Confraternity of Saint James
of South Africa
Frequently Asked Questions
Who does the Camino and why?
All ages, nations and intentions; all religions, philosophies and persuasions; many wonderful and truly courageous people walk the Camino. At certain times of the year (usually the summer holidays) there are lots of students walking, while out of 'season' there are often more seniors (65 - 85+) who have more time available for a leisurely six week walk.
Reasons for walking are as varied as the personalities - time to think, to celebrate reaching retirement or finish studies, to mark time before starting a new life phase, to come to terms with personal challenges, to meet people or simply to get away from it all. For many it is a challenge, a test of endurance or part of a spiritual journey. For those with religious affiliations, it is often a time to distil their thoughts, give thanks or to offer up their sufferings for special intentions. Some start off without a clear reason, but know that they have been called to do the Camino. Those who see it merely as a cheap way to have a holiday tend to exit soon, as walking the Camino without a purpose and very little comfort soon wears thin.
Few people ever complain about their discomforts - there is usually a quiet determination to do what they have set out to do. There is also a strong sense of support and encouragement, of mutual sharing. The camaraderie amongst pilgrims is a really special aspect of the Camino. Most agree that they have goals to achieve, but they are individual - not competitive or comparative ones. Whatever the reason for walking, the Camino is a personal challenge, and it's never fair to judge other people's reasons or commitment. Remember that no matter how fit you are, it requires a strong mental acceptance - and it's by no means a walk in the park.
What does it cost to walk the Camino?
If you plan to sleep at refugios and eat budget meals or cook for yourself, you can easily survive on 15 - 20 € per day. An average of 25 € would allow you to eat reasonably at the bars, and over 35 € per day would be necessary to live in the hostals or more comfortable accommodation. This does not include any transport costs. Prices in the villages are generally a lot lower than cities, so if you are on a limited budget, try to stay out of the larger centres.
Most of the small café-bars, village shops, side-of-the-road sellers etc don't accept credit (visa) cards or travellers cheques, so you will need to carry a certain amount of cash with you. There are ATM's in many villages, towns and cities along the way, so having your credit card activated for this is ideal.
Just remember that they mostly use a four pin number, so if you have a five pin number, use the first four digits. The other reason why credit cards are useful is that banks are often closed in the afternoons, making it difficult to arrive in a suitable place at the right time to change money. Just a word of advice - certain banks will not let you access cash on your card (even in an emergency such as losing your traveller's cheques etc) unless you have deposited money into your account, even if you have not overdrawn your credit rating - check this out before leaving home! Credit (visa) cards can usually be used in hotels and upmarket restaurants, but confirm before ordering/booking in! Traveller's cheques can be a problem for small banks that do not have foreign exchange.
caminodesantiago.consumer.es - estimates that approximately €1 for every 1km walked.
For example, to walk from St Jean to Santiago - 750 km you would need €750
Is the Camino an organised tour?
There are organized tours available but the majority walk the various routes without guides or back-up. If you are with a tour group or have vehicle back-up, you are not allowed to stay in the pilgrim refuges. The Camino routes themselves are organised in the sense that they are generally signposted and there is official accommodation available in most places on the more popular routes. It is, however, an individual journey, so getting to the starting point, registering and organising an itinerary are your own responsibility.
On arrival at the starting point of your choice on the Camino, the first requirement is to equip yourself with a pilgrim passport (credencial del peregrino). This is obtainable from specific places in each town and the local refugio or albergue (pilgrim dormitory) will be able to tell you where to get one. You can also research this beforehand in the official guidebooks, depending on your route. South African members can obtain their credencials from the Confraternity. The current price is R50 plus R5 for postage. To become a member/obtain a credencial visit our Online Form. At present membership is only available to South Africans or residents of South Africa.
The credencial needs to be stamped at an official venue with a rubber stamp (sello) at each of your stopovers, and it has to be presented in order to qualify for accommodation in the refugios. Stamps can also be obtained from the local mayor (alcalde), parish priest (cura), tourist offices, museums and even from some bars. Some obtain the sellos as proof of walking, but many also treasure them as 'souvenirs' of their journey.
When you reach Santiago, the credencial becomes your proof of having walked the Camino, and on presentation to the cathedral authorities, they will issue the certificate of pilgrimage (compostela). To qualify for the compostela you have to have walked at least the last 100km, cycled or gone on horseback for 200km from Santiago. It is recommended that you obtain at least two stamps per day during this section. While it is not compulsory to apply for the compostela, most pilgrims appreciate the receipt as part of the closing ritual on arrival in Santiago.
How long does it take to walk the Camino?
Walking the entire Camino Frances route from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela can take anything from one month to six weeks. Depending on fitness, time restraints and inclination, daily walking distances may vary between 12 and 30 km.
Sometimes the positioning of the refugios makes it possible to walk much less - or more - than that. You need to walk the last 100km or cycle 200km to qualify for your certificate (compostela). Cyclists will need around two weeks on average.
A complete list of the refugios with distances between them is available in most guidebooks or from the confraternities, but weather and terrain should also be considered when calculating potential sectors. Don't overestimate your fitness. If possible give yourself a few rest days along the way to recuperate and enjoy some of the cities. And listen to your body!
What route does the Camino follow?
There are a number of recognised Camino routes which start as far afield as Portugal, France, Spain and in various parts of Europe. Some peregrinos even start their pilgrimages walking from home and join the main routes from all over Europe.
By far the most popular and well-developed one is the Camino Francés route which covers a distance of around 775km, and starts in the French Pyrenees at St. Jean Pied de Port. While the ultimate is to walk the entire distance, sometimes time, money or physical fitness preclude doing it all in one go. Some people come back year after year and walk it in sections.
It is also possible to start the Camino Francés routes at various points along the way. Some of the main entry points are Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Burgos, León, Astorga and Ponferrada.
Remember though, that the Camino is not a competition. Be true to yourself and your ideals. Each pilgrim must choose his own options, and walk what she/he can with the right intentions.
What is the route like?
Very varied both in terms of scenery and terrain. It includes mountain passes, ranges of hills, farmlands and wooded areas, wheat fields and vineyards, fruit orchards and industrial estates as well as open plains and green, lush countryside. The Camino Francés route varies in altitude and gradient all along the way from 400m to the highest point at 1517m near Manjarin and after that
there is virtually an up for every down through Galicia.
A good tourist map of Northern Spain from the Spanish embassy, tourism board or a travel agent suffices in most cases. Some books also carry maps, but it really is not essential as the Camino Francés route is well signposted with waymarkers bearing the scallop shell, which is the symbol of St James, or with yellow arrows.
Signs are found on walls, stones, special boards, all over. Most of the paths have been specially maintained for pilgrims - some brick, some stony, some muddy, some shaded and others open to the bright Spanish sunshine. A few sections next to freeways can be noisy and one needs to be very alert to the speeding traffic.
The open sections through industrial areas and places without the shade of trees can be very hot around midday - even in the autumn. At some points there are route alternatives giving the pilgrim the choice of a shorter road route and a more scenic (sometimes longer) option. See Route alternatives.
A useful tip is to spend some time checking out the start of the route the day before so that you know the way out in the morning. It's not difficult but it may be dark - or very busy - when you start out, so a recce will help to point you in the right direction.
How do you get from South Africa to Spain? (Visa Applications)
The main international flights from Cape Town or Johannesburg which go directly to Spain are with Iberia. Major airlines which have connecting flights to Spain are Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), British Airways (via London), Air France (via Paris) or South African Airlines (via London or Paris). Air Namibia usually offers very reasonable flights to Frankfurt via Windhoek.
From England and Germany in particular there are budget flights available to Spain. See section Where can I find out more about the Camino? for airline links. Do not expect any frills or home comforts on these airlines, but they are cheap, efficient and get you to some ideal towns for Camino purposes. Ryanair flies out of Stansted but this is connected by coach to Heathrow and likewise in Germany they fly out of Hahn, a coach ride from Frankfurt airport. The earlier you book the more chance you have of a cheaper flight and the midweek flights are usually cheaper than the weekends for holiday destinations.
Arrival points from other countries in Europe are generally Biarritz in France, or Bilbao, Madrid, Pamplona, Seville, Valladolid, Santiago or Barcelona, depending on where you wish to start walking. See the section How does one get to the starting point? for further details.
From London it is also possible to take a coach and ferry option (main disembarkation points are Santander and Bilbao) but although it may be reasonably priced it will take a couple of days to co-ordinate timing of the various modes of transport.
Visa Applications for South Africans: If you are travelling on a South African passport, you will need to apply for a Schengen Visa which is valid in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, The Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. You should obtain your visa from the embassy/consulate of the country in which you will be staying the longest - not necessarily the country into which you first arrive.
If the duration of your stay in Spain is longer than in any of the other countries, then apply for the visa from the Consulate General of Spain, 37 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town 8001 Tel: (021) 4222415 - Fax (021) 4222328 Office Hours: Monday to Friday 08h30 - 13h30
(for submissions & collections) Telephone enquiries until 15h30. You can also apply through the Consulate in Pretoria.
How does one get to the starting point?
(Prices and transport schedules are subject to change)
To start from Le Puy, France
From Lyons: Take a train to St Etienne, then another to Le Puy. (this is possible in 1 day)
To Start from St. Jean Pied de Port, France
From Paris: Take a train from Paris/Montparnasse to Bayonne, then the high-speed train south to Bayonne or Biarritz.
From Pau: Take a train to Bayonne.
From Madrid: There are various options: (a) There is a Renfe (train) booking station at the airport. Take the underground (from the airport or other point in Madrid) to the RENFE station, then take a train to Irún (Spanish side)/Hendaye (French side) There are two connections per day. (b) Take a plane or bus to Bilbao (c) take a train (underground from airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx 9h00 & 17h00 (5 hours), or bus (5 hours) or plane to Pamplona
From Bilbao: From the airport (good help at tourist office there) take a bus to Plaza Moyua (1,15 €) and it takes about 15 minutes. (a) Take an ALSA bus (reportedly 6h30, costing 16.50 €) from the terminus at St Mamos (can get there by tram or metro) to Bayonne(duration 3 hours) (b) coach service to Hendaye - ticket and bus stop at Termibus by the Hospital Civile de Basuto. 1hr 50mins €7. (c) take a train to Irún, and walk over the French border to Hendaye. (d) To go via Pamplona or Roncesvalles, take the 6h00 bus to San Sebastian (1 hour), and the 10h00 train to Pamplona (2 hours) and the 18h00 bus to Roncesvalles.
From Irún/Hendaye: take a train to Bayonne (about 1 ½ hours). There are many options. Or take a bus to Bayonne - the bus stop is just after the board at the French Railway station.
From Biarritz: It is possible to fly into Biarritz: (www.biarritz.aéroport.fr) - the airport is close to Bayonne. You can catch a bus or a train to Bayonne station. Another option is to take a half hour taxi ride to St. Jean (about €54 for four people)
From Bayonne: A 1½ hour train journey to St. Jean (three trains per day at approx 9h00, 15h00 and 18h00, only 15h00 on Saturdays - may not run on Sundays) The train fare is 7.70 €. It's a slow train through lovely scenery, and usually only used by pilgrims - so you can start making your first Camino friends! If you want to explore Bayonne while waiting for the train, leave your pack at the Bayonne tourist bureau office. On Saturdays there is a lovely market in the town.
From Pamplona: There are a few options: (a) take the Autocares Artieda (formerly Lamontanesa) bus (18h00) to Roncesvalles (4.35 €) Tel. 948 330 581 Mon-Fri at 18h00 Sat: 14h00 (Not on Sunday) (b) take a taxi to St. Jean (reported 20 € per person - need to share with others). From the airport it takes 2 hours. Luzaide/Valcarlos: Andoni 636191423; From Garralda: Angel Mª 609411449; From Espinal: Francisco 649725951 (c) Contact Express Bourricot taxi service (see details below under Roncesvalles)
From Roncesvalles: take a taxi to St. Jean (Contact: Caroline Aphessetche of Express Bourricot, St Michaelmas road, 64220 Çaro. She is based in St. Jean Pied de Port. Tel: 06-61-96-04-76
(9 € per person). She also arranges luggage transfers - See Website for details.
From Barcelona: Take a train to Bayonne (10 ¾ hours)
Tips about starting at St. Jean Pied de Port:
The Route Napolean from St. Jean to Roncesvalles traverses 163m - 1440m in 27kms. If you are unfit, consider taking the Road Route, or breaking this stage out of St. Jean by staying at Hunto (7km) or Orisson (10km). For Orisson, it is advisable to book ahead at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 06-81-49-79-56 or 06-86-99-82-03: This route should not be done in winter or in bad weather.
To start from Roncesvalles
From Pamplona: take a taxi or bus.
From St. Jean: take a taxi.
To start from Pamplona
From Madrid: Choose from: (a) There is a Renfe (train) booking station at the airport. Take the underground (from the airport or other point in Madrid) to the RENFE station, then take a train take a train (underground from airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx 9h00 and 17h00 (takes 5 hours) (b) take a bus (takes 5 hours) (c) take a plane.
To start from Burgos
(a) Catch the underground to Avenue America, then Bus (Continental Auto) (takes 3 hours)
(b) You can fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km from both Burgos, and then catch a bus.
(c) Catch a train
To start from Leon
From Madrid: Options: (a) catch a train (4 hours) (b) catch a bus (c) Fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km from Leon, and then catch a bus (d) Fly to Leon with Iberia (40 mins) and then bus from the airport (which is at Virgen del Camino on the Camino route) into the city.
To start from Ponferrada
From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus: 07h45 (7 hours) €28,55 or take a train: 9h15 (6½ hours) €29,00
From Madrid: Take a bus.
To start from O'Cebreiro
From Madrid: Take an Alsa coach to Piedrafita (5km from O'Cebreiro): 10h00 or 23h59 (5½ hours) €25.48
From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus to Piedrafita (5km from O'Cebreiro): 7h45 (8 hours) €31.51
To start from Sarria
From Madrid: Catch an ALSA bus to Lugo, then a local bus to Sarria.
What about language?
It is always useful to speak the language when visiting a country, but never let this put you off the Camino - you will always get by! A basic knowledge of Spanish, via evening classes or home-study tapes, will however add enormously to your enjoyment. English is not spoken in rural Spain and is rarely spoken in towns - even in tourist offices.
Make an effort to communicate in Spanish and you will be surprised at the progress you make - especially if you carry a small dictionary. Once you reach Galicia you may find that people answer you in Galician ('gallego') which is related to Portuguese. And of course sign language can be hilarious and a good way to break down barriers! Download pdf for our Spanish Guidelines
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