The Camino is full of beauty, but there are several challenges, too. The biggest challenge—one that we didn’t have to face, is walking daily for around 40 days. I can’t tell you how that feels because we chose to do only part of the Camino Frances. Our adventure was only 10 days and a bit over 100 miles. We also took a two day break in the middle of our walk in the lovely city of Pamplona, which I highly recommend.
An important challenge for most of us was managing our tired and damaged feet. Think about it, no matter how fit you are—how many of us walk eight hours a day on a daily basis? I would bet that the subject of “how to avoid blisters” was the most popular topic on the Camino. Luckily, there were several options for care along the way.
The best advice I can give is to purchase a very comfortable walking shoe or a lightweight hiking boot. The terrain is not always smooth, so make sure you have excellent support. After your purchase, be sure to dedicate some days to long walks in your shoes. It’s also wise to try out the wide variety of socks available to hikers. There are also several blister creams or vaseline, that you could try. If you are prone to blisters or other foot problems, be sure to bring your own supplies. You can’t always find your favorite products abroad.
Not enough can be said for packing lightly. The suggested weight is a 30-50 liter backpack. My husband got by with a 28 liter pack and he had no problems. We didn’t have to carry a sleeping bag or extras for the hostel, so that helped. It’s easy to do laundry along the way. And—there’s always the option to have your pack sent ahead using an online service.
Be sure to invest in a Camino Guide or App so that you know your distances between towns. Even the smallest villages took good care of us pilgrims. The coffee shops are basic, so don’t expect to find a Grande Latte. However, the freshly cooked local food was always delicious and very economical. It was always easy to find a meal or shop for snacks in these lovely and picturesque towns along the Camino.
Another challenge can be the weather. In late May, we encountered some light rains on our first two days. We had ponchos and covers for our packs, which both came in handy. Heavy winds can also slow you down and make a day of hiking more challenging.
After leaving Pamplona, the weather turned quite warm and we were glad we hadn’t started any later in the season. We were out the door at 5:30 a.m. to avoid too much sun and get in some major miles before noon. It’s very important to have plenty of water, sun screen and a good hat because there are many hours of walking in open fields and valleys.
Whatever challenges you might face, there are many resources along the Camino. Your fellow pilgrims are often generous with their help. Our new Camino friend, Kevin, carried a bagful of homeopathic remedies and helped anyone he could. The hostels often have someone on site to provide assistance for major foot problems—or they can make recommendations. The local pharmacies are also excellent resources and are familiar with the typical maladies of us pilgrims. During our walk through the regions of Navarre and La Rioja in Northern Spain, we couldn’t have asked for better hospitality.