work next year. 

2004 Holy Year:

I walked the camino in May/June of the 2004 Holy Year and it was more like celebration than meditation!  The paths were busy, the albergues all had long queues of backpacks lined up outside before mid-day.  The cafe-bars and restaurants were crowded.  There was a vibrant, excited, expectant buzz amongst pilgrims - it was Año Santo, Holy Year, and you could (if you were Catholic) have all your sins forgiven! 
I think the 2010 Holy Year is going to be the closest thing to a medieval pilgrimage Spain has seen since the Reformation.  There are numerous historical accounts of huge numbers of pilgrims on the roads and crowded churches on the way to Spain and in the Cathedral at Santiago.  Pilgrims standing cheek by jowl, jostling for space, fights breaking out and people sleeping in the cathedral. 

Avoid the rush for beds:
One way to avoid the masses and the rush for beds is to pre-book as many rooms as you can ahead of time.  You cannot book beds in the pilgrim shelters run by the church, municipalities or some confraternities, but many private albergues allow pre-booking and there are many fondas (inns) hostales, pensions, casa rurals and hotels along the way.  If you want to do it on your own, you can search the many websites for accommoation, or look up hotels/hostals etc in the guide books.
    In 2004 Turespaña published a booklet called 'Guia oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago."  It is available in French, German, Spanish and English and lists all accommodation authorized by the appropriate municipal and national tourism authorities.  You can obtain the booklet free of charge in any tourist office or from TOURSPAIN, or by E-mail:

    If you think you'll need help:
    The Camino Travel Centre in Santiago will help you book rooms along your camino route and can help with reserving bus, train or flight tickets. They also store extra baggage for up to 60 days.  For hotels in larger cities they book through their booking service and are paid a commission by the hotels but for small pensions and casa ruralsa (not available through the booking services) they charge you a small booking fee.  You can contact Frank or Ivar at:  or

    Booking ahead might be the answer to avoiding the Holy Year crowds.  Not only will you have peace of mind - knowing that you have a bed waiting for you at the end of the day - you won't have to join the rush for beds in the morning, you can start walking after a leisurely breakfast, sightsee on the way and take your time getting to the next stop.  And, you can bet that there will be hundreds of pilgrims doing the same thing so you won't be alone in the hotels at the end of the day.

    Camino Frances:

    This will be the busiest route.  If you are planning to start at St Jean Pied de Port - but don't want to book all your rooms in advance - it might be wise to at least book a bed in St Jean Pied de Port - Esprit du Chemin is a lovely albergue  
    For B&B's, Chambres and Gites go to:
    The first few days of this route will be extremely busy and even in May 2002 I had to sleep on the floor in Larasoana because all the beds were taken by early afternoon.
    You can book a bed at Orisson, about 10km from St Jean Pied de Port
    Many pilgrims start in Roncesvalles so chances are it will be choc-a-block by the time you get there. You could book a bed at the 'Posada de Roncesvalles'.  We sent them a fax and our beds were confirmed by return fax.

    In Larasoana you could stay at the Pension del Peregrino -  There are dozens of small pensions and hotels in Pamplona. 

    Private albergues

    Red Albergues is a "network of private hostels on the Camino de Santiago": a non-profit organization founded December 8, 2001. Its aims as follows:
    • Developing proposals to the various administrations to create a uniform legal framework for the Pilgrims' Hostel of the Ways of Santiago.
    • Defend the rights of Pilgrim Hostels, especially the private hostels.
    • Advice for people who want to create a private Pilgrims' Hostel.
    • Hospitaleros training and preparation of volunteers.
    • Formulation of proposals on the location of new shelters and their characteristics.
    • Promotion of cultural activities related to the Camino de Santiago.
    • Collaboration with guilds, associations and public or private entities of similar purpose.
    You can download a list of private albergues for the Camino Frances on the Red Albergues website here :  and here:  
    The brochure includes some email and web addresses as well as names of transport companies that will transport your baggage for you between albergues. You will need a 'credencial' (pilgrims' passport) to stay in any of the albergues - be they church, municipal or private.  Many of the private albergues can be pre-booked and you can have luggage transported to them by taxi or transport company.
    Booking into private albergues might be the best thing for cycling pilgrims who traditionally have to wait until quite late to get a spot in an albergue. 

    Another organisation that will cart your backpacks, post stuff ahead, provide support to cyclist etc is Jacotrans: 

    A credencial is a passport to staying in the pilgrim shelters, whether they are church, municipal or private.  You can get a credential at the place where you start - often at the church or the pilgrim albergue - or from your Confraternity before you leave home.

    To earn the Compostela - certificate of completion - you have to walk the LAST 100km of any route to Santiago and profess to having walked the camino for a religious/spiritual reason.
    You do not have to only stay in the pilgrim albergues but you must have the credencial stamped at each place you stay or pass through, at churches, cathedrals, tourist offices, cafe bars, libraries (free Internet) or hotels, police stations etc.
    If you are not religious, you will be given a different certificate.

    25th July:
    If you want to time your arrival into Santiago for the feast day festivities, you should try to get there before the 25th July.  Fesitivities begin the week before and continue for a few days after the Feast Day.  Hundreds of church groups, youth groups, choirs, tours are being planned to be in Santiago on 25th July so do book a bed ahead.  Check the Xacobeo website for 2010 activities.

    The Puerta Santa
    The Holy Door, which gives access to the Cathedral from the Plaza de la Quintana, is opened on 31st December on the eve of each Holy Year, and walled up again a year later.

    Monday, December 07, 2009


    I have updated the post on Santiago Holy Years - you can read it here:

    Did you know that Holy Years only started in the 15th C (according to recent historical research)?

    That in the 16th C "The head of the glorious Apostle is carried around the cathedral on all feast-days in solemn procession."

    That in the Holy Year of 1867 only 40 pilgrims attended the 25th July Mass in the cathedral?

    In the early Middle Ages the 30 December was St James’ Feast day, based on the old Hispanic (Mozarabic) rite.

    In the 11th century King Alfonso VI abolished the Hispanic rite in favour of the Roman rite and 25 July became the principal feast day to commemorate the martyrdom of St. James.

    December 30 was incorporated into the present liturgical calendar as the Feast of the Translation of his relics.

    Although we celebrate his Feast Day on 25th July using the Roman Rite calendar, it was formerly on the 5th August on the Tridentine Rite calendar.