Budget Camino de Santiago

You shift your boulder-sized rucksack on your shoulders and the plastic from countless cereal bars spills from your pockets. You’re trying to ignore the hand-painted sign pointing to a cafe, where other, more fortunate walkers are demolishing thick wedges of tortilla. You can stop at the end of the day, you reason, when you reach your albergue. It’s a communal bunkhouse, sleeping up to 500 people – that’s a thousand boot-fresh feet.

The pilgrims of old suffered many hardships on the Camino de Santiago. Robbers on the trails, scant food, no waterproof clothing, someone else’s snoring. During Spain’s Moorish occupation from the eighth century, they even had to change their route and go north through the mountains.
Whether it’s done on a shoestring or in state-of-the-art trainers, the Camino experience can be life-changing
But you’re not a pilgrim of old. Budget walking on the Camino doesn’t mean being stingy – or stinky. Book with a responsible operator and not only will you get your luggage transferred, you also don’t have to bother with communal albergues. You’ll get a private room at low cost, leaving you with money jangling in your pockets for a local cafe. “That’s the great thing about the French way,” Bronagh Carroll from Magic Hill Vacations explains. “You’ll always get a café every 5k like clockwork.” And you can give into temptation whenever you like. If you’re used to walking in the British Isles, you’re in for a pleasant change, Bronagh says: “The weather is better and everything is cheaper.”

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino isn’t one path, but many pilgrim routes which all converge on the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
A thin line of pilgrims come trickling through the green countryside, some alone, some falling in step with each other to share stories, consolation, and encouragement. Some pilgrims attach a scallop shell to their rucksack – traditionally, the shell was used to scoop drinking water from streams, and the scallop is the symbol of the trails. Your rucksack might be seafood-free, but you’re still easy to spot. “You’re all walking in the same direction,” Bronagh says.
You’ll see the most walkers on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago, or the Camino Francés, as it’s also known. First described in the 12th century, it’s the most famous, and therefore by far the most popular route. It attracts hundreds of thousands of people a year, rich and poor, from all walks of life. The most walked section is the final leg, a stretch just over 100km long between Sarria and Santiago de Compostela itself, where pilgrims arrive at the tomb of Saint James in the cathedral. The proper completion of the final 100km of the Camino earns pilgrims their Compostela, the certificate that proves they’ve walked the trail.

Keeping it responsible

The Camino has radically grown in popularity since the turn of the millennium. In the nineties, just a few thousand took to its paths. By 2004 there were 179,000 compostelas issued; in 2018 there were over 327,000. The popular path, especially the French Way, acts as a silk road for rural Galicia, an area which has traditionally suffered high unemployment among young people. It gives communities the injection of money they need to stay alive, and retain their working-age population. That’s why even budget walkers should patronise its cafes.

Our top Budget walking Vacation

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The Northern Way hiking short break

Walk along the stunning northern coast of Green Spain

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Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout March and October
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What does this trip entail?

You can comfortably walk the last 100km of the Camino Francés in eight days. You might be on a budget, but you can still get your luggage transferred and you don’t have to stay in hostels. The last section of the French Way is incredibly well-marked and -serviced, so there should be restaurants and cafes to suit all budgets. You’ll find most things in this area of Spain to be reasonably good value. “Your meals, your wine, your coffee,” Bronagh says.
Bronagh has honed a good routine: “I encourage people to start walking at 9am. Then you can have a break at 11am and some coffee and cake, another break at lunch. Before you know it the day has passed – usually you’ll be able to finish walking at 3pm.” Continuous walking on paved paths can take a toll on your feet so don’t push yourself. You don’t need walking boots; good trainers are better – and you might like using walking poles, too.

Where do I stay?

If you book through a Camino specialist they’ll make sure that nothing comes between you and a good night’s sleep, even on a budget. “In towns and villages you’ll be in rural houses or pensiones, locally operated, family run, so you’re very much going into the local experience – but high quality is our standard,” Bronagh says. “To make it a little bit cheaper we focus on two star properties; maybe you’ll a smaller room in a nicer hotel, or a really nice one star.” The cheapest way to stay in a pensione on the Camino is to avoid a single supplement by sharing a room.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jose es el Camino] [Top box: Jose Antonio Gil Martinez] [What is the Camino de Santiago: Fresco Tours] [What does it entail?: Fresco Tours]