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
Cycling the Portuguese Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage route, with Rodrigo & Paulo. A first person account and travel guide for cycling the Way of Saint James, starting in Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain:
We had planned to go through the route of the Portuguese Central way in 3 days, from 27 to 29 October 2018. We settled with Cycling Rentals to receive the bikes (in boxes sent by a courier) to our Hostel in which we stayed overnight when we arrived in the city of Porto, the day before the planned start of our journey. Similarly, we would just have to return the bikes, leaving them at our final lodging location in Santiago de Compostela. These hostels/lodges where we stayed at the beginning (Porto) and at the end of the planned route (Santiago de Compostela) have to be affiliated with Cycling Rentals. And so we did.
But the conditions of various stretches of the route were quite harsh, beyond our initial expectations. So we only managed to complete the course in 4 days. Nevertheless, it was quite exhausting to complete the entire course, even in a 4-day period. The ideal for those who want to make the Portuguese Central way, in less time than walking, so as not to be so physically challenged as we were, and to enjoy many of the attractions along the way, is to travel the entire path from Porto to Santiago de Compostela by bike in around 6 days. On foot this same route is done, more commonly, in 10 to 12 days.
Porto -São Pedro de Rates
On October 27th, we started our journey to Santiago de Compostela in the hostel where we stayed, without worrying about going to the Cathedral of Porto to start the journey. We recommend not to start the journey to Santiago de Compostela as we did, as this may bring difficulties in the first KMS when leaving the city of Porto to find the indicative signs typical of the Camino de Santiago (yellow arrows and shells). Thus, the ideal start is always at the Cathedral of Porto, and then go following with attention the indications of the Portuguese way, through the yellow arrows and shells.
On this day we went until the village of São Pedro de Rates, where we stayed overnight in the cozy local hostel (Albergue de São Pedro de Rates). Just before this village, we went through the beautiful monastery of Vairão, where there is also a hostel that seemed very friendly (Pilgrim's hostel of the monastery of Vairão), and that may be also an interesting alternative, in case you decide to stop a little before arriving São Pedro de Rates.
São Pedro de Rates -Rubiães
The next day, October 28th, in the morning, we left São Pedro de Rates towards Rubiães, a long journey that day. The scenery is quite distinct from the one found on the previous day, because the urban areas found in the previous stretch were replaced by rural areas, through trails of land, often with many stones and irregularities of the terrain along the trails.
This stretch has moderately uneven terrain in general, but has a particularly high one at the end of the stretch (Alto do Portela - Labruja). The journey at this stretch also becomes more interesting, as we cross through an essentially wine-growing territory (producer of grapes and wines).
The ascent of Labruja, for those who are making the Portuguese Central way on bike, is especially harsh (when passing through there, we could not avoid associating the name with the term in Spanish 'La Bruja '-the Witch!). After overcoming all this stretch from São Pedro de Rates, it is an immense joy to find the hostel in Rubiães, which is also very comfortable and welcoming.
Rubiães - Pontevedra
From Rubiães onwards the next day, October 29th, we had a challenge to travel another great distance to Pontevedra. We passed through Valença do Minho (last city of Portugal) and Tuí (first city of Galicia), on the banks of the river Minho, which we crossed to leave Portugal and enter the territory of Galicia.
After passing through Tuí, we proceed to O Porriño. In this city there is an alternative itinerary (which we strongly recommend!) by a natural grove called As Gándaras, by the left bank of the Louro River, which avoids the industrial polygon of O Porriño, the largest in Galicia, with heavy traffic, buzz and pollution (visual, sound and air).
After passing through Redondela further forward, we finally get to Pontevedra, to finish the long journey of this day. Throughout this day, the unlevelling is moderate and the route follows alternating the asphalt of local rural roads with trails of land and gravel, passing through beautiful woods and bordering streams with crystalline waters. The hostel of pilgrims of Pontevedra is at the entrance of the city, and is very large, with good accommodation and welcoming.
Pontevedra-Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Finally, on the last day of the journey, we left Pontevedra towards the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Passing by Caldas del Rey, we went towards Padrón. Padrón is a locality of high cultural and historical interest, along with Iria Flávia, which is aside, and was founded by the Romans during the occupation of Galicia to explore the large amounts of gold found there at that time.
This whole last stage is simpler to accomplish and presents only small undulations, always following the national road N-550. This final stretch is largely made on asphalt and urbanized areas, with the mention of the moderate and progressive uphill in the Milladoiro, which required a lot of effort because we already had enough accumulated fatigue from the journeys of the previous days.
By Rodrigo Fernandez
Founder of Nattrip Brazil Ecotourism and Adventures.
Andrew Leach and friends recently cycled the Camino, starting their adventure in Pamplona on a gruelling schedule to Santiago using our Camino Rental Pack. Here is his own account of his journey and experience riding across Spain.
Written by Andrew Leach
I first heard of the Camino de Santiago when I was walking the Pyrenees about 10 years ago. I thought at the time it would be interesting one day perhaps to continue my journey on to Santiago de Compostela and so complete my journey from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
Last year a French acquaintance named Paul had just returned from his 'Camino' and we spoke of travel, walking, food and many things. Although he never entered my house as he was delivering logs, there was an empathy between us. I brought him back some special Abondance cheese from France which he likes, as a thank you for the wood. He inspired me to cycle the Camino.
The History / Legend of St James is much a character of Legend in Spain as St George is in England. Facts about his life are hard to come by, although it is certain that he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem in 44 AD... the rest is however hypothesis. His body and head are said to have been taken by his followers Athanasius and Theodoro to Jaffa where a stone boat was commissioned and within a week this boat and precious cargo were washed up at modern day Padron only 20k from modern day Santiago de Compostela where he was buried.
For 800 years he appears to have lain undisturbed and forgotten until a hermit called Pelagius had a vision of a star shining on a field (Compo - Field; Stela - Star) and his tomb was discovered. Some time later king Alfonso II declared St James patron of Spain. He was often reported to be seen in battle against the Moors on a white charger. A Church was built over his tomb and so the modern history of Santiago de Compostela began.
This summer Gerard, Michael, Neil and I set off for Bilbao to cycle the Camino. We carried just the very bare essentials... it was going to be hot.
We planned to cycle about 100k every day, over some beautiful landscapes to parts of Spain which we had never heard or imagined of .. look up Burgos, Leon, Logroño.. to name but a few of our stops, these places were a revelation to us.
The people we met along the way came from all points of the compass; Levenshulme to Christchurch NZ and everywhere in between.
Everyone we met had a different story and reasons for their journey.. too many to tell here, although one chap we saw in Santiago dressed as an old fashioned Pilgrim had been walking for years and has lived off the land without money or any modern day accouterments. Others had walked the last 100k to receive their certificate. Some people had walked/cycled from Poland, Austria or Italy, you name it and here were to be found pilgrims. One German boy I spoke with had walked into Santiago in bare feet.
The reasons for their journeys? As numerous as their origins, spiritual, penance, in memory of loved ones, a challenge? Others because it was just there to do.
The food along the way was in most places wonderful (pilgrims fare on average for 3 course was on average €15 inc of wine, coffee & water) Accommodation was excellent and inexpensive, we stayed in small hostels or converted Monasteries, which offered good value. We could have stayed in an Albergue for about €5-€10 per night but the thought of a large dormitory for the night wasn't for us.
At every stage along the way you received a Stamp to prove the distance you have travelled and at the end you receive a certificate once your credentials are produced .
We travelled through the Navarra region and on to the Castilian flatlands at between 800 and 900 meter for two days in the searing heat with little or no shade and arrived in Galicia with it's green mountainous landscape. I hope to return in the future to explore and experience some more of this beautiful part of Spain with it's friendly people and interesting culture. It is really a hidden part of Spain which I would imagine few British people have visited.
On our penultimate day we stopped in a small town called Sarria and visited a small church, we sat outside had a sandwich and drink and set off again. We all said we needed more food and a coffee and decided we would stop somewhere soon. We must have passed a few dozen places selling coffee and were leaving town up a steep hill when Neil's foot slipped off a pedal, we all stopped to see if he was ok when a voice from behind me said "Hello Mr Andrew Leach, how are you". At first I didn't recognize the face with the goatee beard and black shirt and I was trying to figure out who it was; then I realised it was Paul... the Guy who had inspired me to do the Camino. Was this Divine intervention, purely coincidence or just chance? He was working at a restaurant and served us some excellent fare and we talked for a while said our goodbyes and cycled on.
Arriving in Santiago was something of an anticlimax, with it's busy streets and pilgrims everywhere and we were tired after another long hot day in the saddle.
Did we have a religious experience? what had the journey taught us, we spent some hours discussing this over dinner that night.
It was a great journey on a terrific landscape, meeting interesting people... And you find out things about yourself and what your body is capable of. I cycled for 5 days with a badly sprained ankle, most people we met had blisters and bandages here and there.
Everyone was in agreement that it was a real sense of achievement, one we're unlikely to forget in a hurry.
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