Numbers do not lie. In 2019 (the last year before the pandemics) over 30,000 pilgrims started their long walk to Santiago from Saint Jean in France, and the number actually includes only pilgrims who reached Santiago, and visited the pilgrims office to get their “Compostela”, the certificate of completing the pilgrimage. Which means that in fact over 45,000 pilgrims started in St. Jean Pied de Port on that year (about one third either didn’t reach Santiago, or didn’t care about waiting in the queue for official certificate). When we break it down to days for the main season, that means from April to October, over 200 pilgrims started from Saint Jean on any day! And things will stay that way once the pandemics is finally over.
What I tried to come to with my opening is that Saint Jean is really a hub for pilgrims, and you can get there everything you may need (or actually not) for your pilgrimage. Walking sticks, t-shirts, souvenirs, scallop shells, maps, food & drinks, and, of course, pilgrim passport, or as they say in Spanish, the “Credencial“. This simple document will allow you to stay in pilgrim hostels (albergues) along the Camino, and also to enjoy discounts in many restaurants and public places. What’s more, the stamps you collect along the way in your credential will serve as a proof for the volunteer in a pilgrims’ office in Santiago that you actually walked (or cycled, or rode on a horseback) the distance, and can get your certificate. But where exactly can you get your pilgrim passport in Saint Jean? You have a few options, and we’ll look at them right now.
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Get your pilgrim passport in the pilgrims’ office in Saint Jean Pied de Port
Let me start with the option I recommend the most–the pilgrims’ office. You will find it at Rue de la Citadelle, no. 39, or you can just click the following link for directions on Google Maps: Directions to Pilgrims’s Office in Saint Jean. This place of picking your credential offers several benefits. First of all, long opening hours. Officially the place opens at 7:30 am and closes at 8pm, with a lunch break from noon to 1:30pm. However, in my experience, during the main season it is open well beyond 10pm on any day, simply because pilgrims will still arrive on the last train from Bayone, hungry to start their pilgrimage on the next day, wanting a credential.
Second advantage is that you can actually get more than just the passport in the pilgrim’s office. They will give you a list of albergues (pilgrim hostels) along the way, with basic information about each place (such as opening hours, phone number, number of beds, etc). This can help you with your planning for the Camino, and it will come handy on any day when you won’t be sure how long you can, or want to walk. People in the office also have the most up to date information when it comes to first week of your walk. For example, if there are bedbugs in some albergue or the place closed down for another reason, they will tell you.
Last but not least, they have information on weather in the Pyrenees, and you can consult them on whether it is possible (and a good idea) to follow the Napoleon route on your walk to Roncesvalles, or you should opt for another alternative (due to snow, storms, etc). Of course you can also buy there the walking sticks and some souvenirs if you’d like to support the place.
– River area in Saint Jean Pied de Port on a slightly overcast day. The town has its charm, and there is always a lot of excitement in the air with so many pilgrims embarking on the journey of a lifetime…
Getting a pilgrim passport in one of the pilgrim hostels in Saint Jean Pied de Port
Back in the day it wasn’t possible to get a pilgrim passport in one of the accommodations in Saint Jean, but with the influx of pilgrims and greater demand things have changed. People running these places know that some pilgrims will arrive late, or want to start early, and somehow just do not have time to visit the pilgrim office in opening hours. Or they simply prefer (for convenience) to get the credential in the albergue.
In my experience, and from what I’ve heard from fellow pilgrims on the way, places dedicated primarily to pilgrims (the municipal albergue, and the Refuge Accueil Paroissial Kaserna–the second place in town only for pilgrims) always have some credentials stocked, and you can buy them for some symbolic sum of money (like 2 euro). I still suggest you to visit the pilgrims’ office, but if you do not manage for one reason or another on a day of your arrival, and want to start early the next day, for a long day to Roncesvalles, this is an option.
Getting your pilgrim passport in Roncesvalles, typical first day of walking from Saint Jean Pied de Port
The third option I want to mention is to actually get your credential at the end of your first day of walking–in Roncesvalles. The monastery has a small “credential factory” in place. Many pilgrims (about 5,000 a year) actually start walking from there, avoiding either the logistical hassle of getting to Saint Jean, or the first hard day of walking in the Pyrenees. And just like you they need the credential. What I like about Roncesvalles is that everything is clearly signposted, and volunteers typically do a tremendous job, so you do not have to worry about not finding the place where they issue credentials, or any other important spot for a pilgrim in Roncesvalles.
Just make sure to tell them that you actually started from Saint Jean, so they do not fill wrong information to your pilgrim passport (starting point and starting date of your pilgrimage is marked on the first page of the credential). One you reach Santiago, you want to have the correct distance and point of start on your certificate. It would be quite hard convincing the volunteers in the pilgrims’ office that you started in Saint Jean should they see something different in your credential…
Saint Jean Pied de Port is a real pilgrim hub, trailing only Sarria when it comes to the number of people who commence their pilgrimage there each year. As it is always the case, supply follows the demand, and you will find everything a pilgrim may need or want before they embark on their pilgrimage. Getting a credential is no big deal in Saint Jean. You can get it in the pilgrims’ office, or in one of the pilgrim hostels. And if both options fail, you can actually get your credential at the end of your first day of walking in Roncesvalles. Hope this helps, and I wish you a wonderful Camino!
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