Tips and tricks for beginners on the Camino de Santiago
Many people, especially beginner pilgrims, ask us for some tips and tricks for the Camino de Santiago, although we are the ones who take care of organizing the tour for them. And it’s completely logical, because the first time you do the Camino de Santiago you have many doubts.
For them and for you, if it’s the first time you’ve done the Camino de Santiago, we’ve written this step-by-step guide about how to prepare for the Camino de Santiago for pilgrimage to Santiago. We have also developed a list of basic tips, which you will find below, for beginners on the Camino de Santiago.
There are no great secrets, but surely they will be useful to you on the Camino de Santiago if it is the first time you do it. Pilgrimage is simple, but it will be even easier and more rewarding, if you pay attention to the following advice for doing the Camino de Santiago.
Follow the yellow arrows
Many pilgrims who have never set foot on a pilgrimage route are afraid of getting lost along the way. The truth is that orienting yourself on the Camino de Santiago is quite simple, even for beginners. It’s unusual to get lost. Just follow the yellow arrows!
These were devised by Elías Valiña in 1984, signalling with them the Camino Frances. In this way, the yellow arrows have become an icon of the Camino. If you want to know more about this famous icon of the Camino de Santiago, so that even if you are a beginner you are the most expert of the route, check out the article that we dedicate to Jacobean symbols.
Do you want to see the symbols yourself? The Camino de Santiago from Sarria awaits you with its green landscapes, pleasant walks and a magnificent atmosphere in which you can share with other pilgrims. Give us more information about your travel plan and let us take care of making it happen.
Currently, yellow arrows are present on all routes. These can be located almost anywhere: on the ground, on a power line pole, on a tree, on a traffic signal, on a stone, etc. At first, beginners on the Camino de Santiago have a hard time seeing them, and that is why it is important that you pay attention to them during the first few days, then you will see them from far away.
Other signs on the Camino de Santiago that help beginners
The signage on the Camino de Santiago is also composed of other support symbols. Some of them have a design typical of the autonomous community or the province that is being crossed.
The scallop shell is also a very frequent sign found on the Camino de Santiago. In cities, it is common to find them made of metal and embedded in the roadway. It is also common to find them drawn on tiles. If you want to know more about this icon of the Camino de Santiago, do not miss the post that we dedicate to the Jacobean shell.
In Galicia, you will also find the famous stone markers on the Camino de Santiago. These, in addition to telling you that you are on the right path, also inform you of how many kilometres there are to reach the Cathedral of Santiago.
If you don’t know where to go…
With route directions, what we always warn beginners on the Camino de Santiago is that if they arrive at a junction where they do not see any kind of sign for the Camino de Santiago, the usual thing is that they must continue going straight ahead. Not all pilgrim routes are equally well equipped with good signals.
In the case of getting yourself lost on an urbanized stretch, we recommend asking local people to find out where you should continue walking. Normally everyone knows exactly where the pilgrim path runs. It is even likely that, without asking, some neighbours will tell you that you have left the Camino de Santiago, they are very accustomed to finding beginner pilgrims like you, who are a little disoriented during the first days.
However, if you do not find any signage for the Camino de Santiago that confirms that this is the right direction, try to check the information with more than one person. Don’t walk in vain, take advantage of your energy!
In the unlikely event that you get lost in an undeveloped stretch, our advice, pilgrim, is to stay calm. With some patience you will find the pilgrim path again. In the worst case, you only have to locate a road to follow. This one will necessarily lead you to a village.
Start the day early
Pilgrimage is a magnificent and very enriching experience, but it can be exhausting. It is normal that you feel tired, especially during the early stages on the Camino de Santiago and if you are a beginner in this habit of walking kilometres and kilometres.
The trick of the Camino de Santiago is to start the day early. No sleeping until 9 a.m.! Wake up early enough to pack your things, eat breakfast and start walking with the first rays of sunshine. Depending on the time of year, sunrise will be at one particular hour or another.
We strongly discourage walking at night. Especially if you walk in the vicinity of a road, as it can be dangerous. In that case, it would be advisable to have reflective clothing and most pilgrims do not have it.
Another inconvenience of walking before dawn is that you miss the landscape. As you can see in this other article about how to understand the advice of the Camino de Santiago, not all the things you hear about the Jacobean route should be applied in black and white, that is a mistake in which many beginner pilgrims fall.
Eat well and discover local gastronomy
Eating well is essential to have the energy necessary to complete each one of the stages on the Camino de Santiago. It is better to eat frequently than to have very big meals.
One of the tricks on the Camino de Santiago, which we remind all the pilgrims we have accompanied to Compostela, is that they should always have some food in their backpack: some nuts, some sugar, a small snack, etc. Especially if it’s a period with only a few services.
Obviously, we’re not talking about carrying a lot of food in your backpack, making it even heavier. But having some food that can help you in case of fatigue or if sugar is needed.
On most stages of the Camino de Santiago, you will find places to sit and eat in a relaxed way. In fact, one of the wonders of doing the pilgrim route is to be able to enjoy the magnificent gastronomy that is found during it.
Forget about pasta and chicken menus; and look for typical dishes. Many beginner pilgrims are seduced by the menus of pilgrims and sometimes, their offer is far removed from the traditional cuisine of the region. Gastronomic tourism is part of the experience. Meat, fish, seafood, exquisite sweets and a wide wine culture await you on the Camino de Santiago.
Use the fountains on the Camino de Santiago
Drink frequently and stay hydrated. Throughout the Camino de Santiago, you will find numerous sources of drinking water. In addition, both on the paths of the Camino de Santiago that run through Spain and on the pilgrim routes in Portugal, tap water can be drunk.
Therefore, one of the tricks for the Camino de Santiago is that you don’t need to buy bottled water. The most important is that you find out what the stage you are going to travel is like, to know if you will find fountains along the way or places where you can top up your supplies of water.
Some stages on the Camino de Santiago face many desolate kilometres with steep slopes. In those cases, you should make sure to carry enough water in your backpack. Otherwise, especially in summer, you’ll be at risk of dehydration symptoms, such as headaches. Neglecting water is one of the classic mistakes that beginners make on the Camino de Santiago.
Take care on road sections
One of the most important tips on the Camino de Santiago is this one. Roads are dangerous and on all the routes of the Camino de Santiago you will find stages during which you will walk along the road, by it, or cross it.
On those occasions, you should pay special attention to traffic, whether you are following the road layout or if you are about to cross it. Follow these four recommendations for asphalt sections along the Camino de Santiago:
- Walk, whenever possible, on the left. That way you’ll see the cars that drive closest to you coming.
- Avoid walking in groups, occupying part of the roadway. It is advisable to walk in single file.
- Calculate when to cross the road well. Remember that accumulated tiredness and weight of your backpack can make your movements slower.
- Do not cross the road if you do not have good visibility. If it is necessary to walk a few metres to cross without any risk, do not hesitate to do so. Beginner pilgrims are always advised to avoid walking in vain on the Camino de Santiago, but you should not put yourself in danger by saving a few extra steps.
Look after and listen to yourself
Doing the Camino de Santiago requires a physical effort from the body. Our advice, pilgrim, is to take care of yourself from day one. Don’t wait for trouble to start taking care of yourself.
Take care of your feet on the Camino de Santiago. Massage them and use creams to prevent chafing and blistering. In this article we give you some tips to avoid injury on the Camino de Santiago and look after your feet.
Eyes and skin are also important. Wear sunglasses and apply sun cream often in all areas exposed to the sun. Don’t forget your neck.
Listening to your body is essential to avoid injuries that can cause long-term problems. If you start to feel discomfort in your joints, stop to give them a chance to recover. Accepting these kinds of situations is one of the lessons learned on the Camino de Santiago.
Take care of yourself on an emotional level, too. One of the tips for the Camino de Santiago, if you want to fully enjoy the experience, is to find time to be with yourself. The Camino de Santiago has a strong festive component, but also a spiritual one. Spending some time alone will help you to reconnect with yourself.
Whoever you go with, walking some stretches in solitude is totally legitimate. Don’t be afraid to express it openly to your peers. No one should be offended by it.
Share the Camino de Santiago
Pilgrimage has a strong social component and it doesn’t matter if you do the Camino de Santiago alone or accompanied. The Camino de Santiago is always shared with other pilgrims.
Enjoy the conversations with other colleagues during the Camino de Santiago, both of those who accompany you from home and the new friends you will make during the tour. Listen to their concerns and share yours. The Camino de Santiago creates very strong bonds between people.
Take care of whoever needs it. If you see someone having problems along the Camino, help that person and don’t leave them alone until they have assistance. These gestures are part of the magic of the Camino: fraternity among pilgrims.
One of the key tricks to fully experience the Camino de Santiago is to disconnect from technology, and pitifully many beginner pilgrims forget about it. Stay away from screens. The Camino is shared with other pilgrims, not on social networks. Allow yourself a break and connect with yourself and others!
The Camino de Santiago crosses beautiful landscapes: rivers, valleys, endless plains, beaches and endless natural attractions. We always advise pilgrims to enjoy them.
Connection with nature is inevitable on the Camino de Santiago. It’s your body and the environment, no motor vehicle separates you from the landscape around you. If you respect nature, she’ll take care of you. It’s a universal law.
Watch your valuables
Luckily, robberies on the Camino de Santiago are rare. The pilgrimage route is quite safe, in this sense. However, thieves should not be tempted either.
Do not leave your things forgotten or unattended in hostels, bars or cafes; or during your intermediate stops under the shade of a tree or at a viewpoint. Our advice for beginner pilgrims is not to bring very valuable things to the Camino de Santiago.
Enjoy your arrival in Santiago
Arrival in Santiago de Compostela is a special moment for each pilgrim. No matter how you imagined that moment, enjoy it as you are living it, especially if it is the first time you have completed any of the routes of the Camino de Santiago.
In our guide we always give the same advice to pilgrims. Enjoy the exciting moments in the Plaza del Obradoiro. Completing the Camino de Santiago is a very special moment, both for beginner and experienced pilgrims. Every occasion is unique and different.
It is true that there are many traditions associated with your arrival at the Cathedral of Santiago, such as, for example getting the Compostela, but you’ll have time for it. Take your time when you get there!
We hope you found our basic tips for beginners on the Camino de Santiago interesting. Many of the pilgrims for whom we have organised trips to Santiago told us that they were very helpful.
We trust that they will be for you, too. Remember that if you want us to help you experience the pilgrim adventure, you just have to get in contact with us, or write on our Facebook page.