Is the Camino Frances becoming too stressful?

Before I answer that question, let me take you back to my first (proper) Camino in 2012. I walked from Leon to Sarria and stayed solely in albergues, if you exclude the hotel in Leon. I walked at my own pace and most of my days were finished at 1 or 2pm. Most of my mornings were early as I personally love the rising of the sun. As a result, I had a choice of beds when I arrived at my destination each day.

Fast forward to 2014, I walked from St. Jean Pied de Port to Belorado. I left at the start of September and on arriving in Roncesvalles, I managed to secure one of the last beds in the large renovated monastery. It wasn’t long before that albergue was completo (full). The hospitaleros told us that they had never seen so many people. I started to wonder if the rest of my Camino would be like this. Was this just a freak event? The next town of Zubiri is tiny that there was no way it could hold over 180 pilgrims. Luckily I had pre-booked a bed in Albergue Zaldiko before leaving home. Otherwise I could be walking to the next town. Other slower pilgrims were busing from Roncesvalles to Pamplona or further to escape this “wave”.

As the days went by, more and more pilgrims started to call private albergues ahead to pre-book, being fearful that they will arrive with no bed. Some were booked up, others not. I did it twice..once in Torres del Rio and another in Logrono. Looking back, there was no need as there were free beds once we arrived. This kind of fear or tension has an affect on your Camino and can be less enjoyable. I have also spoken to people who have arrived at an albergue at 12pm only to learn that it is booked up. This should never be the case.

The crowds walking the French Way this year are increasing (read this post from a pilgrim on the Frances), mainly due to it being a Holy Year, however there are a number of ways to avoid this feeling of “oh we are not going to get a bed”:

  • think of the date you are starting and ensure it is not a public holiday in Europe. A public holiday can see a large increase of pilgrims, especially from Spain. The recent holiday at the start of May saw 250 pilgrims leave St Jean, which is astounding.
  • you could also think about staying in towns in between Brierley’s end stages. Some of these towns are amazing, especially Viana, Lorca, or Ciruquai.
  • why not talk to the hospitalero in your albergue and ask what the crowds have been like the day prior. If they are not as bad, then take a rest day.
  • choose another Camino to walk in Spain.

I love the Camino Frances but there are so many other quieter routes in Spain that I would prefer to walk. September sees me on the Camino Finisterre and in Spring next, I hope to walk the Camino Ingles. In time, it will be quieter on the Frances and a little less stressful. I will be back then.

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11 thoughts on “Is the Camino Frances becoming too stressful?

    • You should be ok on the Norte but you should ask someone has walked it just to be sure. I have only walked on the Frances but it is awful during the peak season. Time to spread my wings, so they say 🙂

    • Trepidatious Traveller (https://magwood.me/) is on the Norte right now and provides pretty thorough daily reports about her days, and particularly about the albergues. I walked the CF in 2014 and found the traffic after Ponferrada quite remarkable, and positively nuts after Sarria. I’m walking the CP next spring or fall, and starting to get a little uneasy about the rapidly-growing popularity of that route, too. All the same, it all works out in the end – Buen Camino!

      • I met the Trepidatious Traveller when she passed through Bilbao. She’s such an inspiration 🙂 I think you should be fine in the fall for the Camino Portuguese.

      • It’s very thorough alright. I follow it and she has walked pretty much all the main Ways. That is great help to any budding peregrino. The increase in traffic on the Frances just puts me off. You should be ok the Portuguese Way at that time of the year however. Buen Camino!

  1. I have just come back from a short walk on the CF from Sarria, and was having breakfast in a café overlooking the street leading out of town … there were a lot of people. A lot. I have been on that stretch before and never seen that many but then again I haven’t been sitting by the trail watching them (the school kids actually ran up the hill but that’s another story). However, by having another coffee until the river of pilgrims became a slow trickle, and by stopping at Mercadoiro instead of Portomarin, we managed to have a practically pilgrim free walk and only saw crowds at places like Morgade, where people stopped for lunch. The long distance pilgrims I met all did the same – started late and avoided the BES – the Brierley End Stages. Other books may have other end stages but from Sarria to Santiago the main hubs are the obvious choices if you want to walk it in five more or less equal days. Summer will probably be tough though, time to open all the overflows!

    • As you well know I have only walked the Sarria stretch one time and it was very busy. EVERYTHING was planned for me, from moving our bags to where were staying. I first caught a glimpse of the “us v them” mentality also. There were lots of peregrinos with big packs walking much faster than us..possibly to find a bed, or maybe they were used to walking that fast. Who knows! However, if I walk past Sarria again, avoiding the specified end stages is the right way to go!

  2. The crowds of Frances were definitely overwhelming, especially at first. I started from Le Puy with about 30 other pilgrims. Arriving in SJPP (on 14 May 2015) was like walking into a circus. There were people everywhere! The pilgrim office told me they issued more than 400 credenciales in that one day. I walked fairly quickly to Roncevalles, arriving before 3pm, and got one of the last 3 beds open. They had overflow beds in shipping containers. Over the next few days the crowd spread out and thinned out…not everyone walks the same distance every day. And my husband and I walked shorter distances and stopped much earlier than some, so we never had a problem finding a bed. But I don’t know if there was ever a time on the Frances route that I went more than a few minutes without seeing another person. Cafes were overflowing every morning. I don’t think I would ever walk that route again. (I am looking at Norte in 2017, but am a little worried about crowds. I may just go back to the French ways, which are much quieter and more peaceful…although the expectation there is that you also make reservations every day.)

    • Walking the Le Puy is very quiet compared to the Frances. I’d say it was a culture shock. I walked with 3 guys in 2013 who started in Le Puy and they felt the same. It’s almost too much. Walking shorter and stopping earlier is a great idea. Are you following Trepidatious Traveller’s blog while she is on the Norte? It is very useful.

  3. Good question. I walked my Camino in May 2016. Off season, you think? Think again. Over 15000 pilgrims left St. Jean in May 2015, that’s roughly 500 a day. The closer you get to Santiago the more it becomes a circus, the last 100 km are a total joke. Its good to make reservations. I know it kills the spirit of adventure, but a reserved bed is softer than an unreserved floor.
    Here’s what they should do:
    – boost the minimum distance from 100 to 200 km – to get rid of all these silly tourists, who aren’t even walking the camino. they are mostly taking the bus.
    – stop those idiots on bicycles. Ok, don’t get more wrong, I like cycling too. But cycling 42 km is not a marathon. Cycling around the Kaba’a is not a pilgrimage. And cycling to Santiago is not a Camino. Fair and square. It’s too bloody easy. And all those idiots in lycra steal the beds of the guys walking.
    – only accept the stamps from albergues. right now, every cafe or pub has stamps. I’ve seen fake pilgrims stamping 6 passports. So half the guys aren’t even there. what’s the point.
    But hey, don’t let all these fakers stop you. Let everybody have their own camino, the only one that counts is yours.
    Buen camino – rik aka tapirtales.com

    • Excellent points Rik 🙂 some I agree and some I don’t. I would love to see the minimum distance increased but there is a lot of money to be made from tourism in Galicia. The final stretch to Santiago, no matter how much we don’t like it, Galicia will stand to post a great amount. The good thing about about the Camino is that everyone has strong opinions about it because we love it.

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