Camping on the Camino posted: 2012-09-15 16:00:00
While only a minority of walkers on the Camino choose to camp, it has advantages over the traditional pilgrim hostel. Tents give walkers the flexibility to choose their daily destination. People can walk at their own pace without worrying about finding a space in their intended hostel. They can also get a better sense of privacy in a tent than in a mixed dorm, and avoid the snorers! Learning to easily pitch your tent provides a useful temporary shelter. Especially if a heavy rainstorm hits you while walking the Camino. However, it is important to understand why many on the pilgrimage choose not to camp. If your only reason for camping is to save money, then perhaps you should reconsider. Usually, there is little to no price difference between sleeping in an albergue and camping on its grounds.
Campsites are known to be more expensive than hostels. One of the main reasons many chose to stay in the hostels is the social aspect of communal accommodation. Certainly, they're cramped, privacy is limited and some people snore like chainsaws. But that's all part of the experience. The hostels on the Camino routes are a hive of interaction. Walkers from all over the world can talk about their travels and potentially make new friends. Being away from the masses is a plus for many walkers who crave solitude. Some campsites are only open in the summer months as well. In which case, you may have no option but to stay in a hostel or hotel.
For many, exposure to the elements is the real downside to camping. It can get pretty cold at night, particularly if you are camping at altitude. Often, you're woken at an obscenely early hour. This is due to a combination of the light and heat beaming down from the Iberian sky. Rain is also an issue. The weather is usually dry on the Camino but, when it rains, it really rains. As you would imagine, getting into a tent with wet clothes is not ideal. Many people find sleeping in a tent to be an uncomfortable experience. After a long day trekking, walkers often crave a soft mattress rather than the cold, hard ground. Of course, you can bring additional items such as pillows, floor mats, tarpaulins, etc. These will make your camping experience more comfortable. However, this adds to the size and weight of your pack. There is very little 'wild' camping in Spain. Many refuges are located in built-up villages or towns that don't have land for tents. It is also prohibited to camp in "urban" areas, within a kilometre of an official campsite, on tourist beaches, or in "Parques Naturales". Cooking for yourself, or trying to stay warm in the winter, while camping is also difficult. This is because starting fires of any kind in natural settings is strictly prohibited. Fires are a real risk in that part of the world. Particularly in the summer months, fires can spread devastatingly quickly.
On a similar note, remember to always be a responsible camper. Leave your tent area as clean as you found it - do not litter! We have been a member of leavenotraceireland.org since 2007 and recommend all of our clients to follow their guidelines as we do. Keeping yourself clean while camping shouldn't be too much of an issue as campsites usually have shower facilities. If you pitch up at a pilgrim hostel, you can use their showers as well. Privacy, solitude, freedom of schedule and the possibility of sleeping under the stars - or as the French say, à la belle étoile. These are what draw a small group of walkers to camp on the Camino. If you've read the potential downsides to camping and still feel like it would suit you, then by all means dust off your old tent and head off on the "way". Buen Camino.
Check out our advice on Planning Your Day on the Camino here
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