Choose your route stage and time of year
Once you have decided which route to take, you can choose what stage to begin on the selected route based on your fitness level and the amount of time you have. There are 31 stages on the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. The first few stages cross the Pyrenees Mountains, with a steep and treacherous climb, starting from at 594 feet elevation in St. Jean to a peak of 4,719 feet at Collado de Lepoeder. 1 You may decide to tackle this rugged terrain for a week, then take a relaxing break in the seaside resort of San Sebastián. Perhaps you will skip the challenging crossing of the Pyrenees completely and begin the Camino Francés in Pamplona at Stage 4. There are as many unique itineraries as there are pilgrims, and the length and pace are up to each individual. If you rush through the journey on a tight timetable, you might miss some of the scenic beauty that northern Spain offers, or end the journey without time to contemplate your personal reasons for doing such a pilgrimage.
Another important factor in planning is to decide the total amount of time you have to take your journey. To walk the classic Camino Frances route from St. Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela, most people require between 4-6 weeks, however, the time needed depends on your daily mileage and whether you take any rest days.2 You might also want to allow time for serendipity. For example, you might make new friends who know about a Cider festival in the Asturias region that is a just a short bus detour away from your route. You may wish to take a day trip to see a museum or special concert. Or you might simply want to stay in a bigger city for a few days to be a tourist, dance at a nightclub, or indulge in a private room to take a relaxing hot bath to renew your body. There are no strict rules that dictate pilgrims must complete a route all in one trip. In fact, you can do a stage of a route in less than one week, and return each year to continue through to Santiago. Everyone is on their own journey on the Camino. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado once wrote, “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” which means, “Traveler, there is no path, you make the path as you go.”
You will also want to consider the time of year to go based on your preferences for weather and crowds. Winter may be a challenge with rain while summer will be hot and sunny, and will have more crowds competing for accommodations. Spring and fall seasons have become more popular to avoid both bad weather and huge crowds, but Spain has many popular festivals throughout the year to be aware of, such as Labour Day on May 1st and Fiesta Nacional de España on October 11th. Expect more Spanish nationals to be taking long weekends on these holidays and plan ahead so that you will be able to find a bed at the end of a day of walking.
Peregrinos, do you have a favorite stage or time of year to walk the Camino?
Up next, Camino symbols and history – Part 4 of this series.