A guide to cycling the Camino de Santiago in Spain: When to go, what to pack and how to prepare for your bicycle pilgrimage across Spain.
Cycling the Camino de Santiago can be a once in a lifetime adventure, and as such, to make the very most of your journey, here are a few suggestions from a fellow cyclist and perennial pilgrim to help you on your Way!
When is the best time to take a Camino de Santiago bicycle holiday? is a question we get asked a lot at Cycling Rentals and one that has many answers. It will depend on the route chosen, the specific section, as well as what you are hoping to experience on the route.
Generally, most pilgrims choose to travel from Spring to Autumn. The most famous route, the French Way or Camino Frances, for instance crosses very different regions, from the Pyrenees to Galicia, and the weather will change from region to region. Summer months can be very hot for cycling across the Meseta, the middle sections of the French Way, but if you are cycling the last section from Sarria to Santiago, temperatures won’t be as high; as you will be cycling in Galicia and its mild Atlantic climate.
Coastal routes such as the Portuguese Coastal Way, Finisterre Way and Northern Way are best appreciated in the Summer months, when seaside towns come to life.
If you are cycling in the Summer months, whether along the coast or inland, always make sure you bring essential items to avoid sunstroke such as hat, sunblock and plenty of water. You should also make sure you take breaks from the heat and avoid exposure to the sun around lunchtime, the hottest part of the day. We recommend leaving early in the day to get your cycling in before the sun can make your experience feel more extreme.
The popularity of the Camino de Santiago has increased over the past few years and you will encounter fellow pilgrims on the French Way route most months of the year, but particularly during peak season. If you are looking for a quieter experience, we recommend other Camino routes such as the Portuguese Way.
Winter months will be quieter on the French Way but the route will be more challenging due to the weather conditions. Mountain areas such as the Pyrenees and O Cebreiro are likely to get snow in the winter months; while lower areas can be wet and cold. In addition many cafes, restaurants and hotels may close during the winter months particularly in rural areas. Talk to the Cycling Rentals travel specialists if you are looking to travel on the Camino in winter and we’ll be able to advise you on your best options.
With the growing amount of Camino Rental Packs we dispatch, we thought a Camino specific cycle packing list would be very helpful! We update this list regularly and count on your suggestions to make it better and better. (Scroll down for a printable packing list).
The first thing to bear in mind with the Camino de Santiago is that you can essentially cycle the pilgrimage route any time of year - though our preference is for late spring, early summer or fall. Other times of year can be rather too cold or hot for comfortable cycling. Having said that, any time of year you choose to cycle the Camino, you should bear in mind that given the distance, elevation and natural micro-climates, the variation of the weather is something you must prepare for.
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 (despite the 40 liter capacity of our Ortlieb panniers!), here is our suggested packing list - scroll down for a pdf to print-out and you can check items off as you pack.
1 x Bike helmet
1 x Cycling cap
1 x Sun glasses
1 x Clear lens glasses (or changeable lenses)
1 x Fingerless gloves
1 x Full finger gloves
1 x Cycle Shoes
2 x Padded cycle shorts
2 x Cycle Jersey
4 x Cycling socks
1 x Light Water-proof wind breaker
1 x Warm, light Fleece (makes a great base layer for your rain jacket on cold days)
1 x Arm warmers / sleeves
1 x Sunscreen - small
1 x Small first aid kit
1 x Small packet of tissues (for pit stops!)
1 x Shower cap (for your seat on rainy stages)
1 x Long sleeve "dinner" shirt / blouse
1 x Short sleeve "dinner" shirt or polo or blouse
1 x Long trousers / practical skirt / dress
1 x Warm, light Sweater or Cardigan
1 x flip-flops or light-weight walking shoes
5 x Underwear (rinse them out in the shower on rest days!)
1 x Compact toiletry kit (including hand-washing liquid)
Tools & Equipment
1 x Smartphone and charger
1 x Spare battery pack (Optional but great if you take a lot of pictures and video)
1 x Camera (or save space and weight and just use your smartphone)
1 x Multi tool
1 x Spare tube (and / or patch kit)
1 x Small bottle chain oil
Download your packing list right here:
If you have found any other items to be useful, or any listed items to be superfluous, get in touch and let us know!
You can get by on as little as €10 if you are buying your supplies in supermarkets and grocery stores.
A ham and cheese sandwich (Bocadillo con jamón y queso) or slice of Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish omelette with potatoes) and a soft drink will set you back 4-5€, for lunch in most small bars, coffee will be 1-2€.
Some cafes and bars do a Pilgrim's lunch menu, consisting of a starter, main course/entree, dessert, drink and bread for anywhere from 5-15€. These can be great value for the main meal of the day.
Be sure to refill your Cycling Rentals water bottle at fountains along the way - always look for the sign 'AGUA POTABLE' (Drinking water).
I would recommend quite a lot of cycling before going on the Camino de Santiago. It ranges from challenging mountain passes to flat stretches of farmland and to complete the distance in a reasonable time you must have had plenty of TIME IN THE SADDLE (TITS - hehe!).
Getting accustomed to long stretches riding just takes repetition and time. Start training a few weeks before you go. Try to ride 2-3 times a week in the months preceding your Camino, and if possible ride a few days in a row, so you become used to spending time on the bike, without sore saddle bones and start to find your rhythm. Test out any gear that is new, such as shoes, helmet and padded cycling shorts if they are new to you.
These tips will make your trip that much more enjoyable and you will finish your Camino in great shape with lots of photos rather than blisters!
By Martin Thompson
Avid Mountain biker, Bike Tourist & Founding partner at Cycling Rentals