Responsible trekking on the Camino de Santiago

If you want to do the St. James’ Way the responsible way, then respect is the key word. Fundamentally this is a spiritual pilgrimage for many people, rather than a tick box trek. Respect for the villages that you pass through is also important, keeping noise down at night, supporting their local economy when possible and not littering the streets. Not littering full stop, of course, is the other responsible mantra on this stop. Pilgrims don’t pollute. Amen to that, we say.

Camino culture

After you have spent a few days on the Camino de Santiago you will start to realise that there is a certain way of doing things. The first one is always to respect the spiritual journey that many people are on, especially in specific places of worship. The second is to embrace your Camino community. If you are the sort of hiker who struggles to greet a passing stranger on your trail, then you might have to get over that one. The camaraderie is all about wishing each other ‘Buen Camino’ along the way. Learn a few words of the local language wherever you are hiking; don’t assume that everyone speaks English. And don’t treat it like a race. In fact, building lots of long coffee breaks along the way is very much the Spanish or Portuguese way of doing things. And finally, keep covered in places of worship. Skimpy shorts and vest tops are not Camino cool.

Making the Camino de Santiago accessible

We would like to give a shout out to the Catalonian Tourist Board which has worked tirelessly to make the Camino de Santiago accessible. Known as El Camí de Sant Jaume in Catalan, the tourist board has an accessible tourism page on its dedicated to the needs of a wide range of people, translated as The Way of St. James for All. The website has top notch accessible technology so that you can keep informed about accessible sections along the Way, including videos with signed content and MP4 audio and sign language guides for stages along the Camino.
Although most of our Camino vacations are along the Camino de Santiago follow either the Camino del Norte or the Camino Francés, the Camino Catalán goes from Barcelona to La Rioja and then links up with the Camino Francés to reach Santiago to Compostela. We hope that by spreading the word about the dedication of the Catalan people to making this a trek for all, we can inspire Camino pilgrims everywhere to chat with their tour operators about catering for their needs too. Many Camino vacations are tailor made, and so you can have itineraries created to suit your needs, which includes staying at accommodations that are accessible to all, or are at least making serious efforts to be so.

Be a responsible pilgrim

It may sound gross, but if you have blisters to clean or sores to soothe, keep it to the privacy of the bathroom and not on your hosts’ clean sheets. Some hotel owners have to make special requests in that regard, so please just don’t do it. Keep your walking boots outside or in the boot hut/cupboard which usually provided by Camino accommodation owners. Hike with a hydration pack or reusable bottle, and fill it up along the way at numerous fountains along the way. Please don’t use disposable plastic water bottles; tap water in Spain is fine to drink. Read more in our Plastic free vacations guide.
Keep things local, with meals at mountain village restaurants, hillside picnics purchased at the market or fruit farm, and souvenirs that have been hand-crafted by the actual seller. Tourism income from the Camino is vital to residents in rural areas, so do please love your neighbours along the way. Dress for the trail not the beach – no matter how hot it is, getting your kit off is not going to do you any favours if you’re out walking in Spain. One, you might get burned; two, it’s not respectful when greeting a fellow walker or bewildered local person; and three, you might get your bits bitten by your backpack buckles! You can read more on the Leave No Trace website but in short, leave nothing behind. Not toilet paper, banana skins, cigarette butts, energy drinks pouches, apple cores or sweet wrappers. And never light fires or throw a match away carelessly.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fresco Tours] [Culture: Fresco Tours] [Accessible for all - signposts: Fresco Tours] [Food: subherwal]