While more and more people are choosing travel the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage by bicycle, and there is an increasing range and quality of service offers for travelers, the Camino is still a tough journey to undertake. Here's what you need to know before you go.
Written by Catherine Deffense
Although a few brave souls do undertake the Camino pilgrimage during the winter months, where they will brave snow, sleet, rain, low temperatures and many closed conveniences, we would not recommend cycling The Way of Saint James from November to January.
The most favorable weather conditions are from May to September, bearing in mind that August can get very hot on the plains between Burgos and Astorga. Naturally, it's no secret that the weather is usually best at these times of year, so you will have to count on more pilgrims on the route during these months.
We recommend May, June and July, and then September as our favorite months as generally the weather is more stable, sunny and also you avoid the sacred holiday month of August which brings in tourists from all over Spain and Portugal.
Depending on the route you choose to cycle to Santiago de Compostella, you may cover between 300 to 800 kilometers, over varied terrain and very different regions of Spain or Portugal, including a few challenging climbs - whichever route you pick!
Over the course of you Camino bike tour you will traverse several provinces of Spain or Portugal with their own unique landscapes and topography. Generally, the hilliest and most challenging, with it's never ending rolling hills is Galicia, and the flattest Leon.
Other things to consider are the weather conditions, not least of which being the wind that is often felt blowing across the plains between Burgos and Leon. Rain and hail are a possibility when cycling through the Rioja region - even during the summer months.
One of the most interesting parts of any Camino pilgrimage, and indeed travel anywhere in the world, are the people you meet. You can expect to meet people from all over the globe and from every walk of life along the Way. The locals very often live off the Camino and the pilgrim trade - as they have done for a thousand years - and they are more affable than many in Spain and as friendly as ever in Portugal.
While in it's essence the Camino is a holy and spiritual pilgrimage, there are some less than holy characters who have since the origins on the route, persisted in thieving from unwitting pilgrims. While this is generally limited to small thefts of tech items and apparel from larger Albergues, bicycle theft is not unheard of in the larger cities and we do recommend opting for our low cost crash and theft insurance if you rent bicycles to cycle the Camino. In terms of personal safety, the Camino is the only route we would recommend without reservations to single female bike travelers. Along the way, locals, pilgrims and local police are all in the Camino spirit and in my own experience you never feel unsupported or unsafe.
We we started cycling the Camino back in the 90's, the type of accommodation and restaurants in the north of Spain were pretty basic, and the level of service outside the main cities along the Camino was rudimentary to say the least - you were guaranteed an authentic experience without fail! These days, you can choose from basic Albergues to boutique hotels and pilgrim menus to Michelin rated degustation menus - something to suit every taste and budget! On our own self guided Camino bike tours, we offer mid range accommodation that hits the sweet spot between price and luxury.
The first thing to bear in mind about the Camino de Santiago is that given the distance, elevation and natural micro-climates, the variation of the weather is something you must prepare for, any time of the year.
From the brisk mornings in the Pyrenees to the hot plains in and out of Leon, to the chilly heights of O Cebreiro and the possible rain showers around Santiago de Compostela, you will be exposed to a range of temperatures and weather conditions. With that in mind and because you don't want to pack too heavy we suggest 3 main types of equipment:
Riding Gear - Cycling clothes and personal accessories.
Post-Ride Gear - Clothes and personal items for the end of the cycling day.
Tools and Equipment - Hardware (or software) to keep you safe, comfortable and connected.
You can find a complete and detailed packing list you can print and take with you right here.
The two main airports for Spain are Pamplona and Bilbao
You can take a ferry to Santander or Bilbao
If you are already in Spain or Portugal, you can get cycling to Santiago de Compostela straight away.