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Can you walk Camino de Santiago in December?

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Walking Camino in winter is not typical, but it isn’t something unheard of. Some of us simply cannot make holidays in spring or summer (whereas almost everyone can take some days off in December, or even a couple of weeks), and some of us cannot tolerate the heat of Spanish sun.

I’ve also talked to a few pilgrims who, living alone, found it hard to tolerate Christmas mood in the cities. They simply had to leave, so why not going on a pilgrimage? Summing it up, when the Camino is calling you in December, you probably shouldn’t say no. Or should you? We will try to find the answer on the following lines. I will explain whether is is possible to walk Camino in December–and what limitations you have to count with when deciding to do so. We will also look at some specifications, and things you should consider before making your decision. Let’s start!

 

You can walk the Camino on any day of a year, including any day of December

First of all, Camino is not some sort of a national park or some difficult hiking trail such as Appalachian or PCT, where you cannot walk in winter, simply because it is close to impossible (due to snow or restrictions). Camino de Santiago is open on all days of the year, and so is the pilgrims’ office in Santiago de Compostela, with a sole exception of 25th December and 1st January.

Technically speaking, you can walk every major Camino (think Frances, Norte, Portuguese, Via de la Plata, Primitivo etc) in December. On some ways there are some detours you have to take, such as bypassing the Napoleon route on the first day of your Camino Frances. These are well marked however, and you’ll get the information from people in the hostels and tourist offices in the cities.

While it is possible to walk the Camino in December, however, it is not the same as walking in spring or autumn. Now I will try to explain the major differences, and limitations you have to count with. It is important to understand them before you decide to go.

– Picture from the Pyrenees, Napoleon route, first day of Camino Frances. You cannot typically walk this way in winter, unless you carry ski mountaineering equipment with you ๐Ÿ™‚

Many pilgrim hostels and restaurants close for winter

Pilgrim hostels are run by all kinds of people. Some live in the place, sharing their home with the pilgrims, others belong to various non-profits and associations, and take turns as volunteers on the camino, whereas other places are run like businesses, with employees and everything, and when there is not enough business to justify the running of the place, they simply close it down for winter.

One website updates the list of albergues open in winter each year, on Camino Frances, and you can check it out here (in Spanish): List of albergues open in winter. Comparing it to the typical list of albergues, you can see it is much reduced, which means you will sometimes have no option than walking some extra distance, simply to reach the next place.

Needless to say, Camino Frances is the most popular and most commercialized Camino in Spain. Which means that you have to count with even less places open on other caminos, and it may be even hard to get the list of them in advance. Sure, you can try and contact each place from home, but you know how it goes when it comes to communication with Spanish people ๐Ÿ™‚. Some may answer in a day, some in a week, and some will never answer.

If you find any information on this page incorrect or outdated, or have a suggestion how to improve it for fellow pilgrims, please let us know. Thank you for helping the pilgrim community, and buen Camino ๐Ÿ™‚

Maybe you are an adventurous spirit, and look forward to knocking on the door of the locals, trying to get hot shower and bed for the night. That’s certainly possible and not something unheard of. Or perhaps you enjoy camping outside in winter. If that’s the case, you can no doubt embark on any camino in December. But if you prefer a different approach, and want to rely on albergues, think twice whether walking camino in December is really your thing.

 

Are you looking for company, or for solitude on your Camino?

According to the statistics from pilgrim’s office in SdC, close to 45,000 pilgrims arrived to Santiago in August 2021. In comparison, less than 1,200 arrived in December (* please note that the statistics count only pilgrims who visited the office to get their Compostela, so you should add about 20% extra for both months). Anyway, 40 times less people arrived in December than in August, and that’s something you have to take into consideration when imagining how your Camino in December will look like.

If you enjoy sharing your joys, sorrows, and philosophy of life with fellow pilgrims on the way, if you prefer company while walking, if you enjoy big communal dinners in the albergues, winter camino isn’t your thing… It may easily happen that you will be the only person in the hostel, or you’ll meet just one or two other pilgrims–who may as well as not be the companions you were looking for…

On the other hand, if you prefer solitude, and are looking for a quiet time on your pilgrimage in winter, there’s hardly a better time to embark on it. Keep in mind though that in order to be alone on the Camino, you do not have to walk in winter. You can opt for one of the less known ways, such as Camino Mozarable, Levante, the beautiful Camino Olvidado, incredibly mountainous Camino Lebaniego, and many others. What I try to convey here is that in my opinion, it is better being alone on a little popular camino in the summer, than on Frances or Norte in winter…

– Gloomy Galicia in early December. Rain, fog, and lonely streets–at times your only companions on a Camino in December…

Camino Invierno – a Camino designed particularly for winter walking

“Invierno” means winter in Spanish, and it is no coincidence this camino got such a name. Human life is complicated, and we may find ourselves wanting to, or even needing to, embark on the Camino in winter. Taking this into consideration, both Spanish authorities and enthusiasts came with a concept of a winter Camino, which starts in a beautiful city of Ponferrada, with its majestic fort and Templar secrets, and ends in A Laxe in Galicia. Of course, you can continue from there to Santiago, following one of the other routes.

This way is pretty flat, following river valleys, hence you do not have to worry about struggling to get to places cut off with snow, or simply places inaccessible in winter conditions. We can almost call it “a mainstream camino for winter walking“, because you can do it with relatively simple equipment and without a 15 kilo backpack, which you’d certainly need for some other ways in winter.

Keep in mind though that the way still lacks development, there aren’t many albergues, and it is also pretty rainy in winter, so whereas it is (relatively) easy to walk Camino Invierno in December, it isn’t necessarily the best way for everyone.

 

Can you walk Camino in December with relatively light backpack?

One thing I really love about pilgrimages in summer months is that you can go really light. If you aren’t picky, and can live without some material comforts, you can easily walk it with 4-5 kilo backpack. Because it is hot, you sleep inside every night, and you do not need to carry any food with you–there is always a shop, a bar, a place to get something (I am talking about the more developed routes of course). Winter Camino is another story though, especially if you embark on a long journey (such as trying to cover the entire French way, or the entire Via de la Plata).

Winters in Spain can be pretty rough. On the north coast you can count with some cold rain every day, and exception just proves the rule. On French way it isn’t uncommon to see fifteen centimeters of snow falling down on a single night, covering the trails and leaving you trapped in some place. And as you can imagine, it can get really cold.

It won’t be easy on any of these longer ways, you cannot count with shop or bar being open, need to carry more food, ideally a winter sleeping bag (if you are forced to sleep outside, which can happen), perhaps even a small cooking stove (so you can have some a hot tea while freezing somewhere), and of course a lot of clothes. Such equipment, even if you aren’t on a budget and can afford highly-technical stuff for professionals (such as a sleeping bag costing $600+), quickly adds to the weight of your backpack. Carrying a 15-20 kilo backpack is completely different than carrying a 5-10 kilo backpack. That’s another thing you should consider when deciding whether you really want to walk the Camino in December.

 

Final thoughts

Each pilgrim has their own story, and know why they do the Camino. June or December, it doesn’t matter. Keep in mind though that almost everything looks better and more romantic in our imagination than it does in reality.

Walking camino in December can be beautiful, and you can enjoy it, finding what you were looking for. But it can be also incredibly tough and even dangerous, especially if you lack experience with hiking in winter, and aren’t in an excellent shape. Consider everything I talked about on this page–the situation with the albergues, the number of pilgrims, Spanish weather, equipment you will need, and the right way to walk. If you eventually decide to give it a go, I wish you buen camino!

Matej

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