Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Almost anyone can walk, ride or cycle a camino. You’ll find babies in carriers, little children, octarians well into their 80s, blind people, amputees and people in wheelchairs on the camino trails.
Even healthy, able-bodied people are anxious about walking hundreds of kilometres across a foreign landscape. Many of the camino trails consist of rocks, gravel, shale, mud, dirt and some asphalt or tar – difficult enough for most but quite daunting if you have a disability.
EG: On the Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, the 798km route looks like this:
Paths/Tracks 505km 63.3%
Quiet roads 202.6km 25.4%
Main Roads 90.4km 11.3%

60 pilgrims in wheelchairs received the Compostela in the 2004 Holy Year.
The same year Nick Hoekstra also received his Compostela – he is blind.
You can read his story here:
So far this year (July 2010) 26 pilgrims in wheelchairs have earned the Compostela.

Advice for pilgrims with disabilities:
Have a complete physical check-up before you go and ensure that you are in the best possible health.

• Obtain copies of any prescriptions you might need and any spare parts of your wheelchair, crutches, hearing aid, visual aids etc.

• Before leaving make sure that you are aware of all the difficulties you may encounter as a pilgrim with disabilities and the accessibility of different places on the Road to Santiago such as accommodation, catering establishments, etc.)
• The best time to do the camino is May/June and September/October. Early spring brings rains, mud and sometimes late snow falls. November is the start of winter and early snow or heavy rains will make the paths impassable.
• Ensure that you have some form of identification on your person with emergency contact details and information about your disability.
• Always face the on-coming traffic if you are on a road.
• Hearing impaired pilgrims must take extra care when crossing the road and at intersections.
• Visually impaired pilgrims should be accompanied at all times.
• Intellectually impaired pilgrims should be accompanied by responsible people who understand their disability and needs.

Pilgrims with physical disabilities
There is very little literature or resources for people with disabilities.
In 2004 Ibermutuar together with several Spanish companies, sponsored a guide aimed at pilgrims with disabilities. The guide was written by people with different physical, psychical or sensory disabilities.
The guide contains information about accessibility and other matters of interest including albergues, suggested stages of 8km per day and restaurants with special facilities.
Three pilgrims that covered the Camino Frances in wheelchairs participated directly in the preparation of the guide which, at present, is only available in Spanish, but which is being translated into French and German.
It provides complete information on the route description , facilities, hostels , hotels and restaurants , access and rules in this matter . There is information about the pilgrim credential and obtaining the Compostela.

An outline of the Guide
The guide was created by a group of people with disabilities who personally travelled stages of the Camino. The advice, suggestions, alternatives and remarks are the result of hours of efforts during the tour, which gives a look at the difficulties that face disabled pilgrims.
The daily stages are not those suggested other guides because it was considered that a person with disabilities would find it difficult to follow a pace of 25-30 km per day.
Each stage is described by the original path, with alternatives for people with reduced mobility where, due to its difficulty, it must be separated from the ancient route. The difficulties described in the different stages refer to those found by a disabled person in a wheelchair, with a reduced physical strength.
It outlines cultural sites, entertainment, basic services in localities where the stage ends and accommodation, describing their conditions of accessibility.

Stage 10:  Granon to Belorado
"The layout of this stage , except for short stretch in appalling conditions since Grañón the border with the province of Burgos, is suitable for people with disabilities, if completed, as is practicable , following the walkway that has built the Ministry of Development on a line parallel with the N -120."

Camino Frances in Galicia
You can download an 8 stage guide on the Camino Frances in Galicia from O Cebreiro to Santiago. It is in Spanish but contains hundreds of photographs of the paths on each stage.

This guide is intended as a support resource for people who have physical difficulties and, moreover, is established as an aid to understanding the Way.
Ultimately, the aim with this guide is that the road is included within the diversity that characterizes itself, the pilgrims also go on foot, horseback or bicycle can also be covered in a wheelchair or crutches.
In these pages we analyze the measures of the slopes, the more complex sections of the final state by proposing an alternative route , we studied also the safety of the track in sections shared with car traffic ... We do all a thorough analysis to help the traveller.

Other Guides:
Pilgrims in wheelchairs or hand-bikes should use both the walking and cycling guides to plan their journey. Many of the walker’s paths are almost impossible to traverse in cycles or wheelchairs.
The ‘Practical Guide For Pilgrims” by Millán Bravo Lozana (Everest) recommends alternative routes on each stage for cycles and includes special profile maps for cyclists in the guide.

You can read about Hollander, Ad Hermans, who did 2 500 km from Akersloot, Holland to Santiago in a hand-biked wheelchair in 2000.

In 2002 he went off again, this time to Rome, 2250 km accompanied by his wife, her sister and brother-in-law, and a couple friends, all on bicycles. On their way they camped.

A disabled pilgrim using a hand-bike and family members completed the Camino Norte in August 2009

Most people in wheelchairs have vehicle backup. In 2004 I met a pilgrim in Arzua who had started in Pamplona. His wife was following him in a camper-van. Where possible, she parked next to the albergues at night where he could use the facilities such as showers and kitchen.

Granon Albergue in a bell tower
Many of the albergues on the caminos are not fully accessible to disabled people. Dormitories are often up flights of stairs, bathrooms and toilets might also be upstairs. It would be advisable to phone ahead and check accessibility with the accommodation before deciding on where to stay.
Here you will find a list of private albergues where you can send luggage ahead and where you can reserve a bed in advance. Check first on accessibility:
It is possible to book hostales, hotels, small inns, casa rurals and paradors ahead of time.

Walking pilgrims
Disabled pilgrims who want to walk the camino but might rely on walking aids such as sticks or crutches should consider having their backpacks transported between stages. Many towns have reliable taxi services that will do this for you.
On the Camino Frances there are luggage transport services that will transport you and/or your luggage from town to town. All you need to do is book accommodation a couple of days in advance and send you pack ahead.
If you prefer to cart your own pack you might consider the ‘Carrix’ a backpack trolley with a special harness. It will allow you to have your hands free. If walking on the road, remember to face the on-coming traffic and wear bright, visible clothing.

Recent rticles on the Internet:

Pilgrims with Multiple Scelrosis walked the camino:

A total of 515 people with intellectual disabilities from six different Spanish autonomous communities made the Camino de Santiago between 14 and 20 June along its seven routes to promote " greater integration and harmonious relations" between them.

July 2010: About 80 people paticipated in a program " Satellite Road , "which aims to facilitate the Camino de Santiago pilgrims with disabilities become " technological pilgrims . Thus, with audio guides, signals and the most popular communication services such as GPS or mobile phones , they will join other ltechnologies such as smart clothing or labeling BIDI (a service of labels whose reading is done by phone mobile.

Advice for people with diabetes
• Use a product called Frio, a crystal-filled pouch that comes in several sizes, to keep the insulin. When submerged for five minutes in cold water, its crystals turn to gel and keep the pouch at an insulin-friendly temperature.
• Take two insulin pens instead of syringes because the needles and vials for a pen are much smaller.
• Take two blood sugar meters, a glucagon kit, and extra prescriptions for your medicines.
• Obtain a doctor's letter for customs, airport security, and anyone else who might be alarmed by all those needles.
• Jet-lag: Spend a few days getting over jet-lag and acclimatising before starting to walk.
• Carry extra bottles of water and juice

Read about Dudley Glover, an insulin-dependent diabetic with coronary heart complications who walked the camino in 2004:

Useful websites

Phyiotherapists advise pilgrims how to get to their destination in good health

Disabled pilgrims and the Compostela:
  • Disabled pilgrims with helpers and vehicle support are generally welcomed in albergues. However not all have access for disabled people - even the Pilgrim´s Office own new albergue in Santiago is not suitable for disabled pilgrims.
  • If a pilgrim with disabilities makes as much effort as is reasonably practicable to make the pilgrimage with as much help as is needed and if their motives are spiritual etc then they will recieve a Compostela - however each case will be considered on its merits.
  • The Pilgrims´Office is neutral about support vehicles and whether or not pilgrims carry anything themselves. The only requirement is that they walk (or journey in their wheelchair for example) for the last 100 kms.
The Pilgrims´Office itself is not accessible. On arrival if a disbaled pilgrim cannot come up to the office they should seek sassistance or send a helper to ask one the staff to come down to the pilgrim.


  1. Hi Sil
    Thanks for providing all this info and the link to my blog - I walked with a walking frame (rollator) and a crutch the last stage in May and beforehand I found it almost impossible to locate specific information. There were some tricky bits where I needed a person to lift the walker and a person to lean on while using the crutch but in the end all were managed.

    I did often think if I had been in a wheelchair an extra level of fitness would have been needed to push over some of the terrain. And most of the albergues were not wheelchair accessible that we stayed in.

    Another site that was helpful in the preparation was:
    As I was covering much shorter distances each day, this was a great help to plot what accom was likely to occur.

    Also, a mention re all the cobblestones, steps and crowds in Santiago can present there own set of trickery.

    Sorry - long post but one additional thing, I am also diabetic and just wanted to mention that this did not pose difficulties on the camino. I carried a stash of jelly beans and scroggin and this worked well as backup and pickme up.

    Twas a wonderful thing to do and I hope to complete further stages in the future. HIghly recommend it to anyone considering going. It might take a bit more planning but definitely doable.

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  3. is there any way of knowing which would be places to stay with more comfortable mattresses for the last 100km? (back problems) thanks