I was recently interviewed on the radio about our company, Hike the Way. The interviewer was great and asked a lot of interesting logistical questions about the Camino. At the end of the interview he asked me why do people walk the Camino? And that’s such a great question! So here are the top five reasons people walk the Camino de Santiago.
1. Spiritual Reasons
The Camino was historically a religious pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James and today many people (about 25%) still walk for a religious or spiritual reason. While not necessarily Catholic, many pilgrims walk to connect and discover a deeper meaning in life, to spiritually connect with nature or themselves, or walk to find answers to deep questions.
If you decide you’d like to walk the Camino for spiritual reasons, again not necessarily religious, and you complete at least the last 100km of a Camino route ending in Santiago, you are eligible for a Compostela. And if you are Catholic and walk during a Holy Year, such as 2021, you can earn a plenary indulgence from the Church.
2. Exercise and well-being
Another popular reason to walk the Camino is for the physical effort and challenge the Camino provides. Even though experienced hikers and backpackers walk the Camino every year, the majority of people have little to no experience in walking long distances over many days. One of the exciting parts of the Camino is getting ready to take on this challenge and instantly becoming part of a community.
A popular saying is “Your Camino begins when you sign up”. So even if you’re not walking until a year from now, your Camino has already begun. You begin to research what shoes to bring, how to train, learning about what you should pack and practicing walking with a backpack. You are already doing research on Facebook and reading blogs about the Camino. You are now part of an exclusive group of Camino walkers and this helps you prepare for your journey and stay motivated.
Many people, through training, become healthier and more fit preparing for the trip.
If you’re not accustomed to sustained exercise before the Camino, you will be quickly amazed at how your body is able to walk long distances day after day.
There’s a saying that says, “Don’t walk a Camino before your Camino”. Meaning, don’t train super hard everyday in preparation for something that you need to really experience to understand. Part of the journey is pushing yourself and seeing how your body adapts and watching yourself as you get stronger and more confident.
Walking on the actual Camino is so much easier than walking 10 miles around a track or at your house. While the walking is just as tiring, the beauty of the Camino, the people you meet as you walk, and the amazing monuments make the journey fun and pass quickly.
Walking the Camino isn’t your typical vacation. You aren’t going to someplace to rest and relax. After tours, many pilgrims tell me it’s the vacation they didn’t know they needed. What the Camino lacks in amenities, it makes up for in adventure, authenticity, and a spirit of the unknown.
An adventurous spirit is the guiding force for many of the pilgrims along the Camino. Not knowing where they’re going to sleep, nor the local language, nor the weather or what to pack, makes the Camino a true pilgrimage of faith.
Booking accommodations ahead of time is a great idea if you’re traveling during a busy month or Holy Year, because there are no Holiday Inns or chain hotels. There are no McDonalds, no fast food, and probably not much that you will find familiar. There is also no service or Wi-Fi on many of the paths (hotels do have Wi-Fi), so you are trusting that “the Camino will provide”.
The spirit of Camino is surrender. Surrender to the moment, to the adventure and just enjoy the journey for what it is.
The spirit of the Camino calls to those who appreciate the “good old days”. When we didn’t have cell phones glued to ourselves and a road trip wasn’t planned online through an online portal, but with a map and a destination. Pilgrims always remark how “old and authentic” everything looks. And that’s because the Camino hasn’t changed in 1200 years!
Small villages still have 4 houses and a stone church, you can still pet donkeys along the road and your hotel is run by the 3rd generation of the original family who built the place. Stepping onto the Camino is stepping back in time and an adventure that has waited for them forever; a pilgrimage that has a history of over a thousand years.
4. Disconnect to Reconnect
In a world of busyness with too many obligations and long workdays, many of us have become disconnected and disillusioned. We all say we would love to disconnect for a bit, but typical vacations are anything but. Answering e-mails at the pool or watching the news after dinner, we seem never to have the opportunity to truly “get away from it all”.
The Camino is a simple way to reconnect with your inner self and understand yourself better.
At first it may seem strange to not constantly think about what’s going on in your country, or not check your phone every 15 minutes but soon you find a peace and silence in the journey. It takes a few days to adjust to the ways of the Camino, but the reward is clarity and a feeling of peace that you will find revealing. Many say the Camino is as much a mental/inner journey as it is a physical journey.
This disconnection is so powerful that after walking the Camino people are moved to make changes in the way they live their lives and almost everyone vows to walk the Camino again. There are even support groups for people after they finish their Camino and have difficulty returning to their old way of life after their experience.
While the Camino provides a great way to disconnect from daily stress, allows pilgrims to walk out their faith, and gives travelers an authentic unique experience, many just walk the Camino for fun. And the Camino is fun!
Spain provides the perfect backdrop for making a long journey on foot. The routes are strewn with cafes for you to grab a coffee or sangria. Other pilgrims are friendly and lively, and the scenery is beautiful. After walking you’ll often find pilgrims swimming in a nearby river, hanging out at an outdoor café together (and all are welcome) or sitting around a square conversing.
Many pilgrims walk alone and just trust that they will make new friends along The Way, and they do.
Many even make lifelong friends that they remain in touch with, reliving their journey. Everyone speaks different languages on el Camino, but somehow the communication is easy (or at least funny).
Food in Spain is always amazing and it’s great to try different local dishes in each place you visit. It’s even exciting just to visit a supermarket and get foreign chocolates or snacks for later on. Food is definitely a key component of fun on el Camino.
With each Camino being different, pilgrims will often compare stories and experiences, even many years later, looking back fondly on a great experience in their lives. No matter what your own personal reason is for walking el Camino, I hope you will find what you are looking for. El Camino never disappoints.
Buen camino, friends.