I found a neat Camino Website with a comprehensive planning feature for the following Caminos:
• Camino Francé • Portugués • Camino de Fisterra • Via Francigena • Primitivo • Portugués Interior • Camino de Muxia
Go to the website ( see below for link) and read about the various routes. Enter your data into the simple to use planner and once you figure out which route you want, enter your starting point, such as St Jean Pied de Port, then add your last stop, such as Santiago de Compostela.
This awesome tool then allows the user to check off all sorts of interesting options based on your budget and desires. You can pick the type of lodging you want and various travel amenities, such a municipal lodging or private, WIFI and washing machines. It has a comprehensive list of options. Another great feature is once everything is plugged in you are able to download for future use.
Thank you to CRCamino for developing a super helpful webpage.
Pilgrim’s Passport or Credential (credencial del peregrino) for the Camino Santiago de Compostela
While traveling on the Camino Santiago de Compostela pilgrims carry small accordion pleated booklet called a credential or pilgrim’s passport. This document is used to identify you as a pilgrim and to track and verify your progress along the camino. The credential has numerous small blank squares, that the pilgrims will eventually fill with inked stamps or ‘sellos’ from albergues, refugios, lodging, churches, police stations, museums, eating/drinking establishments, and tourist sites. Each place has its own unique sellos.
Although it is not required to have a credential to walk the camino, unless you are staying in an albergue ( pilgrim’s hostel), if you want to receive a compostela at the end of your journey, you must carry this document and have at least 2 sellos stamped in it every day from Sarria, Spain until you reach Santiago. The official requirement request 2 sellos per day for the final 100km of walking ( or riding a horse) and 2 stamps per day for final 200km if you are on a bicycle.
Many of the stamps list the town on them and you can obtain one from the innkeeper when you check in at the end of the day and then an additional one from a church or restaurant during while you are walking. You will see stamps and ink pads on most bars when you enter a place to buy a coffee. Just ask any waiter for a Camino sello and he will probably point to it and you will be free to stamp your passport. Excluding albergues, if you do not ask for a stamp you probably won’t get one; it is on you to remember to get your stamps.
Most pilgrims start collecting stamps where ever they begin walking, not just in Sarria. If you start in a far-reaching place like St. Jean Pied de Port, France you might need several credentials because they fill up. Sellos are readily available at most places pilgrims frequent and they become a valuable memento of their Camino experience.
Once you arrive in Santiago proceed to the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office, receive your final stamp and at that point, they will examine your document and if you successfully meet the requirements you will be issued a Compostela which certifies your Camino. You will be allowed to keep both your pilgrim’s passport and your Compostela.
The wonderful old town of Portomarin is a joy to visit for a pilgrim. There are plenty of outdoor restaurants, discount and grocery stores and plenty of places to hang your laundry to dry. The town’s square includes the Church of San Juan, a building that is both a church and a small castle. This town is packed with road-weary pilgrims enjoying the fine outdoor cafes which surround the plaza. If I could have stayed for an extra night just to relax and soak in the Camino vibe I would but it was time to move on.
The next day was a blur. Pilgrims were everywhere on the trail, lots of small villages to walk through and unrelenting heat. Busloads of pilgrims from all over Europe, Asia, and South America were now on the way heading to Santiago. At one point we were walking with two young men from Korea when one mentioned they were from North Korea. What a wonderful experience for my daughter to realize that not everyone from North Korea hated Americans. They were wearing expensive Patagonia clothing so I assume they weren’t typical citizens from DPRK.
Hundreds of Spanish school children are now on the Camino on school field trips. They were singing songs, laughing and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. I felt sorry for my child because she clearly did not fit in but this was to be expected because she was walking with her mom and they were with their classmates. But she did not seem to mind and she received lots of second looks from the teenage boys but she was too young to notice.
We saw more than 1 family today pushing baby strollers up the steep hills and through the rocky paths. These baby stroller-pushing families should be awarded a medal, I know I would never be able to do it.
After about 7 hours of walking, we arrived at the town of Palas de Rei. After some searching, we realized our lodging was located directly over a noisy bar. In fact, I had to enter the bar to obtain the keys to our room. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because the room was spotless with cute twin beds and extra soft blankets in the bureau but the windows opened into a nondescript courtyard. I ensured the door was locked at all times and since there was no lobby I was not 100% comfortable staying there with my daughter.
This town was my least favorite place on the Camino, but it could have been because we were now just plain tired and worn out. In my opinion, there was nothing exciting or interesting about this place and the highlight was watching the local children riding their skateboards in the towns’ square. The Camino route in Palas dd Rei is on a steep paved hill and although the population is 3,500 it seemed more industrial than rural to me.
We ate supper with an atheist Pilgrim we briefly met the night before. She was from the UK and she despised the United States, the United Kingdom, and all other wealthy nations. Her goal in life seemed to be lecture everyone she met and ensure they were as miserable as she was. At one point she told me her husband had left her and I have to admit I couldn’t blame him. I quickly realized I did not want to spend one more minute with her, so I bought her a glass of wine and made up a story about needed to go make a call and we parted ways.
After a long, peaceful week on the Camino we felt part of the Camino family. We knew what we were supposed to do and say to everyone, and most importantly what to expect each day. Get up, walk, eat and rest, nothing more, nothing less.
Once we arrived in Sarria, Spain the atmosphere quickly changed and the peaceful calm of the previous trail was gone. There were pilgrims everywhere and they looked clean and energized with their sparkling new clothes and equipment. Sarria, Spain is the starting points for most pilgrims walking the Camino because the final 100 kilometers it is the least distance you can walk and still qualify for a Compestela once you arrive in Santiago. It was exciting to see so many new faces and groups but I was a little melancholy that the experience as I had known it, was over.
We stayed in a new albergue called Albergue Puente Ribeira in Sarria, right on the canal that runs through the Camino area. We loved our albergue because it was near all the action including a street fair and many restaurants. Puente Ribeira is super clean, modern and had several washers and dryers so we were able to sanitize our disgusting clothes and towels. Here is the website and I do absolutely recommend this place.
My clothes were falling off me because I lost weight from the heat and longs hikes so we stop by the local Rhodani Sports Store and bought new trail pants and shirts. Yea! The store was well stocked and the prices were similar to REI or Dicks in the US but they did not have a lot or any XL women clothes so I bought men’s clothes. Here’s the website:
We enjoyed some seafood and rice at one of the many cafes along the canal and then retired to our much-loved room to prepare for the final 100 kilometers of our Camino.
The next morning, we departed our albergue and jumped right back on the Camino which was located behind our albergue. All the additional pilgrims ensured the peacefulness and serenity of our prior days had disappeared, but it wasn’t unexpected. We had been warned the most people start their Camino in Sarria and it was true.
We wandered through beautiful hills, forest, and some older farming villages. We peeked into some of the open barns to gaze at enormous cows and enjoyed listening to the roosters trying to wake everyone up. Although the Camino had now changed for us it was still a simple place.
This day was long but it was relatively flat. After lunch, I swore we had walked at least 30 miles but it was probably only about 15. Today’s endeavor just would not end. Just when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore we approached the River Mino and the Camino trail went over the bridge over the river. Portomarin was our final destination for the day and it was just on the other side of the bridge.
Walking over the bridge was the most frightened I was our entire time in Spain. It was built high above the water and the cars sped by us pilgrims. I thought for sure we were going to get hit and tossed straight down into the River Minho. Looking back at the pictures it doesn’t look so precipitous as I remember but I guarantee you if you are the least bit afraid of heights you will not like anything about this bridge. Funny, but my 12-year-old wasn’t concerned about the terrifying bridge in the least. She was singing along with her music and devoid of any fear. Silly girl.
After timidly crossing the bridge we then faced a steep set of stairs up into Portomarin.
Will we ever finish this ‘easy’ day?? The stairs were a beast but the view the entire up is stunning, so we took our time and just kept climbing. Unfortunately, after climbing the stairs and entering this charming town we discovered this town was built on a steep hill and the main church and our lodging were at the top of this hill. Somehow we made arrived at our Refugio and were happy with our accomplishments.
Portomarin was definitely one of our favorite places. The main plaza has great restaurants where pilgrims congregate to socialize and discuss the day’s events.
I just started a new Facebook Group for those wishing to begin researching, preparing and finding out info for a possible Camino Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage.
This group is not made up of judgemental or experts on the Camino. It is just a group of regular people who want to learn more about the Camino and possibly start planning their Pilgrimage. Those who have walked before are especially welcomed to answer questions.
Please consider joining and contributing your knowledge. Here is the link to copy and paste into your browser:
In the year 2009, my family faced a heartbreaking situation when my husband and father to our 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth died after valiantly fighting the dreadful disease known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). At the time of his death, we both had successful careers and Elizabeth had not even begun kindergarten. It rocked our world to the core, but I decided right away I was not going to allow our great misfortune ruin our lives, so I chose to survive.
After the funeral, I really had no time to properly grieve because I was responsible for a small child and a demanding career. We fell into a routine and with tremendous help from our family, Elizabeth did great. She is now 13 years old and remembers very little of our life before ALS robbed her of her dad.
I found working, commuting and single parenting very difficult, so at age 52, when I had accumulated enough time to retire, I did. I stayed home and raised my then 7-year-old and removed some of the parental burdens from my parents, who up to my retirement were doing most of the child-rearing.
My late husband’s name was Joe and he was a New York City Police Detective. Everyone who met him agreed he was the perfect example of a stereotypical NYPD type of guy, with his thick NYC accent, always impeccably dressed in Paul Stewart suits, quick-witted and sarcastic. He was 6’5” and weighed well over 230 pounds so criminals rarely tried to flee or fight with him or his brothers in blue. He definitely could protect himself and the rest of our family. In 2008 he started slurring his words and losing weight but we did not know what was wrong. In late 2008 it was apparent that the problem was ALS and several months later he was dead.
My husband was a September 11th World Trade Center first responder, as were most of the people we hung out with and knew, but his illness has yet to be formally linked to that horrible time. As most of those who were present while the attack happened we know what really happened down there. There were no respirators or face protection on that day and many, many people have since become sick and have passed on. Our family and friends believe his disease was caused by the toxins he inhaled during those first hours at Ground Zero.
I have wanted to walk the French Way of the Camino Santiago de Compostela since viewing the movie, “The Way” in 2010. Although still struggling with grief, we had built a nice life for ourselves, but I thought if I completed this pilgrimage maybe I could finally put his death behind me. The time was not right because of Elizabeth’s young age and I was fearful of taking her to Europe to walk alone. In 2017 I finally decided the time was right, so Elizabeth and I flew to Spain to walk the Camino Santiago de Compostela.
One of the important stops along the Camino is named Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) and it is the highest point on the way. As you can see from the attached photos, a metal cross is affixed to tremendous wooden pole that is surrounded by a massive pile of small rocks which have been growing larger each year as pilgrims walk past. Pilgrims place a rock in their backpack when they leave home and it stays there until they arrive at the Iron Cross and then they leave the rock at the base of the mound. The act of leaving the stone is to absolve them from their sins and to leave their burdens or pain behind on the mound.
There are several legends of the origins of the Iron Cross, one being it was built by the hermit Gualcemo in the 11th Century to help pilgrims cross the mountains or maybe it was simply erected centuries earlier as a trail marker for when the ground was covered in snow.
While still at home we prepared a nice beach rock with Joe’s name and attached a small replica of his NYPD badge. We carried it to Spain and hiked with it until we arrived in Cruz de Ferro.
When we approached Cruz de Ferro I was immediately struck at how different this site was from all the previous Camino stops. There was a paved path, lots of police vehicles watching the site and busloads of tourist waiting for their chance to climb to the top. Definitely not the quiet peaceful sites we used to on the Camino.
After Elizabeth and I climbed to the top of the mound I could only focus on the thought that what we were standing on had been built by so many others before us and all the new stones we were leaving would soon be crushed by future pilgrim’s stones thus building the pile larger.
Elizabeth and I then left our precious stone on the base with all the others. This was a solemn moment for us and there were tears, but overall, I was overjoyed remembering our love and acknowledging the grief and great loss we have experienced during the past 8 years. Rest in Peace Detective D.
We then continued on the way, happy to be in Spain, grateful to have been married to my best friend and hopeful that life for my daughter and I would just keep getting better.
At around 3:00 0 in the afternoon we finally arrived at our hotel in Rabanel del Camino, Spain. Although most of the trail had seemed relatively flat, we were now in the mountains region and we started to experience long, steep inclines, including the road through Rabanal del Camino to our hotel.
The isolated village of Rabanel del Camino is a small ancient hamlet with a population of about 60 residents, that sits at the foot of the Mount Irago and has a long interesting history. During the time of the Crusades in the 14th century, the Knights of Templar were widely credited with defeating the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula. That same secretive order protected Rabanel del Camino and provided protection to the Christian pilgrims crossing Mount Irago en route to Santiago. Knowledge of the extensive history of Rabanel and the Pilgrimage forces me to understand just how many pilgrims have struggled to walk through its stone streets over prior centuries.
We choose to stay at the El Refugio Hosteria in the center of town, right on the Camino. This quaint family-run inn has 16 rooms and is kept in immaculate condition. The façade of the building is made of stone and the rooms overlook the Monastery, the Camino and you can view the mountains which we would pass through the following day in the distance. We quickly went up to our 3rd-floor room and entered using an old-fashioned skeleton key. I opened the unscreened windows to let in fresh air, while Elizabeth collapsed on her twin bed. Inside the bathroom was the smallest tub I’ve ever seen, only about 2 feet by 2 feet, if my memory serves me right. I filled it with cold tap water and both of us removed our hiking shoes and sweat soaked socks and soaked our feet for a good long time. We immediately felt energized and comfortable.
I then walked across the street to the towns grocery/everything store to buy snacks and water for the next day. I purchased some chocolate and a couple of liters of Aquarius which I wrongly assumed was regular water. Back in the room I tasted the water and realized it wasn’t typical spring water but some sort of sports drink that neither of us liked, so we tossed it out. Yuck. Plan B was to purchase water for the next day from the hotel receptionist before we started out at 5:45am. This turned out to be a big mistake because when we departed there was no one at reception and the stores/ café was closed, so we started walking the Camino without any water in a heatwave. More on this in a future segment.
I then dragged Elizabeth to La Iglesia de Santa Maria de La Asuncion Church across from our hotel. Benedictine monks chant the vespers in Latin each night at this Romanesque church on the Camino. The ancient building had a pretty bell tower but the inside appears to almost resemble a cave. Because this service is well known to pilgrims as a must-see event it is usually packed with locals and pilgrims. I am glad we experienced the vespers but we ended up standing in the back and Elizabeth pouted through the entire Latin mass.
The only caution I have is the chapel is tiny and unless you get there early and are lucky enough to get a set, you will be squeezed in the rear or sides with many other pilgrims and locals. Here is the website if you would like additional information:
We ate a terrific Pilgrim’s meal at the restaurant in our Refugio. The entire gas light eatery was filled with pilgrims enjoying the ambiance, wine, and scrumptious meal. I had the salad with tuna and some pork roast and Elizabeth had her usually spaghetti Bolognese and ice cream. We then went upstairs to our room and past out from exhaustion.
My daughter Elizabeth and I are early risers, so getting up before dawn would not be a hardship for us while walking the Camino Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. Our plan was to leave by 5:45 am in an attempt to avoid the brutal heat and humidity of the day.
We left our much-loved hotel in Astorga in complete darkness, turned on our headlamps and headed out to find the way. We quickly saw other pilgrims and just followed along. We were still in Astorga when we saw our first restaurant/bar with the lights on. We timidly entered the establishment with so many other pilgrims but feeling like outsiders. We ordered our standard Camino breakfast of café con leche, croissants, and fresh squeezed orange juice. All the backpacks and walking sticks rested against a wall while pilgrims stood at the bar eager to eat and get back on the trail. The server was neither friendly nor rude he just brought the food, collected the money and was on to the next customer who was most assuredly another pilgrim.
I was extremely nervous at this early hour that we would lag behind the other pilgrims that were out and about. Would we get lost, die of heat exhaustion, be attacked by wild dogs, robbed in the forest areas and how the hell do I call the police in Spain?? So many questions, but so much excitement and pure joy that I was walking the Camino Santiago.
We quickly departed the café and joined the hundreds of others walking single and double file on the way. Quickly people were passing us but they always said “Buen Camino” as they did. At first, I felt foolish responding with “Buen Camino”, like I was a fake pilgrim or a fraud. This was our first day and others had been walking for weeks but after an hour or two, it became second nature for both me and my teenager.
As we walked out of Astorga, over several highway overpasses we observed the sun rising in the east. I knew the heat and humidity would soon prevail and I dreaded it. Sure enough, about an hour later I started sweating and didn’t stop until I was on the plane heading home from Spain four weeks later.
After about 5 miles we found our groove and were thoroughly enjoying this experience. We spoke to fellow walkers from all over Europe and they all seemed pleased that my child was walking. One Italian man was about 75 ish and told us he had been walking for over a month and the entire time we walked with him, he serenaded us with beautiful songs in his native tongue. The sound of people walking with their heavy hiking shoes, hiking poles clicking on the ground, and quiet conversations quickly became the norm.
Each day we walked about 15 miles and we were constantly hungry and thirsty so we stopped a lot, including 2 times for breakfast, a snack and then a long leisurely lunch. The best part of stopping was that all the pilgrims walking with you at different sections all seemed to stop and linger at the same cafes so you could reconnect.
It started raining and Elizabeth was thrilled to use her new rain poncho but not me. I knew the plastic was going to trap in more heat and it did. We quietly walked the trail and finally approached the very small town of El Ganso (translates to the goose) and decided to dry off and have lunch. El Ganso is home to the infamous Cowboy Bar, but we choose the no-name restaurant across the road to chow down on freshly prepared Spanish omelets and bananas. We were thrilled because there was a sign on the wall that said “240 kilometers” to Santiago so we were making progress.
We then got back on the Camino and immediately noticed the villages were smaller, some only appear to have a couple of houses and our trail went right by their front doors. I loved wandering through these tiny towns where some of the villagers sold drinks and walking sticks from their front doors or windows. Elizabeth decided to purchase a walking stick and paid about 5 euros for a very nice one. It was made of wood and had Camino Santiago carved into its side. We were advised that we needed a walking stick because of the steep hills but up to this point we had not really seen any hills, but would shortly.
That afternoon the crowd of pilgrims had thinned out and for the first time, I was unable to see pilgrims in front or behind us. This was my concern prior to arriving in Spain, hiking through the woods and not know who was lurking behind those trees. My motto was ‘there is safety in numbers’ and I had no intention of letting Elizabeth get victimized.
So just prior to entering our first forest we stopped and waited for 15 minutes until other pilgrims approached and we joined their pack. Many times, the groups you are walking with spoke no English, but it didn’t matter because we all had the same goal, to get to the Cathedral in Santiago. Once we entered the exquisite, old growth trees forest and started walking on the simple dirt trail I somehow knew we would be safe. The forests turned out to be my favorite places on the Camino, so peaceful and calm, a perfect opportunity for reflective moments.
At some point, we started seeing wooden twigs made into crosses that were placed in the barbed wire fences. There were literally hundreds of these crosses in this section of the Camino and they reinforced the fact that so many pilgrims came before us. All the anxiety and fear were gone and now all I care about was walking towards Santiago. We would be safe and succeed on this difficult journey and we knew it.
Elizabeth has only 2 vivid memories or our first day; all the crosses on the barbed wire fence and how happy she felt when she first observed the town where we would rest for the night in the distance. It took us another hour and a half to reach Rabanel, but I agree it was a great feeling when it first appears on the horizon.
After 8 or 9 hours of walking, we reached Rabanel, which is located straight up a long hill and although completely exhausted and depleted from the oppressive heat, I don’t remember being happier in a long time.
We arrived at the deserted Astorga, Spain train station around noon, during a heat wave so hot and uncomfortable that it was widely referred to in Europe as ‘Lucifer’. Carrying all our worldly possessions on our back, we were full of excitement to start our pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago the next morning.
Although everyone told me I wouldn’t get lost on the Camino I was soon skeptical. After exiting the train station, I really did not know how to get to our hotel, just that it was a block or two from the Camino and the Cathedral. Somehow, I thought I would just know how to get there but this was not the case.
Since I didn’t want my 12-year old to know I was feeling disoriented and had no idea where the Camino was actually situated, I needed to get my act together. Luckily, I did have cell service and was able to google and find directions that were only 5 minutes away. But as we trudged up the steep road I then realized the Google estimate was for driving not walking. For the next 2 plus weeks, the only directions or times I would need from google would be the walking instructions.
The Camino’s path is marked with yellow arrows and scallop shells all directing you towards Santiago. We started seeing the arrows and we finally found our hotel across from the Cathedral and right off of the Camino.
Astorga is a beautiful town with lots to see and do. Hotel Spa Cuidad de Astorga was chosen as our hotel because it had a pool and spa. I wanted my child to enjoy her time here in Spain, thus the pool, but I really needed to recover from the jet lag, so the steam and sauna were for me. The hotel was quirky, modern, centrally located, and the staff was extremely helpful. They are used to pilgrims and their needs, and it shows. Our room was air conditioned but little did I know that would be one of the last air conditioned anything I would see for a couple of weeks.
We ditched our backpacks and went downstairs to the Spa. We had the entire place to ourselves as there wasn’t even an attendant there and thoroughly enjoyed the pool, hot tub, sauna, steam and Turkish baths. They have plush towels and drinks set out for those using the facilities. Although it is in the hotel’s basement, it had large windows and skylights, so beautiful light streamed in and it never felt closed-in nor claustrophobic.
We then set out to obtain our first pilgrim passport stamp in Astorga from the nearest albergue. An albergue is an inexpensive place where pilgrims sleep while on pilgrimage in Spain, that is owned by the local government or the Catholic Church. Since most albergues are co-ed I decided that it was best that my child and I stay in private rooms or moderately priced hotels along the way.
The pilgrim’s passport inscribed with your name is available through organizations such as American Pilgrims on the Camino ( APOC). Just like an official travel passport receives stamps from different countries, this passport receives a unique stamp from the businesses along the Camino. This passport entitles pilgrims to pilgrim’s meals and lodging at a substantially discounted rate along the way. Once you complete the Camino, the passport will be your proof at the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago that you walked the required stages of the Camino. After examining your passport, with its many different stamps and dates, the Pilgrim’s Reception officials will issue you a Compostela if you have completed the necessary requirements.
We then walked to the Albergue de Peregrinos San Javier to have our passport stamped. Once inside we realized how hot these albergues can be. There were no apparent fans and the place was stifling. We saw several pilgrims lying on their cots totally exhausted from the long day’s hike. Alarmed is an understatement of how I felt at that moment. What was I doing bringing my 12-year-old to Spain alone to walk 270 kilometers during the summer? Was I crazy? I would soon find out.
We then visited magnificent Astorga Cathedral, which began construction in the 15th century but not completed until the 18th. Adjacent to the Cathedral is the EpiscopalPalace a beautiful castle designed by the incomparable architect Antonin Gaudi at the turn of the 20th century and which houses a museum devoted to pilgrims. This town, with a population of only 11, 000, has both a palace, a cathedral and the Camino trail running through the town center. Amazing sightseeing opportunities everywhere in this village.
Within blocks of the Cathedral are plenty of shops serving pilgrims needs such as hiking gear, scallop shells and sun hats. After some last-minute shopping, we remained in the plaza just pilgrim watching. I was just so jealous of their look, which was part strength and confidence, and part shabby and dusty. They appeared exhausted to me and I could not wait for the next morning to become part of this group; those that were willing to give up their comfortable lives back home to walk across NW Spain.
Our plan for the following day was to rise before dawn to start out at 5:30 am when it was still reasonably cool and to begin our Camino.