What is it like walking the Camino de Santiago for Seniors ?
The average age of Pilgrims walking El Camino de Santiago is between 30 and 60 with nearly 60% of Pilgrims finishing the Camino being in this age group.
There are also 15% of Pilgrims being over 60 years old and this is a growing group with more and more seniors walking the Camino de Santiago. Thats over 28,000 senior pilgrims walking the Camino every year.
In this article, I will provide information and tips on how to plan and prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago as a senior with things you need to know.
We will cover everything from choosing a route and packing essentials to managing physical and mental challenges and enjoying the experience to the fullest.
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The Camino de Santiago for Seniors
The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route that spans across Europe and leads to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
For centuries, pilgrims have walked the Camino for spiritual and religious reasons, but nowadays, it has become a popular journey for people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs.
Walking the Camino de Santiago can be a transformative experience that allows you to disconnect from the daily routine and connect with yourself, others and nature.
It may seem like a daunting challenge but it’s entirely possible for seniors to embark on this journey and reap its benefits.
I have been walking the Camino since I was 55 and still going strong walking a different Camino each year or parts of different routes.
In this article, I will provide information and tips on how to plan and prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago as a senior.
We will cover everything from choosing a route and packing essentials to managing physical and mental challenges and enjoying the experience to the fullest.
Do I have to walk Fast on the Camino
Everyone walks at their own speed and the Camino is no different. My advice would be to walk at the speed you are comfortable with and whatever distance you want to walk each day. It isn’t a race.
Many senior Pilgrims walk 10km to 15km a day and get to Santiago whenever they want especially if they are retired and time constraints are not an issue.
If you do some training before you walk the Camino you’ll soon find your walking pace.
I am 61 and walk a lot so my pace is about 4.5km – 5km per hour. That pace suits my style and my walking friends all walk at the same pace.
Its your Camino and your journey. Keep it that way.
Planning and Preparation
The first step in walking the Camino de Santiago is choosing a route that suits your needs and preferences.
There are many different routes to Santiago, ranging from shorter and easier ones to longer and more challenging ones.
Some of the most popular routes are the Camino Francés, the Camino Portugués and the Camino Ingles.
The Camino Frances, French way, is the most popular of the Camino routes with a very good infrastructure. It can be very busy during the high season. The route is over 780km, 500 miles, from St Jean Pied du Pont to Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino Ingles, English Way, is a shorter route to Santiago and a perfect Camino to do for beginners. Its a lot quieter with lots of walking in the lush Galician forest. The route is over 110km, 68 miles, from Ferrol to Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino del Norte route is along the coast of northern Spain and the scenic views are amazing. This trail is a lot harder than the French or English ways. The route is over 830km,515 miles, from Irun to Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino Finisterre is a great shorter Camino that you can walk from Santiago to the end of the world. The route is over 90km, 69 miles, from Santiago to Finisterre.
The Camino Portuguese is also a really good Camino and very popular with new Pilgrims. The route is over 600km,370 miles, from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela.
There are also numerous other routes across Europe that are combined.
When choosing a route, consider factors such as your fitness level, your travel schedule, your budget and your personal interests.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some routes may be more crowded than others, especially during peak season (from April to October), so you may want to avoid them if you prefer a quieter and more contemplative journey.
Once you have chosen a route, you can start planning your travel itinerary and booking accommodations along the way if thats what you want to do
The Camino de Santiago offers a wide range of lodging options from hostels and albergues (pilgrim’s hostels) to hotels and private apartments. You can also choose to camp or stay in a monastery or a convent.
Books about the Camino de Santiago
The list of books about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is astonishing and many authors make it onto recommended lists time after time.
I have read and reviewed various publications and books about the Camino as part of my research into the Camino, especially before taking my first steps on the Pilgrim trail along the Camino Frances in 2016.
Some of my favourite books about the Camino are:
The Only Way is West
I love this book about the Camino Frances written by Bradley Chermside about his journey along the French route of The Camino de Santiago starting from Saint Jean Pied de Port.
The Only Way is West is a fun, witty story about his travels along this Camino de Santiago route and the people and pilgrims he meets along the way.
I am sure you’ll love this achingly funny read as much as I did. It had me in stitches.
A contemporary take on an ancient experience, Pilgrim is an entertaining and moving memoir of Kari Gillespie’s 900km walk to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
In classic pilgrim fashion, she meets and befriends an array of companions along the way, from all walks of life.
10 Paths to Santiago
Ten pilgrims from around the world share their insights on what it is like to accomplish part of or an entire Camino trail leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
10 Paths to Santiago is a well written book by Marianne Sommer and a fascinating read.
Although every pilgrim’s path is an individual experience, one thing unites them all. Their pilgrimage is a sacred personal adventure that has made them grow as individuals – and, for some, even sparked life-changing decisions.
Packing for the Camino de Santiago
When packing for the Camino de Santiago, it’s essential to bring only what you need and nothing more.
I would advise all Pilgrims to pack light to avoid carrying too much weight and causing unnecessary strain on their bodies.
Some essential items to bring include:
- Comfortable walking shoes or boots with good support
- Lightweight and breathable clothing that can be layered
- A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen to protect against the sun
- A lightweight waterproof jacket or poncho for rain
- A backpack that fits comfortably and distributes the weight evenly
- A water bottle or hydration pack to stay hydrated
- Basic toiletries, medication, and first aid kit
- A mobile phone and a charger (or a power bank)
I have developed a packing list for Pilgrims getting ready for their first Camino. Get my FREE Camino Packing Guide.
Can I get my luggage transferred along the Camino
Whilst the majority of pilgrims walk with their backpacks the whole way to Santiago there are services to help senior walkers who need some help getting their backpack or luggage from town to town. Its a simple service and works effortlessly.
All you need to do when leaving your Albergue or Hotel is fill out a form letting the delivery service know which Albergue or Hotel you are heading for and then tag your bags with the fee as well.
The delivery service will pick up the bags and deliver to your destination leaving you to walk at your leisure. A couple of these services are as follows:
Should I visit a Doctor before walking the Camino
I believe any seniors who are considering walking the Camino should consult with their healthcare provider to ensure they are in good health and able to engage in physical activity.
I would also advise any young people to do the same if they do not do a lot of exercise.
Do Seniors need insurance to walk the Camino
I would advise every Pilgrim, regardless of age, to take out some travel insurance just in case you have an accident or need help on the journey.
Walking the Camino de Santiago requires physical endurance and stamina, but it’s also an opportunity to improve your fitness level and overall health.
I would also recommend starting a fitness program that includes walking, stretching and strength training at least three months (90 days) before your planned departure.
Gradually increasing your walking distance and speed can help you build endurance and reduce the risk of injury.
When i first started training for the Camino in 2016 I was 55 and wasnt a walker. I just started by walking at least 5km 3 times per week.
After a few weeks I started to stretch the length of my walks and just continued to do this as i became fitter and stronger.
During the Camino, it’s important to listen to your body and take breaks as needed. You can also adjust your walking pace and distance to match your energy level and physical abilities.
If you experience pain, discomfort, or other symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
It’s your Camino so do not ruin it by trying to do too much. Muscle strain can kick in very quickly when you are trying to do too much.
Listen to your body all the time. If it starts telling you there is a small pain, stop and take a rest and relax.
The Camino Experience for Seniors
Walking the Camino de Santiago is more than just a physical journey. It’s also an opportunity to connect with others, explore new places and deepen your spirituality or personal growth.
The Camino de Santiago has a unique rhythm and routine that can help seniors disconnect from their daily life and focus on the present moment.
A typical day on the Camino for Seniors involves waking up early, having breakfast and then starting your walk when you are ready.
You can then walk for several hours, take breaks along the way, and arrive at your destination by mid-afternoon.
After checking into your accommodation and resting, you can explore the local town or village, visit historical sites, attend pilgrim masses or socialise with other pilgrims.
Many towns along the Camino offer cultural events, food festivals or live music performances that can enrich your experience if you come across a local Fiesta.
TOP TIP: One thing to be aware of is the strong mid day sun in Spain. I always leave a little earlier in the morning to ensure i get to my destination before the sun becomes too hot.
Accommodation on the Camino
The Camino de Santiago offers a wide range of accommodation and facilities that cater to the needs of seniors.
Albergues, for example, are affordable and basic hostels that offer bunk beds, shared bathrooms and communal spaces.
They are a popular option for pilgrims who want to socialise and meet other Pilgrims.
However, seniors who prefer more privacy and comfort can also choose to stay in hotels, guesthouses or private apartments.
These accommodations offer private rooms, en-suite bathrooms, and amenities such as Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and laundry services.
I have a detailed write up to learn all the details of Albergues on El Camino de Santiago.
Food and Drink Options
The Camino de Santiago can also a culinary journey that allows seniors to taste local specialties and enjoy healthy and nourishing food at some lovely restaurants.
There are also some restaurants that serve what is called a Pilgrim dinner. When we stayed over in Azofra we had a full 3 course meal and wine for €12 euros.
I have added a picture of the pilgrim menu we had to choose from to give you an idea of what a Pilgrim menu consists of.
You will find variations of these along the whole Camino Frances.
Along the way, you can also try traditional dishes such as paella, tortilla española, pulpo a la gallega and pimientos de padrón. I particularly like the pimientos de padron, blistered green peppers especially if they are served with a cold beer as Tapas.
There are also many supermarkets, grocery stores and cafes where you can buy snacks, fruits and drinks.
Things to see along the Camino
There are things to see, visit and witness every day along the Camino as well as some special towns and cities that are great places to stay over.
I’ve detailed some of my favourite places to visit along the Camino Frances and Camino Del Norte:
Leon has some fantastic things to do such as a private tour of the Cathedral or do a Spanish walking tour of the city.
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is a great place to while away the afternoon, take a Wine tour or a Basque foodie tour around the city.
Burgos has a great cathedral to visit as well as a market tour and wine tasting. The Rioja is rather nice.
We had an amazing time in Pamplona with some great Tapas. There are also Wine tours and a walking tour of the town.
Finally arriving in Santiago de Compostela is a feat worth of celebration and taking a few days to remember everything you have accomplished. There are also some lovely places to visit and things to do such as visiting the Cathedral, taking a day tour to Finisterre or doing a lovely wine tour.
Meeting other Pilgrims
One of the most rewarding aspects of walking the Camino de Santiago is meeting other pilgrims from all over the world.
Seniors can enjoy the camaraderie and support of fellow Pilgrims, exchange stories and tips and create lasting friendships.
There are many ways to meet other pilgrims on the Camino such as walking together, staying in the same albergue, attending pilgrim masses or joining group activities such as cooking classes or wine tastings.
Some albergues even have singing around the dinner table on an evening.
Challenges for Seniors
Walking the Camino de Santiago for seniors can also present some challenges and obstacles both physical and emotional.
Here are some of the common challenges that seniors may face and how to manage them:
Physical Challenges and Limitations
Seniors may experience physical challenges such as joint pain, muscle soreness, blisters, or fatigue.
It’s essential to take care of your body and rest when needed, as well as stretch and hydrate regularly. You can also use supportive gear such as walking poles, orthotics, or compression socks to reduce the strain on your joints and muscles.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking medication, it’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider before walking the Camino de Santiago.
You may also want to carry a medical alert card or bracelet and notify your travel companions or accommodation hosts of your condition.
Coping with the Mental and Emotional Aspects of the Camino Pilgrimage
Walking the Camino de Santiago can also be mentally and emotionally challenging, especially for seniors who may face life transitions or personal struggles. It’s essential to take care of your mental health and seek support if needed.
You can practice mindfulness, meditation or journaling to process your emotions and stay present. I use a journal designed specifically for the Camino de Santiago.
You can also talk to fellow pilgrims, seek guidance from a spiritual leader, or consult with a mental health professional.
It’s crucial to remember that the Camino de Santiago is a journey, not a race and it’s okay to take your time and go at your own pace.
Safety and Security
The Camino de Santiago is generally considered safe and secure for walkers of all ages, but it’s essential to take precautions and be aware of potential risks.
Seniors should carry a copy of their passport, travel insurance and emergency contact information, as well as a fully charged phone and a map or guidebook.
It’s also important to stay hydrated, wear comfortable and weather-appropriate clothes and shoes, and avoid walking alone in isolated or unfamiliar areas.
If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, you can seek help from other pilgrims, accommodation hosts, or local authorities.
What certificate can i get when i finish my Camino ?
Once you have completed the Camino de Santiago you can obtain your official certificate of completion, which is known as the credencial.
As long as you have walked at least 100km and got stamps for every day on the Camino you are eligible for your credencial.
These stamps can be found in cafes, bars, albergues, churches and just about anywhere pilgrims stop.
The rule of thumb is to get at least 2 stamps per day. I had some days with only 1 stamp and some with over 4. Stick to the 2 stamps a day and you will be ok.
The passport office in Santiago is the place all finishing Pilgrims go to get their documentation and this can be found at the following address:
Pilgrim’s Reception Office
Rúa Carretas, nº33 (accessed from García Sabell)
15705 Santiago de Compostela
A Coruña – ESPAÑA
Tel.: +34 981 568 846
The office is open from 10am to 6pm with the exception of Christmas Day & New Years Day when your credencial can be obtained in the cathedral.
Walking the Camino de Santiago is a unique and transformative experience that can benefit seniors in many ways.
From exploring new places and meeting new people to deepening your spirituality and personal growth, the Camino offers a range of opportunities and challenges.
By taking care of your physical, mental and emotional well-being you can make the most of your Camino journey and create lasting memories and friendships.
Whether you walk the Camino de Santiago for a few days, weeks or months, it’s a pilgrimage that will stay with you for a lifetime.