Monday, December 14, 2009

1.25 million pilgrims walking the Camino in the Holy Year?

2010 is the 84th Compostela Holy Year
(or the 118th depending on who you prefer to believe! See: )

If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of people who are planning to walk a camino route next year you might be a little concerned about over-crowding and about the possibility of not finding accommodation.  The heaviest traffic will be in Spain and although there is bound to be an increase in the number of pilgrims on the French routes as well, this post is aimed mainly at those planning to walk the camino routes in Spain.

How many pilgrims will there be?
It has been estimated that 250 000 pilgrims will earn the Compostela next year.  This does not take into account the many, many thousands of pilgrims who will walk parts of the caminos with no intention of reaching Santiago. 
The Sociology department of the Cathedral estimates the number of pilgrims on the Camino at any one time by using the registration in albergues, the data given when the credential is obtained, and other sources, such as the tourist information offices throughout the Camino.  They estimate that only 1-out- of-5 pilgrims actually receives the Compostela.  Theoretically, this means that there could be 1.25 million pilgrims walking a camino next year!!  The biggest headache for the authorities is where to accommodate all the Holy Year pilgrims.

Where will they all sleep?
Most Regions have been busy making plans since the last Holy Year in 2004.  Sports halls will be utilised and tent towns will be erected in busy areas.  The army is being enlisted to help.  Hundreds of thousands of euros are being spent on rehabilitation of paths and on way markers and other signage.  The busiest region will be Galicia where, historically, the largest numbers of pilgrims will start walking in order to earn a Compostela.  Xacobeo has a new Blog which is keeping people informed about preparations in Galicia.
Although most of us prefer to sling our backpack on our backs and start walking, stopping when we are tired, happy to queue up outside an albergue for a bed, this might not work next year. 

2004 Holy Year:

I walked the camino in May/June of the 2004 Holy Year and it was more like celebration than meditation!  The paths were busy, the albergues all had long queues of backpacks lined up outside before mid-day.  The cafe-bars and restaurants were crowded.  There was a vibrant, excited, expectant buzz amongst pilgrims - it was Año Santo, Holy Year, and you could (if you were Catholic) have all your sins forgiven! 
I think the 2010 Holy Year is going to be the closest thing to a medieval pilgrimage Spain has seen since the Reformation.  There are numerous historical accounts of huge numbers of pilgrims on the roads and crowded churches on the way to Spain and in the Cathedral at Santiago.  Pilgrims standing cheek by jowl, jostling for space, fights breaking out and people sleeping in the cathedral. 

Avoid the rush for beds:
One way to avoid the masses and the rush for beds is to pre-book as many rooms as you can ahead of time.  You cannot book beds in the pilgrim shelters run by the church, municipalities or some confraternities, but many private albergues allow pre-booking and there are many fondas (inns) hostales, pensions, casa rurals and hotels along the way.  If you want to do it on your own, you can search the many websites for accommoation, or look up hotels/hostals etc in the guide books.
    In 2004 Turespaña published a booklet called 'Guia oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago."  It is available in French, German, Spanish and English and lists all accommodation authorized by the appropriate municipal and national tourism authorities.  You can obtain the booklet free of charge in any tourist office or from TOURSPAIN, or by E-mail:

    If you think you'll need help:
    The Camino Travel Centre in Santiago will help you book rooms along your camino route and can help with reserving bus, train or flight tickets. They also store extra baggage for up to 60 days.  For hotels in larger cities they book through their booking service and are paid a commission by the hotels but for small pensions and casa ruralsa (not available through the booking services) they charge you a small booking fee.  You can contact Frank or Ivar at:  or

    Booking ahead might be the answer to avoiding the Holy Year crowds.  Not only will you have peace of mind - knowing that you have a bed waiting for you at the end of the day - you won't have to join the rush for beds in the morning, you can start walking after a leisurely breakfast, sightsee on the way and take your time getting to the next stop.  And, you can bet that there will be hundreds of pilgrims doing the same thing so you won't be alone in the hotels at the end of the day.

    Camino Frances:

    This will be the busiest route.  If you are planning to start at St Jean Pied de Port - but don't want to book all your rooms in advance - it might be wise to at least book a bed in St Jean Pied de Port - Esprit du Chemin is a lovely albergue  
    For B&B's, Chambres and Gites go to:
    The first few days of this route will be extremely busy and even in May 2002 I had to sleep on the floor in Larasoana because all the beds were taken by early afternoon.
    You can book a bed at Orisson, about 10km from St Jean Pied de Port
    Many pilgrims start in Roncesvalles so chances are it will be choc-a-block by the time you get there. You could book a bed at the 'Posada de Roncesvalles'.  We sent them a fax and our beds were confirmed by return fax.

    In Larasoana you could stay at the Pension del Peregrino -  There are dozens of small pensions and hotels in Pamplona. 

    Private albergues

    Red Albergues is a "network of private hostels on the Camino de Santiago": a non-profit organization founded December 8, 2001. Its aims as follows:
    • Developing proposals to the various administrations to create a uniform legal framework for the Pilgrims' Hostel of the Ways of Santiago.
    • Defend the rights of Pilgrim Hostels, especially the private hostels.
    • Advice for people who want to create a private Pilgrims' Hostel.
    • Hospitaleros training and preparation of volunteers.
    • Formulation of proposals on the location of new shelters and their characteristics.
    • Promotion of cultural activities related to the Camino de Santiago.
    • Collaboration with guilds, associations and public or private entities of similar purpose.
    You can download a list of private albergues for the Camino Frances on the Red Albergues website here :  and here:  
    The brochure includes some email and web addresses as well as names of transport companies that will transport your baggage for you between albergues. You will need a 'credencial' (pilgrims' passport) to stay in any of the albergues - be they church, municipal or private.  Many of the private albergues can be pre-booked and you can have luggage transported to them by taxi or transport company.
    Booking into private albergues might be the best thing for cycling pilgrims who traditionally have to wait until quite late to get a spot in an albergue. 

    Another organisation that will cart your backpacks, post stuff ahead, provide support to cyclist etc is Jacotrans: 

    A credencial is a passport to staying in the pilgrim shelters, whether they are church, municipal or private.  You can get a credential at the place where you start - often at the church or the pilgrim albergue - or from your Confraternity before you leave home.

    To earn the Compostela - certificate of completion - you have to walk the LAST 100km of any route to Santiago and profess to having walked the camino for a religious/spiritual reason.
    You do not have to only stay in the pilgrim albergues but you must have the credencial stamped at each place you stay or pass through, at churches, cathedrals, tourist offices, cafe bars, libraries (free Internet) or hotels, police stations etc.
    If you are not religious, you will be given a different certificate.

    25th July:
    If you want to time your arrival into Santiago for the feast day festivities, you should try to get there before the 25th July.  Fesitivities begin the week before and continue for a few days after the Feast Day.  Hundreds of church groups, youth groups, choirs, tours are being planned to be in Santiago on 25th July so do book a bed ahead.  Check the Xacobeo website for 2010 activities.

    The Puerta Santa
    The Holy Door, which gives access to the Cathedral from the Plaza de la Quintana, is opened on 31st December on the eve of each Holy Year, and walled up again a year later.


    1. Sil-

      Thank you for all the in-depth information you channel out to the world through your blog.
      My Camino (May 31 - July 2 '09)was an extraordinary experience and there were a number of times when fellow pilgrims shared info they'd received via you and your post.
      I'm sure you are inundated with Camino stories, blogs and such but if you have room for one more you might visit mine and match the dates above.
      I'll continue to return and read with interest. Many thanks and Season's Best - David Ault

    2. Thank you David! What a lovely message, I have bookmarked your website and will read it later today. I also walked parts of the caminos in June this year and was hospitalera at Corcubion in July. What a pity you didn't make it to Finisterre - we might have met!
      Big hug peregrino,

    3. thank you for this great info. i'm planning my first camino and until recenetly was unaware about 2010 being a holy year. i'm not planning to go until mid-september and was wondering if you expect the crowds to be heavy over just the summer or throughout the year?


    4. Hi Karl,
      September is a lovely time to walk the camino. The heavy crowds of summer have left, the rains have stopped and it is harvest time so you'll find an abundance of fruits and vegetables with great new wines on offer.
      I think the camino is going to busy all year during this Jubilee year. But, it will be a celebration not repeated until 2021 so enjoy whatever comes your way.
      un abrazo!

    5. Hi Sil, I follow your blogs with great interest. I'm a fellow South African and live in Johannesburg. My wife and I are planning our Camino from the beginning of November with the plan to reach Santiago for Christmas. Do you think that accomodation will be readily available during this time? I heard that quite a few places close over the winter period.

      Thank you for all your info.


    6. Robert - I tried to send you an email (to your address) but it was returned.

      There are many albergues that traditionally open in March or April and close at the end of the summer season but with this being a Holy Year, they might very well stay open. Although you are planning on walking for 8 weeks (± 13km per day) you might find that you'll have to walk a bit further some days to find open accommodation and could reach Santiago earlier than expected.
      Have you read the Walking in Winter post on my amawalker blog? A lot of questions about walking in winter are answered on the post. Some of it might look a little scary but it is impossible to predict the weather and some people have had cold but clear winter walks whilst others have battled through snow blizzards and freezing cold. There is a packing list for a man and a woman on the post.
      Let me know if you need any further info,