should one go
of Saint James of South Africa
should one go?
It depends very much on the time of the year.
A Mediterranean-type climate prevails over most
of the route, but as with most places the weather
is very unpredictable - and every year is different!
South Africans are not generally used to cold weather
and it does mean carrying more kit, so May through
to September are recommended.
As for rain, it can be wet in virtually any season,
particularly in Galicia, and suitable rain gear
makes the walk that much more bearable in wet and
If there is any doubt about bad weather, ask questions
of the locals and use your own judgement rather
than just following other pilgrims - especially
when walking over the Pyrenees or in other mountainous
Never cross the Pyrenees on the Route Napoleon alone
in bad or unstable weather, rather take the low
road via Arneguy.
See the section What do you take with you? for more
information on travel gear.
The following descriptions are based on reports
from returning pilgrims:
January - February Very cold with snow - not advisable
March Rainy, windy and moderate to high potential
April Variable - warm spring sun, sometimes even
hot, rain, sleet and snow around the Pyrenees/Roncesvalles,
thunderstorms around Sarria & O Cebreiro
May For wildflowers spring or early summer is a
good time. It is still fresh, but generally warm,
(22 - 23 °C) with some rain and wind around O Cebreiro.
It can however also be very cold with snow in the
June Warm to hot, some rain
July - August Generally pretty hot with daily high
temperatures on the meseta (Burgos to Léon) up to
40°C. This is the time to be in Santiago for the
Feast Day on 25 July. It is also traditional holiday
time in Europe, so the route tends to be busiest
September Generally warm days and cool early mornings
and nights. Rain from around O Cebreiro intermittent,
increasing towards Santiago. There are still a few
wildflowers in Navarre and La Rioja, and broom blooms
in Galicia. The meseta fields are brown and dry
and field crops mostly harvested except vineyards
around La Rioja and Villafranca del Bierzo
October Cooling down and windy, especially around
the Pyrenees, O Cebreiro and other high places.
It can be chilly early on, with rains, cloud, fog
and even snow always possible. This is chestnut
season! Dark till around 8am so its not easy to
set out early.
November - December Very cold with snow - not advisable
time of year should I go?
the first question here should really be, “When
can I go?” If you are a student or if you work,
you may have to go whenever your vacation time allows.
But if you have the freedom to travel when you wish,
then there are a couple important of considerations
that present themselves: weather and crowding.
and August, even in the north of Spain, are normally
HOT. Mid April through June and September through
early November can be the most pleasant times of
the year to walk. And the cold and wet conditions
of the Spanish winter have always presented their
own unique challenges to the pilgrim.
when you walk, however, if you are on the road for
weeks or even months, chances are very good that
you will encounter a wide range of weather conditions
to keep your journey interesting.
addition to the weather, you may also want to consider
how many other pilgrims will be out there walking
Overcrowding on the Camino francés is
notorious during the months of July and August,
when most European students and working people take
their long annual vacation.
The other Caminos in
Spain and throughout Europe do not experience similar
multitudes, but since their infrastructures are
not designed to handle huge numbers of pilgrims,
they may feel crowded.
you seek the medieval spirit of the pilgrim or if
you consider the pilgrimage as a spiritual journey,
you may find winter the perfect season to walk.
Even on the Camino francés, crowds are nonexistent.
Your first and foremost consideration however must
be your preparations for the weather. Northern Spain
has a true winter! You may find yourself walking
in snow at Puente la Reina, freezing fog on the
meseta, rain at León and warm sunshine in Galicia.
On the Camino francés, most pilgrim services such
as albergues and restaurants remain open during
the winter; on other routes, winter services may
be less available.
year should I go?
might seem odd to consider that the year to travel
the Camino would make any difference but there are
some sporadic factors to take into consideration.
Undoubtedly the most important factor is the Jacobean
Holy Year, those years when Saint James feast day,
July 25th, falls on a Sunday. See below for a further
description of the issues.
you decided to put off your Camino from the Holy
Year of 2010 to 2011 to avoid crowds there is one
particular event taking place that year that you
should also take into account.
World Youth Day 2011
is scheduled for Madrid August 16 to 21 and authorities
are planning on upwards of 2 million visitors in
Madrid. The Catholic Pilgrim Office is advertising
a variety of excursions that will visit Santiago,
León and Burgos all in the week prior to Madrid.
All of these will travel by bus and will be staying
in hotels so their impact may be minor for walkers
and cyclists. But in addition it is a given that
many in attendance will elect to combine World Youth
Day with the Camino, whether before or after.
is a Holy Year?
Holy Year is any year when Saint James feast day,
July 25th, falls on a Sunday.
2010 was the last
Holy Year and the next will not occur until 2021.
In those years what that means for the pilgrim as
a practical matter can be summed up in one word:
Statistics issued by the Pilgrims' Welcome
Office show that the number of Compostelas issued
during Holy Years has been several times the number
issued during the preceding year; for the last Holy
Year of 2010, there was almost a two-fold increase
the Catholic Church, a plenary indulgence is still
granted to those who visit the Cathedral and the
tomb of the Apostle at any time during a Holy Year,
make their confession, attend Mass and pray for
the intentions of the Holy Father.
of St James : Frequently Asked Questions
should I go ?
The pilgrimage season is from March (Easter) until
October, with the pleasantest weather in May, June
and September. The summer months can be extremely
hot, especially on the meseta, the high and very
exposed plain between Burgos and León on the Camino
francés, and on the more southerly sections of the
Via de la Plata.
about going in winter ?
If you are thinking of going in winter, remember
that the meseta is on average 800m above sea level,
and that the passes over the Pyrenees, the Montes
de León and O Cebreiro on the Camino francés, and
the passes of A Canda and Padornelo on the Via de
la Plata all reach about 1,400m. It can be very
cold, wet, and windy, and you can meet deep snow.
Two pilgrims died when they were caught in blizzards
during the crossing to Roncesvalles in January and
April 2002; another died just above Roncesvalles
in April 2007; and we have recently heard of a French
woman pilgrim who died of exposure at the Col de
Lepoeder in March 2009. In late March 2005 two pilgrims
neglected local advice in St Jean Pied-de-Port and
attempted to follow the Route Napoléon in snow.
They very nearly died. We cannot emphasise too strongly:
MOUNTAINS ARE DANGEROUS and LOCAL PEOPLE KNOW WHAT
THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. Take local advice about
weather conditions; disregard it at your peril.
Experience suggests that the passage over the Pyrenees
to Roncesvalles, perfectly feasible and even enjoyable
in good weather, can be particularly treacherous
even in late spring (April), and - as in all mountainous
areas - the weather can change very quickly. In
any doubt, we recommend that you follow the less
attractive road route rather than the highlevel
route; avoid going alone if you possibly can; and
tell people in St Jean what your plans are, arranging
for them to call the emergency services if you haven't
phoned back from Roncesvalles by an agreed time
to report your safe arrival.
Accommodation may be less plentiful in winter, since
not all the refugios operate in the winter. Don't
be altogether discouraged, but do be aware of the
A pilgrim who walked the first half of the Via de
la Plata in January 2007 reported thick freezing
fog on many mornings, lasting sometimes until middday.
He was appropriately dressed, and carried a compass
and a mobile phone, but he also took the precaution
- it being a very lonely route at this time of year
- of telling his hosts each morning where he was
going and when he expected to arrive: if they had
not heard from him by an agreed time, they undertook
to contact the Guardia Civil. This seems wise.
the camino becoming too popular ?
There are different views on this. Some regret the
not-so-very-distant days of few pilgrims and rudimentary
facilities; others welcome the emergence of a mass
pilgrimage on foot in Europe to compare (albeit
still feebly) with those to Mecca and Benares, pointing
out that if you want a solitary walk, whether religious
or otherwise, there are plenty of places left.
Certainly the Camino francés has been promoted well
beyond the capacity of the facilities available
for pilgrims, and the refugios have been tending
to fill up well before the usual high season. The
summer's unseemly race between pilgrims who set
off earlier and earlier each day to be sure of a
bed in the next refuge, starts in the spring, and
extends into the autumn as well. Similar difficulties
are arising on the very popular le Puy Route in
Perhaps this means that the original hardship of
the camino, when there were few if any facilities
for pilgrims, has been replaced by another type
of hardship: the difficulty of maintaining one's
simplicity and trust when in frank competition with
so many others.
If the crowds deter you, give serious thought to
choosing the Via de la Plata (from Seville), even
for your first pilgrimage, as an alternative route.
It is perfectly feasible, very beautiful, and -
so far - much less frequented. In France, consider
the Vézelay or Arles routes.
about going in a Holy Year ?
Numbers arriving at Santiago have been rising steadily
since 1986, with peaks in Holy Years (years in which
St James's Day, 25 July, falls on a Sunday), and
(usually) a return to the underlying pattern immediately
after. However, the graph following the 1999 Holy
Year shows a marked increase in the underlying trend.
More than 150,000 Compostelas were issued in Holy
Year 1999, and just under 180,000 in Holy Year 2004.
In 2000, Santiago (as well as being a European City
of Culture) participated in the general Jubilee,
treating it as an exceptional Holy Year, and granting
the plenary indulgence to those who qualified for
it: 55,004 Compostelas were issued. Since 2001,
not a special year in any sense, when numbers reached
61,418, the underlying trend
continued to rise steadily; in 2006, numbers exceded
100,000, and in 2007 reached 114,000.
2010 is another Holy Year. There is every reason
to expect more than 200,000 pilgrims to be on the
roads to Santiago. Uunless you have a strong reason
of your own for going in a Holy Year, you would
be well advised to avoid it.
Pilgrim Masses at Santiago in Holy Year 2010:
Pilgrims Office have confirmed that the Pilgrims'
Mass will be held every day at 10.00, 12.00, 18.00
is the weather like?
The weather is unpredictable most of the year, so
you should be prepared for rain (particularly in
Galicia), day-time heat and cold nights, especially
in the Pyrenees, and the high passes in Galicia.
See above "What about going in winter?"
for advice on crossing the mountains in winter weather.
One of our members, Peter Robins, provides links
from his website (mainly devoted to an account of
the currently practicable European routes to Santiago)
to the 5-day weather forecasts, and 30-year averages,
for several places along the Camino.
See also: http://www.xacobeo.es
and (for a truly
formidable array of weather information covering
most of Europe, though especially Spain)
as its designer says modestly: you
can't change the weather, but you can dress accordingly.
And visit the Pilgrimage
to Santiago Forum for up-to-the-minute exchanges about the weather
W. Tripp, Jr. 2011
All traveler’s accounts of the Camino de Santiago
mention the weather and it needs serious consideration.
The Camino includes several high mountain passes—how
high, and how many, depends on the route taken,
but one can count on cold wet weather during the
winter in any case. Many mountain passes are closed
with snow in winter and most refugios are not open.
At the other extreme, summer can be very hot and
dry and there are many portions of the Camino that
will require walking many miles in full sun. Despite
this, there are pilgrims who complete the trip during
every month of the year.
"El Camino Santiago Weather" Is a good
source of links to the climate and weather for various
routes on the camino.
The peak periods for Europeans making the pilgrimage
coincide with the vacation and school holiday periods.
Thus, July and August find the most people on the
Camino and the accommodations most difficult to
Año Jubilar or Jubilee Years are years in which
the 25th of July occurs on a Sunday. During such
a year, Catholics can receive the jubilee indulgence.
For this reason there are many more pilgrims than
other years. Many will go for the minimum distance.
The last Jubilee years were in 1993, 1999, 2004
and 2010. The next one will be in 2021.
Trip to the Start
In planning your trip, particularily selecting clothing,
take into consideration what you will wear enroute.
If you plan to tack on a visit to Paris, Madrid,
or some other location, and do not wish to wear
the clothes you use on the camino, you will be faced
with the problem of storing them. One possibility
is to make reservations to stay at an inn or hotel
in or around Santiago where you can mail the clothing
to pick up on arrival.
Santiago is prepared for one-way travelers at the
airport, train and bus stations. Good connections
are available to other European cities via all modes
of transportation. A few travelers even follow medieval
traditions and walk back the way they came.
One cost of walking back is that the people doing
so are traveling against the flow and have only
brief encounters with those on the way to Santiago.
When I encountered a pilgrim on the Camino returning
from Santiago, it was only a fleeting look, with
no real contact, because we were both intent on
our destinations—it was also because of the determined
look on their faces. I regret now that I did not
stop to chat for a few minutes.
à Q.Pratique Avant