Journey to Santiago de Compostela

Camino, or the journey to Santiago de Compostela, was my dream for two years.
I really wanted to walk to the end of the world—to Cape Finisterre.
And so one day I got up and took that first step…

The main obstacle I had to overcome was fear.
And then also the feeling that I didn’t have the right to go where I want.

Let alone share my experiences from the journey with others…

I overcame it all and so I can give you the courage to:

Step out.
Overcome fear, guilt and shame.
Become one of the millions of pilgrims who have been walking this path for centuries.
Buen camino!

How to prepare for the journey

I have a sedentary job. I go on longer walks about 5–6 times a year. I doubted that I would physically cope with a journey of over 200km.

The first day of the journey was two years after I decided to go on the pilgrimage. I’d spent that time reading books, buying guidebooks, studying posts on discussion forums, talking with those who had done the pilgrimage, and also getting equipment and practising longer hikes.

One of the first specific purchases were telescopic hiking poles. After collapsing them, they can be stowed in an airplane’s cargo compartment. The poles have to be inside your luggage or can be fastened to a rucksack and then the whole thing wrapped in special plastic film. Little rubber caps have to be put on the ends of the poles for transporting them.

With the poles I walked in housing estates and parks, I went to the mountains for the weekend. In the summer before my flight to Spain I drove to the mountains for long hikes with the rucksack on my back and poles in my hands. Thanks to this training, I realised that I was able to walk at most 25km a day, which enabled me to plan my route and choose my starting point.

Alone on the way to Santiago
How to find a partner for the journey?

My partner found me. Even though I set out alone, without planning to I met my fellow pilgrim—my sister soul—right at the first hostel. In the end we walked together every day all the way to Santiago and to this day we think of each other with love and write to each other. In crisis situations such as sore feet, illness, hunger or thirst, complete strangers spontaneously shared whatever was needed: shoes, food, bottles, phones, encouraging words. And strangers soon became our friends. In that the journey is a glimpse of heaven.

On the journey I met parents with very small children, a group of teenage footballers with their twenty-year-old coaches, pensioners from all over the world, dogs with their masters and women wandering alone. Setting out alone was a great decision. I never felt lonely. Many times I experienced a deep feeling of human solidarity, and yet I still had enough space for times of quiet solitude, self-reflection and prayer.

What to take with you on the journey to Santiago?

I was given some advice: Your backpack should weigh at most 10% of your bodyweight. Mine weighed 12 kg, which was a lot more than that. For a complete list of my equipment for the journey, click here. If I have to name three things that I would not do without, they would be herbal sleeping pills, Compeed Corn Moisturising Plasters and proper shoes.

I noticed that in the hostels many pilgrims ordered their luggage to be taken to their next destination for 3 euro. In the morning they left their backpack at reception, in which they placed a card with their name, address of the hostel where they want to stay that evening and three euros, and then set off themselves with a small rucksack containing the bare necessities. I carried a fully packed backpack on my back the whole way. After two days, when I felt like my shoulders were about to fall off and my hips collapse, my body surprisingly adapted and the pain subsided.

Where do I get a credencial or pilgrim’s logbook?

I got one right away in the first hostel I stayed in. The receptionist put their stamp in it, wrote the date, and I had confirmation of where my journey started. In every town in restaurants, hostels, bars, and the majority of churches there was someone who would add more and more stamps

How to get a compostela or certificate of completing the journey to Santiago?

The only place that gives out a compostela, a decorative certificate, written in Latin, confirming the completion of a camino, is the pilgrim’s office near the cathedral.

A compostela is given for free to everyone who provides a credencial with evidence that they walked or rode on a horse or donkey at least 100km, or at least 200km on a bike.

When to set off on the journey to Santiago?

I chose two weeks beginning in the middle of September (14th–28th September) with regard to my family and the weather. The children had already registered for all the clubs they wanted to attend and the weather was still summery, but without the heat. I thought that my family could cope without me for fourteen days, and I was right

Over the course of the journey, the temperature reflected the changes in terrain and the time of day. The hottest temperature, 26°C, was in the airport in Madrid. The coldest, around 4°C, I experienced on a stretch of mountain near O Cebreiro.

It was really cold in the morning, and in the mountains also at night, it was sometimes foggy, draping the landscape in mist. I walked most of the way in a short-sleeved T-shirt.

There was only one day with heavier rain, as I was approaching Santiago, and apparently there’s a proverb: “It’s raining like in Santiago” i.e. all the time… The Spanish people that I befriended along the way recommended September as the best time to make the pilgrimage.

How to choose a route to Santiago?

All paths lead to Santiago. I built up that impression during my wanderings in the Czech mountains, where several times I found myself on a path that ended on the Spanish coast of the Atlantic. It became the inspiration for my own camino.

In Spain itself there are several basic variants of the path to choose from:

I decided to walk a section of Camino Francés. In the morning I flew from Prague to Madrid, transferred to a bus, whose stop was right by the entrance to the airport, and in the evening found myself at the station in the town of Ponferrada. Google maps directed me to the hostel that I‘d reserved in Prague and the next day I set off on my journey.

Stages

My pilgrimage:

1st day: flight from Prague to Madrid and from there bus to Ponferrada
2nd day: Ponferrada – Villafranca del Bierzo – 23 km
3rd day: den Villafranca del Bierzo – La Faba – 23 km
4th day: La Faba – Triacastela – 24 km
5th day: Triacastela – Sarria – 23 km
6th day: Sarria – Portomarín – 23 km
7th day: Portomarín – Palas de Rei – 25 km
8th day: Palas de Rei – Melide – 15 km
9th day: Melide – Arzúa – 14 km
10th day: Arzúa – O Pedrouzo – 19 km
11th day: O Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela – 20 km
12th day: bus from Santiago de Compostela to Muxía and from there on foot to Lires – 17 km
13th day: Lires – Fisterra – 12 km
14th day: bus from Fisterra to Santiago de Compostela and from there flight to Madrid
15th day: flight from Madrid to Prague
In total 238 km on foot

It doesn’t end in Santiago
Why and how to walk to Cape Finisterre

The Way of St James ends in Santiago de Compostela, approximately 90 km from Cape Finisterre. Beyond the cape stretch out the endless waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

By medieval tradition, pilgrims who reach this end of the world burn a piece of their clothing in one of the designated fireplaces as a symbol of completing the journey and of the internal transformation they have undergone. For me it was a very symbolic and powerful experience.

You can walk to Fisterra directly from Santiago along a marked path. However, I wanted to see a longer stretch of the coast and the chapel in the town of Muxía. I took a bus from Santiago to Muxía and split my 30-kilometre walk to Fisterra over two days. It was the most beautiful stage of my pilgrimage, which I walked completely alone, quietly near the ocean.

The whole of the Costa de Morte, the coast of death, has its own wild 200-km path following the lighthouses, Camino dos faros. I believe I’ll go back there one day…

Markers on the way to Santiago

The path I walked was very well marked with symbols of yellow arrows or shells. It was impossible to get lost.

In addition, Camino Francés is marked in Google maps. The whole route can be downloaded into your smartphone for an additional sense of security.

The markers for Camino Fisterra or the stage from Muxía to Cape Finisterre is somewhat complicated by the fact that the same journey can be walked in two opposite directions: Starting in Muxía and ending in Fisterra or vice versa. Both of those options are marked with an additional notice, e.g. „a Fisterra“, which means „towards Fisterra“. I was confused for a little while, until I joined the correct path and then it wasn’t difficult.

Where to stay on the way to Santiago, how to book it, and how much does it cost?

On the section of Camino Frances that I walked, there were hostels every few kilometres, and several in each town. I didn’t try any other accommodation tips.

The first night’s stay in a hostel, in an albergue or refugio, I reserved before flying out from Prague through booking.com. There was no need to book ahead for the next few days. At every destination a free bed could be found for around 8 Euro.

However on the section of the journey just before the town of Sarria and from there all the way to Santiago, which is about 113 km, there was a problem with accommodation. It was no longer possible to rely on there being an available bed in one of the hostels when I arrived in the evening. From that moment on I had to reserve accommodation ahead via smartphone through booking.com and pay by credit card. The prices were higher, about 13 Euro.

The hostels were of various styles and quality levels. I preferred the stone buildings in Galicia with small front gardens or yards. However they were pretty cold at night, I wouldn’t have gone without my down sleeping bag. In most of the destinations the hostels had kitchens with a fridge, hob and microwave, a large dining room and next to the bathroom and utility room with a washing machine and tumble dryer. 6 to 12 people slept in the bedrooms. Right from the first night I realised that earplugs didn’t help me fall asleep and so I took herbal sleeping pills and woke up rested in the morning.

What to eat on the way to Santiago?

I’m trying to be a vegetarian, so the question of where to find food was one of the most difficult. I originally bought a large number of packets of oat and lentil mash. When I realized that basic supplies for veggie food for the whole pilgrimage weigh more than 2 kg, I gave up on the idea of carrying it on my back.

Along the way I came across a number of albergue ecologico, where they cooked amazing vegan dinners and also sold fruit and vegetables from their gardens for voluntary donations. Otherwise in the vast majority of restaurants and bars, the menus were dominated by very sweet or fatty and meaty food. I very quickly understood that the best option would be to buy supplies from supermercados in town and cook for myself in the hostels. I spent my evenings buying food, which I used to make supper and also snacks for the following day. I got great use out of the plastic cutlery, knife, sealable food bags and shopping bag that I brought with me from Prague.

Sources of drinking water are marked with signs in Galician auga potable. Every day I tried to drink about 2 litres of water, which I flavoured with lemon and fresh broth, and topped up along the way from forest springs. I didn’t use a special bottle or filters, and had no problems.

How much does the journey to Compostela cost?

The biggest expense is transport. In my case it swallowed up almost 9 thousand crowns (about 350 Euro), and included a return flight from Prague to Madrid, a flight from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid and a ticket for the bus from Madrid to Ponferrada.

All the local expenses: accommodation, food, souvenirs for friends and family, didn’t go over 300 Euro (about 7 and a half thousand crowns), which comes to approximately 25 Euro per day. Add to this the purchase of equipment for about 10 thousand crowns, which I bought gradually over two years: walking poles, shoes, clothes from Merino wool and the special poncho were the most expensive items. After coming back I still use them and am very glad to have them.

  • Do you want to set out on the journey, but you have a lot of unanswered questions?
  • Do you need encouragement to make that first step?
  • Do you want to share your own adventures, insights and experience?
  • Comment below, we look forward to hearing what you have to say.

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